Welcome To Service Dog Laws Tennessee
In 2023, approximately 1,552,858 adults in Tennessee live with some type of visible or invisible disability. This is obviously a significant number, and is equal to 29% of the population, or 1 in 3 adults (according to the CDC).
Some folks who live with disabilities also live with service dogs; specially trained animals that assist people by doing a wide variety of “tasks” or “work.”
If you’re feeling like trying to understand service dog laws Tennessee is like trying to untangle a clump of 14 necklaces during a headache, you’re not alone.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll attempt to break it all down into easy to understand sections. Service dog laws can be extremely complex and confusing, and this is due to many different reasons.
- There are various service dog laws, depending on the context
- There are similar types of dogs that are not service dogs, such as emotional support animals that can confuse things
- Disabilities can be invisible
- Some people try to pass off their pet as a service dog; a “fake service dog” can ruin the reputation of legitimate service dogs
- Check out our guide to Emotional Support Animals in Tennessee to learn more about ESAs. Otherwise, let’s jump into this!
Table of Contents
Summary of the various service dog laws Tennessee
Part of the reason why service dogs can be so confusing is that there are multiple laws around them. Here is a summary of the different laws relevant to Tennessee:
- The ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – is a federal law. It is most well known for governing the use of service animals when public access rights are concerned. This law is also referred to for housing situations and employment situations with service animals.
- The FHA – Fair Housing Act – is another federal law that governs the use of service animals – or what is known in this context as “assistance animal” when housing situations are concerned. Both service dogs and emotional support animals are known as “assistance animals” under this Act.
- The ACAA – Air Carrier Access Act – is what is used when service animals will be taken to the skies with their handler. Only fully trained service animals are allowed in the cabin of airplanes with their handler as long as they meet the ACAA requirements, and fill out any required paperwork or documents prior to their flight.
- State-specific service animal laws are a thing. Even though we have the federal ADA laws, each individual state may or may not have additional or “state-specific” service dog laws for their own area. Check our guide on individual states for anything that may be different from the ADA laws.
- A common example is that under the ADA, service dogs in training are not allowed public access rights. However, certain states extend the same rights to service dogs in training, as fully trained animals have
- Section 504 – is similar to the ADA, and protects the rights of students with disabilities in educational settings.
- IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – is yet another law that is in place for students with disabilities in the United States.
Multiple Service Dog Definitions
Even answering the simple question, “What is a service dog?” isn’t so simple. The definition of “service dog” can mean different things, depending on the context; who you ask. Different definitions can be both legitimate and different from one another at the same time. Let’s discuss:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of a service dog – public access rights, and more
- Fair Housing Act (FHA) definition of “assistance animal” – for housing situations (or jump to our guide to assistance animals and housing under the Fair Housing Act)
- Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) definition of a service dog – for air travel with service dogs
Americans with Disabilities Act (Federal ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities, including those who use a service dog.
Forbidding a person with a disability who uses a service dog from accessing a place, service, or another facility where the public is allowed to go would be considered an act of discrimination. Check out our full guide to the ADA public access laws that are the same for all U.S. States.
The ADA is divided into five titles:
- Employment (Title I)
- Public Services (Title II)
- Public Accommodations (Title III)
- Telecommunications (Title IV)
- Miscellaneous (Title V)
“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
The Federal Fair Housing Act
Fair Housing Act (FHA) is another federal act that protects those with disabilities when virtually all and any housing situation is concerned, including rental units. Under the Fair Housing Act, both emotional support animals, as well as service dogs, are referred to as “assistance animals.”
An assistance animal is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. An assistance animal is not a pet.U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Air Carrier Access Act – Federal
Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) is relevant when service animals will be flying in the sky. Only fully trained service animals may fly in the cabin of aircraft with their handler as long as the prerequisites and paperwork have been done ahead of time.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
Animal species other than dogs, emotional support animals, comfort animals, companionship animals, and service animals in training are not service animals.U.S. Department of Transportation
Where can service dogs go in Tennessee?
- Service dogs may go with their (legally disabled) handler basically wherever the public can go (this is under the federal ADA laws)
- There are a few exceptions, such as a sterile hospital environment (operating room, burn unit) and religious organizations are exempt from service dog laws requiring access
- Service dogs – with their human handler of course – can be any breed (even banned breeds like Pit bulls) and are allowed in malls, restaurants, grocery stores, movie theatres, community centers, schools, buses, taxis, hotels, Airbnb, amusement parks, doctor’s offices, hospitals, trains, and National Parks, just as a few examples; basically anywhere the public can go.
Do Service Dogs Have To Be Certified in Tennessee?
