Service Dogs: The Definitive Guide

service dog certification and registration

Service Dogs

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What is a Service Dog?

Service Dog Definition

A service dog is any canine that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks which benefit an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

Tasks performed by service dogs often include things like pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button, among others.

Types of Service Dogs

types of service dogs

It is extremely important to note that under Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that Therapy dogs and Emotional Support Animals are not classified as service animals, and it is a Federal offense to misrepresent any animal as a service dog.

Some examples of animals that fit the ADA definition of “service animal” because they have been trained to perform a specific task for someone with a disability include, but are not limited to:

Guide Dogs

Carefully selected and trained dogs that serve as mobility aids for the blind, or those with severe visual impairments.

Hearing Alert or Signal Dogs

A dog that has been trained to alert a person who has a significant hearing loss or is deaf to particular sounds, such as a knock on the door or fire alarm.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Dogs that are specifically-trained to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects. Tasks performed by a PSD may include reminding a handler to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches, for persons with PTSD, interrupting self-mutilation by persons with dissociative identity disorders, and keeping disoriented individuals from danger.

Seizure Alert Dogs

Dogs that assist people with seizure disorders. How a SR Dog assists someone depends on the individual’s needs. For instance, the dog may stand guard over the person during a seizure or the dog may go for help.

Sensory Signal Dog / Social Signal Dog

A dog trained to assist a person with autism. “SSig Dogs” alert their handlers to distracting repetitive movements common among people with autism, allowing the person to stop the movement (e.g., hand flapping).

Read more about the types of service dogs.

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Service Dog Requirements

service dog requirements

  • Service animals must be canines or miniature horses.
  • Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, can not be considered service animals.
  • The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability.
  • It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor which states an individual’s need to have the animal for emotional support.

NOTE:  A doctor’s letter does not turn a pet into a service animal.

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Service Dog Breeds

The most important things to consider when selecting a breed to be a service dog are the animal’s size, temperament, and receptiveness to training. Smaller breeds of dogs may struggle to perform their necessary tasks, and dogs that are too large may be difficult for a disabled person to transport.

That’s why most service dog programs and organizations train golden retrievers and labradors to be assistance animals, but many other breeds may also make suitable service animals.

According to Assistance Dogs International:

“A good service dog is not protective, is people orientated, not overly active, confident but not dominant or submissive. Service dogs should not require complex grooming as this could be a problem for their owner”

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Service Dog Training

Service dog training

In order to be classified as a service dog under Federal law, and in order to fall under the legal protections afforded to service animals, a service dog must be specially trained to perform specific tasks that will aid a person with a disability.

As with all working animals, service dogs are held to a very high standard.

If a service animal behaves inappropriately becomes disruptive or aggressive, or interferes with the rights of others, then the animal may no longer fall under the legal protections afforded to service dogs.

This is why service dogs must be highly trained, calm and collected, even under stressful circumstances.

Check out our free resources for Service Dog Training.

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Service Dog Laws

service dog laws

In the United States, service dog laws can be separated into three areas:

  • Case Law – decisions made by courts
  • Federal Law – (both statutory and regulatory laws) and
  • State Law

The primary federal laws governing service dogs in the United States are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Many cases that appear before judges are tried under both federal and state laws at the same time, and in the event that an individual is qualified for protection under both a Federal and a State law, whichever law affords greater rights to the disabled individual shall apply.

Read more about Service Dog Laws.

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Service Dog Certification and Registration

Overview of Service dogs

Although there exists no shortage of websites that sell official-looking ID cards and vests for “service dogs”, therapy dogs and emotional support animals, registering or certifying an animal on such a site provides the handler with no discernible value.

As an owner/handler of a service dog, you are not legally required to register or certify your animal as a service dog and there is no official Service Dog registry in the United States.

In order to determine whether an animal is a bona fide service dog, the U.S. Department of Justice allows businesses to ask the following two questions:

  1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
  2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

In order to qualify as a “service animal” under federal law, the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks which assist an individual with his or her disability.

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Service Dog Resources

Check out our free guides for service dog handlers, which include:

  • Handler Rights & Responsibilites
  • Service Animals in Training
  • Service Dog Laws and Enforcement
  • Service Dog FAQ

See the complete collection of Service Dog Resources.

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Image credits: Wikipedia Commons

service dog laws and requirements

In the United States, service dog laws can be separated into three areas:

  • Case Law – decisions made by courts
  • Federal Law – (both statutory and regulatory laws) and
  • State Law

Service Dog Laws and Requirements- Federal Law

The primary federal laws governing service dogs in the United States are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

In order to be classified as a service dog under Federal law, and in order to fall under the legal protections afforded to service animals, a service dog must be specially trained to perform specific tasks that will aid a person with a disability.

As with all working animals, service dogs are held to a very high standard.

If a service animal behaves inappropriately becomes disruptive or aggressive, or interferes with the rights of others, then the animal may no longer fall under the legal protections afforded to service dogs.

This is why service dogs must be highly trained, calm and collected, even under stressful circumstances.

Service Dog Laws and Requirements- ID Cards and Vests

Although there exists no shortage of websites that sell official-looking ID cards and vests for “service dogs”, therapy dogs and emotional support animals, registering or certifying an animal on such a site provides the handler with no discernible value. As an owner/handler of a service dog, you are not legally required to register or certify your animal as a service dog and there is no official Service Dog registry in the United States.

In order to determine whether an animal is a bona fide service dog, the U.S. Department of Justice allows businesses to ask the following two questions:

  1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
  2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

In order to qualify as a “service animal” under federal law, the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks which assist an individual with his or her disability.