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How to Certify a Service Dog

how to certify service dog

Wondering how you can certify a service dog? You should first be aware that “certifying” a service dog may not mean what you think. 

Under U.S. service dog laws, you cannot qualify for a service dog just by obtaining a certification. Certifications are obtained by service dog owners as an optional step for personal convenience, but they are not mandatory. 

Thus, while service dog certifications can be beneficial, a third party cannot insist on seeing a certificate in lieu of proper verification procedures. These are some key requirements for owning a service dog: 

  1. The handler must have a physical or psychiatric disability. 
  2. The service dog must be trained to perform a job or task relating to that disability. 
  3. The service dog must be able to work in public places without causing a disruption. 
  4. The handler must be able to confirm they own a service dog by answering two permitted questions under the ADA. 

To learn more about service dog certification and verification, continue reading. We will also cover some frequently asked questions regarding service dogs and clarify some common misconceptions.

Question #1 – What is a Service Dog?

A service dog is a highly trained canine that provides assistance to people who suffer from a disability. For example, a service dog can help someone who is visually impaired or has mobility issues. 

Service dogs also help people with mental health disabilities, such as severe depression or PTSD. These service dogs are known as psychiatric service dogs or PSDs. 

Service dog owners are protected under various U.S. laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act, and the Air Carrier Access Act. 

Service dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers in places open to the public and on airplanes. Service dog owners can also live with their dogs free of charge, even in residential buildings that ban all pets. 

Question #2 – What Tasks Do Service Dogs Provide?

A service dog can be trained to perform an incredible variety of tasks. Here are just a few examples of the amazing jobs that service dogs are trained for:

  • Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Conditions – Reminding the handler to take medications, interrupting repetitive or self-destructive behaviors, room searching, bringing an emergency phone during a crisis, providing pressure therapy to calm. 
  • Service Dog Tasks for the Vision Impairment – Guiding the handler, retrieving objects, obstacle avoidance, finding an exit from a room.
  • Service Dog Tasks for Hearing Impairment – Alerting to alarms, doorbells and distant sounds, alerting to people approaching from behind and visitors at the door, alerting to the ring of a telephone.
  • Service Dog Tasks for Hypoglycemia/Diabetes – Alerting the person to a drop in blood sugar, seeking out another human in case of handler’s collapse, retrieving medications.
Service dog in training

Question #3 – How Can You Train a Service Dog?

To be recognized as a service dog, a dog must be fully trained to perform a job or task that helps the handler’s disability. The service dog should also be capable of passing a public access test. 

There are professional trainers and organizations that train service dogs for their owners. However, this is often too expensive for many service dog owners. Fortunately, the ADA allows owners who are capable of training their service dogs on their own without assistance from third-party trainers. 

The following are some basic steps aspiring service dog owners follow on the path toward owning a fully qualified service dog:

  1. Step #1 – Adopt a dog with the appropriate temperament and abilities

    If you have the means, you can adopt a service dog that has been specifically trained for your condition. Unfortunately, that is cost-prohibitive for many disabled people in need – a  trained service dog can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

    It is possible to adopt and train your service dog. If you are considering this route, you should be honest about your training abilities. It may help to consult a professional trainer and your medical professional to see how feasible it is.

    It may be a difficult path, but you should certainly not be discouraged. Countless service dog owners successfully train their service dogs on their own. When adopting a potential service dog, it’s important to ensure the dog has the right temperament and will be capable of providing the service you need.

    Ideally, a potential service dog should be eager to learn and please, have a calm nature, and never exhibit aggressive behaviors towards others. 

    The size of a service dog can also matter. Larger dogs, for example, may be more suited to helping people with mobility issues who need a dog that can pull weight. On the other hand, a smaller dog may be more appropriate for someone who lives in a confined living space and requires an alert dog for their condition.

  2. Step #2 – Training your dog to perform a task to aid with your disability

    Training your dog to perform the tasks you need takes practice and patience. Be sure always to use positive reinforcement when training your canine and seek out professional help periodically if needed. There are also many excellent dog training tutorials online.

    A part of your dog’s training will be practicing learned skills in public. Start with areas that allow dogs so you can focus on training your dog in public. Public parks or outdoor shopping centers are great places for your dog to be comfortable around people and new locations.

  3. Step #3 – Registering your certified service dog

    Once your assistance dog is fully trained and qualified, you can consider obtaining service dog paraphernalia. 

    Although registering your service dog is not required by law, many service dog handlers find registration certificates and ID cards convenient when traveling with their service dog. This is especially true if your disability is not visible and readily apparent. 

    You have probably seen service dog owners utilize vests and tags in public to signal that their dog is a service animal. Service dog owners obtain these items even though it is not mandated because these tools can make their lives easier. By having clear indicators, they can avoid embarrassing and unwanted encounters with people who attempt to interact with their service dog.

Question #4 – Where Can my Service Dog Go?

Service Dogs are allowed anywhere members of the public are allowed; this includes restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores, and markets. Service dogs are also allowed on flights and can live with their owners in residential buildings even if the building bans all pets. 

However, areas where your Service Dog may be denied access for health or safety reasons include:

  • Treatment area of an ambulance
  • Hospital ICU or other areas where special clothing is required
  • Worship services in a church
  • Military bases
  • Private clubs

The right to be somewhere with a service dog is not absolute – if your service dog is misbehaving, it can be denied entry. 

For example, service dogs should not growl at people, lunge, bark excessively or exhibit any type of aggressive behavior towards other humans or animals. Service dogs can also be asked to leave if they are unclean and not sanitary.

A service animal enjoying a small break in the park

Question #5 – What Do I Do If My Service Dog is Wrongfully Denied Access?

Unfortunately, service dog owners are sometimes denied entry because venue staff are misinformed about service dog laws. If this happens to you, consider these tips:

First, remain calm and explain that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you have a right to your service dog in public areas.

Second, inform the staff that you can verify your service dog by answering two questions that are permitted under the ADA: 

1. Is the service dog required due to a disability? and
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? 

You can also, at your option, display tags, ID cards, certificates, or other service dog paraphernalia as further indications that you own a service dog. 

Third, ask to see a manager or owner of the establishment. For a larger business, you may want to do a quick search on your phone for a customer service department. Explain the situation to whomever you decide to discuss this matter with in a calm manner. 

Fourth, if you are still denied access, you can consider filing an official ADA complaint with the US Department of Justice. It’s also a good idea to try and amicably resolve a dispute with a venue regarding service dog accessibility before resorting to this option. 

Before you leave the establishment, it may be helpful to ask for any witnesses who may want to give a statement regarding your denial.

Service Dogs Are There For You!

Owning a service dog is a significant responsibility. Service dogs must be appropriately trained, and service dog owners should be up to date on the latest service dog laws

No one can require you to register or certify a service dog, ever. These tools, like other service dog paraphernalia, are there to help you as a service dog owner, but you should never feel pressured to carry them around. However, they can make your life easier, especially in public areas. 

For that reason, many service dog owners choose to voluntarily utilize service dog accessories like ID cards, vests, tags, and certificates.


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