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Service Dogs, Businesses, and the Americans with Disabilities Act

How the laws interpret service dogs and protects disabled handlers and the businesses they visit

By Kayla PowellPublished 5 years ago 4 min read
A German Shepard in a mobility harness with his paws on the rail with his handler overlooking a pond at the Zoo. Photo by: Valentino Lipscomb

With the the increase of people getting service dogs and an influx of people faking having service animals, it has become very hard for the public to distinguish between a real service dog and a fake service dog. For this reason and the fact that most people do not know the laws that govern service dogs places of business either do not abide by the law by refusing services to service dog handlers or allowing anyone with an animal to enter. These are very big problems for real service dog handlers so it is extremely important to know the laws.

What Is A Service Dog?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a service dog is defined as, "a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability." The only animals allowed to be used for service work are dogs of any breed and miniature horses. They also state that animals that give emotional support are not service dogs as emotional support is not a task.

Service dogs can be used to help many disabilities. The most common service dogs to think of are seeing eye dogs and mobility dogs. While they may be the ones that are most well known they are not the only ones. There are also diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, PTSD service dogs and Autism service dogs to name a few. A lot of these are for disabilities that are not visible 'til someone has an episode but this does not make them any less real or less debilitating. Service dogs train for years to become good at mitigating these disabilities by performing work and tasks and being trained how to behave in public.

How Can You Tell If A Service Dog Is Real?

It is quite hard to tell if a service dog is real or not. Service dogs do not have a legal national registry. Some states have a registry but it is not mandatory. Service dogs also do not have to have special ID's or certificates as these are not required by the ADA and are usually sold by sites that try to scam people out of their money such as the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR), a fake registry who lies to people about what a service dog is and what is required to be a service dog. Service dogs also do not need to wear a vest or other gear that shows they are service dogs, most handlers do this though to let the public know that it is a service dog and to teach the dog how to distinguish between working and playing.

So how do you tell if it's a service dog? Well the ADA gives businesses two questions they are allowed to ask: Is it a service dog? And what tasks does your dog perform to mitigate your disability? If a person cannot or will not answer these questions, then they are not a service dog and you may ask them to leave. If they respond with emotional support as their task, that the dog is an emotional support animal, that the dog is a therapy animal, or it is not a dog, then you may ask them to leave.

Are There Any Times A Service Dog Is Not Allowed Access?

Under the ADA, the only time a service dog is not allowed to gain entrance is if it is a sterile environment such as a burn unit or operating room or if allowing entrance would cause undue hardship or alter the product or service being given. Tattoo shops and restaurants are not covered by this and must allow service dogs to enter. Any place that must follow the heath code cannot be fined for allowing a service dog onto the premises.

What if the dog is rowdy or uses the bathroom in my business? You are allowed to remove the service dog even if it is a legitimate team if the handler is not taking control of the animal or they are unable to gain control. Some states allow service dogs in training to have the same public access rights as fully trained service dogs so sometimes those teams mess up or have a bit of a hiccup and that's okay. Even fully trained teams have their off days. Dogs are not robots. If they yip, bark, sniff things, or misbehave a little, it is okay as long as the handler corrects them when it happens.

If A Business Has A Pet Policy Or Charges A Pet Fee, Does It Apply To Service Dogs?

Any business, such as hotels, that have pet fees are not allowed to charge service dog handlers a fee for their dog. The reason being is that they are considered medical equipment and you cannot charge a fee for this. Pet policies also do not apply given that the dog is considered medical equipment and is allowed into non pet friendly places that are open to the public. If a service dog does cause damage to a place such as a hotel room, the hotel may charge a fee like they would any other guest.

What Should I Do If Someone Has A Fear Of Dogs Or Has An Allergy?

Under the ADA you cannot deny a service dog team because of a fear of dogs or an allergy. If someone has a fear of dogs, they should avoid the dog and his or her handler. Certain breeds can strike fear in people who have been attacked and some breeds have bad reputations that cause people to fear them, but service dogs are required to have a good temperament and be well socialized and show no aggression giving no reason to fear them. A person with an allergy should avoid the dog or the two should be placed on opposite sides of the building in restaurants.

For more information visit

Any information or suggestions not found under the ADA website are from the author's personal experience owning a service dog. This is not intended to be used as legal advice on how to manage service dogs in a place of business but as an informative guide on the laws that protect service dog handlers and businesses.


About the Creator

Kayla Powell

I am a college student who is thriving despite many mental illnesses. I am a service dog handler and animal lover. And I am a single mother of a very handsome little boy.

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    Kayla PowellWritten by Kayla Powell

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