ADA Service Dog Laws and Info – Huge Guide & FAQs [2023]

ADA Service Dog Laws

Welcome to ADA Service Dog Laws [Updated For 2023]

A huge thank you to all of the beautiful animals for allowing their photos to be used for this article!

Are you wondering about the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA Service Dog Laws for 2023? Service animals and the laws around them can be remarkably confusing – bewildering, even – and complex because:

  • There are multiple service dog laws (state, federal, ADA, housing, air travel, employment, schools, etc.)
  • There are multiple types of animals, and different types of animals are accepted in various different contexts (an animal other than a dog may be accepted for housing or employment, but not for public access)
  • There are multiple types of visible and invisible disabilities
  • Unfortunately, there is misinformation floating around the internet
  • There are people walking around with pets they pass off as service dogs, known as “fake service animals”

In this easy guide, we dive into the ADA service animals laws for public access rights. This guide does not go into housing laws or laws for employment or school for service animals.

Table of Contents

Service animals are for people with disabilities

Many people who live with disabilities use a service animal. This helps them to be more able to participate in life. In addition, service animals can give people confidence and the opportunity to live life safely in the face of challenging medical conditions.

Around 61 million adults live with disabilities in the United States SourceOpens in a new tab.. That represents 26% – or 1 in 4 – adults.

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.

It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.

Americans with Disabilities Act National Network Opens in a new tab.

The ADA is divided into five titles:

  • Employment (Title I)
  • Public Services (Title II)
  • Public Accommodations (Title III)
  • Telecommunications (Title IV)
  • Miscellaneous (Title V)

ADA Service Dog Laws 2022 PDF

This is just a PDF of this article. Feel free to download the PDF.

Psychiatric Assistance K9
PTSD Assistance K9 (In Training) “Remmi” @working.collie.remmiOpens in a new tab.
Service Dog Certification Registration
Service animal registration & certification is not required in the U.S. A legitimate ADA federal system does not exist.
service dog in training ADA
“Kylie’s Where I Go, You Go – Hugo” Service Dog in Training (SDiT) @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

Dogs or mini horses for public access only

Under the ADA laws for public access rights, service animals must be either a dog or miniature horses. No other kinds of animals are accepted.

Dogs and miniature horses are smart and adaptable and can be trained to do so many different things for people. These things, known as “work” or “tasks,” help people with their disability or disabilities.

Public access guide

*Please note that this is a general guide on the ADA public access rights and other related laws. You can also read other articles on our blog about service animals in employment: Service Animal Workplace Accommodations & the ADA laws or What qualifies as a disability for a service dog?

ADA Service dog laws USA
“Kylie’s Lucy On Duty” @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

ADA Service Dog Registration / How to Register a Service Animal

ADA Service Dog Registration is not a thing. Service dogs do not need to be registered, certified, or professionally trained. If you find websites online selling “service dog registration,” “service dog certification,” or anything like that, it’s not legitimate.

These are not recognized by the ADA or the Department of Justice. Buying a piece of paper from the internet does not turn a dog into a service dog or any other kind of dog.

Three service dogs sitting together
Service Dog “Kodiak” & Friends @dog.human.duoOpens in a new tab.

Does the ADA Have a Service Dog Registry?

No, the ADA does not have a service dog registry. The ADA states that service animals do not need to be registered or certified. Therefore, if you see “service dog registration” websites online, these are not endorsed or approved in any way by the ADA or Department of Justice.

border collie service dog ADA laws
Border Collie Service Dog “Andromeda” @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.
service dog in training German Shepherd
“Kylie’s Where I Go, You Go” (Hugo) Service Dog In Training @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

Some examples of service animal tasks include:

  • Providing stability for someone who has problems with balance, stability, or walking
  • Helping with navigation for someone who is blind or living with low vision
  • Picking up items for someone who is in a wheelchair
  • Bringing attention to the presence of allergens
  • Alerting a person who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • Preventing an autistic child from wandering off
  • Seizure response
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Helping someone with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors and/or patterns
  • Reminding someone living with a mental illness to take their prescribed medications
  • Waking someone up from a nightmare (PTSD, for example)
  • Provide Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) or deep pressure stimulation
  • Service animals can do so many different tasks; these are just a few examples

Read more: The Giant List of Service Dog TasksOpens in a new tab. (K9 Total Focus)

Service Dog ADA laws
Service Dog “Balu” from Portugal

ADA is a federal Act

The ADA is the Americans With Disabilities Act. It is a federal act, and it requires certain things:

  • State government agencies
  • Local government agencies
  • Businesses
  • Non-profit organizations
Canadian Service Dog
Canadian Service Dog “Everest” @katelynburelleOpens in a new tab.

