A service dog performs tasks to assist a person with a disability. The person generally has the right to be accompanied by their service dog anywhere the general public is allowed. To quality as a service dog, the task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. It follows then that the person would need to take their dog wherever they go, just as a person might need to take a cane or walker wherever they go.
Types of Service Dogs
Because service dogs are trained to assist a person who has a disability, they are also known as assistance dogs or by names associated with their tasks. Some examples are:
Guide dog: Guides a person who is blind or visually impaired
Hearing dog: Alerts a person who is deaf or hearing impaired to sounds such as door bells, smoke alarms and alarm clocks
Mobility dog: Assists a person in performing tasks such as opening doors, picking up objects and pulling wheelchairs; provides stability to a person with the aid of a special harness
Medical Alert dog: Notifies a person of a change in body chemistry that may indicate a health concern, such as low or high blood sugar for a person with diabetes, or that a seizure is imminent for a person with epilepsy.
Psychiatric Service dog: Assists a person with psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety or PTSD:
It is an important distinction of a psychiatric service dog that it performs a specific task to assist its person, as is the case with all service dogs. Some examples are:
1. A person suffers PTSD and is prone to nightmares, and their service dog is trained to wake them from their nightmares.
2. A person suffers from PTSD and is not comfortable venturing alone into public places, and their service dog is trained to move in and stand as a barrier between them and anyone who approaches.
3. A person occasionally does something unconsciously which physically harms themselves, such as pulling or picking at something, and their service dog is trained to alert them to their actions.
*In each of these examples if the dog was not trained to perform the task described, and it was simply its calming presence that kept the person from having nightmares, helped them feel comfortable in public places, or kept them from harming themselves, it would not qualify as a service dog.
Training, Certification, Registration, Documentation, ID Cards, and Vests
A person can train their service dog themselves, and there is no requirement that they be associated with a service dog organization, that the dog be certified or registered, or that they present any form of documentation including ID cards and vests.
However, there are many wonderful organizations that help people who can benefit from owning a service dog. These organizations provide the training necessary for the dog to perform tasks to assist the person with their disability, as well as the training necessary to ensure that their dog will be well-behaved in public.
Organizations often provide ID cards and vests, which can be helpful because most people are not familiar with the laws pertaining to service dogs and are accepting of something looking official. Sadly, this plays into the hands of those committing fraud, which purchase ID cards and vests to impersonate service dogs.
Where You Can Take Your Service Dog
In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person with a disability generally has the right to be accompanied by their service dog anywhere the general public is allowed. However, a business may ask that the dog be removed from the premises if it is out of control, e.g. barking in a movie theater or begging food from patrons in a restaurant, or if it poses a threat to the health or safety of others.
A person taking a so-called “comfort dog” into a supermarket because they don’t want to leave it in their car is committing service dog fraud, and putting it in their shopping cart where food goes is both unsanitary and inconsiderate to others.
A business may only ask a person if their dog is a service dog required because of a disability, and what task it has been trained to perform. They may not ask the person about their disability, nor ask that the dog demonstrate its task.
Hotels, Motels, and Camps:
Hotels, motels, and camps are treated as businesses. They may not charge a deposit or surcharge for a service dog even if such charges are routinely charged for pets. However, a business which normally charges guests for damage they cause may charge for damage caused by a service dog.
Housing with Pet Restrictions:
The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) allows that a person may keep a service dog in housing with a “no pets” policy or size weight restrictions. Note, however, that it only requires that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for persons with service dogs.
The Federal Fair Housing Act applies to a facility in which a person lives, and so does not apply to hotels, motels and camps, or other facilities lodging transient guests.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows that a service dog may travel with its owner on an airplane.
Other Species as Service Animals:
Only dogs and miniature horses meeting certain criteria can serve as service animals.
Approaching Service Dogs and Their Owners
You may hear that you should not speak to a service dog because it is rude to its owner, as if you were talking to their wheelchair. But we love it when people give attention to our dogs, and the owners of service dogs feel the same way.
However, there are some important considerations concerning our approach to service dogs and their owners:
Approaching the Dog: When we encounter a service dog in public, we should assume that it is “working”, performing its function in assisting its owner. Often service dogs wear signs asking us not to disturb them while they are working. It is therefore important to ask permission before we give attention to a service dog. This is, of course, the courteous and safe way to approach any dog.
Approaching the owner: When we are out with our personal dogs, it is usually only for brief periods of time. These outings add up to only a small part of our day. A person with a service dog, on the other hand, has their dog with them virtually all throughout their day. This could include their commute to work, their workday at the office, running errands and lunchtime, and rushing around the mall doing last minute shopping. In educating others about service dogs, we can point this out and suggest that they be very considerate in deciding when to speak to a person with a service dog. It’s not that they wouldn’t love to chat with us; it’s that there are just too many of us and they need time to live their lives.
