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How Can I Tell If A Service Animal Is Legitimate?

There are two ways you tell if a dog is a Service Animal and not a pet:

  1. Ask. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows for Service Animal owners to be taken at their word and you are limited to only two questions — and only if it isn’t obvious that the animal is a Service Animal. You may not demand proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed.
  2. Team Behavior. Behavior is an excellent indication of whether or not a Service Dog team — meaning the dog and human — is well trained. If a Service Dog or their human handler is interrupting a business’ daily operation with their behavior, causing problems in a housing situation or behaves in a way that is dangerous a manager or business owner has every right to ask the person to remove the dog from the premises, “Service Dog” or not.

Every Service Dog handler is solely responsible for their actions. You may not blame any group of people as a whole for the actions of a few, whether by race, nationality, religion, ability or disability.

In other words, if a customer or tenant causes damage or is disruptive, the same logic and laws apply as if they had a wheelchair or no disability at all. Damage or disruptive behavior should be dealt with as if it was done by any adult or child.

Examples of inappropriate behavior includes barking not related to signaling on cue related to a person’s disability, growling, stealing food, knocking people over, jumping, or other behaviors.


Please read Things Service Dogs in Public Should and Should Not Do 


Please remember that Service Dogs and their human partners are not perfect and can be sick, be going through trauma or simply have bad days — just like everyone. Please be kind. Nobody knows what anyone else is going through.


Not Every Disability is Apparent

Be aware that many disabilities are invisible, such as deafness, epilepsy, autism, multiple sclerosis (M.S.), life-threatening allergies, psychiatric disabilities and others. In some cases, you may not be able to determine if someone is disabled or the extent of their disability.

It is Illegal to Require Documentation of a Service Dog Team
Many disabled individuals choose to provide a vest for their Service Dog and/or carry identification, however it is not required that they do. Some Service Dog tea You may encounter a disabled individual who chooses to keep their disability private. Their Service Dog may not be wearing a vest and they may not be carrying any documentation on their person. Other disabled individuals choose to carry legitimate identification materials that have the name and contact information of the issuing organization, such as those provided by training programs based around Service Dog Standards or The United States Service Dog Registry.  If a team decides to present you with a card or other identification, it is their choice.


Vests or other identifying gear is not required.

While we recommend that every team is clearly identified, Federal law is very specific about not requiring vests or other forms of identification. Many disabled individuals who use Service Dogs choose not to provide a vest for their dog because they don’t want to be labeled as disabled. They believe that a vest is like being emblazoned with a Scarlett Letter.


Service Dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds.

The ADA does not limit breed or size. For example, large dogs can be used for bracing those with balance or mobility issues. Small dogs are perfectly suited as Hearing Dogs or Medical Alert Dogs.


There is no universally recognized “certification” for Service Dogs (or trainers).

There is no such thing as a universally or legally-recognized certification for Service Dogs — or trainers. While some trainers and organizations may say they “certify” their graduates, that status is something granted by them and is not recognized under law or even by other trainers or organizations. Anyone can call themselves a trainer and because there is such a wide variety of training techniques, styles, schools, online courses and more, there is no universally recognized standard. Some of the best trainers in the world have never graduated from a course, as well, some of the best Service Dog teams do not come from programs.

Dogs may be trained by an individual trainer, an organization or by the disabled handler themselves.
As said above, there are no universal standards for Service Dog trainers. Service Dogs may be trained by an individual trainer, an organization or by the disabled handler themselves.

The law states:

§ 35.136 Service animals
(f) Inquiries. A public entity shall not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. A public entity may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public entity shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Generally, a public entity may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability).

Source: Part 35 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services
Authority: 5 U.S.C. 301; 28 U.S.C. 509, 510; 42 U.S.C. 12134.
Subpart A—General § 35.104 Definitions





The United States Service Dog Registry has been helping Service Dog handlers for over 10 years. Learn more >



Service Dog Standards Profile Page

Service Dog Standards helps those who have difficulty advocating for themselves. Learn more >