Service Dogs with a Side Hustle: Exploring the Dual Roles of Assistance Animals

In the realm of assistance animals, there exists a fascinating subset of dogs that defy simple categorization. These are the service dogs with a side hustle – canines that not only perform essential tasks for their handlers but also serve as therapy dogs, spreading joy and comfort to others in need. At Happy Doodle Farm, we recently found ourselves at the center of a debate surrounding one such dual-role dog, prompting us to delve deeper into the complexities and controversies surrounding these multi-talented canines. Our journey began when we trained a service dog who, in addition to assisting her primary handler, also worked in a dental office as a therapy dog, providing comfort to anxious patients. Despite her impeccable training and unwavering dedication to her dual roles, we were surprised to find ourselves on the receiving end of criticism. Accusations of “faking” a service dog and questions about the appropriateness of wearing a service dog vest while performing therapy work swirled around us. As we reflected on these concerns, we couldn’t help but wonder: were our critics justified in their doubts, or were they simply misinformed about the nuances of assistance animal roles?

The Service Dog and Therapy Dog Roles: A Closer Look

To understand the complexities surrounding dual-role dogs, it is essential to first examine the distinct roles of service dogs and therapy dogs. As discussed in our previous blog post, service dogs are individually trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These tasks can include guiding individuals who are blind, alerting those who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, or assisting with mobility impairments. Service dogs undergo rigorous training to ensure they can perform their duties reliably and safely in a variety of environments. In contrast, therapy dogs provide comfort, affection, and emotional support to people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other settings. While they may receive extensive training in obedience and socialization, therapy dogs are not required to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. Instead, their primary role is to offer a calming presence and promote well-being through interactions with a variety of people.

The Legality of Dual-Role Dogs: Navigating the Gray Areas

The legal landscape surrounding service dogs and therapy dogs is complex, with the ADA providing specific protections and guidelines for service animals. Under the ADA, service dogs are granted public access rights, meaning they can accompany their handlers in virtually all public spaces, including restaurants, stores, and public transportation. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, do not have the same federally protected status and may only be allowed in certain facilities with prior permission. So, where does this leave our dual-role dog? The answer lies in the dog’s primary function and the specific tasks she is trained to perform. In the case of our dental office therapy dog, her primary role is that of a service dog, assisting her handler with a disability. Her secondary role as a therapy dog does not negate her status as a service animal, provided she can still perform her primary duties when called upon. It is important to note that the ADA does not prohibit service dogs from engaging in other activities, such as providing comfort or emotional support, as long as these activities do not interfere with their ability to perform their primary tasks. In fact, many service dogs naturally provide emotional support to their handlers simply by virtue of their close bond and constant companionship.

The Vest Debate: Navigating Public Perceptions

One of the most visible symbols of a service dog’s status is the vest they wear in public. These vests serve as a clear signal to others that the dog is working and should not be approached or distracted without permission. However, when a service dog also functions as a therapy dog, the question of appropriate attire becomes more complex. In the case of our dental office therapy dog, we made the decision to have her wear her service dog vest while performing her therapy duties. This choice was based on several factors, including the need to clearly identify her as a working dog and to maintain consistency in her training and behavior. However, we recognize that this decision may have contributed to the confusion and criticism we faced from some observers. It is understandable that seeing a dog in a service vest interacting with multiple people in a therapy setting could raise questions about the legitimacy of the dog’s service status. After all, one of the hallmarks of a service dog is their focus on their individual handler and their ability to tune out distractions. However, it is important to remember that service dogs are not robots – they are living, breathing creatures with unique personalities and abilities.

