General Information

Defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These tasks encompass a range of responsibilities, such as guiding individuals who are blind, alerting those who are deaf, assisting in wheelchair mobility, safeguarding individuals experiencing seizures, prompting individuals with mental illness to take prescribed medications, providing comfort during anxiety attacks for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and fulfilling other duties as required. It’s crucial to note that service animals are designated as working animals, not pets, and their trained tasks must directly relate to the individual’s disability. Dogs whose primary function is to offer comfort or emotional support do not meet the criteria for service animals as defined by the ADA.

This definition has no impact on or restriction regarding the broader definitions of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act. Additionally, some State and local laws may define service animals more expansively than the ADA.

The specific tasks they are trained for depend on the individual’s needs and the nature of their disability. Here are some common tasks that service dogs can perform:

  1. Guiding the Blind or Visually Impaired: Guide service dogs can assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired by guiding them around obstacles and navigating through various environments.
  2. Alerting the Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Hearing Alert service dogs can be trained to alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to important sounds, such as doorbells, alarms, or someone calling their name.
  3. Mobility Assistance: Mobility service dogs can be trained to help individuals with mobility challenges by pulling a wheelchair, providing balance support, or retrieving items.
  4. Seizure Response: Seizure Alert service dogs are trained to recognize the signs of an impending seizure and can take actions such as alerting the person, finding help, or providing comfort during and after a seizure.
  5. Medical Assist: Medical Assist service dogs can be trained to detect changes in blood sugar levels, scent changes related to certain medical conditions, or impending medical events. They can then alert their handlers or others.
  6. Psychiatric Support: Psychiatric service dogs can provide support for individuals with psychiatric disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), by providing comfort, interrupting anxiety or panic attacks, and creating a sense of safety.
  7. Medication Reminders: Dogs can be trained to remind their handlers to take medication at specified times, which is particularly helpful for individuals with conditions that require regular medication.
  8. Assistance with Daily Tasks: Service dogs can be trained to assist with various daily tasks, such as opening doors, turning on lights, or retrieving specific items.

Interrupting Harmful Behaviors: For individuals with certain conditions, service dogs can be trained to interrupt harmful behaviors, such as self-harm or repetitive actions.

Qualifying for a service dog involves meeting certain criteria related to a person’s disability and the need for assistance. To be eligible for a service dog under the ADA:

1. Disability: The individual must have a recognized disability as defined by the ADA. A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Read More About What Disabilities Qualify

  1. Need for Assistance/Training: The individual must have a need for the specific tasks or work that the service dog is trained to perform. The dog’s tasks should be directly related to mitigating the person’s disability.

3. Ability to Control the Dog: The individual must be able to control the service dog or take effective action if the dog is not under control. This includes the dog being well-behaved in public settings.

Learn how to enroll your dog as a service dog at no cost: Enjoy complimentary service dog registration with National Service Animal Registry.  Input your dog’s details and upload a photo of your furry companion. After completing these steps, your dog will be officially registered in the National Service Animal Registry database.

Public Access with Your Service Dog

Service dogs are generally allowed in various public places to accompany individuals with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States provides specific protections for the rights of individuals with disabilities who use service animals. Here are some common places where service dogs are allowed:

  1. Businesses and Public Spaces: Service dogs are allowed in most businesses, including restaurants, hotels, stores, and theaters. They can also accompany individuals in public spaces such as parks and museums.
  2. Public Transportation: Service dogs are allowed on public transportation, including buses, trains, and airplanes. Airlines may have specific regulations and documentation requirements, so it’s advisable to check with the airline in advance.
  3. Workplaces: Employees with disabilities are generally allowed to bring their service dogs to the workplace. Employers may need to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that the individual can perform their job duties.
  4. Educational Institutions: Students with disabilities are allowed to have their service dogs in schools, colleges, and universities. The presence of a service dog should not be a barrier to education.
  5. Housing: In housing covered by the Fair Housing Act, individuals with disabilities are allowed to keep their service dogs, even in housing that has a “no pets” policy.
  6. Medical Facilities: Service dogs are generally allowed in hospitals and medical facilities. However, there may be restrictions in certain areas like operating rooms or sterile environments.
  7. Government Buildings: Individuals with disabilities are typically allowed to bring their service dogs into government buildings.

It’s important to note that the ADA specifically defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks or work for people with disabilities. While some exceptions exist for miniature horses under certain circumstances, other animals do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. Additionally, the rules may vary in other countries, so it’s advisable to check the local regulations and laws regarding service animals in specific regions.

