Most service dogs can be recognized in public by their brightly colored vests. Although these vests can help identify a service dog, the vest alone does not make your pet an official service dog. In fact, service dogs aren’t actually legally required to wear special identification at all.
Even so, service dogs have unique rights that allow them to accompany their owners in public spaces and businesses. Only dogs with special training to assist an owner with disabilities have these rights, and a vest can help distinguish a working animal from other pets.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog is an assistance animal that has received professional training to perform a task that helps its owner manage a mental, physical, or emotional disability. Only dogs are recognized as suitable service animals protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA became law in 1990. This act provides protections for individuals with disabilities to allow them to enjoy the same civil rights as the general public in public spaces. Service dogs accompany their owners publicly to provide assistance directly related to their disability.
Some people may confuse emotional support animals with service dogs. Emotional support animals are pets that provide comfort for their owner with just their presence. They do not benefit from the same level of access to public spaces as service dogs do, however.
Also, unlike emotional support animals, service dogs are trained to perform specific work. Tasks that service dogs are trained to perform include guiding the blind, pulling wheelchairs, calming people who suffer from PTSD or anxiety attacks, or alerting handlers about possible seizures.
The different types of service dogs trained to perform these tasks include:
- Seeing-Eye Dogs
- Hearing Assistance Dogs
- Mobility Assistance Dogs
- Diabetic Alert Dogs
- Psychiatric Service Dogs
Most dog owners recognize the benefit that any pet can bring to their everyday lives. Dogs offer companionship, comfort, and can help support mental health. But trained service dogs are even more valuable for individuals with disabilities.
Dogs are highly trainable and able to help manage a wide variety of disabilities. They can become a person’s eyes or ears. Some service dogs are even trained to detect the onset of a medical emergency like a seizure or remind their owners to take medication.
Psychiatric service dogs help people with disorders that include anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia, and other mental health illnesses. These dogs can help reduce stress-inducing conditions, interrupt repetitive behaviors, or calm individuals experiencing panic attacks.
A variety of breeds can become service dogs. Larger breeds like Great Danes are ideal for mobility assistance. But small breeds are also capable of versatile tasks.
The most common breeds used as service dogs include Labs, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. These breeds are exceptionally trainable and can easily learn the behaviors required for service dogs to earn their unique rights.
What Rights Does a Service Dog Have?
The ADA gives working service dogs specific rights that allow them to provide the support their owners need in order to enjoy the same access to public spaces as the general public.
Because service dogs perform essential services, they are allowed in spaces where pets are normally banned. Owners can take their dogs into business offices, the classroom, on planes, and travel with them. All service dogs are trained to remain well behaved in public situations.
Emotional support animals do not have the same rights because they are not officially trained to behave appropriately in these unique environments.
In general, service dog owners should not be subject to excessive questioning. However, the ADA permits public facilities to ask if your dog is a service dog required due to a disability. Businesses can also inquire about the task that the dog is trained to perform.
Businesses are not allowed to ask for documentation that proves your dog is a service animal. If you outfit your service dog with an appropriate vest, you can include patches that contain information about your legal rights under the ADA.
A service dog can enjoy these four rights that are protected by law.
- Public Access Rights
Many public spaces and businesses do not allow pets. Service dogs are not pets, but rather are working animals that owners depend on to perform everyday tasks. Service dogs have the right to accompany their owner in public spaces.
However, all service dogs must have excellent behavior in public. Public access also does not override public health rules that prohibit animals in areas that would endanger human health. Religious organizations are exempt from the ADA, but some state laws may vary.
Wearing a service dog vest can help immediately inform the public that a dog is allowed to be in that space and prevent confusion in areas where dogs are not normally allowed.
- Travel Privileges
Service dogs also have special travel privileges under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. This law prohibits discrimination by airlines towards individuals with disabilities. If you need a service dog to assist with your disability, you can bring your service animal on a flight.
Service dog owners are also exempt from paying extra fees that might be associated with flying pets. However, airlines are permitted by the Department of Transportation to ask owners for further documentation about a person’s service dog before their flight departs.
Although small pets can travel in most air cabins in special travel carriers, large breeds are not allowed in the cabin. However, service dogs of any size are allowed to stay with their owners during these flights. Large service pups lay by their owner’s feet for the duration of the flight. Click here for more information on what it’s like traveling with your service dog.
- Fair Housing
The Fair Housing Act is another law that protects individuals from discrimination. This act gives service dogs the right to live in housing where other pets are not allowed. The FHA also protects individuals who need to live with emotional support animals to function.