What businesses need to know

Namely, it requires that any “covered entity” that provides goods and services to the general public (businesses, non-profits, governments, etc.) make reasonable modifications to its policy, practices, and procedures in order to make sure people with disabilities are accommodated.

border collie service dog
Border Collie Service Dog “Andromeda” @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

No pets policies

Covered entities that have a “no pets” policy, generally must modify their policy to allow someone with a disability who uses a service dog (or miniature horse) to access their facility, program, or service.

Service animals are not pets. They just might look like pets. But I mean, this sun also looks like this orange.

service dogs are not pets
Service animals are not pets, even though they may look like them; kind of like this flaming sun and juicy orange.

ADA Service Dog Laws – Service Animal Definition

ADA Service Dog Laws U.S.
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @bri.and.piperOpens in a new tab.

Official ADA definition of a service animal

The official ADA service dog laws definition of a service dog, which can be used when considering public access rights, is:

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.

ADA Frequently Asked Questions Opens in a new tab.

A service dog can be any breed and any size of dog.

ADA Service Dog Laws Definition of Work or Tasks

ADA Service Dog Work or Tasks
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” @sarge.in.serviceOpens in a new tab.

Service animal work or tasks

Part of the ADA definition of a service animal includes that the dog does work or tasks for a person with a disability. But what does this mean, exactly?

It means that in order to be a service dog, a dog must be trained to take some kind of specific action when it is needed to help someone with their disability, or aspects of their disability.

service dog border collie
Border Collie Service Dog “Andromeda” @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

Examples include alerting someone with diabetes that their blood sugar is reaching a dangerously high or low level. Someone who lives with epilepsy or another similar disorder may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure, and then help to keep the person safe during the event.

Service dogs can help people who are living with a mental disability to remind them to take their medication on time, or could help someone living with PTSD, by stopping unhelpful behavior, or waking up someone from a nightmare.

The different tasks that service dogs can do are almost unlimited.

The work or tasks done by the animal must be directly related to the person’s disability. The training must be specific to the person using the animal. A service animal is not a pet.

Service dog at Jurrasic Park
Service Dog “Kodiak” @dog.human.duoOpens in a new tab.

The disability could be:

  • Physical
  • Sensory
  • Psychiatric
  • Intellectual
  • Or another mental disability
What Service Dogs Can Do
Service animals can help people with a wide variety of different visible and invisible disabilities.

The tasks or work done by the animal may include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Helping to guide someone who is visually impaired or blind
  • Alerting a person who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Helping someone with mobility or balance
  • Alerting others and protecting someone having a seizure
  • Retrieving objects
  • Bringing attention to the presence of allergens
  • Providing physical support and help with balance and stability to someone with a mobility disability
  • Helping someone with a psychiatric or neurological disability by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors and/or patterns
  • Reminding someone living with a mental illness to take their prescribed medications
  • Calming someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack
  • Doing other specific work or performing other special tasks
  • SSigDOGs are Sensory Signal Dogs or Social Signal Dogs. These are service dogs that have been trained to assist someone with autism. The service dog typically alerts their human handler to distracting repetitive movements which are common with people living with autism. This allows the person to stop the movement.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs are a type of service dog that has been trained to perform “work” or “tasks” that help people with psychiatric disabilities to detect the onset of certain, specific episodes and lessen their effects.
  • Seizure Response Dogs are a type of service dog that is trained to help somebody who has a seizure disorder. How the dog serves the person will depend on individual needs. The seizure response service dog might do a variety of tasks, such as stand guard over their human during a seizure to keep the person safe, or the dog might go and get help.
  • A few dogs have learned to predict a seizure and warn the person in advance to sit down or move to a safe place, but it seems like this can’t reliably be trained in just any dog.
  • Read more: The Giant List of Service Dog TasksOpens in a new tab. (K9 Total Focus website)
Siberian Husky service dog in training ADA
Siberian Husky Service Dog in Training (SDiT) @the.borealis.packOpens in a new tab.