Service dog identification is crucial when going out in public for several reasons. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require service dogs to be registered or certified, having appropriate identification helps in ensuring a smooth experience for the handler and the service dog. Here are some reasons why service dog identification is important:

  1. Access to Public Places: Service dog identification, such as a harness or service dog vest with clear markings, signals to the public and businesses that the dog is a working animal providing assistance to an individual with a disability. This recognition helps facilitate access to public places, as service dogs are generally allowed in areas where other animals may be restricted.
  2. Avoiding Unnecessary Challenges: Having visible identification reduces the likelihood of being questioned or challenged by individuals who may not be aware of service dog rights. This can help the handler avoid unnecessary confrontations or delays when accessing services or public spaces.
  3. Emergency Situations: In emergency situations, service dog identification can help emergency responders, such as police or firefighters, understand that the dog is not a pet but is there to assist a person with a disability. This awareness can be crucial in ensuring the safety and well-being of both the handler and the service dog.
  4. Education and Awareness: Visible identification contributes to public education and awareness about the role and rights of service dogs. It helps foster a better understanding of the important functions these animals perform and the rights of individuals with disabilities.
  5. Reducing Distractions: Clear identification can discourage well-meaning individuals from attempting to pet or distract the service dog while it is working. This is essential because distractions can interfere with the dog’s ability to perform its trained tasks effectively.

Legal Protection: In case of any disputes or challenges, having service dog identification can serve as evidence that the dog is a trained service animal. While not required by law, it can be a helpful tool to establish the legitimacy of the service dog and the rights of the handler.

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: 

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Service Dog Housing Rights

Service dogs and their handlers have certain housing rights protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in the United States. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation that a person with a disability may need in order to have equal opportunity to enjoy and use a dwelling. Here are key points regarding service dog housing rights:

According to the FHA, assistance animals are not pets. They are animals that do work, perform tasks, assist,
and/or provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities. There are two types of assistance
animals: (1) service animals, and (2) other animals that do work, perform tasks, provide assistance, and/or
provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities.

What Documentation is Required for Reasonable Accommodation?

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in the United States, housing providers are generally not allowed to ask for
documentation or proof of certification for a service dog. However, they may request reliable documentation when
an individual requesting a reasonable accommodation has a disability and disability-related need for an
accommodation that are not obvious or otherwise known.

Here are some points to consider:

Is Online Verification of Disability Legitimate?

In HUD’s experience, such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an
individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.
By contrast, many legitimate, licensed health care professionals deliver services remotely, including over the
internet. One reliable form of documentation is a note from a person’s health care professional that confirms a
person’s disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual.
National Service Animal Registry offers legitimate psychiatric service dog letters through licensed mental health
professionals that deliver remote services, compliant with Housing and Urban Developments (HUDs) requirements.

What If My Landlord Refuses My Emotional Support Animal Letter?

Failure to accommodate a physically or psychiatrically impaired person is a violation of federal law and can be successfully sued AND the landlord/property manager is financially penalized by the U.S. Justice Dept. because it is considered discrimination against a disabled person. Something the government takes seriously.

Clients are encouraged to make sure the landlord or property manager are clearly aware of the law and consequences to help them avoid prosecution and punitive damages. Most are in violation simply because they do not know the law.

A client can report the landlord/property manager to the U.S. Justice Dept. and file a complaint for discrimination here.

Service Dog Airline Rights

The bottom line is, it’s a breeze for you to fly the friendly skies with your service dog! If you have your dogs in a row, that is. By that we mean you’ll just need a few things to enjoy smooth sailing, based on the Air Carrier Access Act and recommendations of USA-based airline companies.

Service dogs and their handlers have certain rights and protections when traveling by air, as outlined by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) in the United States. We have a few important points and links on this page that will point you to everything you might possibly need to know to make flying with your service dog easy and stress-free, no matter your destination!

It’s important for service dog handlers to communicate with the airline in advance, informing them of the presence of a service dog and any specific needs. While the ACAA applies to U.S. carriers operating within or to the United States, similar regulations and accommodations may exist for international flights. Service dog handlers should check with the specific airline and review their policies before travelling.

Department of Transportation (DOT) Behavior and Health Form

The DOT defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. It allows airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals, and permits airlines to limit the number of service animals that one passenger can bring onboard an aircraft up to two service animals.

DOT also allows airlines to require passengers with a disability traveling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline a form, developed by DOT, attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, and certifying the animal’s good health. For flight segments of eight hours or more, the rule allows airlines to require passengers to complete and submit a DOT form attesting that the animal has the ability either not to relieve itself on a long flight or to relieve itself in a sanitary manner.

In addition, DOT allows airlines to require a service animal user to provide these forms up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time.
Download DOT form here

Most airlines have an online portal where you may submit this form digitally. Please check with your specific airline for their specific requirements about how to submit this form.

Flying with Your Service Dog – Getting Approved

When filling out the DOT form, individuals have the option to identify themselves as the trainer or training organization. It’s important to be ready to address two common questions posed by airline representatives:

    1. 1. Is the service dog essential for a disability?
    1. 2. What specific task is the service dog trained to perform related to the disability?

For guidance on answering these questions, individuals can reach out to NSAR for assistance. Additionally, you can Click Here to access a list of service dog and/or psychiatric service dog tasks, aiding in providing direct and informed responses to the inquiries.

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