It was just a quick errand and you thought nothing of heeling your Service Dog in Training (SDiT) into the store. Her behavior is always excellent, she responds beautifully to your verbal commands — and you were just grabbing a couple of things. But when the manager approaches, your palms began to sweat. Even though you know that your state allows SDiTs and you’re doing everything correctly, answering questions about Service Dogs in public isn’t your favorite thing in the world.
You smile graciously, informing the manager that this is your Service Dog in Training, and SDiTs are allowed public access for training purposes under your state’s law. He apologizes for bothering you, shakes your hand and goes on his way.
You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing it could have gone very, very differently. Unfortunately, not all business owners or employees are fluent with the law as it pertains to Service Dogs While it can be uncomfortable at times, you have to be prepared to be an advocate for yourself and your Service Dog on some level. When working your Service Dog or SDiT in public, be certain to keep the following points in mind, especially if your Service Dog works “naked,” without any gear.
Service Dog Status
Service Dogs in Training are not Service Dogs. While Service Dogs are protected by federal law and may accompany their disabled handlers anywhere the general public is allowed to be, Service Dogs in Training are not. It is up to each individual state to determine whether or not Service Dogs in Training are afforded the same public access rights as Service Dogs. Always be honest concerning the status of your partner, and never fudge the facts. Know the laws in your state as well as any areas you frequently travel, particularly if your partner is in training. Consider keeping a copy of the laws or the ADA Business Brief: Service Animals in your Service Dog’s vest.
Assistance Dogs International offers a valuable resource (ADI Guide to Assistance Dog Laws) for Service Dog handlers, organizations and trainers that outlines important service/working dog laws for each state, including whether or not Service Dogs in Training have public access.
Service Dog Gear
Federal law does not require a Service Dog to wear gear of any kind. Your Service Dog does not have to wear a vest, harness, tag, ID card, collar or any other working equipment identifying your partner as a Service Dog or Service Dog in Training. This is because anyone who uses a Service Dog is disabled — a fact some disabled handlers choose to be discreet about.
However, the simple fact remains that the public is conditioned to recognize Service Dogs and Service Dogs in Training only when they’re vested or wearing identification. Teams without gear should expect more resistance than teams who work while fully dressed. If your Service Dog performs a job that requires minimal gear for Service Dog or handler safety/comfort, such as frequent movements around sensitive medical equipment, fully-body deep pressure stimulation or simple sensory interruption utilizing grooming or touch, then consider working your partner in a bandana or leash that identifies him or her as a service dog.
Service Dog Access Questions
When you work a Service Dog in public, you pretty quickly get used to questions like, “What’s your dog for?” and “Why do you have a dog?” Most Service Dog handlers know that according to federal law, businesses may only ask two questions:
- Is that a Service Dog?
- What tasks or work does your dog perform for you?
You’re not required to disclose information on your disability, the exact function your partner serves for you or any other information concerning your Service Dog. However, if a business asks you, in any way, shape, form or fashion, “Is that a Service Dog,” be prepared to politely answer. If your dog isn’t wearing any gear at the moment and you’re informed that there’s a “No Pets” policy, diplomatically let the access challenger know that federal law allows your partner to work “naked” and that this four-legged critter is your Service Dog and she is working for you.
Always be Polite Be certain not to respond defensively or belligerently — it rarely works out to your advantage because it only encourages the questioner to respond in a similar fashion. Before working your partner in public, be sure you’re familiar with the types of questions people may ask, particularly business owners, and consider practicing your responses so you’re comfortable and confident with your answers.
Service Dog Behavior
Service Dogs are held to the upmost standards of behavior. It should be readily apparent to anyone watching that your partner has undergone hundreds of hours of specialized training. While many individuals hold the belief that their Service Dog can accompany them in any place of business, sadly, that’s not quite so.
If your Service Dog’s behavior infringes on any part of anyone else’s experience, then a business can ask you and your partner to leave. Examples of behavior for which a business may ask your Service Dog to leave include barking, marking, smelling badly, vomiting, rambunctious behavior, jumping, sniffing other customers or products or being generally out of control. Before embarking on work in public with your Service Dog in Training, be certain he or she is ready. Remember, you may be the first Service Dog team someone meets. It’s up to you to leave them with an excellent impression.