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So, let’s talk about Service Dogs

I get many calls from people who want to train their own service dog.  Training your own Service Dogs is fine.  But there is so much more to it than just putting a vest on your dog that says “Service Dog.”  Service Dogs must meet certain training qualifications that will allow them to gain public access. Even if your dog is a “nice, well-mannered dog,” which does well around most people and can lay quietly in public, it is not a service dog.  Trying to pass your dog off as a Service Dog is not only dangerous but IT IS ILLEGAL. 

We have all heard news reports of people being bitten by so called “service dogs.”  Or the police having to be called because a person brings his so called “service dog” into a restaurant and the dog causes a problem.  When asked to leave, the person causes a scene and throws some sort of fit.

Not every dog can be a service dog.  First of all a dog must have the “temperament” to be a service dog.  Temperament is defined as:  the charteristic physiological and emotional state of which tends to condition his responses to the various situations of life.  For a dog, this means he must be able to adjust and accept the many situations he may encounter in the public domain.  A service dog cannot, be yappy, aggressive, fearful of noise, people or new and strange things he may encounter out in public places. 

I have encountered so called “service dogs” that have lunged, barked, and even peed in inappropriate places.  If you want to train your own “Service Dog,” it is entirely possible, but I suggest you obtain the guidance of a certified trainer who can help you navigate the training necessary to pass the Public Access Test.  You must also have a Need for a “Service Dog.”  Need is defined as:  a condition necessitating supply or relief; for carrying out some function or activity.  This means you must need your dog with you in order to carry out daily living experiences.  The “Service Dog” must be able to assist you in the ability to improve your quality of life.  We know that pets in general improve our lives, but if your dog is just a “Pet,” and has not been specifically trained to be a Service Dog, it is not allowed in public places.  Service Dogs must meet certain criteria set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA), to be allowed into public places.

According to the ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, this is what you need to know about having a Service Dog:

“Many people with disabilities use a service animal in order to fully participate in everyday life. Dogs can be trained to perform many important tasks to assist people with disabilities, such as providing stability for a person who has difficulty walking, picking up items for a person who uses a wheelchair, preventing a child with autism from wandering away, or alerting a person who has hearing loss when someone is approaching from behind.

The ADA requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle. Accordingly, entities that have a “no pets” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities.”

The ADA’s definition of a Service Dog is: “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

This means a Service Dog must be trained to take a specific action when it is needed to assist the person with a disability.  For instance, to detect the onset of a seizure, to alert a diabetic that their blood sugar levels are high or low, to help lower anxiety levels for a person experiencing an anxiety attack or to perform physical tasks for a person in a wheelchair.

Emotional support, therapy, comfort or companion dogs are not considered a service animal under the ADA.  These animals are used to provide comfort just by being with an individual.  They do not perform a specific task for an individual.

Service Dogs are not “required” to wear a vest or specific identification, however if it is not obvious that the dog is a Service Dog, managers, staff and owners of an establishment can ask you what task your dog has been trained to perform. 

The person declaring that their dog is a Service Dog is absolutely responsible for caring for and supervising the dog.  This includes good grooming, toileting, veterinary care including required vaccinations, feeding, housing and insuring that the dog behaves appropriately in any given situation.

Generally a Service Dog is allowed in any public place the handler is allowed, i.e., restaurants, hotels, arenas, buses, airlines, schools, shopping areas, etc.

While I always recommend you have a certificate from a competent and certified service dog trainer, the ADA does not require that the Service Dog be registered.

Your legitimate Service Dog cannot be denied access to any public building because of breed restrictions.  A Service dog can be any breed.

Service Dogs may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the breed or how the dog may behave.  A Service Dog that acts inappropriately, and/or poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others or is not under control of the handler can absolutely be excluded from a public area.   If a Service Dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.

There is much more information available on the ADA website at or you can contact their information line at 800-514-0301.

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