- No. Service animals do not need to be certified in Tennessee or in any other state
- As per the federal ADA laws for public access rights, requiring certification for a service dog as a condition of entry, to a place where the public is normally allowed or invited to go, is not permitted
Businesses and other entities may not require documentation, like proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed; and especially not as a condition for entry. For more information about registration and why it’s not required, check out our detailed blog post article.
Folks may train their own service dog
People who use service dogs have the right to train the dog themselves. This is under the ADA and other laws.
As long as the dog performs a specific task for a particular person’s disability, and the task is related to helping the person with their disability, then it is a service dog under the ADA laws for public access rights, at the very least.
What Qualifies You for a Service Dog in Tennessee?
Having a disability
The short answer is that service dogs are for people who live with a disability. So, if someone has a disability, then they most likely will qualify for a service dog.
Disability can be defined in different ways, of course, depending on who you ask. The ADA does not provide a list of qualified disabilities. Rather, it explains disability in a – let’s say – interesting way. Let’s dive into that.
The definition of disability is a legal term
It is good to realize that in the context of the Americans With Disabilities Act, disability is more of a legal term, and not so much a medical one.
Because of this, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws. One example would be Social Security Disability-related benefits.
The ADA, a Person With a Disability is Defined As:
- A person who has a physical or mental impairment
- The physical or mental impairment substantially limits at least one (or more) of what they call major life activities
- This includes people who have a history of these types of impairments, even if they don’t currently live with a disability
- It also includes people who don’t have a disability but are regarded as having a disability (I know, that is confusing)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act also makes it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their association with someone else who may be living with a disability
What’s “Regarded As” Having a Disability?
“Regarded as having a disability,” can mean any combination of the following:
- The person has an impairment, but it does not substantially limit one of the major life activities
- Someone has an impairment, and it does indeed substantially limit at least one of the major life activities, but only as a result of other people’s attitudes toward them
- Someone that does not actually have any impairment, but for some reason, they are treated by a business or somewhere else as having an impairment
Since this sounds confusing, here’s an example of someone that is regarded as having a disability, even though at the time, they don’t have one.
Say that someone is being considered for a promotion at work. They had cancer several years ago, but they are now cancer-free.
So, while they have a history of cancer, they don’t currently have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of their major life activities.
They are currently fully functioning human beings, contributing to society (no judgment to those who aren’t. We must smash the idea that self-worth is connected to productivity levels.)
The boss doesn’t give the promotion
Say that the boss doesn’t give this person the promotion because they are worried that if cancer returns, they won’t be reliably able to continue to do their job. In other words, they are being discriminated against based on their previous, but not current, health status; based on their history.
The simple fact that the boss was aware of the previous health situation, and is now blatantly discriminating against this person, brings us to the idea that this person is “regarded as having a disability,” even though they actually don’t.
Housing Service Dog Laws Tennessee
Can a Landlord Deny a Service Dog in Tennessee?
A landlord can not deny a service dog in Tennessee unless there is a valid reason, and this falls under the federal FHA – The Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act has a slightly different definition of what they call an “assistance animal.”
Service dogs and emotional support animals are both referred to as “assistance animals” under this act. Check out my full guide to ESAs/ServiceDogs/Assistance Animals and the Fair Housing Act to learn more. The FHA definition is that an assistance animal is:
- An animal that performs tasks works or provides assistance for the benefit of someone with a disability
- Or, it is an animal that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more effects of someone’s disability
- An assistance animal is not a pet (“No pets” policies do not apply)
Requesting a reasonable accommodation
People who are living with a disability can request to keep their assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation. In other words, a request to waive any restrictions around having animals in the housing.
Reasonable accommodations required
Housing providers must make reasonable accommodations within their rules, practices, policies, and/or services when it may be necessary to afford someone with a disability equal opportunity in housing situations.
Reasonable accommodation requirements
The Fair Housing Act requires a landlord or another type of housing provider to allow a reasonable accommodation that involves an assistance animal, as long as the situation meets all the following conditions:
- The person with the disability, or their representative, made a request to the housing provider
- The request was supported with information that indicates an obvious disability-related need for the animal
- The landlord or housing provider has not demonstrated that:
- If they were to grant this request, it would impose an undue financial, and/or an undue financial administrative burden on the landlord or housing provider
- If, by granting the request, the request would fundamentally alter the essential nature of the housing provider’s operations
- The particular assistance animal (emotional support animal, service dog, guide dog) in question would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others
- If the request would not result in significant physical damage to the property of other people, despite any other reasonable accommodations that may be able to eliminate or reduce the physical damage
An example of a reasonable accommodation request for an assistance animal:
- A request to live with an assistance animal at a house, condo, apartment, suite, or another kind of property where a landlord or housing provider has a no-pets policy, or
- A request to waive a pet deposit or fee
- Restrictions on the size or weight of an animal (some people who use dogs for stability and balance need larger breeds)
Service Dog Work or Tasks – What Do Service Dogs Do?
