Service Dog Questions

I have received several questions this week that I would like to pass on the answers given by the Department of Justice which is the federal agency governing Title II and Title III of the ADA. (Remember the ADA is not the only federal law addressing the topic of Service Dogs.)

Questions & Primary Answers are from
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section
Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA
July 20, 2015

What is a service animal?
A. Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.

** "Under the ADA" this definition is dealing with service animals being taken out into the community in those locations mentioned under Title II and Title III of the ADA. (As handlers, we must be aware that flying on a commercial airline or renting an apartment or home are under the rulings of other federal agencies and laws.

** "individually trained" means that the task or work must be trained and not something the dog does naturally.

** "The task(s) performed" is important to consider. A deaf person can not claim that their dog picking up dropped items is a task as bending over and picking something up is not related to their disability of record.


Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?
A. No. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places. You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.

** Emotional Support Animals in some housing can be any pet (such as a dog, a cat or bird) and under the same classification as a Service Dog.
Regulatory Agency -- Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Federal Law -- Fair Housing Act (FHA)

** Emotional Support Animal can be a pet including a dog (not a Service Dog) allowed on a commercial flight just as a trained Service Dog.
Regulatory Agency -- U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
Federal Law -- The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)


If someone's dog calms them when having an anxiety attack, does this qualify it as a service animal?
A. It depends. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog's mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.


Does the ADA require service animals to be professionally trained?
A. No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.


What questions can a covered entity's employees ask to determine if a dog is a service animal?
A. In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability.


Do service animals have to wear a vest or patch or special harness identifying them as service animals?
A. No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.


Can people bring more than one service animal into a public place?
A. Generally, yes. Some people with disabilities may use more than one service animal to perform different tasks. For example, a person who has a visual disability and a seizure disorder may use one service animal to assist with way-finding and another that is trained as a seizure alert dog. Other people may need two service animals for the same task, such as a person who needs two dogs to assist him or her with stability when walking. Staff may ask the two permissible questions (See Question 7) about each of the dogs. If both dogs can be accommodated, both should be allowed in. In some circumstances, however, it may not be possible to accommodate more than one service animal. For example, in a crowded small restaurant, only one dog may be able to fit under the table. The only other place for the second dog would be in the aisle, which would block the space between tables. In this case, staff may request that one of the dogs be left outside.


Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals?
A. No. Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.

There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.


Can service animals be any breed of dog?
A. Yes. The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.


What happens if a person thinks a covered entity's staff has discriminated against him or her?
A. Individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit in Federal court charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.

For more information about the ADA
ADA INFORMATION LINE 800-514-0301 (Voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY)