Real Service Dog Vest vs Fake: What is the Difference?

Kristi Carignan
April 17, 2023
6 minutes
There is more to service dogs than wearing a vest. Learn the difference between legitimate and illegitimate service dogs with Pettable.

Suppose you've heard the terms service dog, psychiatric service dog (PSD), or emotional support animal (ESA). In that case, you've likely wondered about the difference between legitimate and illegitimate service dogs under federal law. 

While all dogs are fantastic companions who give us incomparable support, there are differences between the three categories. 

Do Service Dogs Have to Wear a Vest?

Service dogs and ESAs do not legally have to wear a vest or ID tag that identifies them as such. Nonetheless, a vest can alert the public that the dog is a working dog and can be beneficial to the owner if they so choose. 

These vests can be useful for a public purpose, for example, alerting emergency staff to their presence in the case of an emergency. 

Service dogs are distinguished from other animals by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Their training specifically links to their owner's disability, and they perform specific functions or jobs concerning it. ESAs, on the other hand, provide comfort, stress relief, and support to their owners with their presence. ESAs can be any legal animal rather than just a dog. However, they do need an ESA letter from a qualified mental health professional to ensure their legitimacy.  

Below, we'll detail some key differences between service dogs and companion animals/emotional support animals. While considering the nuances, we'll also examine the topic of the service dog vest: Real vs. Fake – and share details on our specialized psychiatric service dog training options at Pettable.

What is a Service Dog? 

Under the ADA, implemented by the Department of Justice, a service dog is classified as "a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability." The task(s) that the dog performs must directly relate to the individual's disability. Because of this, their training is specialized and distinguished from other pets. Service dogs work with a range of disabilities, including those that fall into the psychiatric, sensory, mental, and intellectual categories. 

People with service dogs must meet these two criteria: 

  1. They require a dog because of a disability. 
  2. The dog has been trained to perform a specific work task related to the disability. 

Can Anyone Buy a Service Dog Vest?

Yes. Anyone can purchase a vest. However, they should only be worn if your animal assists you as either a service dog or ESA. 

Service Dog Vest Real VS Fake

Service dog vests and ESA vests simply alert the public that your dog is assisting you. While not legally necessary, they can benefit the wider public and the owner. 

When exploring service dog vest real vs. fake options, only opt for a vest that reflects your dog's purpose. If your dog isn't an ESA or service dog, avoid 'working dog' vests and opt for a conventional harness.

What do Service Dogs do for Their Handlers?

Service dogs perform an array of work-related tasks related to their owner's disability. Examples might include:

  • A dog reminding an owner with depression to take their medication
  • A dog who alerts its owner with diabetes that their blood sugar is low
  • A dog retrieving items for an owner who is unable to do so because of their disability.

Types of Service Dogs 

The ADA recognizes service dogs and psychiatric service dogs. Let's explore both in greater detail below. 

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are very similar to ESAs in that they support owners and help to alleviate certain emotional or psychiatric symptoms. Nonetheless, a psychiatric service dog has been trained to perform a specific task concerning its owner's disability. For example, they may take a specific action when they sense their owner is about to have a panic attack to lessen the symptoms. 

ESAs, conversely, provide comfort but do not necessarily perform a specific task. 

Service Dogs for Physical Disabilities

Much like psychiatric service dogs, service dogs for physical disabilities also perform specific functions related to a disability. If an owner has epilepsy, for example, they may alert their owner to an oncoming seizure or be trained to keep them safe during a seizure. 

Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Dogs 

Emotional support animals provide companionship and comfort to their humans. They can comfort them through challenging emotional and psychological experiences such as anxiety, depression, OCD, and insomnia. ESAs can be dogs or other legal species of animals like cats, parrots, pigs, Guinea pigs, and more. 

While the two are different, some states and local governments do allow ESAs into public spaces, provided they have an ESA letter from a mental health professional.

How to Get a Legitimate Service Dog

To obtain a legitimate service dog, it is recommended to consult a reputable organization that provides trained service dogs and to follow the necessary legal procedures. Here are two ways you can do so.

Be Diagnosed with a Disability that Requires a Service Dog

While service dogs do not legally need certification or professional training, they should be trained for a specific disability-related function. 

Train a Service Dog

Owners can opt to train their service dogs themselves or go through a professional trainer. 

Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable

We offer a self-paced PSD training program for those wanting a PSD certification. Users can access 15 online training sessions by a professional trainer. 

If you aren't satisfied with the course within seven days, we offer a 100% money-back guarantee. 

The Bottom Line 

Service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and ESAs all play an important role in keeping their owners safe and supporting them as they navigate life. Understanding their nuances keeps everyone on board with ADA regulations and ensures optimal animal safety and care.

Meet the author:
Kristi Carignan

Kristi Carignan is a seasoned freelance writer with over 20 years of experience crafting copy for global agencies and brands. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her furry companions, Sugar the PomChi and Rudy the Shiba Inu, and indulging in hobbies like crafting and home renovation.