Fake Service Dog Laws By State – Misrepresentation of Service Animals

Fake Service Dogs Are a Problem

To understand why fake service animals can be a problem in our communities, let’s first understand the ADA Americans with Disabilities Act definition, for public access rights.

According to the ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act definition, a service animal is “Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

If an animal doesn’t meet this definition, then it’s not a service dog for public access rights.

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

Misrepresentation of Service Animals

Fake service animals and fake service dogs have become a problem, and it’s mostly a problem for legitimate service dog teams as well as businesses and other members of the community. Legitimate service dog teams are people who are merely trying to go about their life just as other people do.

fake service animal laws by U.S. state
Photo credit: @luna_exploregonOpens in a new tab.

What is a Fake Service Animal?

A fake service animal or fake service dog is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically someone’s pet. A pet that is not trained to do work or tasks for the benefit of a person’s particular disability characteristics. Just a pet that someone is trying to pass off as a real service animal so that they can selfishly bring the pet somewhere in public where pets aren’t allowed.

Psychiatric Service Dog Fake Service Dog
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge” @sarge.in.serviceOpens in a new tab.

Here are some characteristics common to pets, but not common to highly trained service animals

  • Dogs being reactive to other dogs, people, children, sounds, smells, etc.
  • A dog who is not properly socialized
  • Some dogs display symptoms of potential behavioral issues which could be dangerous or disruptive in public
  • Dogs who are not focused
  • Dogs who are not calm
  • Some dogs are not driven or motivated enough to perform the tasks necessary
  • Some dogs are easily frightened
  • Some dogs are not consistent in behavior
  • Some dogs are too social (to the point where it would be difficult to train the focus necessary for work)
Canadian service dog Labrador
Canadian Multipurpose Service Dog “Everest” @katelynburelleOpens in a new tab.

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog

#1 – A dog being pushed or carried in a cart

  • Service dogs are highly trained in many different kinds of jobs known as tasks or work, but no matter what their work or task specialty is, they always need to be alert and ready
  • If the dog is being carried around in a purse or getting a free ride in a shopping cart, they’re unable to perform their duty
  • Sometimes a small service dog is being held close to a person’s chest. Some small dogs are legitimate service dogs, as they can be any size, shape, or breed, trained to monitor certain bodily functions and need to be kept close to their handler
fake service dog in training laws
Service Dog In Training (SDiT) “Bishop”

#2 – A dog that is not on a leash

  • While it might seem ironic that the best behaved and most trained dogs in the world are almost always on a leash, it’s true that you’ll likely never see a highly trained service dog out in public and not on a leash. It’s kind of like a race car driver wearing a seat belt
  • Service dogs are, of course, more than capable of staying by their handler, but leashes are used to protect the service dog
  • Always using a leash is a basic part of being a responsible dog owner
service dog Medical Alert
Medical Alert Service Dog “Koda” @thatlilbearkodaOpens in a new tab.

#3 – A dog that is pulling on the leash

  • Because they’re always leashed while they’re working, service dogs tend to have impeccable leash manners
  • They never pull and always stick close to their handler’s side
  • Dogs used for mobility and support assistance may lean into their harnesses as part of their job, but they don’t randomly yank their human in different directions when they feel like it
service dog at amusement park
Service Dog “Kodiak” @dog.human.duoOpens in a new tab.

#4 – A dog who is barking or whining

  • Some dogs are trained to bark or whine as an alert to warn their owner of an impending medical emergency, like a stroke or panic attack
  • Some service dogs might be trained to jump on their human as an alert
  • But besides these, a service dog would never bark at another dog or whine out of impatience; that’s basic training
Service dog in training German Shepherd
Kylie’s “Where I Go, You Go” (Hugo) Service Dog in Training (SDiT) @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

# 5 – A dog that is sniffing everything

  • All dogs rely on smell more than any other sense; taking your pet on a walk usually involves a whole lot of sniffing and this is normal
  • When a dog has a job to do, those scents are a distraction, and service dogs are trained to not get distracted by many different smells and also sounds
  • Service dogs are trained to stay focused, and they won’t be careening down aisles sniffing everything
Service dog sitting on a car
Medical Alert Service Dog @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.

#6 – A dog that has an indoor “accident”

  • A dog that isn’t fully house trained should never be taken into an indoor public area
  • For male dogs especially, indoor accidents are not always accidental, and instead, it’s the dog’s way of marking new territory
  • Whether they did it on purpose or not, urinating or defecating indoors is unacceptable behavior for service dogs. I mean, sometimes a real service dog will have an “accident” of course, but most are taught and trained to take bathroom breaks on command to avoid this potential issue
Medical response service dog
Medical Response Service Dog @cricket_n_saraphenaOpens in a new tab.

