Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an Emotional Support Dog and a Disability Assist Dog?

This is a difficult concept for people in New Zealand to understand because it is different in some countries, resulting in conflicting information from overseas websites. We hope the following clarifies this challenging area relating to support animals. We have expanded in detail because of the number of applications PPADT receives from people who do not qualify for a Disability Assist Dog. Almost everyone benefits from the presence of a dog. This does not make it a Disability Assist Dog. PPADT is only able to assist with the training and certification of Disability Assist Dogs.

Mental Health Assistance Dogs (NZ term) or Psychiatric Service Dogs — PSDs (USA term). NB: These are assessed by PPADT on a case by case basis.

Needs of Owner/Handler:

  • Someone with a DSM-IV mental health diagnosis / disorder
  • That mental health disorder must affect the individual’s ability to function in life so severely that they are considered to be disabled. NB: This represents a small proportion of people diagnosed with a mental health diagnosis or disorder.
  • The individual must have a medically diagnosed disability as required by law


  • Must be trained to perform tasks that alleviate symptoms of a disability
  • Must independently recognize the need for task to be performed
  • Tasks must facilitate activities that owner/handler could not otherwise do on his/her own
  • Many people are unaware that a Disability Assist Dog trained for a person with a mental health disability must provide the same trainable tasks as a Disability Assist dog for any other type of disability

(Canine) Emotional Support Animals — ESAs — NB: PPADT does not certify Emotional Support Dogs.

Needs of Owner/Handler:

  • Someone with a DSM-IV mental health diagnosis / disorder


  • May or may not be trained to perform tasks that alleviate symptoms
  • Presence alone alleviates symptoms Most handlers receive some emotional support from their Disability Assist Dog, regardless of their disability - that support or companionship is a bonus and not a justification for the animal being a Disability Assist Dog

Points to remember:

1. Simply having a “disorder” does not mean one is disabled. Having a medical problem or condition does not mean one is disabled. Having depression does not mean one is disabled. Having severe anxiety and agoraphobia does not mean one is disabled. “Lack of social skills” does not qualify as a disability. Because one has had anxiety and panic attacks does not mean they are disabled. Being “impaired” is not the same as being disabled. Having a doctor give one a “diagnosis” is not the same as being disabled.

2. In addition, the dog must be individually trained in work or tasks which directly mitigate the effects of the qualifying disability (the dog must do something that the person is unable to do for themselves because of their disability). The dogs defined function is not to provide emotional support but to do something the handler cannot do for themselves which allows that handler to overcome or ameliorate an inability to perform major life activities.

  • The simple presence of the animal is not a legal task or work under the law. Because one is more comfortable with the dog around is not a legal task or work under the law. Comfort and support are not considered legally trained tasks
  • “Feeling better” because the dog is there does not qualify as a trained task
  • “Helping me stay calm in the stores and other places” is not a trained task
  • “Because he gets me out of the house” is not a trained task
  • “I don’t panic as much when the dog is with me” is not a trained task
  • “I can’t go out alone because of social phobia; my dog makes me feel safe enough to go out to the grocery store and other places I need to go” is not a trained task. This describes an Emotional Support Dog, not a Disability Assist Dog
  • “The dog can carry my medication” is not a trained task
  • “I am far more confident to go out on my own if my dog is with me” is not a trained task

The dog must actually be trained to do something the individual cannot do on their own. The dog must also be trained to behave properly when in out in public, and be under the handlers control at all times. The work or task MUST be related to the qualifying disability. Real tasks for a Disability Assist Dog for a mental health disability are specific.

At least 90% of those with a diagnosed mental illness are not disabled by that illness and would not qualify for a Disability Assist Dog even if they would benefit from one. Sometimes people want their dog to go everywhere with them to help their emotional state so they look for a list of Disability Assist Dog tasks to try to justify their dog as a Disability Assist Dog. This is the backwards way to select tasks and usually results in tasks which will not hold up in court.

One closing thought:

Please note that a dog which becomes upset when the handler is upset is not “alerting” to the handler’s upset. The dog is responding to it and doing so in an emotionally unstable way. A Disability Assist Dog for a person with a mental health disability should be extremely stable and not be drawn into their handler's emotional state, but rather remain calm, thinking, and working in spite of their handler's upset. Yawning, licking their lips, salivating, and acting up are all indications of emotional distress in the dog. A person in emotional distress needs a solid rock to think clearly for them and guide and help them, be that a therapist or doctor, or Disability Assist Dog. They do not need someone overly empathizing with them. Remember that the number one reason dogs bite is out of fear not aggression. A dog put into a situation that it is emotionally unable to handle is at risk of biting, something which can result in the dog being declared vicious and put down.