Emotional Support Animals, Therapy Animals, Comfort & Companion Animals

Service Dog, emotional support dog
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” @sarge.in.serviceOpens in a new tab.

Not service animals under the ADA

These animals (emotional support dogs, therapy dogs, comfort animals, companion animals) provide comfort just by their presence. Since they have not been trained to perform specific work or tasks for a specific person’s disability, they can not be considered service dogs under the ADA service dog laws definition.

service dog vs emotional support dog
“Trained” here means task-trained for a specific disability, which goes well above and beyond the basic socialization and obedience training
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” @sarge.in.serviceOpens in a new tab.

However, it’s important to note that some State and local governments have created service dog laws and some of these laws allow people to take an emotional support animal into public places. So be sure to check with the local and state laws for your area.

The Fair Housing Act also has a more broad definition of assistance animals, and it includes emotional support animals. These may be different animals from a dog or miniature horse.

So it’s a different story there with emotional support animals being allowed into housing situations as an “assistance animals” for a disability. They aren’t automatically allowed, but can be requested as a “reasonable accommodation.”

ADA Service Dog Laws – Dogs for Anxiety & Anxiety Attacks

blood sugar alert service dog
Blood Sugar Alert Service Dog @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.

Psychiatric service animal vs emotional support animal

If you’re wondering whether a dog that helps someone with their anxiety counts as a service dog, let’s go back to the original definition. There is a clear distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals.

If a dog has been specifically trained for one person’s anxiety and trained to sense that their anxiety attack is about to happen soon, and then takes a specific action that helps to avoid the attack or lessen the attack and related symptoms, that would qualify as a service animal.

Therapy Dog ADA laws
Therapy Dog “Eddie” and “Boomer” @eddieandboomerOpens in a new tab.

However, if the dog helps the person by providing comfort with its mere presence then it would not be considered a service animal under the ADA service dog laws. The dog hasn’t been specifically trained to do a certain job or task for a specific person.

ADA Service Dog Laws – Professional Service Dog Training

ADA Service Dog Laws
Border Collie Service Dog “Andromeda” @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

Professional training not required

Professional service dog training is not a requirement of the ADA. In other words, people who are living with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves.

They are not required to use a professional service dog training program, even though there are many of these programs that can and do train many amazing service dogs for people. Read more from our blog: Service Dog Training Basics & FAQ

ADA Service Dog Laws – Service Dogs In Training

Service Dog in Training – “Bishop”

Service dogs in training are not considered official service dogs under the ADA. In other words, a service dog in training must completely finish its training before it can be allowed access to public places.

Under the ADA, the dog must already be trained before it can be taken into public places. However, some State or local laws cover animals that are still in training.

ADA

Having said that, most State or local laws do cover dogs that are still in training, so check with your local area to find out for sure.

ADA Laws Service Dog In Training (SDiT)
Service Dog In Training “Bishop”

Four states do not cover service animals in training (SDiT)

At this time, only four states do not cover service animals in training under their public accommodation laws (click the link to go to that state’s service animal laws on our blog):

People training service dogs in these states are not guaranteed public access. For the remainder of the states, there is some kind of service dog in-training laws in place. But the details vary, so check with individual states for the complete picture. Read more on our blog: Service Dog In Training Laws by State Opens in a new tab.

ADA Service Dog Laws Information For Businesses (Covered Entities)

Service dog ADA Laws
Therapy Dog “Eddie” with “Boomer” @eddieandboomerOpens in a new tab.

Sometimes it’s obvious that someone with a disability is using a service dog and that the dog is clearly a service dog. For example, when a dog is guiding someone who is blind or has low vision. Or when a dog is pulling a wheelchair.

