Service Dog Rules & Regulations

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Service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities that they can't perform themselves. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that prevents discrimination against people with disabilities and their service animals in public and private places. Although the ADA doesn't require you to register your service dog, state laws may vary and have further regulations for your pooch.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA provides for many protections of you and your service dog, but does not require you to register or certify your dog as a service animal. This federal law states that you can bring your dog with you into any business, including restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores, hotels and taxicabs. These businesses cannot exclude you or treat you differently than other customers.

Business owners may ask you:

  • If your dog is a service animal required because of a disability.
  • What tasks he is trained to perform for you.

Business owners cannot:

  • Ask you to describe the nature of your disability. 
  • Demand proof that your dog is a service animal. 
  • Ask for medical documentation of your disability.
  • Request that your dog performs a task.

Tip

  • Titles I and II of the ADA do allow your potential employers and landlords to ask you for proof of your disability from your doctor and proof that your dog is a service animal.

State Registration Laws

Depending on your state laws, you may be required to register your dog as a service animal or have proof in the form of an identification card, training certificate or special attire when out with your dog. Local city, county or state regulations may require you to vaccinate your dog and register him with your local animal control office.

Some states, like California and Maine, allow you to register your dog through their county animal enforcement departments or Bureau of Rehabilitation Services. You will need a doctor's letter certifying your disability and stating that you need a service dog. These departments will issue your dog special service dog tags or an identification card to clearly distinguish your dog as a service animal.

Other states may not require that you register your dog with any agency, but they may require your dog to wear a brightly colored vest or harness.

Tip

  • Follow your state and local service animal regulations in areas that fall outside of the scope of the ADA.

Service Dog Training and Proof

Landlords, airline personnel or employers can ask you for proof of your disability or for proof that your dog is a trained service dog under the ADA and the Air Carrier Access Act. Acceptable proof can come in several forms.

  • Provide them proof of your disability and requirement for a service dog in the form of a doctor's letter.  
  • Obtain documentation from the training organization you obtained your service dog from to show he is qualified as a service animal. 
  • Pass the Assistance Dog International's public access test to show that your dog performs tasks for you and is well-mannered.     
  • Register your dog with an online service dog registry.

Service Dog Training Considerations

While online service dog registries may provide you with the special attire or identification necessary to adhere to state laws, they won't provide your dog with the training he needs to truly qualify as a service animal.

To truly qualify your dog as a service animal, visit a service dog training agency that can train your dog or provide you with a service dog. Note that if your dog is not well-mannered, the ADA allows for businesses to exclude you and local laws may dictate that you pay for any damages caused by your dog.

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