Service, Assistance and Therapy Dogs – What is the Difference Between a Service/Assistance Dog, an Emotional Support Dog, and a Therapy Dog?

<Updated 8MAY18>

Can any dog become a service/assistance dog, an emotional support dog, or, or a therapy dog?

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I am of the opinion that not all dogs will be happy or will find fulfillment serving in the role as a service/assistance dog, an emotional support dog, or a therapy dog, despite the desires of the dog’s guardian or trainer.

I am not saying it is inappropriate for dogs to help humans in these roles, but I believe that the dog’s well-being is equally important and must be considered. While the human healthcare professionals recommending or prescribing dogs for their clients understand human psychology and behavior, I am concerned if they are giving enough consideration to the dog’s welfare. So please, as you think about recommending that a dog be used in this role, reflect on the dog’s welfare. If you do not have a background in canine behavior, then work with a qualified, pet behavior consultant who can assist you and help ensure that the the dog’s needs are also met.

FMIAssessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

FMI – What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant?

Mobility Assistance Dog

The labels “service/assistance dog,” “emotional support dog,” and “therapy dog” can often be confusing and are regularly misused by professionals. This leads to even greater confusion in the general public when trying to differentiate these terms. The expectations for dogs in these roles vary greatly, as does the amount of training required and the legal rights granted to those that own these dogs. It takes a special dog to fill these roles, and not every dog has the temperament, emotional stability, or physical abilities to do so. That is why it is suggested that an individual work with a professional when selecting a breed and an individual dog. While this is important when selecting a pet, it is even more critical when choosing a dog to serve a human in a critical situation such as that of a service/assistance dog.

FMIFinding the Right Dog for You and Your Family

The simplest way to understand the difference between a therapy dog, service/assistance dog, or an emotional support dog is this; a therapy dog is a pet or companion animal that has been trained by their guardian to work on a volunteer basis to benefit people other than the guardian. Therapy dogs have no specific legal rights of access to public accommodations but may only go where they have been invited. In contrast, a service/assistance dog is trained, typically by professional service dog trainers for many months, to perform specific tasks to assist a person in their daily life. A service/assistance dog may be used to guide the blind, alert the deaf, provide mobility assistance, and to intervene when an individual is experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Service dogs are trained to benefit the person they are paired with and no one else. Service dogs and their person are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in most cases, have the right to have their dog accompany them anywhere the general public is allowed. Emotional support dogs fall somewhere in between a therapy dog and a service/assistance dog. They are typically trained to bring emotional comfort to their handler but have only limited legal rights in regards to public housing and air travel.

You can learn more about each of these types of dogs below.


What is a therapy dog?

Therapy Dog

A therapy dog is someone’s pet that is highly trained, can be easily controlled around other dogs, is very social, enjoys interacting with all ages and types of people, and has been tested and certified through a recognized therapy dog organization. Typically the dog is certified with one handler, usually the dog’s owner, as a therapy dog/handler team. Once certified these teams, if invited, may visit hospitals, nursing homes and other places for the purpose of interacting with residents of those facilities providing they maintain their certification. Unlike a service/assistance dog, a therapy dog and their handler have no special rights of access as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can find information on the legal definition of a service/assistance dog at

Who registers therapy dogs?

There are several therapy dog registries. Therapy Dogs International ( ), PetPartners, )formerly The Delta Society), ( ) and Alliance for Therapy Dogs (formerly Therapy Dogs Incorporated) ( are three of the more well-known registries that credential dog/handler teams. Each registry has its own test criteria, rules, evaluators and associated fees. Typically a dog/handler team may only be registered by one registry, and evaluators usually are only certified by one registry.  The best place to get current information on each registry’s requirements is at their respective websites.

Does a therapy dog need to pass a test to be certified?