#7 – A dog stealing food

  • Stealing food—whether it’s off a table, out of someone’s hand, or something they found on the ground—is a hard habit for pets to break
  • Resisting temptations like this is one of the first lessons a service dog learns
service dog in training
Service Dog in Training (SDiT) “Bishop” @bishop.service.dog.in.trainingOpens in a new tab.

#8 – Dogs that appear nervous

  • Socialization is a major part of service dog training, and if the dog in question is the real deal, they’ll seem calm and confident no matter what’s going on around them
  • They won’t be spooked by loud noises or big crowds, and they won’t cower or tuck their tails between their legs
  • This includes being able to handle places like Walmart that tend to be a challenge for service dog teams in terms of sounds, lights, smells, children, environment, and other people
multipurpose service dog Eri
Multipurpose Service Dog “Eri” @eri_servicedogOpens in a new tab.

#9 – Dogs seeking attention

  • Service dogs know they have a job to do, and they only have eyes for the person on the other end of their leash. They don’t put their noses into other people’s space seeking head pats or belly rubs.
service dog in bubble tea shop
Kylie’s “Lucy on Duty” @lucytheservicesibeOpens in a new tab.

# 10 – Dogs that are aggressive

  • Sometimes, certain service dogs may be trained in protection, but that doesn’t mean they lash out at other people or animals without being explicitly told to
  • A dog that is growling, lunging, or showing other signs of unprovoked aggression is not a real service dog
service dog and fake service dog laws
Service Dog “Willow” (far right) & Friends @the_working_willowOpens in a new tab.

The impact of fake service dogs

  • Fake service dogs put unfair scrutiny on the people who actually need their animals for medical or emotional purposes
  • They’re an insult to the dogs that go through months of intense training to be good at their jobs
  • The service dog reputation is at stake, and it’s because some pet owners think “no pet” policies shouldn’t apply to them
  • If you decide to approach someone about their dog, remember to do so politely and realize they have no legal obligation to answer a long list of questions
  • Fake service dogs give real service dogs a bad name because they aren’t properly trained
  • It could lead to dangerous situations with untrained dogs
border collie service dog fake service dog laws U.S.
Border Collie Service Dog “Andromeda” @celestialbordercolliesOpens in a new tab.

Fake Service Animal Laws By State

Not all states seem to have some kind of fake service dog laws, but several of them do, and more will likely follow in the future.

Some states have newly created laws in response to the growing – disturbing – trend of fake service dogs being a real problem in communities across the U.S. and beyond. Here’s what I could find.

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

Alabama Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Act 2018-235, § 5, HB198Opens in a new tab. became law on March 8th, 2018
  • The misrepresentation of an animal as a service animal for the purposes of housing a crime will be subject to a civil penalty of $500 or treated as a Class C misdemeanor
  • Subsequent offenses would be a Class B misdemeanor. – Alabama CodeOpens in a new tab.

“Under Act No. 2019-478Opens in a new tab., a person who knowingly and willingly misrepresents himself or herself as an owner or trainer of a service animal will be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor resulting in a $100 fine and 100 community service hours to be performed with an organization that serves individuals with a disability. The law removes the possibility of criminal charges being brought against businesses and their employees.” – Alabama Retail Opens in a new tab.

“If it is not apparent what a service animal does, an establishment may ask only whether it is a service animal and what tasks it performs. In the event the service animal is still in training, the trainer can be asked for photo identification, what the animal is being trained to perform and for proof of experience if the trainer is not the individual with a disability.” – Alabama Retail Opens in a new tab.

Arizona Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Arizona House Bill 2588 makes it a class 2 misdemeanor to misrepresent an animal as a service animal or service animal in training
  • If found guilty, the person may be fined up to $250 per violation
  • This bill was signed into law on April 17, 2018 – Arizona Laws Opens in a new tab.

Arkansas Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Senate Bill 654 was signed into law on April 17, 2019
  • It makes the misrepresentation of an animal as a service animal a crime subject to a civil penalty of up to $250 per violation. – Arkansas LawsOpens in a new tab.

California Fake Service Dog Laws

  • According to California Penal Code 365.7 effective January 1, 1995, any person who misrepresents themselves as the owner of a service dog is guilty of a misdemeanor
  • Penalties may include up to six months in the county jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both. – California LawsOpens in a new tab.

