Service Dogs

Quick Info

What is a service dog? A service dog is a dog that has been trained to perform specific tasks to help an individual who has a disability that limits their ability to perform daily activities.

Federal laws that protect service dogs and their handlers: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), Fair Housing Act (FHA)

Protection provided by the ADA: businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that serve the public need to accommodate individuals with disabilities by modifying their policies or procedures.

Examples of qualifying disabilities: vision and hearing impairment (guide dogs), muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seizures, diabetes. The disabilities that would qualify an individual for having a service dog are not limited by the examples listed.

Examples of tasks performed: helping an individual with mobility issues maintain their balance, guiding a blind individual, dialing 911 when an individual is having a seizure, informing a diabetic individual that they have low blood sugar. The tasks that can be performed by a service dog are not limited by the examples listed.

Acceptable dog breeds/sizes: No restrictions (any breed or size is acceptable)

ADA Guidelines provided by the Department of Justice

The Department of Justice has provided revised guidelines in 2015 regarding service dogs. We have provided a selection of the most commonly-asked questions below. You may find the full version of the guidelines by clicking the following link:

Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA

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.

What does "do work or perform tasks" mean?

A. The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

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.

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.

Can hotels charge a cleaning fee for guests who have service animals?

A. No. Hotels are not permitted to charge guests for cleaning the hair or dander shed by a service animal. However, if a guest's service animal causes damages to a guest room, a hotel is permitted to charge the same fee for damages as charged to other guests.

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.

Can individuals with disabilities be refused access to a facility based solely on the breed of their service animal?

A. No.  A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal's breed or how the animal might behave.  However, if a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler, that animal may be excluded.  If an animal is excluded for such reasons, staff must still offer their goods or services to the person without the animal present.

When can service animals be excluded?

A. The ADA does not require covered entities to modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public.  Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements.  If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited.  In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded.

What does under control mean?  Do service animals have to be on a leash?  Do they have to be quiet and not bark?

A. The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times. In most instances, the handler will be the individual with a disability or a third party who accompanies the individual with a disability. In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service animal. The service animal must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal's work or the person's disability prevents use of these devices. In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her. Or, a returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that no threats are there, and come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off leash to do its job, but may be leashed at other times. Under control also means that a service animal should not be allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it, this would not mean that the dog is out of control.

What can my staff do when a service animal is being disruptive?

A. If a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.

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.

Are restaurants, bars, and other places that serve food or drink required to allow service animals to be seated on chairs or allow the animal to be fed at the table?

A. No.  Seating, food, and drink are provided for customer use only.  The ADA gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by his or her service animal, but covered entities are not required to allow an animal to sit or be fed at the table.

Are churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship required to allow individuals to bring their service animals into the facility?

A. No.  Religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA.  However, there may be State laws that apply to religious organizations.

Do apartments, mobile home parks, and other residential properties have to comply with the ADA?

A. The ADA applies to housing programs administered by state and local governments, such as public housing authorities, and by places of public accommodation, such as public and private universities.  In addition, the Fair Housing Act applies to virtually all types of housing, both public and privately-owned, including housing covered by the ADA.  Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are obligated to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability.  For information about these Fair Housing Act requirements see HUD’s Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-funded Programs.

Do commercial airlines have to comply with the ADA?

A. No.  The Air Carrier Access Act is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel.  For information or to file a complaint, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, at 202-366-2220.