Reputable therapy dog registries will require a dog and handler team to pass a test before their being certified. This test is necessary to protect the public, the people, the facility the dog may visit, and ultimately the therapy dog/handler team. The fees paid to therapy dog registries are used in part to pay for liability insurance that protects all parties in case of an accident such as a dog bite. There are places online where you can register your therapy dog and get a certificate without requiring a test. These “registries” typically do not include any insurance should an accident occur. The reality is that if you and your dog are not certified by a reputable organization, you could be financially liable for any and all damages and could be subject to criminal charges should something go awry during a visit.

What are the test requirements to be a therapy dog?

The test criteria for most registries are usually a superset of the American Kennel Clubs (AKC) Canine Good Citizen Test. Registries typically require that the dog is at least one year of age, be current on all vaccinations, have a veterinary health certificate and be licensed by the state before they are eligible to be tested. In my experience as an evaluator for Therapy Dogs International, most dogs are not sufficiently mature enough to pass the test before 18 to 24 months of age. A dog must be able to sit, down and stay reliably when given a cue. Other basic obedience behaviors involve being able to walk with their handler on a loose leash, to come when called, and to leave things when asked to leave things. Additionally, dogs should be non-reactive to any type of person or dog and only minimally reactive to audible and visual stimuli. When your dog is at your side, they should not move towards another dog or a person unless they have been released to do so. A dog that lunges or barks at a person or another dog during a test would be considered “not ready” and may not have the temperament to become a therapy dog. A dog must also allow a stranger to examine their paws, their eyes and to brush them without excessive wiggling and without growling or biting. A dog that paws at or mouths people would also be deemed “not ready.”

How can I get my dog prepared to pass the test?

If you have a young puppy and your hope is to become a therapy dog and handler team someday, the most critical thing you can do is to appropriately socialize your puppy in a positive manner before they are 16 weeks of age. Getting them accustomed to crutches, wheelchairs, different noises and flooring is crucial. Always keep in mind, however, that even if you do everything right, this does not necessarily mean that your dog will be cut out to be a therapy dog.

FMI – Puppy Socialization and Habituation

From a training perspective you are not required to take any classes or even to train your dog to take a therapy dog test; however, there is no question that it is very beneficial. It is rare that a dog and handler team not taking a formal training class will actually pass an evaluation.  Typically a person would complete several dog training classes before they and their dog would be ready to take the test. For example, if you are starting with a young puppy, the optimal choice would be to go through a puppy kindergarten class, followed by a basic manners class, and then upper-level classes as necessary. At Green Acres Kennel Shop we offer a level 3 class that is basically a prep class for the CGC class and therapy dog tests, People may take that class more than once until they feel they and their dog are ready.

While it is not impossible for a rescue dog to become a therapy dog, it is very unlikely that they received adequate/appropriate socialization and habituation during the critical 8 to 16 week period, so working with a reward-based, certified professional dog trainer would become even more important if you wish to achieve your goal.

FMI – How to choose a dog trainer

What happens if my dog does not pass the test?

If you and your dog take the test and you are not ready, you can usually take the test again. Most evaluators will suggest what you need to work on, although they do not necessarily offer advice on how to train your dog to do better. Also, if an evaluator has concerns about your dog’s basic temperament, they may suggest other activities instead of therapy work. The fact is, not all dogs are suitable for being therapy dogs; however, that does not mean they are not great dogs.

What happens after my dog passes the test?

Once a dog and handler have passed a test, they must then register with the therapy dog registry before they are considered certified. This typically involves submitting current veterinary records along with your application. One of the main benefits of registering, which is typically done annually and involves a fee, is the liability insurance that comes with the registration. If your dog were to hurt someone while working as a therapy dog, you would typically have some coverage. If your dog is not appropriately registered, you may be personally financially and legally liable for your dog’s behavior and subsequent actions. Institutions should require that you provide proof of registration and proof of insurance before allowing you and your dog to visit with people at the facility. Their failure to do so does not necessarily remove or limit your liability.