Colorado Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Colorado’s governor signed House Bill 16-1426 into law on June 10, 2016
  • The law states that representing a non-service animal as a service animal may carry a fine between $25 and $500 depending on the number of offenses. – Colorado LawsOpens in a new tab.

Florida Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Florida Statue 413.08(2015) states it is a misdemeanor for a person to misrepresent themselves as qualified to use a service animal
  • Violators will be required to perform 30 hours of community service. – Florida Laws

Hawaii Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Hawaii SB2461 established a civil penalty for the misrepresentation of a service animal
  • Service dog fraud carries a fine of between $100 and $500, depending on the number of violations
  • This bill became law on July 12, 2018 and went into effect on January 1, 2019. – Hawaii Laws

Idaho Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Idaho Statute 18-5811A makes it a misdemeanor to misrepresent an animal as a service dog or to falsify a disability in order to gain the treatment or benefits granted to people with disabilities. – Idaho LawsOpens in a new tab.

Indiana Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Indiana Senate Bill 240 was signed into law in March 2018
  • This bill tightens rules surrounding emotional support animals and makes it a Class A infraction to misrepresent an animal as an emotional support animal (ESA) by fitting it with a vest, leash, harness, or otherwise, make false claims of a disability in order to obtain an ESA, or provide fake documents to a lessor in order to fraudulently claim a pet as an ESA. – Indiana LawsOpens in a new tab.

Iowa Fake Service Dog Laws

  • The Iowa Senate Veterans Affairs Committee sponsored Senate File 2365 to make fake service dogs illegal, and it was passed by the Senate on March 7, 2018
  • A person who misrepresents the need for a service or assistance animal is subject to a civil penalty
  • The intentional misrepresentation of a service animal or service dog in training is a simple misdemeanor that may be subject to up to 30 days’ confinement and a fine between $65 and $625. – Iowa LawsOpens in a new tab.

Kansas Fake Service Dog Laws

  • A 2015 Statute makes it a class A nonperson misdemeanor for a person to misrepresent an animal as a service dog, or to misrepresent a disability in order to acquire a service animal
  • Under Kansas law, a Class A nonperson misdemeanor may be punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. – Kansas LawsOpens in a new tab.

Maine Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In Maine, Title 17, §1314-A states that it is a civil violation to misrepresent an animal as a service or assistance animal
  • Misrepresentation includes creating or providing false documents that state an animal is a service animal, as well as the use of fake service dog vests, collars, or harnesses
  • The penalty for this violation is a fine of up to $1,000. – Maine LawsOpens in a new tab.

Michigan Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In Michigan, a 2016 amendment to Act 82 of 1981 makes it a misdemeanor to falsely represent an animal as a service animal or service animal in training
  • Violations are subject to imprisonment for not more than 90 days, a fine of up to $500, and/or up-to 30 days of community service
  • The Department of Civil Rights’ complaint hotline accepts reports of violations and refers those reports to law enforcement. – Michigan LawsOpens in a new tab.

Minnesota Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In 2018, Minnesota Statutes chapters 604A; 609 made it a petty misdemeanor to misrepresent an animal as a service animal in order to take advantage of the rights afforded to a person who qualifies for a service animal under federal law
  • Subsequent offenses are considered a misdemeanor. – Minnesota LawsOpens in a new tab.

Montana Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In 2019, Montana Code 49-4-221 made it a misdemeanor to knowingly misrepresent an animal as a service dog, and 49-4-222 established penalties for violating the code
  • First, a person must be issued a written warning that it is illegal to misrepresent an animal as a service animal
  • Subsequent violations carry increasing fines of between $50 and $1000
  • The violator may have to perform community service for an organization that advocates on behalf of people with disabilities. – Montana Laws More Montana LawsOpens in a new tab.

Nebraska Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Nebraska Revised Statute § 28-1313 makes unlawful use of a white cane or guide dog a Class 3 misdemeanor. – Nebraska LawsOpens in a new tab.

Nevada Fake Service Dog Laws

  • As of May 31, 2005, it is a misdemeanor under Nevada Revised Statute 426.805 for a person to misrepresent an animal as a service animal or service animal in training
  • Punishable by a fine of not more than $500 – Nevada LawsOpens in a new tab.

