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Service Dog Laws

Updated on April 7, 2013

Service Dog Laws

The use of a service dog by someone with a disability is a right that is protected by law. There are service dog laws that require the service dog to be trained to assist the person with a disability. Other service dog laws are regulations about the rights of individuals to have a service dog in public places. Some regulations are requirements for the dog's behavior in public. Whether someone is a business owner or owns a service dog, the person should be familiar with service dog laws.

What is a Service Dog?

There are two requirements that need to be met for the dog to be called a service dog. First, the handler of the dog must have a disability. The second requirement is that the dog must be trained to assist the person in tasks that are made difficult by the disability. If the person is questioned by authorities about the service dog status of the animal, the authorities are permitted to ask if the person has a disability but not about the nature of the disability.

At one time, any animal that was trained to assist someone with disabilities could be called a service animal. Now, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as a specially trained dog. The limitation of service animals to dogs only was in part due to concerns over public safety such as allergies from various other animals that may have been used.

How Must a Service Dog Behave in Public?

Some regulations require that the dog is not to interact with the public in such a way as to ask for attention. In other words, the dog must be focused on the work at hand. One service dog owner was asked to remove the dog from a beach where the dog had been allowed to swim freely. If the service dog is permitted to play or swim, the owner can be asked to remove the dog from the area. The service dog also must be on a leash and under control of the owner.

Entry Into Businesses

Business owners must allow a service dog to accompany an individual with a disability. The service dog is not required to wear a service dog vest or other item that designates the animal as a service dog. However, many service dog owners choose to have the dog wear something to make it clear that the dog is working as an assistance animal.

Even if a business owner is afraid of dogs or has dog allergies, the business owner cannot deny a disabled person with a service dog access to the business. All types of service dogs must be permitted to enter a business. The business owner cannot restrict admission to a certain type of service dog such as a guide dog for the blind. All people with disabilities who have service dogs have the right to use their service dogs in any public place. If the service animal growls at customers or displays aggressive behavior, the business owner is allowed to ask the disabled person to remove the animal from the premises.


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    • Sheila Wilson profile image

      Sheila Wilson 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Yes, I've seen that people can buy vests for their dogs. I'm not sure if it's a lack of understanding of what a service dog is or people just trying to get away with taking their pets in public. I think perhaps people in the clinics are afraid to question a person with a service dog, because they could appear to be discriminating against a disabled person.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Don't get me started My big huge pet peeve right now is people who put a vest on their dog and call it a service dog, with nary a moment of training. I go to a clinic regularly and people come in all the time with their little Fido's and Skippy's and they snarl, bark and become aggressive if you go near their master or if another dog is there.

      I was in a class recently and a girl came in with a little dog in a vest. He was supposed to be her emotional support dog. He was mean and very easily bit people. I don't know why these clinics aren't monitoring them but I think there must a good reason, perhaps because they can't prove.

      Please people, have some respect for rules and remember that you are liable if your aggressive little mutt bites someone.