Service Dog Laws & Information Washington State


General Information

Washington Flag

Washington law requires that a specially trained Assistance Dog be allowed to accompany a blind, deaf, mentally or physically disabled person to all public accommodations and common carriers (including dining and eating areas, restrooms, and areas where food is sold.) The only exception is if there is a risk of harm. The risk of harm must be actual; in other words it cannot be merely speculative, or based on fear of dogs. Extra charges cannot be made due to the presence of the dog. A service animal must remain in control (physical or voice control) of its handler at all times. It should not be aggressive or disruptive. If an animal shows disruptive, poor, or unsanitary behavior, it would not be considered a trained service animal, and can be removed.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

Service dogs are protected under the ADA. Check out this post for more info:

Service Dogs & the ADA – FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)




Any building, structure, or portion thereof that is occupied as, or designed or intended for occupancy as, a residence by one or more families, and any vacant land that is offered for sale or lease for the construction or location thereon of any such building, structure,

or portion thereof.

Federal law applies to service animals and housing in Washington Sate. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a federal agency that administers the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Under the FHA, a service animal is defined as an animal for a person with a disability that is a necessary and reasonable accommodation. Emotional support animals and comfort animals ARE included in the HUD definition

Therefore, these animals are also allowed into a person’s dwelling too. There should be no “pet fee” for the service animal. The person with the disability must request the dog as a reasonable necessity for the disability. He or she is required to show that the dog is necessary because of their disability. Service animals are not pets, and “no pets” policies do not apply.


Assistance Dogs

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses the term “assistance animal” to cover any animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. An emotional support animal is one type of assistance animal allowed as a reasonable accommodation to a residence with a “no pets” rule.

Housing Discrimination

If you believe you have been discriminated against in housing due to your service animal, complaints must be filed directly with HUD.


Full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges on common carriers, airplanes, motor vehicles, railroad trains, motor buses, street cars, boats, and all other public conveyances, as well as in hotels, lodging places, places of public resort, accommodation, assemblage or amusement, and all other places to which the general public is invited.

What Is A Service Animal?

Washington State law defines a service animal as “an animal that is trained for the purposes of assisting or accommodating a disabled person’s sensory, mental, or physical disability.” The type of dog is not limited to medium or large dogs, even though large dogs are often required for such tasks as pulling wheelchairs, for example. However, small dogs, as well as miniature horses, are also used. A service dog provides dedicated assistance to a person living with a disability. Service dogs are specially trained to help one person negotiate their world with a specific disability. Service animals have guaranteed rights under federal and state law, and are considered to be working animals, NOT pets.

Service Animals Are Not Pets

Do not pet or speak to a service animal unless invited to do so by its handler. The animal is there to provide a service and is working. It should not be disturbed. Since they are not pets, any ‘no pet’ policy can not apply. Businesses can not limit a service animal to a certain area or charge a fee.

What Is A Therapy Dog / Therapy Animal?

Therapy dogs are trained with a handler to provide comfort and support to many people in either an individual or group setting. They are legally designated as pets and have no special rights under federal and state law.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

An Emotional Support Dog is not a pet; it is a separate designation from either service dog or therapy dog. ESA’s have different rights and restrictions under the law, and they require different training. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability (the reason cannot just be a need for companionship). The animal is viewed as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHA or FHAct) to those housing communities that have a “no pets” rule. Emotional support animals are not considered the same thing as service animals under Washington State law because they are not trained to do a specific task for a specific person.

Read more: How To Make Your Dog an Emotional Support Animal in the US


Difference Between Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal

Service Animals

  • Individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
  • The work or task a service dog does must be directly related to the person’s disability.
  • Service dogs may accompany persons with disabilities into places that the public normally goes.
  •  The law that allows a trained service dog to accompany a person with a disability is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Emotional Support Animals


  • An animal (typically a dog or cat, although this can include other animals) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship.
  • The animal provides emotional support and comfort to people with psychiatric disabilities and other mental impairments.
  • The animal is not specifically trained to perform tasks for a person who suffers from emotional disabilities, as oppose to service animals which are individually trained.
  • Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal is not granted access to places of public accommodation.
  • Under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), an emotional support animal is considered a “reasonable accommodation” in a housing unit that has a “no pets” rule for its residents.

About the ‘Service’ in Service Dog

There are many different ways that a person with a disability utilizes a service animal. For example, the animal may:

  • Lead blind people
  • Serve as the ears of a deaf person
  • Carry and pick up items
  • Be used for balance
  • Provide warnings of impending seizures
  • Provide warnings of impending low blood sugar

Service animals may help people with anxiety disorders, PTSD and/or other emotional conditions to function by:

  • Alerting their handlers to avoid anxiety triggers
  • Recognizing and blocking behaviors
  • Stimulating a person to “snap back” to a conscious state
  • Remind handlers that it is time to take medication
  • Can summon help in the case of fainting or a seizure

The ways in which people with disabilities are using service animals has been growing and evolving. Over time, we are discovering additional ways in which these animals can be utilized.