New Hampshire Fake Service Dog Laws

  • New Hampshire Rev. Stat. § 167-D:8 went into effect on January 1, 2015
  • This law makes it a misdemeanor to put a harness, leash, vest, or other identification on an animal that misrepresents them as a service animal or to impersonate a person with a disability to get a service dog. – New Hampshire LawsOpens in a new tab.

New Jersey Fake Service Dog Laws

  • NJ Rev Stat § 10:5-29.5 (2013) states that any person who misrepresents a dog as a guide dog or guide dog in training will be fined between $100 and $500. – New Jersey LawsOpens in a new tab.

New Mexico Fake Service Dog Laws

  • New Mexico Senate Bill 320 passed in 2013 makes it a misdemeanor to misrepresent an animal as a service animal. – New Mexico LawsOpens in a new tab.

New York Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Senate Bill S6565 from the 2017-2018 regular sessions amended New York’s §§108, 111 and 118 Agriculture and Markets Law regarding dog licensing to make it a violation to use identification tags classifying a non-service dog as a service animal
  • Depending on the number of violations, the penalty ranges from fines to imprisonment. – New York LawsOpens in a new tab.

North Carolina Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In North Carolina, § 168-4.5 penalizes the misrepresentation of a service dog, and a violation is considered a Class 3 misdemeanor. – North Carolina LawsOpens in a new tab.

North Dakota Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In 2019, Chapter 25-13 of the North Dakota Century Code was amended to make it illegal for an individual to knowingly make a false claim that an animal is a service animal in order to gain admission to a public place or obtain a housing accommodation. – North Dakota LawsOpens in a new tab.
  • In addition, Section 47‑16‑07.6 of the North Dakota Century Code allows a lessor to evict and collect damage fees up to $1,000 from any tenant who is found guilty of misrepresenting an animal as a service animal or providing false disability documentation to gain access under Fair Housing Laws. – North Dakota LawsOpens in a new tab.

Oklahoma Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Effective November 1, 2018, House Bill 3282 authorizes landlords to require documentation of a need for a service animal
  • The bill further states that any person misrepresenting a service dog or making a false claim of having a disability in order to obtain a service dog may be subject to the penalties within the Oklahoma Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, including eviction, and may be responsible for court fees plus damages up to $1,000. – Oklahoma LawsOpens in a new tab.

Rhode Island Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In July of 2019, Chapter 40-9.1 was amended with Section 3.1, “Misrepresentation of a service animal.”
  • Misrepresenting an animal as a service animal is a civil violation, punishable by up to 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities. – Rhode Island Laws Opens in a new tab.

South Carolina Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In May of 2019, South Carolina’s governor signed Senate Bill 281 into law. Chapter 3, Article 1, Section 47-3-980 states that it is unlawful for a person to intentionally misrepresent an animal as a service animal, and establishes fines of up to $250 for a first offense, up to $500 for a second offense and up to $1000 for a third offense. – South Carolina LawsOpens in a new tab.

South Dakota Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Senate Bill 119 makes it illegal for a tenant to provide fraudulent documentation or falsely claim that an animal is a service animal for rental purposes
  • If such false claim is made, a landlord may evict the tenant and collect a damage fee not to exceed $1,000. – South Dakota LawsOpens in a new tab.

Texas Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Under the Texas Human Resources Code Sec. 121.006, any person who misrepresents an animal as a service animal is guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $300 and 30 hours of community service. – Texas LawsOpens in a new tab.

Utah Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Misrepresenting an animal as a service animal, or falsifying information in order to gain a service animal without necessity is a Class C misdemeanor under Utah Human Services Code 62A-5b-106. – Utah LawsOpens in a new tab.

Virginia Fake Service Dog Laws

  • In Virginia, § 51.5-44.1 states that fraudulent representation of a service dog to gain public access for that dog is a Class 4 misdemeanor. – Virginia Laws Opens in a new tab.

Washington Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Effective January 1, 2019, under Washington’s HB 2822, any person who misrepresents an animal as a service animal has committed a civil infraction, which carries a penalty of $500. – Washington LawsOpens in a new tab.

West Virginia Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Article 15, §5-15-9, of the West Virginia Code states that it is a misdemeanor to misrepresent a dog as a service dog; a first violation is punishable by a fine of up to $200 and/or up-to 10 days in jail; subsequent violations are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail. – West Virginia LawsOpens in a new tab.

Wyoming Fake Service Dog Laws

  • Wyoming’s HB114(2017) makes it a misdemeanor to misrepresent an animal as a service animal, which carries a penalty of up to $750. – Wyoming Laws Opens in a new tab.

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Sam Nelson

Sam Nelson 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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