Just the FAQs: Service Dogs

What law gives a person with a disability (PWD) the right to be accompanied by a trained service dog virtually everywhere the public is allowed to go?

The U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Where it is effective?

Because it is a federal law it covers all 50 states and the rights given by it cannot be limited by any state or municipal law or regulation.1

What rights does it give to a PWD who has a service dog?

Permission to bring a service dog to work may be requested as a reasonable accommodation under Title I of the ADA

Under Title III of the ADA public accommodations are required by the ADA to allow access by a PWD with his/her service dog and these include2:

1) Places of lodging (e.g. , inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms);

2) Establishments serving food or drink (e.g. , restaurants and bars);

3) Places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g. , motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums);

4) Places of public gathering (e.g. , auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls);

5) Sales or rental establishments (e.g. , bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers);

6) Service establishments (e.g. , laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals);

7) Public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation);

8) Places of public display or collection (e.g. , museums, libraries, galleries)

9) Places of recreation (e.g. , parks, zoos, amusement parks);

  1. 10) Places of education (e.g. , nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools);

  2. 11) Social service center establishments (e.g. , day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies); and

  3. 12) Places of exercise or recreation (e.g. , gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses).

Title II gives the same access rights as above to state and local government facilities “Generally, title II and title III entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go.”3

Who has public access rights with a service dog?

Only a person with a disability has these rights. “Title III protects three categories of individuals with disabilities: 1)Individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; 2)Individuals who have a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more of the individual's major life activities; and 3)Individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment, whether they have the impairment or not.”4

What is the legal definition of a service dog? [NOTE: this is very different from FHA assistance animal definition.]

“Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”5 [emphasis added]

Is professional training or certification of the dog required?


“Training requirement. Certain commenters recommended the adoption of formal training requirements for service animals. The Department has rejected this approach and will not impose any type of formal training requirements or certification process, but will continue to require that service animals be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. While some groups have urged the Department to modify this position, the Department has determined that such a modification would not serve the full array of individuals with disabilities who use service animals, since individuals with disabilities may be capable of training, and some have trained, their service animal to perform tasks or do work to accommodate their disability. A training and certification requirement would increase the expense of acquiring a service animal and might limit access to service animals for individuals with limited financial resources.

Some commenters proposed specific behavior or training standards for service animals, arguing that without such standards, the public has no way to differentiate between untrained pets and service animals. Many of the suggested behavior or training standards were lengthy and detailed. The Department believes that this rule addresses service animal behavior sufficiently by including provisions that address the obligations of the service animal user and the circumstances under which a service animal may be excluded, such as the requirements that an animal be housebroken and under the control of its handler.”6 [emphasis added]

More facts from the U.S. Department of Justice (which enforces the ADA)7: Rules Related to Service

  • When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

  • Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.

  • A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.

  • Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.

  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.

  • If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.

  • Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.

1Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

2ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual http://www.ada.gov/taman3.html

3ADA 2010 Revised Requirements, Service Animals, http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

4ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual http://www.ada.gov/taman3.html

5Americans with Disabilities Act

6Revised ADA regulations, http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleIII_2010/reg3_2010.html

7ADA 2010 Revised Requirements, Service Animals http://www.ada.gov/svcanimb.htm