The Training Continuum: From Service Dog to Therapy Dog and Beyond

At Happy Doodle Farm, we believe that a dog’s training is a continuum rather than a fixed endpoint. Just as humans continue to learn and grow throughout their lives, so too do dogs have the capacity to acquire new skills and adapt to new roles over time. When we train a service dog, our goal is to provide them with a solid foundation of obedience, task-specific skills, and public access manners. However, we also recognize that each dog is an individual with unique strengths and potential. In the case of our dental office therapy dog, her journey began with intensive service dog training. She learned to perform specific tasks to assist her handler with a disability, such as picking up dropped items, providing balance support, and interrupting anxiety attacks. However, as she progressed through her training, it became clear that she also possessed a remarkable ability to connect with people and provide comfort in stressful situations. Rather than limiting her to a single role, we chose to cultivate her natural talents and train her as a therapy dog in addition to her primary service dog duties. This decision was not made lightly – we carefully evaluated her temperament, her ability to handle new environments and people, and her continued dedication to her primary handler. We also ensured that her therapy work would not interfere with her service dog duties and that she would always be able to prioritize her handler’s needs.

The Benefits of Dual-Role Dogs: Enhancing Lives and Challenging Stereotypes

While the concept of a service dog with a side hustle may be controversial to some, we believe that these dual-role dogs offer unique benefits to both their handlers and the wider community. For handlers, a dog that can perform both service and therapy roles provides a level of versatility and adaptability that can be invaluable in navigating daily life. A service dog that can also provide comfort and emotional support during medical procedures or in stressful situations can greatly enhance their handler’s quality of life and sense of independence. For the community, interacting with a dual-role dog can challenge stereotypes and preconceived notions about what a service dog looks like and how they behave. By seeing a service dog in a therapy setting, people may gain a greater understanding of the breadth and depth of these dogs’ abilities. They may also develop a deeper appreciation for the human-animal bond and the ways in which dogs can enrich our lives in countless ways.

Responsible Training and Handling: The Key to Success

Of course, the success of a dual-role dog depends heavily on responsible training and handling practices. At Happy Doodle Farm, we take great care to ensure that every dog we train is well-suited to their intended roles and that their training is thorough, consistent, and tailored to their individual needs. We work closely with handlers to develop customized training plans that take into account their specific disabilities, lifestyle, and goals for their dog. We also place a strong emphasis on public education and awareness, recognizing that misunderstandings about service dogs and therapy dogs can lead to confusion and conflict. We encourage our clients to be proactive in educating others about their dog’s roles and to be prepared to answer questions and address concerns in a calm, informative manner.


The world of assistance animals is vast and complex, with countless variations and possibilities. As we have seen, service dogs with a side hustle – those that perform both service and therapy roles – occupy a unique and sometimes controversial space within this world. At Happy Doodle Farm, we believe that these dual-role dogs have the potential to enhance lives, challenge stereotypes, and promote a greater understanding of the human-animal bond. However, we also recognize that the success of these dogs depends on responsible training, handling, and public education. By setting high standards for our own training practices and encouraging open, honest dialogue about the roles and capabilities of assistance animals, we hope to contribute to a future in which all dogs – whether service, therapy, or dual-role – are valued and respected for the incredible gifts they bring to our lives. As we move forward, we remain committed to exploring the frontiers of assistance animal training and to sharing our knowledge and experiences with others. We invite you to join us on this journey and to continue learning about the remarkable world of service dogs, therapy dogs, and all the wonderful ways in which they enrich our lives.

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Service Dogs with a Side Hustle: Exploring the Dual Roles of Assistance Animals | Happy Doodle Farm

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Discover the fascinating world of service dogs with a side hustle – assistance animals that perform both service and therapy roles. Learn about the challenges, benefits, and controversies surrounding these dual-role dogs, and explore Happy Doodle Farm’s approach to responsible training and handling practices.

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service dogs, therapy dogs, dual-role dogs, assistance animals, service dog training, therapy dog training, service dog laws, ADA, public access rights, service dog vests, therapy dog certification, Happy Doodle Farm, service dog side hustle, service dog controversy, service dog stereotypes, service dog education, service dog handling, therapy dog benefits
Happy Doodle Farm Service Dog getting public access training at a restaurant before heading to Chicago

Comprehensive Service Dog Blog Series Links

This series is not necessarily meant to be read straight through, but if you are interested in a deep education on the topic this is how to do it.

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