Before we begin, please note that our focus is on Service Dogs, not Emotional Support Dogs, Therapy Dogs or other types of working dogs or other species of animals. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Therapy Dogs are important types of working dogs, but they are not Service Dogs. It is very important to understand the difference.
Simply being disabled and having a dog isn’t enough
Simply being being disabled or having a disease and having a dog isn’t enough to make a dog a Service Dog. Many disabled people have pets. Service Dogs must be trained to perform specific physical tasks or work that you would otherwise have difficulty completing on your own due to your disability. Tasks or work should be things that are physically necessary. Under the law, people are allowed to ask you what specific physical tasks your dog performs to help with your disability and you should be prepared to explain. Providing comfort or emotional support are not qualifying tasks.
Some people are surprised to learn that there are no legally-mandated training standards for Service Dogs — or even for Service Dog trainers. There is no “formal” test for Service Dogs because the tasks Service Dogs can be trained to perform vary too widely. Furthermore, under the law it is illegal for anyone to ask for proof of training or certification. The ADA is written this way because it is a civil rights law designed level the playing field for disabled people — not add challenges for them. If any form of “paperwork,” “certification” or “licensing” were required Service Dog handlers could and would be stopped and forced to show proof to whomever asks, or, if police are only allowed to ask, police would be routinely called on Service Dog owners who are just trying to go about their day.
Service Dogs do not always make life easier
Before you begin to explore partnering with a Service Dog, you should know that they do not always make life easier and you should fully consider it.
Fully training a Service Dog requires hundreds of hours of hard work
If you don’t already have a list of specific trained tasks, the first thing you should do is sit down and write out a list of specific things you would like your dog to perform.
Tasks or work should be things that are physically necessary. Under the law, people are allowed to ask you what specific physical tasks your dog performs and you should be prepared to explain. Providing comfort, emotional support, guarding or protection duties are not qualifying tasks.
Not all dogs are suitable for Service Dog work
Not all dogs are cut out to function as Service Dogs and many washout, so you should be emotionally prepared should your dog not work out. Under the law it is permissible for individuals to train their own Service Dog, however, we recommend you still work with a private trainer or get a dog from an organization that provides fully trained service dogs if you don’t have experience training animals.
Your behavior and that of your Service Dog matters
Behavior is the best 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.
Work or tasks must be trained until reliable
Many disabled people have pets, and some of those pet dogs display natural behaviors that are useful, but they are different from Service Dog tasks which are trained until they are reliable. Tasks which aren’t extremely reliable and performed on cue every single time, even with distractions, can be very dangerous.
Under federal law, members of the public are allowed to ask you two questions:
- Is this a service dog?
- What work or tasks has this dog been trained to perform?
Anything your dog does naturally or has taught itself to do does not qualify as a task or work. As well, any behavior that most dogs do naturally does not qualify as a task or work.
- “Emotional support” is not a qualifying task.
- The word “tasks” in the legal definition above is plural, meaning more than one. We encourage our members to have dogs which are trained in more than one task.
- Providing comfort or companionship is not a qualifying task.
- All tasks or work must be things someone has trouble completing due to their disability.
- Guard dog duty tasks are prohibited.
This means under federal law you must be prepared to describe some of the necessary tasks or work your dog is trained to perform, even if describing those tasks reveals the nature of your disability.
While under the law members of the public are prohibited from asking you about your disability, describing the tasks or work your dog performs sometimes ends up revealing the nature of your disability. This may be unavoidable, however you are not required to discuss your disability beyond describing the tasks or work your dog performs.
Saying “I am blind” or “I have multiple sclerosis” or “I have PTSD” do not describe tasks or work.
How do I know what tasks qualify?
There’s no list of “accepted” mental, physical or sensory disabilities because it would be nearly impossible to create. The only factor is that your dog is trained to perform work or tasks you would otherwise have difficulty completing due to your disability.
Under the law, people are allowed to ask you what specific physical tasks your dog performs and you should be prepared to explain. Providing comfort or emotional support are not qualifying tasks.
How do I find a trainer?
Depending on your disability, you may wish to search for trainers or organizations that specialize in training animals for tasks related to the type of disability you have. Organizations often have waiting lists, some may charge nothing, others may charge $20,000 or more depending on a variety of factors.
Service Dog Standards Agreement
The purpose of Service Dog Standards is to add clarity to the process and responsibilities of being partnered with a Service Dog. At our heart, we hope to encourage adherence to the ADA by requiring our Registrants to understand that intentionally misrepresenting an animal as Service Animal for any reason is not only unethical, it is also in violation of federal and local laws.
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