On a personal note, I always advise people that some dogs that can past the test may not enjoy doing therapy work. Your first responsibility is to your dog, not to the people you visit. If your dog does not enjoy therapy dog work or later shows signs that they no longer enjoy the work, it is time to stop.  Shed, one of our dogs, was certified with my wife, Paula, as her handler. Paula took Shed on one visit, and although she was a real sweetheart, she clearly did not enjoy meeting and interacting with strangers. Shed retired after one visit. My dog Tikken and I did therapy work for a few years, but then one day she hesitated as we were entering one of the nursing homes we visited. When Tikken showed no interest in visiting a second time I knew she was ready to retire and I allowed her to do so.

So after we are registered, how do we get started doing therapy work?

If you wish to visit healthcare facilities as a therapy dog/handler team, you should contact the facility ahead of time rather than just showing up with your dog. Typically it would be the activities director or volunteer director you will need to connect with to schedule your visits. Most facilities will need to see proof that you and your dog are certified and have insurance. They may also require that you go through their volunteer training program due to laws covering patient privacy and confidentiality.

Most registries require that you reregister and pay an annual fee to keep your certification and insurance current. Some may also require that you take the test again.


When is a therapy dog/handler team considered to be working?

Typically, a dog/therapy team is usually only considered to be working as a therapy team when; 1) the dog is with the certified handler, 2) they are volunteering their time, and 3) they are on a leash connected to the handler. If your spouse or partner is certified with your dog and you are not, the dog would not be considered to be a therapy dog when working with you. Most registries do not cover your dog when they are at your home or if you have your dog at your place of employment.

If you are a mental health professional and want to use a therapy dog as part of your practice, you should check with your employer and your personal insurance provider to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage.

Likewise, if your dog were to bite someone in your home, it is doubtful that you would be covered by the registries liability insurance. Lastly, if you are not holding the leash and something happens, you may not be covered by the registries insurance.


What if I do not have a dog but want to get one so we can become a therapy dog/handler team?

Not every dog is going to be able to pass the test to become the canine half of a therapy dog/handler team, so selecting the right dog will be very important in increasing the odds that your dog will pass. I strongly encourage you to work with a certified professional dog trainer that is familiar with the test criteria which can offer objective advice.


FMIFinding the Right Dog for You and Your Family

FMI – How to choose a dog trainer



How do I get my dog certified as an Emotional Support Dog?

At this time, to the best of my knowledge, there is no legally recognized or required process or procedure for evaluating and credentialing a dog as being suitable for being an Emotional Support Animal.

Be warned that there are websites online that will charge you to obtain “certification” for an emotional support dog. These are scams to deprive you of your money.

How do I prove my dog need for an Emotional Support Dog?

If a licensed mental health professional diagnoses you with a disabling mental illness and believes that you would benefit from an Emotional Support Dog they may provide you with an EAS letter documenting your need. Emotional Support Dogs do NOT have rights to access public areas under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Emotional Support Dogs are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and The Air Carrier Access Act.

FMI – Service Dog Central – Emotional Support Animals

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Dog and a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Many people confuse Emotional Support Dogs with Psychiatric Service Dogs. Service dogs are described in detail below, but basically there are three differences.

  1. An individual must be diagnosed with a psychiatric related disability by a licensed mental health professional to qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog.
  2. A Psychiatric Service Dog must be trained to perform a task that specifically mitigates the individual’s disability. For example, if you become disoriented and confused and wander off during a dissociative event your dog might be trained to stop you from wandering until the episode passes. If you pick at your skin because of OCD your dog may be trained to interrupt and redirect your behavior. However, teaching your dog to kiss you or jump in your lap, would not qualify them as a Psychiatric Service Dog.
  3. As a Service Dog, a Psychiatric Service Dog has rights to public access as defined by the American’s with Disabilities Act.

FMI – Service Dog Central – What is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal?


Can any dog be an Emotional Support Dog?

No. Dogs that are Emotional Support Dogs need to have a very stable temperament and be able to remain calm when the individual they are helping becomes emotionally distraught. In my experience, dogs like stability and this will be tough for many dogs.