Definition of Dog Guide

The term “dog guide” means a dog that is trained for the purpose of guiding blind persons or a dog trained for the purpose of assisting hearing impaired persons.


There are no legal requirements for service animals to be specially certified, or for handlers to have proof of service animal status by certification.


Assistance Dogs International (ADI) is a coalition of not for profit assistance dog organizations.


Assistance dog organizations that pass ADI’s comprehensive accreditation become ADI member programs, and are regularly assessed to ensure they meet the high standards expected.


The purpose of ADI is to:

  • improve the training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs
  • improve staff and volunteer education
  • educate the public about assistance dogs,
  • advocate for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.

Identification Required

Washington State law does not address a requirement of documentation or identification, including unique dog tags, with regard to service animals. Dogs will often be identified by a harness or vest, but this is completely optional/voluntary.

Service Animals-In-Training

Washington State Law does not address service animals‐in‐training. A program or facility certainly can allow a service animal‐in‐training access, but it is under no legal obligation to do so.


Training Requirements for Service Animals

There is no requirement that the animal has a certain type of training. Courts have determined that training needs to be more than obedience training or positive reinforcement. A service animal must be trained in a way that sets it apart from a family pet. It must be trained to do specific actions or tasks which then help its handler who has a disability. The training requirement often eliminates “emotional support animals”, “therapy dogs”, and “comfort animals” from the definition of a service animal in places of public accommodation, since these animals are not usually trained to do a specific task for a person with a disability. Because a ‘grey area’ or confusion seems to exist, the recommended inquiry is to ask what the animal is trained to do.


Questions a Business Can Ask

Under the Washington State Human Rights Commission, (Also under the ADA) businesses are restricted to which type of questions they are permitted to ask a person who is suspected of using a service animal. Permitted questions include:

1. Is the animal a pet? If it is not and it is identified as a service animal, the business can ask a second question;

2. What service or task is the animal trained to do for you?

If the handler refuses to answer, the animal can be excluded.

If the handler discloses their disability, but refuses to disclose what the animal is trained to do for them, the animal can be excluded.

If the handler provides documentation or certification that the animal is a service animal, but neither the documentation nor the handler can explain what the animal is trained to do, the business can exclude the animal. (There is no state or federal service animal registry or certification process, so such documentation has no legal meaning and is often purchased on the Internet.)

If the handler answers only that the animal can sit, stay, lie down, come when called, or do something else related to obedience and good manners, this does not indicate the animal is trained to provide services for a disability, and the animal can be excluded.

If the handler answers that the animal makes them feel better, helps them calm down, eases their depression, or something similar, this would indicate that it is the animal’s presence alone that helps the handler, and that the animal is not trained to do a task or provide a service. Because the animal does not meet the training requirement, the business can exclude the animal.

If the handler answers that the animal is trained to guide them, help with balance or mobility, alert them to a condition (either physical or situational), pick up or carry items, remind them to take medication, get help, stabilize them during a seizure, redirect their attention from a trigger, or do some other task or provide some service that the person is unable to do themselves or helps with a disability, then the animal is a trained service and must be allowed.

– Washington State Human Rights Commission

Questions a Business Cannot Ask

  • Businesses cannot ask the customer about his or her disability
  • Businesses cannot ask for proof of disability

Service Animal Guide for Business Owners

Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs has put together a couple of excellent and informative videos for business owners and for service animal owners.

Guide For Service Animal Owners

Food Establishments

Recent legislation imposes restrictions on the type of service animals allowed in food establishments, such as grocery stores and food courts. They are limited to miniature horses and dogs that have been trained to do tasks that benefit a person with a disability.


  • Complaints must be filed within 6 months of the date of harm
  • For housing complaints, these must be filed within 1 year of date of harm
  • For Whistleblower complaints, these must be filed within 2 years
  • Complains will be resolved during an investigation subject to an agreement between the parties and the WSHRC. (Washington State Human Rights Commission)
  • Contact WSHRC for more information.

Fake Service Animals

Unfortunately there have been increasing instances of people claiming their untrained dog is a needed service animal. There is no law preventing people from questioning a person with a fake service dog. To make matters worse, the ADA guidelines are written in a broad sense. People have been taking advantage of this and causing issues for real service dogs which are helping to improve the lives of people living with real disabilities. Some ways to spot an untrained or “fake” service animal are: A dog not wearing a leash, or a dog traveling in a baby carriage or tote bag. The untrained dog might be unruly (service animals are never unruly), or it might not stay next to its handler (service animals do not stray from their handler). If an animal is an imminent threat, a business owner can order them to leave.