Requsting an application for a PPADT dog - what do you need to know beforehand?

We at PPADT advise that the following support team system must be in place:

  • Disability assist dog team
  • Recipient (owner/handler)
  • Disability Assist Dog
  • Guardian (if dog is for child)
  • Training team
  • Recipient (owner/handler)
  • Disability Assist Dog
  • Private dog trainer
  • Family support team
  • Recipient (owner/handler)
  • Disability Assist Dog
  • Private dog trainer
  • Family/friends/household
  • Advocacy team
  • Recipient (owner/handler)
  • Disability Assist Dog
  • Family/friends/household
  • Behavioral health professionals
  • Community advocates

PPADT expects the support teams show to follow these expectations:

  • Disability assist dog team
  • Provide care for the dog
  • Attend training sessions
  • Practice training
  • Follow reqirements and policies of our organisation
  • Training team
  • Assist the owner/handler in training the assistance dog
  • Help educate owner/handler with regard to using their dog to assist them.
  • Family support team
  • assist with care of the dog and provide care when handler/owner is unable
  • support training methods and rules related to training at home
  • Advocacy team
  • Assist PPADT in developing a training plan that will be therapeutic to the recipient
  • Advocate for the owner/handler when discrimination or challenges arrise

So you are thinking of applying for a Disability Assist Dog? Before applying to PPADT, we insist you take the time to consider the following five questions, as they contains topics essential for your application:

Having read through all of the above and would still like to move forward with an application, please contact us. Please note that there is a non-refundable NZ$100 application fee, which must be received along with the application.

Please strive to convince us in your application, and include all relevant information. Applications that are received lacking the application fee or sufficient information will be declined.

Once a full application has been received, a member of PPADT may phone you to discuss your application. All applications will be taken to a PPADT board meeting, and a decision made by the board. Therefore, please allow up to 8 weeks to receive an answer.

What is A Service Dog/ Disability Assist Dog/ Assistance dog?

Around the world the above terms (Service dog, Disability Assist Dog, Assistance Dog) are used interchangeably. However, in New Zealand, “Disability Assist Dog” is the legal term for a dog that is trained specifically to alleviate the effects of a person’s disability. These dogs can be trained to help with a wide variety of disabilities ranging from aiding with sight, hearing, mobility, psychological and neurological disorders. The term “Disability Assist Dog” only applies to dogs trained and certified by organisations listed in the Dog Control Act 1996 and subsequent amendments.

Are all disabilities visible?

NO! Many disabilities are not openly visible, but they are just as real. Often people with disabilities that are “invisible” can face additional challenges with people not understanding the need for a Disability Assist Dog.

What breed of dog will I get/is used?

We at PPADT use a wide variety of breeds (and cross breeds) and strive to either work with a client’s own dog or to rescue a dog from a pound or rescue organisation. Just as not all disabilities look the same, not all Disability Assist Dogs look the same either. Dogs used by PPADT are assessed based on a variety of factors, alongside the handler’s ability to work with a Disability Assist Dog.

Can PPADT train a client’s own dog to be their Disability Assist Dog?

PPADT is able to assess a person’s own dog for suitability to be trained as a Disability Assist Dog. Not all dogs will be suitable, or enjoy, this demanding role, even though the handler may desperately want this.

Does PPADT provide fully trained dogs?

Currently PPADT does not have any puppy raisers and therefore cannot provide fully trained Disability Assist Dogs.

Is there anywhere I cannot take my certified Disability Assist Dog?

Disability Assist Dogs are allowed to accompany their handler most places. However there are a few places that Disability Assist Dogs may not enter, including zoos and DOC land. Permission may be required from Marae’s and churches as these are considered private property.

I have a disability. Can I take my dog to work with me?

No. Not unless the dog has been certified as a Disability Assist Dog by one of the six certifying organisations in NZ. Even then the certifying organisation will need to work with you to determine the appropriateness of the dog going to work with you. For example, a chef or a nurse.

