A service dog poses for the camera.

Many Pack Leaders wonder about the requirements necessary to register a dog as a service animal. But did you know that the Federal law regulating service animals doesn’t require registration with any organization? In fact, the documents provided by many online organizations claiming to register service dogs are not recognized under Federal law.

That law also doesn’t require any particular organization or professional to train a service dog. What this means is that you can train your own dog to perform necessary tasks to help with your disability and — voilà! — your dog is a service dog.

Defining a Service Dog

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) service dogs are dogs that are trained to performs tasks or do work for people with physical, medical, and mental disabilities.

So what exactly does that look like? Here are some examples of what a service dog can perform:

  • Guiding someone who is blind
  • Alerting someone who is deaf
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Carrying or picking up items for someone with a mobility disability
  • Alerting and protecting someone who is having a seizure
  • Reminding someone to take their necessary medications

Service dogs can be extremely beneficial to someone with a disability, but it’s important to remember that service dogs aren’t pets. They are working animals that have been trained to do something directly related to a disability. For that reason, emotional support dogs — dogs that only provide comfort — don’t qualify as service dogs.

Rules About Service Dogs

The ADA also has a number of rules about service dogs that are important to know:

  • Businesses that serve the public can’t discriminate against people with disabilities. Therefore, these businesses must allow service dogs to accompany someone with a disability in any area where customers are permitted. Covered business include places such as restaurants, stores, hotels, movie theaters, taxis, and sports arenas, along with state and local governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
  • Service dogs need to be under control in the form of a leash, harness, or tether unless it gets in the way of the service dog’s work or the disability prevents the use of a control device.
  • If someone walks into a place with a service dog, employees can’t ask the person about their disability or require any kind of medical documentation or identification. They also can’t ask the dog to demonstrate its specific task. Employees are only allowed to ask two questions if someone walks in with a service dog:
    • Is this a service dog?
    • What has the dog been trained to do?
  • A service dog can’t be removed from somewhere unless the dog is out of the control or isn’t housebroken.
  • A person with a disability can’t be denied or refused service if someone is afraid or allergic to their dog. In a hotel or motel, they cannot be limited to “pet friendly” rooms and must have the same choice of accommodations as any other guest.

While it’s not a requirement, it is advisable to have your service dog wear a vest to let others know that the dog is working and shouldn’t be petted.

Abusing the Service Dog Law

Recently, some people have been abusing the system. They pass their dog off as a service dog even though they don’t have a disability and the dog hasn’t been trained for a specific task. Not only is this wrong and an abuse of the system, but it can also be disruptive and dangerous for legitimate service dogs.

Some states are taking fake service dogs so seriously that they’ve enacted laws making it a crime. In California and Florida, it is a misdemeanor to fraudulently misrepresent a service animal. In California, the penalty can include both a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Florida’s punishment is a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail plus 30 hours of community service, preferably for an organization serving people with disabilities.

So while you may be tempted to pass your dog off as a service dog so he can join you at the grocery store, you should think twice before you take advantage of someone else’s disadvantage.

Do you know the laws that apply to service dog in your state? You can find a complete list here.

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