Do Emotional Support Dogs need training?

Many of the websites that discuss Emotional Support Dogs indicate that they need little or no training. I disagree. In August of 2015, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) published their Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines. This document reports that behavior problems are the number one problem facing dogs and cats and that a primary reason for this is pet owners misunderstanding about dog and cat behavior. Everyone with a pet needs to learn more, and it has been my experience that all dogs, even the average pet, have a happier, and more fulfilled life when trained.

FMIYour Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being





How do I get my dog certified as a Service or Assistance Dog?

Service Dog in Training

It is important to understand that there are not necessarily easy, simple answers to obtaining or certifying a dog as a service dog because there are legal issues involved as well as training issues. As previously mentioned, there is a great deal of confusion between the differences between therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and service/assistance dogs. As opposed to a therapy dog or emotional support dog, a service/assistance dog does have special rights of access as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. You can find information on the legal definition of a service/assistance dog at Any specific questions you have about the legalities should be directed to a lawyer with expertise in this area.

Definitions – Service Dog

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and associated Federal regulations are the laws that allow access to public accommodations for people that require a service/assistance dog. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s definition of a Service Dog is:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

My understanding of this definition is that the owner of a service dog must have

Mobility Assistance Dog

a disability and that the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks related to the disability. It does not say anything about the dog being “certified” as being able to perform those tasks. In fact, there is no legal requirement for certifying, registering or licensing a service dog as a service dog, although there are places online that will take your money for doing so. Please understand that these are scams and that the only license your service dog may require is a municipal or state dog license; the same any pet dog may be required to have. For more information on organizations that are selling fake service dog certifications, check out this website:  This article, also from Service Dog Central discusses the consequences of fake and inadequately trained service dogs –

If you need a service dog, please make sure that you get one that is properly trained. If you do not meet the legal requirements for a service dog, please do not attempt to pass your dog off as a service dog. Doing so is not only a crime but also potentially threatens the access rights of those that truly do need a service dog.

A business or other public facility may only ask an individual with a service dog two questions: 1) is your dog a service dog and 2) what tasks has your dog been trained to perform for you. They cannot require an individual to present special ID cards for their dog or ask about the person’s disability.

Owner Responsibilities

The same U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division document outlines where service animals are allowed, as noted below.

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.

The document also outlines responsibilities of the service dog’s owner.

Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.

Can any dog be a service dog?

The reality is very few dogs have the requisite temperament and skills to be a service dog. All service dogs need to have very stable temperaments and be able to be trained to a high degree of precision. Also, they need to be able to work on demand and under great stress for as long as necessary. Many of the service dog agencies have developed their own breeding programs to improve the odds of getting dogs that will meet their qualifications.Even with dedicated breeding programs designed to produce the optimal service dog, only about 50% of the dogs that start training can complete the program. Those that do not become service dogs become great pets, but the point is, a great pet probably does not have what it takes to be a good service dog.

The website ( says this about the odds of a pet becoming a service dog

 “Service dogs can come from many different backgrounds. Some are intentionally bred for service work, some are career change dogs bred for other work, some are rescues, and yes, some started out as pets.

However, the odds of any given dog having all the “right stuff” and actually completing training to become a service dog are about 1 in 100. The vast majority of pets, even lovely, well-behaved pets, aren’t going to be suited, though it is possible.”

FMI – 10 Things That Make A Dog Unsuitable for Service Work

What does a service dog need to be trained to do?

A service dog needs to be trained to perform the tasks related to their handler’s disability. They also need to be taught to have good manners and to be reliable in a wide variety of situations. Assistance Dogs International, an organization whose purpose is to “…improve the areas of training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs, staff and volunteer education, as well as educating the public about assistance dogs, and advocating for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.,” suggests that all service dog and owner teams should be able to pass a public access test ( Many Service Dog providers use this test and require their dog/owner teams to take the test on a periodic basis. It is unfortunate that this test was not included as part of the ADA because clearly the professionals with the most experience in training service dog/owner teams believe it is essential.

