Service Dog Etiquette
- Respect privacy by not asking about the individual’s disability or to see identification
- Don’t disturb the service dog by talking, calling, petting or offering food to the dog
- Teach children that service dogs are working and can’t be petted
- Don’t make judgments that the dog may be a “fake service dog” based on appearance or behavior
- Learn which questions to ask if you are a business owner or employee (see below)
- Don’t separate the service dog from its handler if there is a medical or other emergency
For Business Owners and Employees
- You must permit individuals with disabilities using a service animal into all areas that the general public is allowed
- You may NOT ask for documentation or a demonstration of the service animal’s trained work
- Only (2) questions may be asked, when it is not obvious what service an animal provides
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
- You may ask that a service animal be removed if it is out of control or not housebroken
- You must offer goods and services without the service dog’s presence when there is a legitimate reason that the animal is removed
- For more information, print U.S. Department of Justice handout Service Animals
For Service Dog Handlers
- Label your service dog if its work as a service dog is not obvious (identifying vest, scarf, collar, leash, etc.)
- Respond to permissible questions
- Be prepared to offer U.S. Department of Justice handout Service Animals
- Remove your service dog from the public accommodation if there is a legitimate issue with control or accidental elimination
- Have emergency information readily available
- Utilize a third party if conflicts arise
Top 5 Service Dog Myths
Myth #1 Service Dogs are only for people who are blind or in wheelchairs
Service dogs can be trained to assist people with many other types of disabilities. Some disabilities are not visible such as medical and psychiatric conditions. It is impossible to recognize every type of disability that could be helped by a specially trained service dog. Some examples of invisible disabilities include but are not limited to Diabetes, Hearing Impairment, Epilepsy, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Myth #2 Service Dogs must wear a special vest and have special identification
Most (but not all) service dogs will have a working vest, harness, or other identifying equipment as a courtesy to let the public know that the dog is working and should not be disturbed. Since it is not required by U.S. law, the absence of a working vest or identification is not illegal.
Myth #3 Its ok to pet Service Dogs if they aren’t working
Service dogs should never be disturbed even if they appear to not be working. Many jobs require the dog to monitor the environment or remain focused on their handler. Petting, calling the dog, or offering attention could put the handler at risk if the dog is distracted from its job. If in doubt, it is always courteous to ask permission before petting any dog.
Myth #4 You can always tell a “fake Service Dog” by how it looks and acts
It is a sad fact that there are a few people who will deceptively take their pet dog into public posing it as a trained service animal however, it is less common. The unfortunate truth is that many individuals with legitimate disabilities and service dogs have been wrongly accused and treated poorly. As individuals with disabilities struggle every day to be accepted into their communities, being accused of such deception only adds to those challenges. Remember that not all disabilities are visible, and many individuals benefit from the help of trained service dogs.
A service dog can be of any breed or size. Small service dogs can be used to detect allergens in the environment, alert to sounds, or provide psychiatric assistance. Extremely large breed dogs can be used to assist a person with balance and mobility support. Local laws that prohibit certain breed dogs in its jurisdiction do not apply to service dogs because they are not pets.
All service dogs should be well mannered, under control, and housebroken however, not all service dogs will maintain a precise position at the side of the handler. At first glance, some service dogs may appear to be ill-mannered or lacking proper obedience training. This common misperception stems from the public’s more familiarity with guide dogs for the blind who maintain a specified position in order to help the handler navigate around obstacles with the use of a special handle. Other types of service dog jobs such as detecting, alerting, interrupting behavior, retrieving, and assisting with various duties may require the dog to freely move about as they monitor the environment or respond to their handler. Some service dogs may be on a very long leash or no leash at all. The law permits alternative control methods such as voice or hand signals if the dog’s job or the person’s disability prevent the use of a leash.
Service dogs are not perfect. Just like people, service dogs can have a bad day because they don’t feel well or may be exhausted from work. Other dogs may be in-training, in which they may make some mistakes along the way. The law recognizes that the handler should have the opportunity to get the animal under control if there is a problem.
Myth #5 It is a health code violation to permit dogs into restaurants and healthcare facilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animal in the same areas that the general public is permitted including restaurants, hospital waiting rooms and patient areas. Rules and laws that pertain to pet dogs generally do not apply to service dogs because they are not pets. A few rare examples of where a service dog may not be permitted are similar to restrictions for most of the public due to a sterile environment such as hospital burn units and operating rooms. Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.