Service Dog Laws Tennessee – Easy Guide & FAQs

tennessee service dog laws

Jump to a section:

  1. What Is a Service Dog?
  2. Do Service Dogs Have to be Certified?
  3. What Qualifies You For a Service Dog?
  4. ADA Law: Disability Definition
  5. What Does “Regarded As Having a Disability” Mean?
  6. Does Tennessee Recognize Emotional Support Animals?
  7. Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal?
  8. Example of a Reasonable Accommodation Request

Service Dog Laws Tennessee – What is a Service Dog in Tennessee?

What is a service dog in Tennessee?
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There are at least 3 different definitions of a service dog or service/assistance animal, depending on whether public access, air travel, or a housing situation is concerned. The ADA or Americans with Disabilities ActOpens in a new tab. governs the use of service dogs and their humans anytime public access rights are concerned.

For the ADA definition of a service dog, a service dog is defined as any dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks to help someone who is living with a disability.

There are many different types of disabilities; some are visible and many are invisible. These can include physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

Other species of wild or domestic animals, whether they are trained or not, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition.

The work or tasks that a service animal does must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Just a few examples of work or tasks include things like helping people who are blind or living with low vision with navigation, helping to stop destructive behavior in someone who is living with PTSD, and making sure a child with autism does not wander off.

Do Service Dogs Have To Be Certified In Tennessee?

Service Animal Registration Not Necessary

No. Service dog laws Tennessee do not include a requirement for that. Service animals do not need to be certified in Tennessee or in any other state. As per the federal ADA lawsOpens in a new tab. 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.

Do service dogs have to be certified in Tennessee
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People who use service dogs have the right to train the dog themselves. 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.

What Qualifies You for a Service Dog in Tennessee?

Service Dog Tennessee
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Let’s talk about some serious service dog laws Tennessee… What qualifies you for a service dog in Tennessee? We will first talk about it as it relates to public access rights. Rights to housing and air travel fall under alternate laws. For public access rights, we will refer to the ADAOpens in a new tab. (Americans with Disabilities Act).

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 for Social Security DisabilityOpens in a new tab. related benefits.

What qualifies you as a service dog in Tennessee?
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The other obvious laws are the laws for housing which fall under the FHA, Fair Housing Act,Opens in a new tab. and the laws for air travel with a service animal, which fall under the ACAA, Air Carrier Access Act. Opens in a new tab.These also have slightly different – more broad – definitions of service animal or assistance animal.

Under the ADA, a Person With a Disability is Defined As:

person with a disability defined Tennessee
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  • 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 a someone else who may be living with a disability

What’s “Regarded As” Having a Disability?

regarded as having a disability
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“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

For Example…

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 the major life activities.

They are currently a fully functioning human being, contributing to society.

Say that the boss doesn’t give this person the promotion because they are worried that if the 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 this idea that this person is “regarded as having a disability,” even though they actually don’t.

Service Dog Laws Tennessee – Does Tennessee Recognize Emotional Support Animals?

does Tennessee recognize emotional support animals
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Emotional support animals are different from service dogs in that service dogs are specially trained and emotional support animals aren’t. Service dogs are trained to perform work or a task for a specific person who lives with a disability.

Emotional support animals assist people who are living with certain conditions or disabilities, but they aren’t necessarily specially trained, and they don’t necessarily perform a certain tasks or work for someone.

Their simple presence helps someone ease the experience of their disability’s characteristics, such as someone who lives with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or something else.

Emotional support animals are not considered service dogs under the ADA definition, and so they are not allowed the same public access rights as service dogs.

Emotional support animals (as well as other types of comfort animals, like therapy dogs and companion animals) may be excluded from businesses and other places where members of the public are normally allowed or invited to go. In other words, a restaurant or movie theater can say “no” to an emotional support animal.

Having said that, there are some other situations in which emotional support animals are recognized as an assistance animal, and may very well have rights under laws other than the ADAAmericans with Disabilities Act.Opens in a new tab.

While emotional support animals are sometimes not recognized, they aren’t exactly pets, either.

Can a Landlord Deny an Emotional Support Animal in Tennessee?

Can a landlord deny an emotional support animal in Tennessee
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The short answer to this question is yes, and no; it depends on circumstance. Emotional support animals are governed by the Fair Housing ActOpens in a new tab. (FHA), which is a federal law, and so it is the same for all states (and some states have additional or supplemental laws).

The Fair Housing Act has a slightly different definition of what they usually call an assistance animal. 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)

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.

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 the equal opportunity to housing situations.

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 may be things like:

reasonable accommodation request
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  • 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)


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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