Can I train my service dog myself?

While not impossible, rarely can a person train a service dog to meet their needs and perform tasks with the necessary reliability required of most service dogs. Taking into consideration the high rate of dogs whose temperaments are not suitable for service work, it is very unlikely that the household pet can become a service/assistance dog.  Individuals that need a service dog are best advised to work with one of the many service dog agencies that have years of experience in identifying the best dogs, training them, and then training you to get the most from your dog. Service dogs need to perform to a high degree of precision and reliability, far beyond what the average pet dog or competitive obedience dog requires. They typically are trained for months, by experts.

Where can I learn more about obtaining a service dog?

The website Service Dog Central ( contains a large amount of information on service dog laws as well as agencies that train service dogs.

Please, do what is right for the people and the dogs

Service and assistance dogs can significantly improve the life of the disabled. Emotional Support Dogs can improve the life of those who are anxious and alone. Therapy dogs and handlers teams can bring great joy to those in hospitals and nursing homes. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend for people to fraudulently present their dog as a service/assistance dog, emotional support dog, or therapy dog so that they can take their dog places where their dog would not normally be allowed. This fraudulent act makes it even harder for those that really need and depend on these dogs.

If you are an individual who can benefit from one of these dogs, please work with the appropriate professionals to ensure that you are getting what you need and are also doing what is best for the dog.

The following graphic indicates some of the differences between service/assistance dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs.




Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (

Shared Blog Post – If a Dog Fails This Test, He Won’t Make a Good Service Dog

10 Things That Make A Dog Unsuitable for Service Work

10 Signs That A “Service Dog” Is Actually A Fake – An article from “I Heart Dogs” that reveals ten things that are a reliable predictor of whether or not a dog is a trained service dog. Sadly, more and more people are committing fraud and claiming there dog is a service dog when in reality they are not. It takes much more than a letter from a doctor or mental health professional to make a dog a service dog. Typically a real service dog will have between 12 and 24 months of training, by professionals at a service dog organization, before the dog is every placed with the person they are meant to help. –

Accepting the Pet You Have

Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

Finding the Right Dog for You and Your Family

How to choose a dog trainer

Maine’s community of disabled asks relief from ‘comfort animals’

Puppy Socialization and Habituation

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being


Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (


Service & Assistance Dogs w/NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, part 1

Service & Assistance Dogs w/NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, part 2


Web Sites

Alliance for Therapy Dogs (formerly Therapy Dogs Incorporated)

Americans with Disabilities Act (Service Dog section)

Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test –

Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center FAQs on Emotional Support Animals –

NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services, also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) –

PetPartners (formerly The Delta Society

Service Dog Central

Service Dog Central – Emotional Support Animals

Service Dog Central On the Consequences of Fake and Undertrained Service Dogs –

Service Dog Central – Service Dog Certification — Spotting Fake Certification/Registration/ID –

Service Dog Central – What is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal?

Therapy Dogs International

US Department of Justice – ADA Requirements – Service Dogs –

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

©26-Feb-17, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>


Book Reviews – Do You Really Know Your Dog? – Part 1

< A version of this article was published in the November 2014 issue of Down East Dog News>

In her book, Inside of A Dog, author and researcher Alexandra Horowitz writes, “We are known by our dogs— probably far better than we know them.” Horowitz is right, and sadly dogs don’t come with a user’s manual. In my 19 years of teaching dog training classes, I have tried to teach my students about more than training; if you want to be a good companion to your dog, you need to know about your dog’s language, natural history, anatomy, emotions, and everything else that makes your dog a dog.

I believe one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and to our dogs is a better understanding of who they are. In my columns for November and December, I’ll review the books that everyone who lives with a dog should read. It’s a perfect time to pick one up for yourself or for another dog lover in your family or circle of friends.