If you are an outgoing person, you will be speaking to those around you at the gym, on the bus, and in the checkout line at the grocery store. And if one of them happens to have a service dog, consider speaking to them, too. We just need to make sure we don’t interrupt their dog’s work, or contribute to an incessant interruption of their lives.
Emotional Support Dogs:
An emotional support dog (ESD) provides therapeutic support to a person with a mental health disability, may be kept in housing with pet restrictions, and travel with their owner on airplanes. Otherwise, an emotional support dog handler has no special rights to be accompanied by their emotional support dog anywhere that dogs are generally not allowed.
Training, Certification, Registration, Documentation, ID Cards and Vests
Emotional support dogs are often referred to as companion dogs, or comfort dogs. They are basically household pets, and as such require no special training, certification or registration, nor are they required to have ID cards or wear vests.
However, while all dogs provide love and emotional support, the designation of emotional support dog is only applicable to dogs which have been prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. The mental health professional must document the need for their client to have an emotional support dog, which is typically done in the form of a letter.
The following text was taken from the HUD document: Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs
“…the housing provider may ask persons who are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal that provides emotional support to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. Such documentation is sufficient if it establishes that an individual has a disability and that the animal in question will provide some type of disability-related assistance or emotional support.”
Where You Can Take Your Emotional Support Dog
The owner of an emotional support dog has no special rights to be accompanied by their emotional support dog anywhere that dogs are not generally allowed, except where individual states grant this right.
Hotels, Motels and Camps:
Hotels, motels and camps are treated as businesses, and emotional support dogs are treated as pets.
Housing with Pet Restrictions:
The Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) allows that a person may keep an emotional support dog in housing with a “no pets” policy or size or weight restrictions. Note, however, that it only requires that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for persons with emotional support dogs. The Fair Housing Act applies to a facility in which a person lives, and so does not apply to hotels, motels and camps or other facilities lodging transient guests.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) allows that an emotional support dog may travel with its owner on an airplane.
Other Species as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
The Fair Housing Act is not limited to certain species, though it only requires that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for persons with emotional support animals.
Google the name of your airline and “emotional support animal” to see what species are allowed on that company’s airplanes.
A therapy dog provides therapeutic support to people other than its handler. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers; who are usually their owners. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit various institutions like hospitals, schools, libraries, hospices, psychotherapy offices, nursing homes and more. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re on duty.
A therapy dog handler has no special rights to be accompanied by their therapy dog anywhere that dogs are generally not allowed.
Training, Certification, Registration, Documentation, ID Cards and Vests
Therapy dogs do not require any special training. They only have to know basic obedience and be well-behaved.
Certification or registration with a therapy dog organization, and the insurance the organization provides, will likely be a requirement of any facility you visit. The need for documentation and identification will be determined by the therapy dog organization you work with, and the facilities you visit.
Where You Can Take Your Therapy Dog
A therapy dog handler has no special rights to be accompanied by their therapy dog anywhere that dogs are not generally allowed. Businesses, including hotels, motels, camps, apartments, condominiums and airlines, may and usually do treat therapy dogs as pets.
Other Species as Therapy Animals
Dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, domesticated rats, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs and birds can all be used in therapy animal work.
Looking for a way to get involved with your dog?
You can join me and my yellow lab Hazel in a program called READ: “Reading Education Assistance Dogs”
Your pet can improve student’s literacy skills in a simple way. The “Reading Education Assistance Dogs” program is a program that helps improve children’s reading and communication skills. The R.E.A.D. dogs help kids improve their reading abilities by literally sticking their nose in a book. The goal is for students to get more interested to learn to love reading.
Here’s how it works:
Teachers identify certain children as low level readers. These are often kids that have tutors or be retained for a grade. They really just struggle in all areas of literacy. They have a very difficult time comprehending what they are reading.
Roughly once a week, these kids (usually first and second graders) can look forward to a visit from a four-legged reading companion that helps them build confidence.
Volunteers go to the classrooms and pick up the students. They take them to a specific room. They bring books that are appropriate to their level and they read to the dog. And that’s when the dogs step in—simply providing reading assistance by listening and creating a comfort level with students. They feel safe with the dogs and they feel like there’s no pressure, like they may feel in the classroom or when reading out loud with other kids. It’s just the child and the pet. The pet simply listens and encourages students to practice reading. Dogs make the perfect reading buddy. They are not judgmental, they listen attentively, and they help kids build confidence.
So far the response has been great.
Most teachers report a significant improvement in the kids’ reading skills and self-esteem. Parent’s response has also been wonderful. They have to give permission in order for the pets to read with the kids and they have said their kids come home and talk about the pets. It’s really been a positive and fantastic experience.