What if someone tries to make me and my Disability Assist Dog leave a public place?

We recommend that you politely inform them that your dog is a Disability Assist Dog, and he is allowed by law to accompany you. We recommend that you carry your law card with you at all times (provided by PPADT along with your PPADT ID card), and offer to produce that if the manager/owner/worker would like to see it. Remember that you are setting a precedent for all of the Disability Assist Dog handlers that come after you. Retain your composure, be respectful and polite! Although this can be upsetting, it is worthwhile thanking them for checking, as we do not want uncertified dogs being in public places.

Who is responsible for the behaviour of my Disability Assist Dog?

YOU. You are responsible for your dog at all times. Disability Assist dogs must obey leash laws and vaccination requirements and must be under the immediate control of their handler at all times. Their behaviour should be neither disruptive nor destructive.

What if people want to pat my dog while we are out in public?

As frustrating as this can be, people will always want to pat your dog when you are out and about. We recommend that you politely ask them to refrain from patting your dog as this can distract it from its role and encourage unwanted behaviour. Ensure your response is polite, yet to the point. It is not ok for the dog to get excited by people patting it while working.

Why are Disability Assist Dogs so expensive?

Training. The training takes a minimum of two years and the dogs must be trained to national standards – requiring time and expertise. There are also a lot of hidden costs involved in running a charitable trust.

Will my Disability Assist Dog get enough exercise while working with me or do I need to exercise it as well?

Although a Disability Assist Dog may receive plenty of physical exercise while working with you, this is not enough. All dogs need to chance to relax and unwind – we call this emotional time (which includes physical activity, grooming, cuddles and general play time). PPADT requires at least 2 hours a day (spread over the course of the day) of emotional time with the dog. Emotional time is non-work time. It’ll do wonders for their health and the bond between you!

Do they need to wear their vest all the time?

Disability Assist Dogs are required to wear their vest (and Identification tags) when they are working and out in public. This “working uniform” tells other people that it is a Disability Assist Dog and allowed to be with its handler. While they are at home (or sleeping) they are not required to wear their working uniform. The vest tells the dog what manners are required. Your dog should work for you whether the vest is on or off.

I completed the application form, but haven't been contacted. Why?

Due to the large number of requests for Disability Assist Dogs, PPADT may take several weeks to respond. Individuals will be contacted by PPADT within 4-6 weeks. Please note PPADT is run by volunteers who do their very best to meet the needs of the organisation alongside their busy work and personal lives. Make sure you have read all the information on this website about what is needed by PPADT – remember PPADT can only make decisions based on what you tell them!

What if I have other pets in my home?

This is decided on an individual basis, and will depend on the type of pets in the home and how many pets share the home.

How do I get my dog certified so I can take it everywhere I go?

Only an individual with a disability can have a Disability Assist Dog. The dog must be trained to perform work or tasks specifically related to that person’s disability. Just because you have a disability does not mean your pet is (or will be) a Disability Assist Dog. Read the FAQ differences between an Emotional Support Dog and a Disability Assist Dog (at the top of this page), and the 5 questions article as these answer this question for many people.

What do I need to qualify for a Disability Assist Dog?

By law, you must have a “medically diagnosed disability” and must need a dog to preform trained tasks to alleviate the effects of that disability. PPADT refers to disability as: “any person who suffers from physical or mental disability to such a degree that he/she is seriously limited in the extent to which he/she can engage in the activities, pursuits and processes of everyday life”.

Can my child’s Disability Assist dog to go to school with them?

Only if they are attached to, and under the direct supervision of, the parent/guardian or teacher aid specifically trained in working with the dog – and it is agreed by the treatment team that this is a necessity.

I want to train Disability Assist Dogs for a job. Can you help me?

While training Disability Assist Dogs is a great and highly rewarding job, it is worth noting that in New Zealand this is most often a volunteer role (and you wont get rich from it!). It is also worth noting that this has a primary role working with people with a wide variety of disabilities, and a secondary role of working with dogs. Gaining experience in working with people with a wide range of disabilities would be a great place to start, alongside training in health sciences. If you would like to volunteer for PPADT to both assist the organisation and gain some experience, we would love to hear from you!

What is the difference between assistance dogs, psychiatric service dogs, emotional support dogs & companion dogs?

For more information on this please view our Dog Types page.