On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas  – This book and its author, Turid Rugaas, have influenced my understanding of dogs more than any other book or seminar. While this book is few in pages, it is rich in information depicted in great photos. This gentle, kind, woman is incredibly knowledgeable about canine behavior and ethology. She has taught many how to live in harmony with our dogs by helping us to better understand what they are trying to tell us, and in turn she has taught us a better way to express ourselves to our dogs.

Full of photographs illustrating each point, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals focuses on how dogs use specific body language to cutoff aggression and other perceived threats. Dogs use these calming signals to tell one another, and us, when they are feeling anxious and stressed and when their intentions are benign. If you have more than one dog, or if your dog frequently plays with others, or if you are a frequent visitor to the dog park, you need to be familiar with calming signals. This book will help you learn ‘dog language’, for which you will be rewarded with a much better understanding of your pet and its behavior.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “If you want your dog to respect you, you must also respect your dog. A good relationship is based on two-way communication, and living together in a well-balanced togetherness. Leadership does not solve anything; it only creates problems, in our lives as well as in the dogs’ lives.”

The Other End of the Leash – by Patricia McConnell, PhD – Back in the early 1990’s, before I entered into the pet care business, I was fortunate to attend several dog training classes taught by Dr. Patricia McConnell. Her understanding of how dogs and humans communicate and her emphasis on rewarding good behavior made this the first class my dog Gus and I really enjoyed.

The Other End of the Leash is an information-packed, yet readable book. In it you will learn how to have an improved relationship with your dog through better communication. As a scientist who has studied both primate and canine communication systems, Dr. McConnell has a keen understanding of where the communication between humans and dogs often breaks down, creating frustration and stress for both species. For example, she explains how simple innate greeting patterns of both species can cause conflict. We know that when two people meet, the polite thing to do is to make direct eye contact and walk straight toward one another smiling. However, as Dr. McConnell notes: “The oh-so-polite primate approach is appallingly rude in canine society. You might as well urinate on a dog’s head.” Direct eye contact and a direct approach is very confrontational to a dog.

Dr. McConnell also emphasizes how dogs primarily communicate visually, while humans are a very verbal species. The picture she paints of the frustrated chimp, jumping up and down, waving their hands, and screeching repeatedly is only a slight exaggeration of the frustrated human, saying “sit, sit, sit, ahhhh please sit” while displaying countless bits of body language. Primates, including humans, “…have a tendency to repeat notes when we’re excited, to use loud noises to impress others, and to thrash around whatever is in our paw if we’re frustrated. This behavior has no small effect on our interactions with dogs, who in spite of some barks and growls, mostly communicate visually, get quiet rather than noisy to impress others, and are too busy standing on their paws to do much else with them.” With these fundamental differences, it’s amazing we can communicate with our dogs at all.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “If humans are understandably a bit slow at responding to the visual signals that our dogs are sending, we are downright dense about the signals that we generate ourselves.”

DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger – This book refutes a great number of the popular myths about the domestic dog with sound science. Dr. Coppinger is a professor at Hampshire College where he teaches evolutionary biology. He and his wife Lorna have over 40 years of experience living and working with all varieties of dogs.

The main premise of this book is that humans did not create the dog by taming and domesticating the wolf, but instead the dog self-evolved from the wolf. Tamer and less energetic wolves started hanging around human settlements for the discarded food and over time these wolves evolved into today’s village dog. Only in the last few hundred years have humans become involved in consciously, and not always responsibly, engineering the village dog into the many breeds we see today. The Coppinger’s have studied village dogs (feral dogs living in human communities) as they exist in the world today in places like Mexico City, and Pemba.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Dogs as a species are most likely less than fifteen thousand years old, which is a barest instant of evolutionary time. Wolves as a species are maybe five million years old, and they need protection from extinction. … [There are] four hundred million dogs in the world – that is a thousand times more dogs than there are wolves. If wolves are the ancient ancestors of dogs that means dogs have achieved a biological coup, successfully outpopulating their ancestors by a lot.”

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>