ADA Service Dog Laws – Comprehensive Guide & FAQ

Welcome to the official ADA Service Dog Laws 2021 summary. People who live with disabilities often use a service animal, which helps them to fully participate in life.

Dogs 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.

Jump to a section:

  1. ADA Service Animal Definition
  2. Definition of Work or Tasks
  3. Emotional Support, Therapy, Comfort, Companion Animals
  4. Dogs for Anxiety & Anxiety Attacks
  5. Professional Service Dog Training
  6. Service Dogs-In-Training
  7. Information For Businesses (Covered Entities)
  8. Service Dog Vests, Harness, Patch
  9. Care & Supervision of Service Animals
  10. Self Service Food Lines
  11. Hotels
  12. More Than One Service Animal
  13. Hospitals
  14. Ambulances
  15. Certification & Registration
  16. City & Local Dog Vaccinations & Licenses
  17. Voluntary Registration
  18. Banning or Excluding Service Animals
  19. Swimming Pools
  20. Church & Places of Worship
  21. Residential Situations
  22. Commercial Airlines

Some examples are providing stability for someone who has problems with balance or walking, picking up items for someone who is in a wheelchair, or preventing an autistic child from wandering off. Service dogs can do so many different things; these are just a few examples.

ADA service dog laws

The ADA is the Americans With Disabilities Act. It is a federal act, and it requires certain things from State as well as local government agencies, businesses and non-profit organizations across the United States.

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

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


1. ADA Service Dog Laws – Service Animal Definition

ADA service animal definition

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

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


2. ADA Service Dog Laws Definition of Work or Tasks

ada service dog 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.

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.


3. Emotional Support Animals, Therapy Animals, Comfort & Companion Animals – ADA Service Dog Laws

emotional support dog 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 a specific work or task for a specific person’s disability, they can not be considered service dogs under the ADA service dog laws definition.

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 animal, so it’s a different story there with emotional support animals being allowed into housing situations as an assistance animal for a disability.


4. ADA Service Dog Laws – Dogs for Anxiety & Anxiety Attacks

ada dog for anxiety

If you’re wondering whether a dog that helps someone with their anxiety counts as a service dog, 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 which helps to avoid the attack or lessen the attack and related symptoms, that would qualify as a service animal.

However, if the dog helps the person by providing comfort with it’s 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.


5. ADA Service Dog Laws – Professional Service Dog Training

ada professional service dog training

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 and 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.


6. ADA Service Dog Laws – Dogs In Training

ada service dogs in training

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 into public places.

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


7. ADA Service Dog Laws Information For Businesses (Covered Entities)

ADA information for businesses

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. In these types of cases, businesses may only ask two things to someone who is attempting to bring a service dog into a public place.

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

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

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.


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

ADA service dog vest

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, or specific harness.


9. ADA Service Dog Laws – Care & Supervision of Service Animals

ADA care and supervision of service animal

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.


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

ADA Self service food lines with service dog

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.


11. ADA Service Dog Laws – Hotels

ADA service dog laws hotels

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

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 four legs.

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.

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.


12. ADA Service Dog Laws On More Than One Service Animal

ADA More than one service animal

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 the person find their way if they have a visual disability, and another may warn of a seizure about to happen.

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

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.


13. ADA Service Dog Laws – Hospitals

ada service dog laws hoptials

Generally speaking, service animals must be permitted in hospital patient rooms and all other places inside a hospital that 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.

If a person with a disability is unable to care for their service animal due to a 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.

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

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.


14. ADA Service Dog Laws Ambulances

ada service dog laws 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.

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.


15. ADA Service Dog Laws Certification & Registration

ada service dog laws certification and registration

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.

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.


16. City/Local Dog Licenses & Vaccinations

ada city and local dog vaccines

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

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


17. Voluntary Registration

voluntary service dog registration

Sometimes, places like cities, local governments, and colleges and universities may offer a 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.


18. Banning or Excluding Service Animals

ADA banning or excluding 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.

It may also be excluded if it is not in 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.

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.

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 animal.

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.


19. ADA Service Dog Laws – Swimming Pools

ada service dog laws swimming pools

The ADA service dog laws do not override public health rules. One example being a rule that prohibit 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.

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


20. Church & Other Places of Worship

ADA Service dog laws church and other places of worship

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 your state to find out.


21. ADA Service Dog Laws in Residential Situations

service dog laws residential housing

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, and any places of public accommodation, like public and private universities. 

Additionally, the Fair Housing Act applies to virtually all and any types 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.

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


22. ADA Service Dog Laws – Commercial Airlines

service dog ada laws about air travel

Commercial airlines do not need to comply with the ADA service dog laws, because the Air Carrier Access Act protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel.  It is a federal law.


1 comment

  1. this is outline does not address bringing a service animal into a restaurant without a means of control, allowing it to run where it wishes to go – around other patrons, ect

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