Other times, it’s not so obvious, or not obvious at all. This is because many disabilities are invisible (read more about it on the Invisible Disabilities Association). In these types of cases, businesses may only ask two things of someone who is attempting to bring a service dog into a public place.

What Can You Legally Ask a Person With a Service Animal?

1. “Is this dog a service animal required because of a disability?”

2. “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”

ADA Service Dog In training laws
Border Collie Service Dog @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

The following are not permitted under the ADA service dog laws:

  • Asking the person with the service dog for any kind of documentation
  • Requiring that the dog perform or demonstrate its task or work
  • Inquiring about the details of someone’s disability. This is highly personal information

Question: Can I Refuse a Service Dog in My Business?

Only for a good reason

Service dogs must not be excluded from a business unless there is a valid reason. If a service dog is excluded without a valid reason, it’s discrimination.

Valid reasons to exclude a service dog include:

  • If a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others
  • If a particular service animal has a history of bad behavior
  • If the service dog or miniature horse is not under the control of the handler
  • If the person with the service animal doesn’t answer the two questions that businesses can ask

ADA Service Dog Laws – Service Dog Vests, Harnesses, Patches

ADA Service Dog Laws Federal and State Laws
Multipurpose K9 “Remmi” @working.collie.remmiOpens in a new tab.

Vests not required

A lot of service dogs do wear a vest or harness. But it’s important to know that the ADA service dog laws do not require service animals to wear any of the following:

  • Vest
  • ID tag
  • Specific harness

Many people may choose to have a vest, harness, or cape for their service animal. It can help to identify the animal as a working animal so that (hopefully) the public will understand to not distract a service dog team. If you see a service dog without a vest, it could still very well be a legitimate fully trained dog. Fake service dogs can be spotted by their (usually) poor behavior. Read more on our blog: Where to buy service dog vests & gear – 19+ options

ADA Service Dog Laws – Care & Supervision of Service Animals

ADA Service Dog Laws Care and Supervision of Service Animals
Blue Heeler “Snow Leopard” @snow_leopard_81Opens in a new tab.

Caring for service animals

Service dog handlers are responsible for caring for and supervising their service dog at all times, including when out in public places such as a restaurant or movie theater.

This includes the usual things when caring for an animal: going to the bathroom, feeding, grooming, and veterinary appointments and care.

Businesses and any covered entity aren’t responsible for caring for or supervising a service animal at any time.

ADA Service Dog Laws – Self-Service Food Lines (Salad Bar)

ADA Service Dog Laws Food and Restaurants
Multipurpose Service Dog “Eri” @eri_servicedogOpens in a new tab.

Service dogs must be allowed to go to a self-service food line or salad bar, as well as cafeterias and communal food preparation areas, dormitories, and shelters.

Service dogs may go anywhere that the general public is allowed and/or invited to go, and this is no exception.

ADA Service Dog Laws – Hotels

Spaniel service dog
American Cocker Spaniel Service Dog “Bartek” @bartek_spaniel_wspanialyOpens in a new tab.

The same rights as other people

People who live with disabilities and use a service dog have the same rights as others when it comes to hotels.

Not just pet-friendly rooms

This means that the person with the service dog must be offered the same opportunities to reserve any room that is available, and not be restricted to “pet-friendly” rooms.

Service dogs are not pets; they are living, breathing medical assistance devices that happen to have a tail and some legs.

Fees

Hotels are not allowed to charge someone with a service dog for cleaning the dog’s hair or dander that may have been shed.

Having said that, a hotel can charge the same fee for damages as it charges to other people if a service dog for some reason ends up damaging a guest room in the hotel.

No dogs in a hotel room alone

Service dogs are not to be left in a hotel room alone, without the handler. The handler must have complete control over the dog at all times. Read more on our blog: Are Service Dogs Allowed in Hotels?

ADA Service Dog Laws on More Than One Service Animal

Medical alert and response service dogs
Tandem Medical Alert & Response Service Dogs @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.

Generally speaking, if someone needs more than one service animal, then they are permitted to take more than one with them to a public place.

Sometimes people will use two animals if they have two different disabilities. For example, one service dog could be used for helping a person find their way if they have a visual disability, and another may warn of a seizure about to happen.