Owners of service animals cannot be denied housing based on their disability. Service dogs are also often exempt from pet fees in housing developments that allow pets for an additional cost.
- Educational Facility Access
Students at academic institutions with service dogs are protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law allows students to bring their assistance animals into the classroom and on campus.
Different rules and guidelines from the Department of Justice apply depending on where your school is located. But most institutions are required to allow service dogs to accompany their owners anywhere they may need assistance.
Does My Service Dog Need a Vest and/or ID?
The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require service dogs to wear a vest or special identification in public. However, most organizations strongly encourage service dog owners to outfit their animals with vests that clearly identify them as service dogs.
Service dog owners should also consider carrying a service ID for their dog which explains what public facilities are allowed to ask, and the rights that service dogs have in public spaces.
Unfortunately, nearly anyone can buy a vest that makes their pet look like a service animal. The vest alone does not give a dog any additional privileges if they are not a trained working animal, however.
Some dog owners may try to misrepresent untrained dogs as service animals by buying a vest. But this misdemeanor is illegal and can lead to more distrust and disruption for owners of actual service animals who depend on their dogs to live normal lives.
Your service dog’s specific training and behavior is what allows him to accompany you in public spaces. All service dogs are expected to exhibit no disruptive behaviors. Even if your dog is a certified service animal, business owners can ask you to remove him if you cannot control your dog.
Emotional support animals or therapy dogs may wear vests, but they do not have the same rights or training as service dogs.
Service Dog Vest Benefits
Although service vests are not required, they provide several benefits for service dogs and their owners. Wearing a vest is helpful for the dog, owner, and the public.
A vest clearly distinguishes the working animal from normal pets. When your dog is wearing his vest, he is working. The vest signals to other people that the dog is performing a specific task and cannot be distracted. People often approach and pet dogs in public. But this distraction can limit a service dog’s ability to assist its owner. Many vests also include a clear warning not to pet the animal while working. You can add additional patches with information to your vests that also explain the dog’s purpose or task. This can also help others do their best to avoid distracting the dog from his job.
Vests can benefit service dogs by providing a physical cue that helps them separate work time and play-time. Just like humans, dogs need time to relax off the clock too when their owners take off their vests at home. A vest can help service dogs know when they need to pay attention to their job in public, and when they can nap and play like normal pets. Service animals still need plenty of TLC and time to be normal dogs.
Clear identification can help ensure that travel and every-day life is as stress-free as possible. Business staff can recognize the vest and avoid confusing the animal with a pet that may not be allowed in their facility. A service vest can reduce hassle and limit unnecessary questions. Many vests also contain identification cards with information directly from the ADA that states the legal rights of a service dog and their handler.
Service dogs are not required to wear vests, but a vest can help working animals perform their job and clearly distinguish service dogs from pets. The vest itself does not create a service dog, however. These special animals need professional training to enjoy additional legal rights.
Professionally trained service dogs provide essential assistance for disabled individuals that allow them to enjoy the same access to public spaces as the general population. These dogs can accompany their owners in places where most pets are prohibited.
A vest helps inform staff and the public that an animal is a service dog, allowing owners to use public spaces without unnecessary hassle. If you own a service dog, consider using a vest to ensure that these special pups can proudly do their jobs without distractions.
And if you’re interested in partnering with a professional dog trainer to train a psychiatric service dog, we can help. Here at CertaPet, we are currently coordinating with dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free. We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options. In the mean time, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!
Can I just buy a service dog vest?
Nearly anyone can purchase the type of vests used by most service dogs online. However, it is illegal to misrepresent an untrained pet as a service dog to gain access to public spaces.
Where do I get a service dog vest?
You can order a service dog vests at an online retailer like Amazon or Chewy. You can also find websites that specialize in selling working service dog harness items with a large inventory of service dog tags that fit a variety of dogs.
What do service dog vest colors mean?
The ADA does not state that service dogs need vests in any particular color. There is no official guidance about what different colors mean when it comes to service dog vests. The most common colors are red and blue, or purple for purple heart veterans with PTSD.
Is it legal to ask for proof of service dog?
A public facility is not allowed to ask for proof or documentation confirming that your dog is a certified service animal. They may ask two questions only: 1) Is the dog required because of a disability? and 2) What tasks has the dog been trained to perform? The ADA prohibits entities from requiring people with disabilities to do anything the general public is not required to do.