The Legal Boundaries of Your Service Dog

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Service dogs make tremendous and important differences in the lives of their owners every day. If you have or are thinking about getting a service dog, then it’s important to understand the legal boundaries of your service dog. Here are the basics that you need to know.

What a Service Dog Is

According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs have been “trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability”. A service dog needs to be trained to “take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability”. Some service dogs have been trained to detect an approaching seizure and to keep the person safe. Other service dogs are trained to fetch items which are out of their owners’ reach.

The Rights Afforded to Service Dogs

Because a service dog helps its owner, service dogs are allowed in public places where dogs are not typically permitted. This includes restaurants, hospitals, hotels, plane cabins, and even malls and stores. Service dogs may be of any breed, but need to be under the handler’s control at all times. If a service dog is disruptive in a public area, such as by repeatedly barking, the owner may be asked to remove the dog.

Training Service Dogs

Service dogs need to be trained in order to take specific actions to assist their owners. The ADA does not require that service dogs receive professional training, and there is no certification required for service dogs. However, training a service dog is a long-term process, and the dog also needs to be trained to behave appropriately in public areas. Service dogs cannot bark or be disruptive, and they need to be able to focus on their owner even when in busy environments full of potential distractions.

Questions You May Be Asked About Your Service Dogs

According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the ADA, when it is not obvious that a dog is a service dog, “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”.

If you would like to learn more about the legal boundaries of your service dog, be sure to visit the U.S. Department of Justice and the ADA’s Frequently Asked Questions document.

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