A properly trained service dog is a major help to individuals with disabilities, either visible or invisible, and can often be a source of comfort for their owners. However, fake service dogs (which means those who claim their animals are service dogs when they aren’t properly trained for these tasks) can be incredibly problematic and make things more difficult for those with legitimately trained and needed service dogs.
Our article discusses what you can expect from a service dog and the tasks that these companions typically help out their owners with. Then, we’ll give you information on how to spot a fake service dog in addition to an overview of what is legal to ask you about your service dog when the both of you are out and about.
What Is a Service Dog?
A service dog is any dog that has been trained to complete specific service tasks to support someone with a disability or relieve symptoms of a certain disability. Service dogs come in many varieties ranging from guide and mobility service dogs to medical alert and psychiatric service dogs.
The presence of a service dog in an individual’s life can greatly improve their quality of life on a daily basis and provide essential comfort, relief, and support regarding their disability.
Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Animals
An important distinction to make when talking about service dogs is the difference between service dogs and emotional support animals.
Service dogs are those dogs that have been trained to complete specific tasks and support an individual with a disability in certain ways; an emotional support animal provides comfort and companionship, but they are not trained to complete tasks that support the individual’s condition.
It’s vital to understand the difference between these two animal classifications, as they have different legal protections. Emotional support animals have certain housing and living protections, but they are not eligible for the same public access protections that service dogs are granted. You can read more about this here or reference the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) disability rights section here.
Tasks That Service Dogs Might Complete
Service dogs are trained in a wide variety of tasks that they use to help out their owner. We list the basic tasks below, but you should keep in mind that a service dog might be taught more specific skills depending on their trainer, their owner, and the type of disability they are being trained to assist with.
Tasks that a service dog might complete include:
- Guiding those with visual impairments
- Providing mobility assistance and supporting those who have trouble moving or walking
- Opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, or opening and closing refrigerators and cabinets
- Retrieving food, water, medication, or phones for those who cannot easily do this, or those that need help remembering to take their medication
- Alerting an owner with a hearing impairment to auditory signals such as fire alarms or phones
- Searching rooms or checking around corners for those with PTSD or other mental health conditions
- Providing deep pressure therapy and comfort during anxiety, depression, or overstimulation incidents
- Alerting to oncoming seizures, blood pressure issues, blood sugar issues, or other medical issues so that their owner can take necessary precautions
- Act as a companion and pillar of support for an individual that needs assistance and stability when trying new things
If you want to learn more about the many tasks that service dogs are capable of learning, you can check out this article.
Spotting a Fake Service Dog
Fortunately, it is not too hard to spot a fake service dog out and about in public. Service dogs are highly trained animals and tend to stick close to their owners, in addition to listening carefully to all commands that their owner gives. The behavior of service dogs in public gives you a lot of insight into whether or not they are legitimate.
Keep a look out for the traits below to determine if a service dog is fake or not.
- The dog is reactive to others around it, aggressive, or spends too much time focusing on their surroundings rather than their handler
- The dog is not socialized properly and shows signs of poor behavior around humans, dogs, or other animals
- The dog is not calm and may be energetic, pull at their handler’s leash, or display behavior issues
- The dog is not listening to any commands that their handler gives
- The dog shows signs of being frightened, unmotivated, or inconsistent in its behavior
- The dog is too social and wants to spend more time greeting other people and dogs than they do focusing on supporting their handler
It’s important to note that not every disability will be visible – you can’t determine that a service dog is fake just by looking at their handler and making assumptions. However, if the dog that an individual is with is acting out, not listening to their owner, acting aggressive or too social, or is otherwise disruptive, there is a good chance that this dog is not a legitimate service dog.
When Can a Legitimate Service Dog Be Denied Access?
In most cases, legitimate service dogs are almost never denied access to public facilities or other areas that fall under legal accommodations. However, even service dogs that are trained to help with specific tasks can be lawfully removed or turned away from a facility if certain conditions are met.
Conditions that result in a service dog being denied access include:
- The dog being destructive to property
- The dog acting out of control and unable to be controlled by their handler
- The dog acting aggressively or threatening other patrons in an establishment
If a service dog is removed from an establishment, the staff should be offering to provide the individual with whatever goods or services they were seeking without the presence of their dog in the establishment. All of this is outlined in the ADA’s disability rights section.
What Individuals Can Ask About Your Service Dog
The reason fake service dogs are becoming more prominent is because no documentation is required for service dogs, there is no universal training program, and no identification is needed for service dog and handler teams.
Many individuals may take advantage of this and use this loophole to bring an untrained dog into a space that may only accept service animals; these dogs are the ones that are typically asked by staff to be removed from the premise, as their behavior will give them away.
Only two questions are legal to be asked about you and your service dog, according to the ADA. These questions are:
- Is the service dog required due to a disability?
- What work or tasks has the service dog been trained to perform?
It is not legal for any individual to ask you what your specific disability is, request documentation or identification of your service dog, or ask that your service dog demonstrate the tasks they have been trained to perform.
Ensuring Your Service Dog Success
Obtaining a service dog for any disability you may be dealing with can be stressful, but these animals can often offer great relief for many different conditions. When out and about in public, individuals may wonder whether or not your service dog is legitimate; your dog’s behavior out in public helps to show whether or not they are a real service dog, and you can spot a fake service dog by any aggressive, overly social, or out of control behaviors.
Make sure that you keep in mind what people are allowed to ask about your service dog and your public access or housing rights as according to the ADA, and ensure your dog is well-trained and behaved, and you will have no problem ensuring your service dog’s success out in public and around the home.