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Service Dog Laws & Information for Ontario

Service Dogs and Related Definitions

Since there seems to be a lot of confusion around Service Dog labels, let’s go through some common terms and what they actually mean. The differences are important.

What is a Service Dog?

A Service Dog has been individually trained to help a specific person with a disability to mitigate their functional limitations. Service dogs are entitled to public access with their trainer or owner.

What is a Therapy Dog?

 A therapy dog has not been individually trained to work with an specific person; these dogs are not ‘Service Dogs.’ These dogs are trained to work with multiple people other than their owner in therapeutic capacities. 

What is a Companion Dog?

A companion dog is a pet and must follow all the normal rules and bylaws for pets.  

What is a Working Dog?

A working dog is trained to perform a specific task or job who is typically handled by a professional (police dogs, military dogs, detection dogs, search and rescue dogs, as some examples).  

Who is eligible to get a Service Dog in Ontario?

Anyone who is living with a disability can get a Service Dog to help with daily life and other tasks. One of the first things to do would be to consult with your doctor or other health care professional to help determine if this would be the right choice for you. This is a big decision and you need to really consider all of the ways this will affect your life, both negative and positive. Having a living, breathing, medical assistance device living with you 24/7 would be a big change, especially for people not used to even having pet.

Is a Service Dog Right for You?

A Service Dog is still a dog, and he will be with you all the time. Is this something that is a good fit for your circumstances, situation, or abilities?

Some things to ask yourself before you get a Service Dog

Financial Considerations

  • Do you have funds to cover the Veterinary Costs, insurance for the animal, good quality food, or to pay for assistance you may need with the animal such as walking, grooming, training?

Physical, Mental and Emotional Considerations

  • Are you able to walk the dog?
  • Are you able to provide the basics like bathroom breaks
  • Are you able to participate in training with your dog?
  • Do you know about the basics of dog care?
  • Are you okay with the fact that the dog has a physical and a working lifespan which is likely much shorter than yours?
  • Do you have someone who can care for your dog if you are unable?

If you decide a Service Dog is right for you…

If you decide this is right, you just need to obtain a simple letter from your doctor or other healthcare professional. This letter will simply state that you require a Service Dog. It does not need to include any further details.

Currently, the way the law is written, once you have this letter, you may obtain your Service Dog – put a vest on him – and continue to public places with your dog as your Service Dog.

Where Can You Get a Service Dog?

If you decide that a Service Dog is right for you, where can you get one from? There are several options

  • You could adopt a dog and train him/her yourself
  • You could adopt a dog and train him yourself with the help and assistance of an experienced dog training professional
  • You could get a trained service dog from a reputable organization. Some of these organizations are non-profit or charity groups and have very long waiting lists and/or a lengthy application process. This may or may not be the right option for you, but it’s definitely an option.

How to find a reputable nonprofit or charity group who adheres to ethical standards

Check out Assistance Dogs International which is commonly accepted as the ‘Global Authority in the Assistance Dogs Industry.’ Please note that ADI will only allow established nonprofit, or charitable programs, to apply for accreditation or membership.

There are many additional resources available that offer perfectly ethical and exceptional Service Dogs to you or someone who needs one.  There are many private organizations or businesses who also offer trained Service Dogs, or they may help you to train your own. Be aware, that the dog training industry is quite under-regulated at this time, so it’s important to do your homework. Be sure to research their experience and and qualifications.

There are several organizations that all offer memberships to professionals. This ensures high standards and codes of ethics are followed. Check them out here:

Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog Trainers (CAPPDT)

Association of Animal Behaviour Professionals (AABP)

Certified Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)

Animal Behaviour Society (ABS)

Certification of Service Dogs in Ontario

In Ontario, a formal certification or testing of Service Dogs does not currently exist. To ensure a dog is a respected member of the community, The Canadian Canine Good Citizen test is recommended, to make sure dogs are trained and conditioned to act mannerly in the home, public places and in the presence of other dogs.

Canadian Canine Good Citizen

Service Dog Public Access Rights in Ontario

All service providers that operate premises open to the public, must welcome service animals in Ontario. They must allow customers with disabilities to keep their service animals with them anywhere they need to go. The only exception is in places where the law excludes service animals.

Identification of Service Animals in Ontario

There are two ways that establishments and service providers in Ontario can tell whether if customer’s or clients animal is a Service Animal

  1.  It is visibly apparent that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to disability
  2. the customer provides an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability

Emotional Support Animals in Ontario

Is an emotional support animal a Service Dog?

Service Animals and ESA’s (emotional support animals) aren’t the same thing. Emotional support animals have not been trained to perform a specific task for a person with a disability, as Service Dogs have. ESA’s provide comfort and security by their mere presence. Therefore, emotional support animals do not quality as a Service Dogs under the AODA – Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Establishments aren’t required to allow emotional support animals on their businesses’ premises.

Limitations and exceptions for Service Animal access rights in Ontario

All service providers must welcome service animals, with a few food-related exceptions such as certain sections in food manufacturers.

Occasionally, a customer who uses a service animal may want or need to access a location that the public can enter but where service animals are not legally permitted.

In these instances, service providers must offer alternative accommodations so that the customer can access the service usually offered in that location.

Providers may serve the customer in a location open to the animal. Alternatively, providers may serve the customer in the location where the animal is not allowed. In this situation, the animal may rest in a different area while a staff member performs the animal’s usual tasks.

Service providers must follow the above service animal laws. Otherwise, they are obstructing the law and penalties may occur. By welcoming service animals, providers are also showing their commitment to serving all customers.


Service Dog Organizations in Ontario

COPE Service Dogs in Ontario

COPE Service Dogs specializes in training dogs for people who primarily have mobility disabilities. They currently do not deal with psychiatric service dogs. They are currently serving clients in Canada within a 3-hour driving distance of Barrie, Ontario within the Canadian border.  COPE does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, level of literacy, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age or disability.

Thames Centre Service Dogs

Thames Centre Service Dogs mission is to ‘provide humanely trained, trustworthy service dogs of excellence to improve our clients quality of life, while safely guiding them towards increased independence’

They are located just outside Mount Brydges in Caradoc County. They have an extensive adult program at their facility. They service many clientele with various issues, including brain injury/illness, epilepsy, P.T.S.D., Operational Stress Injury, psychiatric as well as other health concerns.  Please contact them to see if you qualify.

National Service Dogs

National Service Dogs services a variety of clients. Examples of dogs they provide are: PTSD Dogs, Autism Dogs, Canine assisted intervention dogs, Companion Dogs and Career Change Dogs.

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