Service Animals in Public Spaces

Helping businesses understand working service animals
A person with their large service dog is sitting on a patio chair

Service Animals in the Community

What exactly are the rules?

I am seeing more service dogs lately. What are my rights as a business?

As a business owner, you want to verify that people are bringing in animals that are there to work and that will be well-behaved. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says you can ask a couple of questions to ensure this is the case. Of course, if it is obvious that a person is using a service animal, such as person who is blind with a guide dog, it would be polite to not ask at all.

The ADA allows you to ask two questions when the need for a service animal is not obvious:

  1. Is the dog a service animal and is it required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

What if I am still not sure if the dog is a service animal?

Beyond asking the two questions listed above, business owners and employees cannot ask for additional proof that the animal is working. Let the animal and their handler come into your business and use your services or access your products.

Can I make them show the dog doing the task?

Nope. So long as they have verified the need relative to their disability and have told you what task they provide, you should let them come in and conduct their business. They do not have to show the dog doing the task to confirm that they are telling the truth.

Well, what kinds of tasks are they providing?

A service dog presses the elevator button for a person in a wheelchairService animals perform a variety of tasks for their owners. They can open doors and retrieve objects. Serve as guides for people who are blind. Alert Deaf people to important sounds. Provide balance and stability. Prompt their handler when it is time to take medication. They can even tell when their handler might be about to have a seizure or when their blood sugar is getting low. Psychiatric service animals might bring their owner a phone in the event of a crisis. Some can operate a K-9 rescue phone to call emergency services.

It is remarkable what these amazing animals can do! The list of tasks is long.

So, is emotional support a task?

The simple answer is no. Remember that service animals are individually trained for the tasks they complete for their owners. Simply providing comfort is not a task that requires training. While this might be uncomfortable, you have the right to not allow the animal inside your business. Remember that psychiatric service animals are not emotional support animals.

See our colorful infographic (PDF) for a quick rundown of the differences between these two types of animals.

What about other proof? They should have vests and ID cards, right?

Some service animals wear vests, some wear harnesses, and some don’t. It is important to remember that service animals are not required to wear or carry anything that indicates their status as a service animal. In fact, some bad actors obtain these devices for their pets to pass them off as service animals.

Service animals are OK, but not THAT breed!

A smiling person in a red hat and sunglasses getting an affectionate face lick from an American terrier wearing a red collar.The ADA does not limit the breeds that may work as service animals. All dog breeds are used as service animals and can complete tasks for people with disabilities.

Whose job is it to care for a service animal?

The service animal’s handler is responsible for caring for their dog.

What do I do if a service animal behaves badly?

The service animal’s handler has a responsibility to keep the dog under their control. If the dog urinates on the floor, barks excessively, or is otherwise disruptive, you should ask the customer to remove the animal from the premises. But remember, you should allow the customer to come back and still get what they need.

What does “under control” mean?

A service dog with identifying vestThe term under control actually means a few things as it relates to service animals. Let’s start with an obvious one. The dog should be either be leashed or in a harness, or it should be controlled with voice commands. The handler would use voice commands in a case where the handler cannot manage a tether or is sending the animal to retrieve an item. The service animal should not be wandering around.

It is important to keep in mind that a service animal may bark to alert their owner to an important issue or to call for aid.

Behaviors that would clearly indicate an animal is not a service animal include excessive barking, aggression, relieving themselves indoors, or pestering other folks. When these behaviors occur, you can tell the owner to please address these issues and that if they do not, you will have to ask them to remove the animal.