Public Access Test for Service Dogs

The public access test (PAT) for service dogs is an essential part of training that many service dog organizations and individuals working with service dogs choose to utilize as part of a final evaluation of the pup’s skills. If you are considering adopting a service dog or you are interested in training these helpful canines, it’s important to learn all you can about the public access test.

Our article explains the major components of the public access test for service dogs, why it might be important to incorporate it into service dog training, and answers your important questions about required service dog skills. Read on for everything you need to know!

What Is the Public Access Test for Service Dogs?

The public access test for service dogs is a test that works to evaluate important service dog skills. This is done to ensure that the service dog will work well in public and can handle being in a variety of different environments. For example, utilizing proper manners in a restaurant, sudden loud noises, crowded spaces, navigating buildings, and ignoring other dogs or people as they focus on their owner.

Overall, the public access test is designed to test essential skills that a service dog needs to possess and execute flawlessly before they can be entrusted to their handler. A lack of public manners, issues completing tasks on the test, or an easily scared and distracted dog will not make for a good service dog, and additional training or adjustments to the service dog’s potential duties might need to be made.

Training Points for the Public Access Test

There are a certain set of training points that the public access test will evaluate. While most public access tests will be the same, no set standard or organization oversees the administration of these tests, so certain training points might differ depending on your location, the service dog training organization, and the person evaluating your service dog. Make sure to double-check your location’s rules surrounding the public access test and what is included in it.

Below, we detail the most common points that most public access tests will evaluate for your service dog.

1. Exiting a Vehicle

For this task, the dog will be required to leave a vehicle calmly. Then the dog will need to wait calmly outside the vehicle while their handler and or other caretaker brings out mobility assistance items as needed. The service dog will need to remain focused, not ignore commands, and remain undistracted as other dogs or people walk by the vehicle.

2. Approaching Buildings

The service dog will need to move calmly with their handler through a parking lot away from the vehicle toward the building. The dog will need to keep pace with their owner, not pull on the leash, and not be afraid of cars. They will need to provide mobility or guiding assistance as needed, and they will be required to stop with their owner for any reason without pulling the leash or pushing against their handler.

3. Entering Buildings

The service dog will need to calmly enter a building next to their handler. They will need to remain close to their owner and avoid distractions such as people, loud noises, and crowds. They may be required to wait just a few minutes at the entrance of the building before the handler brings them further into the building.

4. Building Navigation

The service dog will need to move confidently alongside their handler throughout the building. The dog will need to remain within a touching distance of their owner and not wander away from them, pull on their leash, approach other dogs and people, or attempt to gain attention from those around them.

5. Exiting Buildings

The dog must exit a building with their handler in a calm, confident, and controlled fashion. The dog cannot be distracted by others exiting the building, scared of vehicles, or confused in a parking lot. They must confidently stay with their handler or guide their handler in the proper direction.

6. Entering Vehicles

The dog will need to calmly wait by their vehicle for the owner to open the door. They will need to wait for the handler’s command to enter the car and take any items that the handler will need them to place into the car. They must also sit and wait calmly while any mobility assistance items are also reloaded into the vehicle.

7. Noise Response

The examiner delivering the public access test will walk behind the handler and service dog and drop an item, such as a clipboard. The dog is permitted to react to the sound and turn around briefly, but they will then need to keep pace with their owner and not react with any type of aggression or fear. The dog should not bark unless that is part of the dog’s training for a specific reason.

8. Restaurant Manners

This task involves the dog utilizing proper manners in a restaurant by staying close to the handler. This might involve moving under the table or sitting as close to the handler as their size and the restaurant’s layout permits. The dog is permitted to lie down and move for comfort while the handler and examiner eat, but they are not permitted to beg for food or make attempts to gain attention from their handler or other patrons in the restaurant.

9. Sitting on Command

Most public access tests will test the service dog on sitting with commands in different settings. The dog will be required to respond to the command promptly and without distraction. Different scenarios in which the dog is typically asked to sit include:

  • Next to a bowl of food that the dog must ignore
  • Next to a shopping cart while the handler moves past the dog (the dog should sit calmly and not attempt to approach the handler while they move)
  • During a conversation between the handler and another party; in this last scenario, the other party may pat the dog on the head, and the dog will need to ignore this and avoid seeking attention unless told otherwise by the handler

10. Down on Command

Similar to the sitting test, the dog will need to lie down calmly and without breaking the command in the same context as the sitting test. The handler will need to act as normal and not interact with the dog. If the dog does break the command, the handler will need to tell them to stay in the down position.

