Service Dog Rules and Regulations

What is a Service Dog?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” As of March 2011, only dogs may be “service animals.” (Some exceptions apply to miniature horses.)

The work performed by the service dog 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. Animals other than canines who are trained for these functions also do not qualify. These animals may qualify as “assistance animals” under the ADA or other categories specifically delineated under state or local laws.

Where is a Service Dog Allowed?

The Disability Rights Section of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) says, service dogs are allowed to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go in all Title II and Title III entities.

Therefore, under the ADA, state and local governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations that serve the public generally must allow “service animals” (service dogs) to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is allowed. This includes places with “no pets” policies.

An example of a place a service dog may not be allowed is a hospital room or hospital or clinic area in which the general public is not allowed to freely roam or the presence of animals may cause concern for the safety or health of the patients, such as the operating room or a burn unit. However, according to the ADA, it would generally be appropriate to allow a service dog to accompany a person with a disability in their patient room, the cafeteria, or the lobby area.

There are rules and limits to having your service dog accompany you. Service dogs must be under the control of their handler at all times. Therefore, according to the ADA, they must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or these devices interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of tasks. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the service dog through voice, signal, or other effective means.

If someone is allergic to dogs: You cannot be denied access. You can be asked to sit in a different room or location.

At places that serve food or beverages: Persons with disabilities must be allowed to bring their service dogs to all parts of the establishment where the public is generally allowed regardless of any state or local health codes that may be violated.

What Can I Be Asked?

When it is not obvious what service the service dog provides: Only the following limited inquiries are allowed…

  • Is your service dog required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has your service dog been trained to perform?

Staff cannot ask:

  • the nature of your disability
  • questions about your disability
  • the breed of your dog
  • to see medical documentation for yourself or your dog
  • to see special identification
  • to see a training card or documentation
  • to see a demonstration of the task or work your service dog is trained to perform

These rules apply to housing establishments as well as stores, restaurants, and other public spaces.

Can I Be Charged Extra or Placed Somewhere Else?

Aside from in the case of allergies or health concerns, the ADA states that persons with disabilities who are accompanied by a service dog may not be isolated from other patrons or treated less favorably.

Businesses are not allowed to charge a person with a disability extra for bringing a service dog, even if they regularly charge a pet fee.

However, if your service dog causes damage and the business regularly charges damage fees of other patrons, you may be charged a damage fee for any damage caused by your service dog.

Can We Be Asked to Leave?

Under the ADA, a handler and service dog may be asked to leave a location if: (1) the dog is out of control or the handler is not exhibiting control over the dog, or (2) the dog is not housebroken. You may also be asked to leave if you leave your service animal unattended or ask the staff to care for or supervise your service animal. You may not ask staff to supervise your service animal for any reason.

If you are asked to leave, staff must offer to allow you to take advantage of their goods or services without the presence of your service dog.

According to the ADA, you cannot be asked to leave because of the breed of your dog, regardless of local regulations regarding breeds. However, you must follow all state and local regulations with regard to vaccinations and general registrations of canines. You cannot be required to register your dog as a service dog.

How Do I Get My Dog Certified as a Service Dog?

Under the ADA, there is no nationally recognized certification or licensure for service dogs. While many websites and organizations advertise licensures and certifications for sale, the ADA does not recommend purchasing these.

The ADA focuses on the necessity of training: A service dog must be specifically trained to assist a person with their specific disability and the needs related thereto. Again, a dog that solely assists a person with handling the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health needs does not qualify under the ADA as a service animal. In order to qualify, the dog must be trained for specific tasks, such as retrieval of medication, alerting a person with hearing hardships to sounds such as approaching people or vehicles, alerting to low blood sugar or irregular heart rates, alerting to the onset of epileptic seizures, and so forth. If a dog is specifically trained to alert to and avoid an episode of mental health needs, in addition to lessening it’s impact, that animal may qualify as a service animal.

All Rescue for PTSD service dog teams must comply with rigorous training and testing procedures. The Rescue for PTSD requires that the teams pass the American Kennel Club K9 Good Citizen Test, for example, as well as other testing such as Public Access. Many of our dogs undergo certification through the Alliance for Pet Therapy as therapy dogs. However, none of these tests or certifications qualify as licensure to be a service animal under the ADA. The Rescue for PTSD then requires that all service dog teams – canine and handler – complete all required skills tests and course work to graduate from our program before earning their Service Dog vest and patches.

To find out more about the training we provide for our service dogs and how we tailor it to the needs of our Veterans, visit our Training pages.

For more answers to your Frequently Asked Questions about your rights, click here to read the ADA’s FAQ page.

*This page is not to be considered legal advice. All those seeking legal advice regarding their rights and responsibilities are encouraged to contact an attorney licensed in their local jurisdiction. Many state and local jurisdictions have differing rules and regulations that vary from and are in addition to those contained within the ADA.

This page is written and sponsored by Queener Law, LLC.