Service dogs can perform a wide variety of different “tasks” or “work;” almost an unlimited number. The work or tasks done by the service animal must be directly related to the person’s disability. The training must be specific to the person using the animal.
Disabilities could be:
- Or another mental disability
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, bringing a water bottle and medication
- Doing other specific work or performing other special tasks
- SSigDOG is a Sensory Signal Dog or Social Signal dog. These are service dog that has 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.
- To learn about more tasks, check out: The Giant List of Service Dog Tasks (K9 Total Focus website)
Service Dog Laws Tennessee Regarding Documentation
- There is no formal service animal certification process or paperwork that is recognized by Tennessee State or the federal government
- Having said that, air carriers (airlines), employers, and housing providers such as landlords may require certain and specific documentation
- Documentation may not be required for public access as a condition of entry (prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act).
The following items are not required for an animal to qualify as a service dog no matter which service dog laws in Tennessee we are talking about:
- Service dog vest
- Service dog ID or patch
- Service dog markings of any kind
- Documentation or paperwork
Vests, service dog markings, and service dog documentation can not be used as a reliable indication of whether an animal is legally a service dog.
A therapy dog/animal, emotional support animal, or another animal wearing a vest or having a special marking, does not make these types of dogs service animals.
Miniature Horses as Service Animals
Technically speaking, only dogs are service animals under the federal ADA definition for public access rights. Other species of animal, whether that be wild animals or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of the ADA.
Service animals may or may not be other types of animals in terms of housing and employment situations. But for now, let’s talk about ADA public access rights.
Even though dogs are the only service animal defined by the ADA, there is a separate provision in the ADA that does cover miniature horses.
What this means is that a miniature horse that has been trained to do work or tasks for a specific disability shall have the same rights as service dogs wherever possible.
Businesses and other covered entities need to provide access to miniature horses whenever possible. Reasonable modifications need to be made in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by a person with a disability.
There are additional assessment factors for miniature horses
To determine whether to allow a miniature horse into a specific facility, the business will need to consider the following:
- The type, size, and weight of the miniature horse and whether the facility can accommodate these features safely
- Whether the handler has sufficient control of the miniature horse
- Whether the miniature horse is housebroken
- Whether the miniature horse’s presence in a specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation
Honorable Mention – Therapy Dogs
Let’s just briefly discuss what therapy dogs are and aren’t, since many people aren’t sure and it can be confusing as there are so many amazing types of dogs in the world.
A therapy dog is not a service dog, and that’s because therapy dogs aren’t trained to do “work or tasks” for an individual’s disability. Simple.
A therapy dog is usually someone’s pet that enjoys meeting a large number of different people in different settings.
The people who are fortunate enough to spend time with a therapy dog receive great benefits, such as reduced anxiety and added joy.
They often visit places such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other settings where the stress in people may likely be high.
Fees or Surcharges for Service Dogs
Fees, extra charges, or pet deposits may not be charged for service animals. This is true whether we are talking about the ADA, ACAA, FHA, or Tennessee State service dog laws.
A service animal is not considered a pet. Someone using a service animal must not be turned away or denied access because of a “no pets” rule or policy.
In the case where a public entity usually charges people for damage caused by an animal or pet, a person with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by their service animal.
Control & Care of Service Animals
- Service animals must be under control at all times & should not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others
- Service animals must comply with state and local animal control laws
Service animals should be kept at a person’s side quietly unless they are performing a specific task.
Service animals must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered unless this may interfere with the service animals’ work. Or, if a disability prevents using them. In those cases, service animals still need to be controlled through voice, hand signals, or another effective way.
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
Info For Businesses
It’s obviously important for businesses and other “covered entities” to be aware of service dog laws in Tennessee as well as federal laws. If not, they could be accused of discrimination.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits the following:
- Asking about a disability
- Requiring medical documentation
- Requiring a special identification card or training documentation for the dog (or mini horse)
- Ask that the animal demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task
- Charge an extra fee because of the animal
- Segregate the customer with a disability from other customers
Permitted Questions to Ask
If the reason for the service dog is obvious, then businesses and other covered entities may not inquire about the use of the animal.
When it’s not obvious – and many disabilities are invisible – businesses may only ask two questions to someone using a service dog. That’s it.
The questions are:
(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against disabled people in employment situations. In addition, it requires reasonable accommodation at the employee’s request.
