Service dogs are well protected by both federal and state laws due to their important work of assisting individuals with disabilities. When navigating your daily life with a service dog, it’s important to understand what your rights are and what people can ask of you when it comes to your service dog and their role.
Our article gives you essential information about whether or not individuals are allowed to inquire about your service dog and the questions that individuals are legally allowed to ask.
What Are Service Dogs According to Federal Legislation?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is the most prominent piece of federal legislation discussing service animals. According to this law, service dogs are dogs that have been trained to complete tasks or actions that are directly related to an individual’s disability.
These tasks include a range of things, such as retrieving medications, opening and closing doors, guiding the visually or hearing impaired, or interrupting harmful behaviors.
There are three main categories of service dogs – psychiatric, medical alert, and mobility support or guide dogs. Each of these dogs is trained to complete slightly different tasks based on their owner’s disability needs.
It’s important to note that service dogs are different from emotional support animals (ESAs). Emotional support animals are not trained to complete disability-related tasks, and they can generally be any species of animal. Service animals are almost always dogs and are granted wider protections and public access rights due to their specialized training.
Does My Service Dog Need Identification?
Your service dog does not need identification, and you will not need to complete any specific training course or purchase your service dog from a specific organization for them to be valid. As per the ADA, a dog of any breed, age, or size is categorized as a service dog once they are trained to complete tasks that directly relate to an individual’s disability.
You can train your service dog at home if needed, and you don’t have to utilize a vest or marked leash to identify your service dog.
That being said, many individuals do choose to use vests, leashes, and harnesses that identify their dog as a working service animal in public. Not only does this make accessing your public rights less stressful in some cases, but it lets the public know that your dog is working and not to be interacted with.
This is a personal choice, and you should select the option that makes you the most comfortable and confident when out in public.
What Are You Allowed to Ask About Service Dogs?
When it comes to service dogs, there are limited things that you are allowed to ask about. For instance, you cannot ask an individual with a service dog to demonstrate their service dog’s skills, and you cannot ask about the specifics of their disability.
Papers are not required for individuals with service dogs, and service dog owners do not need to place identification vests or harnesses onto their dogs.
Simply put, you are only allowed to inquire whether or not a dog is a service dog and the task that they are trained to perform. Asking other questions about the individual and their service dog or refusing entry to the individual and their service dog for failure to provide proof is against the ADA. As such, it is considered illegal on the grounds of discrimination.
Can You Legally Ask For Proof of a Service Dog?
You cannot ask someone with a service dog to prove their need for a service dog, to detail their condition, or to provide certification and identification regarding their service dog. However, you can ask two simple questions:
- “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
- “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”
These questions are detailed in the ADA, and you are not allowed to ask for any other proof that a dog is a service dog.
Your Service Dog Rights
If you have a service dog, you should make an effort to understand the rights that you and your dog have according to both federal and state laws. It’s important to know your rights so you can properly take advantage of them and navigate your daily life with less stress.
We mentioned the Americans with Disabilities Act above, and this is one of the most important federal laws regarding service animals. The ADA gives service animals their rights to access public spaces that wouldn’t typically allow dogs, such as restaurants, malls, businesses, and other public or private locations.
Another important piece of federal legislation that protects service dogs is the Fair Housing Act. This act ensures that individuals who need to find housing with their service dog won’t be turned away simply because they have a dog.
The Fair Housing Act states that property owners or landlords must make proper accommodations for individuals that wish to live on their property with a service animal. This is even if the property or unit doesn’t typically allow pets. Additionally, you cannot be charged any type of fee, deposit, or rent due to your service dog’s presence.
The majority of states do have laws and regulations that back up the federal rights granted to service dogs by the ADA and the Fair Housing Act. Most of these pieces of legislation are similar, but some might define penalties for denying service dogs entry. Some also add further protections, such as your right to bring your service dog to work with you.
Check with your state’s specific disability, discrimination, and service dog legislation to better understand your rights.
The Air Carrier Access Act , or ACAA, protects your right to travel with your service dog via airplane. Under the ACAA, airlines need to provide you accommodations for your service dog in the cabin, as long as they are considered reasonable and the airline has adequate space.
You will not be required to pay any fees or charges associated with bringing your service animal on the flight.
Can I Be Refused Service Due to My Service Dog?
In general, you cannot be refused service in a restaurant, business, or other location due to your service dog. There are some conditions where you might not be allowed in with your service dog, but these are typically considered reasonable for the health and safety of others.
You may be refused entry or service with your service dog if:
- You are trying to enter a church or ministry. Religious organizations are legally allowed to refuse accommodations for service dogs, and this decision is handled on a case-by-case basis by each church or ministry.
- Your service dog is out of control, destructive, and dangerous to other individuals in the public area.
- The presence of your service dog would “fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public.” This means that you likely can’t take your service dog into a sterile environment, such as an operating room, or otherwise bring them into areas where their presence would affect the services or goods provided.
The Americans with Disabilities Act further elaborates and provides clarification on when service dogs may be refused or asked to leave an area.
What Should I Do if Proof of My Service Dog Is Requested?
If proof of your service dog is requested in the form of identification, demonstrations of your service dog’s skills or tasks, or certification papers, you are not required to provide them. You are only required to answer whether or not your dog is a service dog and the type of task they are trained to perform.
If your dog should otherwise be permitted into a business or public area but you are refused due to not providing proof of service dog’s legitimacy, you may be able to seek legal recourse. This behavior violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Reach out to a legal professional specializing in disability rights for more information.
Navigating Daily Life With Your Service Dog
Navigating daily life with your service dog might be stressful at times. Knowing the rights granted to you and your service dog by both federal and state law helps you confidently access public and private areas.
Make sure to keep in mind that you are not legally required to provide proof that your dog is a service dog. Refusal of entry into areas due to a lack of providing proof does violate the ADA. Consult with a legal professional if you believe you have been discriminated against when it comes to accessing your protected service dog rights.