ADA Border Collies
Border Collies @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.
Service Dog ADA Laws USA
Multipurpose Service Dog “Eri” @eri_servicedogOpens in a new tab.

Other times, someone may need two dogs for the same task, like to help someone with stability when walking.

Accommodating both dogs

Staff can ask the two questions that businesses are allowed to ask, and if both dogs can be accommodated, then they should. However, if it’s not possible to accommodate both dogs because of space constraints, one of the dogs can be asked to be left outside.

Two service dogs ADA
Kylie’s “Where I Go, You Go” (Hugo) & “Lucy On Duty” @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

ADA Service Dog Laws – Hospitals

ADA Service Dog Laws Hospitals
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @service.doodle.piperOpens in a new tab.

Service animals are allowed in patient rooms

Generally speaking, service animals must be permitted in hospital patient rooms and all other places inside a hospital where the general public as well as patients are allowed to go.

They cannot be excluded or denied simply on the basis that the hospital staff can provide the same services for the person.

Patient unable to care for service dog

If a person with a disability is unable to care for their service animal due to hospitalization, they have a few options. They could make arrangements for family or a friend to come to the hospital to help care for the dog.

This would be the best option since it’s never a good idea to separate a person and their service dog unless absolutely necessary.

Service Dog “Kodiak” @dog.human.duoOpens in a new tab.

Alternatively, a friend or family member could take the dog and care for them during the hospitalization.

If a patient is unable to care for the dog

If a patient is unable to care for their dog and is also unable to find someone else to help, then the hospital may place the dog in a boarding facility until the patient is released. Or, other arrangements can be made.

The hospital needs to offer the patient a reasonable chance to make their own arrangements for the dog before they put the dog into a boarding facility, or make other arrangements.

ADA Service Dog Laws Ambulances

Medical alert service dog
Medical Alert Service Dog “Koda” @thatlilbearkodaOpens in a new tab.

Service animals are allowed in ambulances

Generally, service dogs must be permitted to ride in an ambulance with their handler. Having said that, however, if the space in the ambulance is limited, or crowded, the dog may need to be excluded.

This is especially true if the dog’s presence would interfere with the emergency staff’s ability to treat the person.

Avoid separating patient and service animal

If this happens, staff need to make other arrangements to have the service dog transported to the hospital to be with the patient. Service dogs and their handlers should not be separated unless it’s absolutely necessary. People with service dogs may benefit from having an emergency plan, especially in the case of a car accident. Read more on our blog: Are Service Dogs Allowed in Hospitals?

ADA Service Dog Laws Certification & Registration

ADA Service Dog Laws Registration and Certification
Canadian Service Dog “Everest” @katelynburelleOpens in a new tab.

ADA Service Dog Laws indicate that service dogs do not need to be certified. People who use service dogs have the right to train the dog themselves, so many service dogs do not go through professional training.

Businesses are not permitted to require:

  • Documentation that a service dog has been certified, licensed as a service dog, or trained as a condition for entry
  • Any kind of proof about the service animal or disability
  • The service dog to demonstrate its task or work
Autism Service Dog
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @bri.and.piperOpens in a new tab.
Psychiatric Service Dog ADA
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” @sarge.in.serviceOpens in a new tab.

Service dog papers online for sale

You may have noticed that online there are some individuals and organizations that sell service dog items, such as certification products and/or registration documents.

These documents and certifications do not convey any rights under the ADA. The Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.

If you spot someone with these documents, the service dog may or may not be a fake. Many people unfortunately are not informed of the laws.

Service Animal Registration Not Necessary

City/Local Dog Licenses & Vaccinations

Blue Heeler “Snow Leopard” @snow_leopard_81Opens in a new tab.

Service animals are not exempt

If the city or town where you live requires that all dogs be vaccinated, service dogs are not exempt from this rule, and must comply.

The same applies to local dog licenses. New York City is a good example of a city that requires all dogs to be registered and licensed.

 Mandatory registration of service animals – just because they are service animals – is not allowed under the ADA service dog laws.