Allowing someone with a disability to bring their service animal into the workplace environment is a form of reasonable accommodation.
As with any accommodation request, the employer must consider allowing the use of a service animal at work unless doing so poses an undue hardship, or could disrupt the workplace environment.
Note that an employee may also request that an employer allow a companion animal or emotional support animal in the workplace as an accommodation. Reasonable requests in this situation are not restricted to dogs only. Read more on our blog: Federal ADA Workplace Accommodation Guide
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs are a type of service dog that perform work or tasks related to psychiatric disabilities.
A few examples of these types of disabilities include:
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety disorders
Here are a few examples of some psychiatric service dog tasks:
- Providing reminders to take medication at a certain time
- Service dogs can lay across their handler and apply pressure (Deep Pressure Therapy) during a panic attack, for example
- Provide tactile stimulation or grounding
- Interrupting dissociative episodes or other repetitive or problematic behaviors
- Alerting the handler to rage or other types of strong emotions
- Interrupting self-harming behaviors
- Retrieve an item, such as a water bottle and medication for a panic attack
- Wake someone up from a nightmare
- Interrupting flashbacks
- Searching the house or home to ensure it’s clear and safe before the handler enters
- Providing a “reality check” to help with hallucinations
- Stabilizing a routine for someone
- Read more on our blog: Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – 17 Examples
Psychiatric Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Animals
The difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs is simple: Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do at least one task for a specific person’s disability, and the task is related to the disability.
Emotional support animals are not task-trained like this and provide comfort and other benefits by their presence alone. Emotional support animals are not service dogs, but they do have some rights when it comes to housing and employment situations.
Training & Service Animals in Training (SDiT) in Tennessee
Service dogs in Tennessee and other states do not need to be trained by a professional service dog training program, or professional trainer (under the ADA laws). But, they do need to be trained by somebody.
Service Dog Training in Tennessee
Many people train their dogs by themselves or with some help, as many service animal programs have limited resources and long waiting lists.
Under the federal ADA laws, service animals in training do not get the same public access rights as fully trained service animals.
But, most states have some kind of state laws that allow service animals in training some kind of public access rights. Read more on our blog: Service Animal In Training – U.S. State Guide
At this time, only four states do not cover service animals in training under their public accommodation laws.
Service Dog Laws in Tennessee State Cover Service Animals-In-Training
The following is a quote from the Tennessee Code:
“(2)(A) No proprietor, employee or other person in charge of any place of public accommodation, amusement or recreation, including, but not limited to, any inn, hotel, restaurant, eating house, barber shop, billiard parlor, store, public conveyance on land or water, theater, motion picture house, public educational institution or elevator…
…shall refuse to permit a dog guide trainer to enter such place or to make use of the accommodations provided in those places, when the accommodations are available, for the reason that the dog guide trainer is being led or accompanied by a dog guide in training; provided, that the dog guide in training, when led or accompanied by a dog guide trainer, is wearing a harness and is held on a leash by the dog guide trainer or…
…when led or accompanied by a dog guide trainer, is held on a leash by the dog guide trainer; and provided, further, that the dog guide trainer shall first have presented for inspection credentials issued by an accredited school for training dog guides.
(ii) “Dog guide in training” also includes the socialization process that occurs with the dog’s trainer or raiser prior to the dog’s advanced training; provided, that the socialization process is under the authorization of an accredited school. – TN CODE
As we’ve already talked about, service animals perform various work or tasks to help someone with a disability to live safely and independently.
U.S. Department of Transportation Americans with Disabilities Act regulations define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or another animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to:
- Guiding individuals with impaired vision
- Alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds
- Providing minimal protection or rescue work
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Fetching dropped items
When riding transit, customers with disabilities who use service animals are responsible for maintaining control over their animals (and caring for them) at all times.
Riders are also responsible for knowing the best way to board and position their service animal on the vehicle, especially if the service animal may be required to provide assistance (“tasking”) during the transit trip.
Service animals may not block aisles or exits.
According to ADA regulations, every transportation employee or operator who serves people with disabilities needs to be trained so that they know how to provide non-discriminatory service in an appropriate and respectful way.
When serving passengers who are blind, operators should:
- Identify themselves
- Speak directly to the customer instead of through a companion
- Use specifics such as “there are five boarding steps and a 10-inch drop to the curb” when giving directions
Transit agencies should be aware of the following rules under ADA:
- Operators must allow all service animals on board
- Operators may not ask for proof of service animal, certification or of the customer’s disability
- Operators may not require a person traveling with a service animal to sit in a particular seat on the vehicle or charge a cleaning fee for customers who bring service animals onto the vehicle unless the animal causes damage