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What Are Assistance Animals?

There are three categories for animals that assist humans in the U.S.


This post explains the different categories and the roles such animals play for their owners and in society.


Specially trained dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) do many different kinds of work or tasks for their handlers with disabilities to help them lead more independent and normal lives. The most common services provided are mobility, medical alert, guiding the visually impaired, hearing alert, and psychiatric support. Service animals are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are considered a type of medical equipment. Service animal handlers have public access rights that allow their trained animals to accompany them and offer aid in the form of trained tasks according to their handlers’ medical needs.


This group of animals are considered pets but can be used by people with disabilities who can benefit from having an animal as a companion. These animals offer the benefit of providing comfort and companionship, and sometimes making their owner feel safer in their home.

They are not necessarily trained, and they do not do tasks or perform work for their owners. They do not have any public access rights and should only operate in the home or other locations that have given permission for owners to bring them. These animals are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act but are covered by the Fair Housing Act


Animals seen in hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities that are there to bring joy and comfort to people in those facilities are called therapy animals. These are pets that have gone through training and are certified and insured by a therapy animal organization.

Therapy animals accompany their owners on trips to these facilities to visit and bring pleasure to the people there. They are only allowed to go into facilities that have invited them to visit.

This post was written by the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) Assistance Animal Division.

Download the Understanding Assistance Animals brochure.



The PPG Assistance Animal Division is a volunteer committee which includes a broad representation of pet professionals with a variety of skills and interests specific to assistance animals. Assistance animal trainers and professional organizations are encouraged to join PPG for professional and educational support, advice, and materials that help promote force-free interactions with animals who help people. Pet owners can join for free, and as members will have access to additional pages on our website (along with some amazing vendor discounts!). We look forward to welcoming you into an inclusive group that prioritizes humane treatment and welfare of both people and assistance animals!

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