Voluntary Registration

Service Dog Registration and Voluntary Registration
Service Dog in Training “Bishop

Sometimes, places like cities, local governments, and colleges and universities may offer voluntary registration for service dogs.

A voluntary registry like this serves a public purpose. In the event of an emergency, such as an evacuation, emergency staff will know to look for service animals that have been registered.

Some offer additional benefits, like reduced dog licensing fees. Registries like this are allowed under the ADA service dog laws.

Just note that requiring a service dog to be registered as a service animal as a condition of being permitted entrance to a public place is a violation of the ADA service dog laws.

Multipurpose Service Dog ADA Laws
Multipurpose Service Dog @eri_servicedogOpens in a new tab.

Banning or Excluding Service Animals

ADA Service Dog Laws Excluding Service Animals
Service Dog In Training “Bishop
medical alert service dog ADA
Medical Alert Service Dog @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.

Banning service animals

Service dogs can be any size and any breed. A business may not exclude a service dog based on assumptions or stereotypes about the breed. Or, how they think the animal might behave.

If a service dog is showing bad behavior, such as going to the bathroom inappropriately, barking, or posing a direct threat to the health and safety of others, or if it has a history of this behavior, then it may be excluded.

ADA Service dog laws when you can exclude a service dog
Kylie’s “Where I Go, You Go” (Hugo) and “Lucy on Duty” @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

Service dogs under control

It may also be excluded if it is not in the control of the handler. The handler must have control over the dog at all times, whether that be with a leash, harness, or voice control.

Being asked to leave

If a service dog is excluded for any of those reasons, then the business or entity must still offer their product or services to the person who was using the dog, without the dog being present.

Service Dog ADA Laws USA
Why Do Service Dogs Wear Goggles? Photo @luna_exploregonOpens in a new tab.

Banned breeds

If a city or town prohibits a certain breed of dog, exceptions must be made for service dogs, unless the service dog is posing a threat to the health and safety of other people or animals.

Businesses and entities may not exclude a service dog based solely on the breed or generalizations about how a certain breed might behave. Each individual case needs to be examined to determine if that particular animal’s history or current behavior is inappropriate enough to be excluded.

ADA Service Dog Laws – Swimming Pools

ADA Service Dog Laws Swimming Pools
Photo credit: @luna_exploregonOpens in a new tab.

Public health rules

The ADA service dog laws do not override public health rules. One example is a rule that prohibits dogs in swimming pools.

In other words, if dogs are not allowed in swimming pools as per public health orders, then service dogs are similarly not allowed in the swimming pool.

Change rooms, pool deck

However, service dogs must be allowed in other areas where the public is allowed to go, including changing rooms and the pool deck.

Church & Other Places of Worship

Autism Service Dog ADA Laws USA
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @bri.and.piperOpens in a new tab.
service dog in training ADA
Service Dog in Training (SDiT) “Bishop”

Religious organizations exempt

Churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA service dog laws. 

However, some individual State laws may apply to religious organizations, so check with individual states to find out (link to our U.S. state guide).

ADA Service Dog Laws in Residential Situations

Border Collie Service Dog ADA
Border Collie Service Dog @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

The ADA service dog laws do apply to housing programs that are administered by state and local governments.

Some examples of these include:

  • Public housing authorities
  • Any places of public accommodation
  • Public and private universities

Additionally, the Fair Housing ActOpens in a new tab. applies to virtually all and any type of housing. This includes housing situations that are both public and privately owned, including the housing that is covered by the ADA service dog laws.

ADA Service Dog Laws Housing
Therapy Dog “Eddie” @eddieandboomerOpens in a new tab.

The Fair Housing Act uses a slightly different definition to determine which kinds of animals can be considered a reasonable accommodation.

Housing providers are required to permit the use of animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that help people who are living with disabilities. Or, it can be an animal that provides emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability. 

Based on this definition, other animals besides dogs can be considered reasonable accommodations for housing. Service dogs are permitted in Airbnb as per their policy.

ADA Service Dog Laws – Commercial Airlines

Service dogs and Commercial Airlines
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” @sarge.in.serviceOpens in a new tab.

