Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dog handlers have special legal rights. The ADA allows service dogs to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where the public is allowed to go. This includes businesses such as stores and restaurants, and public areas such as national parks, beaches, and libraries.
Under the ADA, a disability is defined as someone who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” or “a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
Handlers of service dogs use their animals to help with a wide variety of disabilities. Generally, the disability can be:
- A physical disability, such as mobility issues, blindness, and hearing impairment.
- A psychiatric condition, such as panic disorder, severe depression, and PTSD.
Regardless of the type of disability the handler has, the service dog must be trained to work or perform tasks related to the disability. In the article, we will address four specific topics.
- #1 – A service dog must have special training
- #2 – Registrations, IDs, vests and other accessories are frequently used and helpful, but optional
- #3 – Service dogs have special rights for housing
- #4 – Service dogs can travel with their handlers, even on flights
#1 – A service dog must have special training
By definition, a service dog must be trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. The task that the service dog is trained to perform must be directly related to the handler’s disability.
How service dogs help: For example, a service dog can be trained to assist a visually impaired person walk around in public environments or to pull a wheelchair for someone with limited mobility. Service dogs also help people with psychiatric conditions by performing tasks such as reminding their handlers to take medication or providing pressure therapy during panic or anxiety attacks.
ADA compliance: In addition to the special training a service dog needs to help with a person’s disability, it’s also important for the service dog to master basic obedience training. Under ADA rules, a service dog must always be under the control of its handler. Service dogs must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered (unless it prevents the service dog from effectively performing its tasks). If the use of a harness, leash, or tether is unsuitable, the handler must maintain control of their service dog through voice, signal, or other means.
A good service dog should be able to maintain discipline and focus on its handler in public areas, especially those that are busy and filled with potentially distracting stimuli. It can be useful to subject the service dog to a public access test to ensure that is ready to enter public environments filled with people, animals, and other distractions.
Who can train a service dog? A service dog can be trained by a professional or by the handler. There is no requirement to hire a professional or to take any particular course — if the handler is capable, they can train their service dog on their own. Training a dog to perform tasks reliably for a disability takes time, patience, and know-how.
If you have limited knowledge and experience in training a canine, you may want to consider enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer. A dog trainer can be helpful even if you plan to do most of the training yourself — they can give you a framework for training and useful tips.
#2 – Registrations, IDs, vests and other accessories are frequently used and helpful, but optional
When you see a service dog handler out in public, you will often see the dog wearing a vest, and the handler will have an identification card that likely contains a registration number.
Service dog handlers commonly use Service Dog IDs and vests primarily for a couple of reasons:
- They help indicate to others in the public that their dog is a working service animal that should not be bothered
- They help maintain privacy by curbing unwanted and intrusive inquiries about the service dog.
Legal requirements: One common misconception regarding service dogs is that there is a legal requirement for them to be registered or to wear a vest. Some people also think that an identification card is mandatory for service dog handlers. Contrary to these beliefs, service dog handlers are not required to register their dogs, carry IDs, or have their service dogs wear vests.
Service dog handlers use these items voluntarily because they are useful. A staff person at a public establishment, however, cannot demand that a service dog handler show an ID card or put a vest on their dog in order to be granted accommodation on the premises. Many service dog handlers find ID cards and vests essential for being out in public. Most people are unaware of the specific details regarding ADA rules, and these tools provide an easy shortcut for service dog handlers to indicate that their dog is not a normal pet. If you’re interested in registering your service dog in a database, you can get started by clicking on the link below.
Once your dog is registered, you can order a service dog ID card, service dog certification, and even order a service dog vest. Again, while these items are optional, many service dog handlers find them incredibly helpful.
All service dog handlers should understand they have a right to privacy when they are out in public. If it is obvious what service the service dog provides, staff at a public establishment are not allowed to make any inquiries regarding your service dog. If it is not obvious what service the dog provides, staff can only ask two questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and if so,
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
They can’t ask a service dog handler for further details regarding their disability or require that the handler demonstrate that the dog can perform the task it has been trained for.
#3 – Service dogs have special rights for housing
Service dogs are not pets. Service dogs have special housing rights that are not granted to normal pets. If you are a service dog handler, you are permitted under Fair Housing rules to live with your service dog, even if your building has a strict policy that bans all pets. For purposes of Fair Housing laws, service dogs are not considered pets, and any policy that may apply to pets is inapplicable.
For example, if the building allows pets but not dogs over 50 pounds, or the building bans certain breeds such as pitbulls or Great Danes, those rules do not apply to service dogs. A housing provider cannot prevent a tenant from keeping a service dog in their home because the dog is of a certain breed or weight.
Exceptions and requirements: A landlord can only deny accommodation of a service dog in limited circumstances, such as if they determine that the service dog poses a safety or health threat to others. As with all service dogs, landlords can only verify a disabled person’s need for a service dog by asking the two questions discussed in the previous section. Unlike an emotional support animal which requires a letter of recommendation from a licensed healthcare professional, a service dog does not need any documented credentials.
#4 – Service dogs can travel with their handlers, even on flights
Service dogs are also allowed to travel and fly with their handler at no extra cost. This means they can ride on public transportation such as trains and buses, and also in taxis. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers in the airplane cabin as well.
Traveling can be a stressful experience for any dog. It’s important that a service dog has been trained to handle situations such as crowded airports, trains, and airplane cabins. A service can be denied accommodation if it is disruptive and not under the control of its handler. Service dogs intended to be used for travel should be exposed to a wide variety of situations, so they remain calm when faced with novel environments. It’s important to properly acclimate a service dog for the type of journey you’re taking. Start with shorter trips on a plane or the bus so your service dog can learn to maintain composure when flying with you in scenarios like turbulence, longer trips, or crowded bus and train journeys.