11. Distance Recall

The dog will need to prove that they can return to their handler from a long distance. They will be asked to wait while their handler moves away from them, and then the handler will call the dog over to them. The dog will need to approach the handler calmly, without distractions, and with focus solely on their handler.

12. Recovering Their Leash

When moving with their service dog, the handler will drop the leash. The dog must see this happen and must return to the handler when they call for them. The dog may need to calmly hand their owner the leash again before they continue walking.

13. Leash Transfer

The handler will need to give their dog’s leash to the examiner or another person and then move away from the dog. The dog will need to calmly remain with whoever is holding the leash, and they must not be aggressive, show excessive stress, whine, or attempt to pull on their leash to reach the handler.

14. Service Dog Attitude

Many public access tests also evaluate the team bond between the handler and their service dog. The dog must be calm, confident, and relaxed, maintaining a positive, focused attitude. The handler must confidently command and work with their service dog and exhibit control over the pup.

Keep in mind that the order of evaluation differs based on who is evaluating your test and where, but most public access tests will take place as if you and your service dog are arriving at a location, getting out, exploring a building and restaurant, and returning to your vehicle.

Evaluation of the Public Access Test

How your service dog is evaluated during the test depends on the examiner, the organization delivering the test, and the type of service dog tasks being tested.

In most cases, a service dog training program will require that the test is completed with at least an 80 percent score on all tasks, generally evaluated on a scale of “always, most of the time, some of the time, and never.” There may also be yes or no tasks when it comes to certain skills your service dog must possess, such as sitting, staying, and waiting on command.

Make sure to double-check how your service dog will be evaluated before undertaking the test. You can also get a preview of what the public access test looks like for a service dog by checking out this video. In it, you’ll be able to see some essential service dog skills tested and be more informed about what taking the public access test with your service dog might look like.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Public Access Test

There’s a lot to know about the public access test for service dogs, and you may still have some lingering questions. Below are the most commonly asked questions about the PAT.

Is the Public Access Test Legally Required for Your Service Dog?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not provide any requirements for specific training programs, certifications, or tests for a service dog. For a dog to be considered a service dog, they must simply be trained to complete service tasks for their handler and maintain proper public manners. More information on this can be found here.

That being said, many service dog training organizations will require the handler adopting one of the organization’s service dogs to complete public access training before the dog is officially adopted. This helps to ensure that the service dog works well with their handler and that the service dogs released by the organization are all up to a specific training standard. Some organizations may even require you to periodically repeat the public access tests with your service dog to ensure their training standards are still met.

It’s important to see what the organization providing your service dog requires before starting the adoption process, as you don’t want to be caught off-guard by certain training or adoption requirements.

Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

Yes, it is possible to train your own service dog. The ADA does not have specifications that require dogs to be professionally trained or certified, only that your dog is trained to perform specific tasks for symptoms of a disability. Training your own service dog might be more time-consuming, but it is often cheaper than adopting a service dog directly from an organization, and you can usually form a stronger bond with a dog that you are training yourself.

To get started with service dog training, look into online service dog training programs for a cost-effective way to get started or research training videos on a platform such as YouTube.

Where to Adopt a Service Dog?

Adopting a service dog can be a confusing process, especially if you aren’t sure where to begin. Most service dogs can be adopted through local or national organizations that train and provide service dogs to those in need. This can be expensive, but very beneficial if you need a fully-trained service dog to help you manage a disability. Some organizations do offer fundraising and financial assistance for those in need.

Alternatively, you can adopt a calm, gentle, and friendly dog from a shelter and train them to be a service dog. Make sure that when you are looking in local shelters that you pick a dog that seems confident, eager to learn, and doesn’t seem to be aggressive, fearful, or shy—these traits might make service dog training more difficult to complete.

Finding a Service Dog Companion for Your Needs

Working with a service dog can be life-changing for individuals with a disability. The service dog public access test works to ensure that a service dog and their handler can adeptly take on the many public tasks that they might be required to face daily, without any issues getting in the way. Once your service dog can complete the public access test, they are well-trained and ready to support you, fully becoming a companion to support you throughout your daily tasks.