Fully trained service animals only

Commercial airlines do not need to comply with the ADA service dog laws, because the Air Carrier Access ActOpens in a new tab. protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel.  It is a federal law. The ADA does still apply in airport terminals. Fully trained service animals may fly in aircraft cabins. Read more on our blog: American Airlines Service Dog Info – The Easy Guide

Husky Service Dog ADA LAws
Kylie’s “Lucy on Duty” @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

Miniature Horses & The ADA Service Animal Laws

Technically speaking, with the updated ADA laws, dogs are the only permitted type of animal defined as a service animal for disabled people where the ADA public access rights are concerned.

However, the ADA has a separate and specific provision that covers miniature horses. The rules that apply to service dogs also apply to miniature horses.

ADA Mini Service Horse
“Flirty” The Mini Service Horse @flirty.the.mini.service.horseOpens in a new tab.

Businesses must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.

ADA – Miniature Horses Information Website
service mini horse
“Flirty” The Mini Service Horse @flirty.the.mini.service.horseOpens in a new tab.

Businesses and other covered entities can use the following factors to help in determining whether a miniature horse could potentially be accommodated safely at their location.

  • The miniature horse must be housebroken (“goes to the bathroom” appropriately)
  • The miniature horse must be under the control of its owner at all times, the same as service dogs
  • Can the facility safely accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight?
  • The miniature horse’s presence must not compromise legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for the safe operation of the facility or business. This must be based upon actual fact, not speculation, assumptions, or fears

Just like service dogs, a miniature horse meets the criteria of a service animal when it has been individually trained to do work or perform certain, specific tasks for someone with a disability.

However, businesses and other public places may limit access based on the mini horse’ height and weight

Flirty” the Mini Service Horse

This is different from the rules for service dogs. Service dogs can be any size, any type, any breed of dog, even pit bulls.

A bit more about miniature horses…

  • They can live longer than both dogs and regular horses, about 25-30 years
  • They have great eyesight, peripheral vision, as well as night vision
  • They can push or pull heavy objects more easily than most dogs
  • Among many other things, of course, they can help stabilize a person with balance difficulties, or help to stop someone from falling
ADA Mini Service Horse
“Flirty” The Mini Service Horse @flirty.the.mini.service.horseOpens in a new tab.

Where Does the ADA Apply?

  • Places of public accommodation which include…
  • Places of lodging
  • Places serving food or drink
  • Places of entertainment
  • Places of public gathering
  • Sales or rental establishments
  • Service establishments
  • Stations used for specified public transportation
  • Places of public display or collection
  • Places of recreation
  • Places of education
  • Social service center establishments
  • Places of exercise or recreation
  • Public services, programs, and activities, which include: schools, and state and local government offices
  • Public transportation
  • Private transportation, like Greyhound bus service
  • The Workplace
  • Airport terminals
  • Airbnb
  • National Parks
Border Collie Service Dog
Border Collie Service Dog @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.
Medical Alert Service Dog ADA Laws
Medical Alert Service Dog @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.
Goldendoodle Service Dog ADA
Medical Alert Service Dog “Koda” @thatlilbearkodaOpens in a new tab.

More Info & Help With ADA Assistance

If you need more information or assistance directly from the Americans with Disabilities Act, Opens in a new tab.there are several options:

The Department of JusticeOpens in a new tab. operates a toll-free ADA Information Line to provide the public with information and materials regarding the requirements of the ADA.

ADA Specialists can help people who phone in to understand how the ADA applies to their particular situation. All calls are confidential. They are available:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. and again from 3:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time)
  • Thursday from 2:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time)

To get answers to technical questions, obtain general ADA information, order free ADA materials, or ask about filing a complaint, you can call:

800-514-0301 (voice);

800-514-0383 (TTY)

ADA Information Line Opens in a new tab.

Mailing address:

Disability Rights Section Mailing Address

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
4CON, 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20530

Section Phone Number

(202) 307-0663

Section Fax Number

(202) 307-1197

Publications by mail

ADA regulations, technical assistance materials and publications are available in standard print as well as in alternate formats for people with disabilities. Call the ADA Information Line 24-hours a day to order through the automated system.

Contact ADAOpens in a new tab.

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Sam Nelson

Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.

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