Register & Certify Your Service Dog in Washington

The truth is that you are not legally required to register or certify a service dog in Washington or any other state in the US. (*exception: New York City service dogs must be licensed by the city’s Department of Health). Service dogs are protected under the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. Registration and certification is possible – but completely optional – and does not convey any legal rights under the ADA or the Department of Justice.  Read more here:

Service Dog Registration & Certification in the US – The Truth 

Find a Service Dog (and related organizations) in Washington State

Brigadoon Service Dogs (Bellingham)

Provides trained service dogs for veterans, children, adults with physical, developmental, and behavioral health disabilities to promote a more independent and enriched life.

*Brigadoon Service Dogs are currently not accepting applications for service dogs until August 1, 2017.*


Summit Assistance Dogs (Anacortes)

Summit Assistance Dogs is a fully accredited 501(c)(3) organization that creates life-changing partnerships by providing highly-skilled mobility-assistance dogs for people living with disabilities, giving them increased independence and renewed confidence. Anyone who can demonstrate a real need for and intent to use the services of an assistance dog can qualify. Note:  They do not train people’s own dogs.


Paws-Abilities Total Dog Center (Fife)

Paws-Abilities has a large variety of classes and training programs for people to participate in using their own dog to become their service animal. As a generality, an owner-trained Service Dog requires up to 100 hours of instructional time and 40 hours of “Real world” practice to achieve success as an owner-trained, Service Dog Team.

The benefits of an owner-trained Service Dog are UNBEATABLE…The owners get to pick the style of dog that most appeals to them….It’s age, size, shape, temperament (busy or laid-back) purebred or ‘mixed’ is up to the owner.  When an owner starts with a young dog or puppy, the bonding process starts instantly…the dog learns it’s job in the environment it will be living and working in with the person or people it will be working for and who love it.

Prison Pet Partnership (Gig Harbor)

Prison Pet Partnership is a non-profit organization located on the grounds of the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. They rescue and train homeless animals to provide service dogs for persons with disabilities and operate a boarding and grooming facility to provide vocational education for women inmates. The program benefits all involved — the animals who are given the chance to lead lives of service, the inmates who learn valuable skills so they may find gainful employment upon release, and the individuals with disabilities who receive well-trained dogs to help increase their level of independence.


Cascade Service Dogs (Olympia)

Cascade Service Dogs, located in Olympia, Washington, mission is to: Provide and train Service Dog Teams to enrich the lives and independence of those challenged by Autism Spectrum Disorder, Post- Traumatic Stress (PTS), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Mobility and Balance.


Cascade Service Dogs foundation is built on over 30 years of experience raising guide dog and assistance dog puppies, being a group leader for over 25 years, including 25 years of 4-H Service Dog Project lead experience. There is no greater joy than seeing the independence, confidence, and joy well-trained service dogs bring to their companions. The dogs we provide come from a number of sources including breeders, service dogs organizations, families who donate their qualified dogs when they can no longer keep them, and occasionally shelters. Teams are trained through our Service Dog and Owner Trained Service Dog Programs.


Pet Partners (Bellevue)

Pet Partners’ mission is to improve human health and well-being through the human-animal bond.

Pet Partners is the nation’s largest and most prestigious nonprofit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams providing animal-assisted interventions.

Pet Partners teams interact with a wide variety of clients including veterans with PTSD, seniors living with Alzheimer’s, students with literacy challenges, patients in recovery, people with intellectual disabilities and those approaching end of life.  The impact of these interactions is felt three million times a year.  Pet Partners’ curriculum and continuing education for licensed Instructors, Evaluators and Handlers is the gold standard in the field.

Project Canine (Seattle)

Project Canine is a therapy dog organization.

Therapy dogs are companion animals with no additional legal rights to access public spaces and have been temperament tested for their appropriateness to visit with people in environments like eldercare facilities, hospitals, homeless or domestic violence shelters, libraries and many more.

Connecting Canines is our therapy dog certification program. We rigorously screen and prepare aspiring therapy dog teams to high standards for safety and professionalism. We provide existing teams with ongoing training opportunities, support, help with finding places to visit, and the opportunity to visit within our other programs. Certified therapy dog teams are covered under our liability insurance for volunteer therapy dog visits. All teams must re-certify every two years.

Adopt a Trained or Service Dog in Washington

Seattle Dog Spot (Washington)

First of all, THANK YOU for adopting a shelter dog. Our shelters have so many fantastic dogs, both purebreds and mixed breeds, that will provide you and your family with a years of love, devotion, and companionship.

Second, when you’re ready to get your dog, I urge you to consider adopting a dog trained at one of several Washington prisons that have formed partnerships with local rescues/shelters.

In case you didn’t know, all Washington prisons operate some kind of animal training or adoption program.



By Sam Amy Nelson

Sam Amy Nelson (she/her) is an advocate for people with disabilities and mental health.

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