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Service Dog Requirements

The ADA defines a Service Animal as a dog that is trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. A disability can be a physical disability, but also includes disabilities in the form of a mental illness that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as depression, severe anxiety or PTSD.

If you believe you would benefit from having a service dog, you may find the information below helpful. This is not limited to seeing-eye dogs as commonly believed!

What are the Service Dog Requirements?

Training a dog to become a service animal is available to individuals that have a disability. If you are interested in having a service dog, below are requirements to be aware of:

  1. A person is eligible for a service dog if they have a physical, emotional or mental disability
  2. A service dog must be well mannered at all times
  3. A service dog must be trained to perform specific tasks that aid in a disability
  4. If it is not obvious what service the dog provides, the handler must be willing to answer two questions about their service dog. Optionally, it can help for service dogs to be clearly identified with accessories. 

How does My Dog Become a Service Dog?

We have identified 5 simple steps to help you understand how your dog can become a service dog.

  1. Identify and Understanding What Type of Dog You Have
  2. Find a Trainer You Trust or Train Your Dog Yourself!
  3. Train Your Service Dog
  4. Pass a Public Access Test
  5. Consider Service Dog Certification and Registration

Service dogs are an important part of the assistance animal family and serve an important function in our community. Dogs that fulfill trained tasks to assist individuals with disabilities that require their support are allowed access to public places when accompanying their handlers.

Step 1: Identifying and Understanding What Type of Dog You Have

Any dog breed can be suitable for service work. From Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Bully Breeds, Poodles, Huskies, etc. All types of dogs are eligible to become services dogs, each potentially adept at providing a different type of service. It is important to note that under ADA rules an establishment cannot discriminate against a service dog solely because it is a certain breed or size.

The breed of a dog may inform you about some characteristics of the dog and common breed-related instincts so you can watch out for them, but each potential service dog should be assessed for their unique behavioral patterns, strengths and weaknesses to see if that particular service dog would be appropriate to assist you.

You should also be aware of your dog’s condition to ensure that the age and health of your dog is suitable for the job. It’s important to understand your dog’s condition to prevent adding strain to a service animal’s health and also to ensure the dog is up to the tasks it will be trained for. It is also important to test your dog’s personality type to see if he or she has a good temperament for service work. Dogs who are aggressive or easily scared may not work as service dogs until their public temperament improves. 

Step 2: Find a Trainer You Trust or Train Your Dog Yourself!

People often search for a reputable trainer that they trust to train their service dog. You can either adopt a trained service dog from a reputable trainer or bring your dog to a trainer. However, you are not required to work with a trainer and may train your service dog yourself. Many people are not aware that service animal tasks can be trained in the comfort of their own home!  In the United States, there are no required ADA certifications for service animal training. The community is self-regulated and certain organizations promote minimum standards for training. If you find that you would rather train your dog yourself, you are not only welcome to it, but it can also help increase the bond between you and your service dog. 

Step 3: Training Your Service Dog

Most of your time will be spent here. Putting in enough time to train your future service dog is a crucial step. While the United States has no minimum requirement, international standards suggest approximately 120 hours over six months. Some sources recommend that at least 30 of those hours be time spent in public to help train the dog for moments of distraction and when surprises come their way.  

The most important thing for you to teach your service dog is tasking, or learning the specific skill they will be performing to help assist with your disability. Some tasks may include sensing a medical alert, tactile stimulation during a panic attack, reminding the handler to take their medication, scouting a room for someone with PTSD, or grounding/blocking in public areas.

For additional training support and guides, we recommend Secrets to Dog Training. They provide a simple yet comprehensive guide to dog training so you can successfully train your own service dog*. 

* This is our affiliate disclaimer, in compliance with the Federal Trade Commission’s guide (FTC), and to avoid any misunderstanding to visitors of our website. We may earn a commission – at no extra cost to you – if you decide to buy any of the products, software or services we refer to and promote on our website.  The opinions expressed are of our own independent reviewers & writing staff, commissioned to provide helpful information & their unbiased opinion.

Step 4: Pass a Public Access Test

In addition to training your dog to perform tasks that assist with your disability, it is important for a service dog to be able to comport itself appropriately in public.  Various organizations set standards for when a service dog is ready to accompany their handler in public. Below is a quick list of a few important criteria for your service dog to pass:

  • No aggressive behavior towards people and other animals.
  • Cease sniffing behaviors unless released to do so.
  • No solicitations for food or affection while on duty.
  • No over-excitement and hyperactivity in public.
  • Able to tolerate novel sights and sounds in various public settings.
  • No unruly behavior or excessive barking.
  • No relieving themselves in public without being given a specific command.

Once your dog is properly trained, your next step is decide how you prefer to identify your service dog.

Step 5: Service Dog Certification and Registration

In the United States, service dog certifications and service dog identifications are not a requirement. Staff at a public establishment cannot require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service dog, as a condition for entry.

Certifications, IDs and registrations do not convey any rights under the ADA and government organizations do not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal. Unfortunately, staff at many public establishments will still insist on IDs or other tangible proof of service dog status.  For convenience, privacy, and to set proper boundaries with strangers, some service dog owners find it helpful to own documents and accessories that can help signal that their dog is a trained service dog. This will help prevent situations where you are met with hostility or confusion when traveling with your service dog. Electing to carry a custom Service Dog ID card and Service Dog Vest may be helpful tools for you and your service dog to navigate public spaces. You may also choose not to carry the ID card and stand your ground on principle when you encounter people ignorant of service dog rights. Under ADA rules, staff at a venue may only ask two questions if it is not apparent what the service dog is trained to do: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

After you verbally confirm that your dog is a trained service dog, reasonable accommodations must legally be made for service dogs. Service dogs provide help for those facing a physical or mental disability so they are granted access into public places such as hotels, restaurants, and malls. It’s important to understand these rules so you know what rights you have as the owner of a service dog, and when third-parties are violating your rights. To register your service dog for your own convenience, you may click on the link below.

Get your custom Service Dog ID Card and Certificate

Unable to train your dog as a service dog?

You may be interested in an Emotional Support Animal instead. ESAs do not require specific training and have access to airplanes and no-pet apartments. Click here to learn more about ESAs.

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