Below are some frequently asked questions that you may have as a prospective handler, active handler, business owner, or person curious about service dogs in general- and specific questions for service dogs in Washington State. Some of the questions and answers have been retrieved from the Department of Justice’s website, and some are questions from individuals that we have been asked to answer.
Q: What is a service dog?
A: A service dog (SD) is a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to mitigating the person’s disability. These tasks may include: aiding a visual or hearing impaired handler, providing mobility assistance, performing seizure or diabetic alerts and allergen detection, among other tasks.
In addition to the provisions about service dogs, both WA State law and Federal law (the ADA) recognize miniature horses as service animals when they are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Entities covered by the ADA and WA State law must modify their policies to permit Miniature Service Horses (MSHs) when reasonable.
Q: What is a service dog in training?
A: A service dog in training (SDiT) is a dog that is in training to individually do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.
Under both the ADA and WA State law, persons (including trainers) with SDiTs do NOT have public access rights. A NON-Food entity may allow persons with SDiTs to train in their establishment if they so choose, but are not legally obligated to grant access.
However, in King Co., WA, persons with SDiTs and ESAs are afforded the same access rights as persons with service animals. All other laws still apply, including a business’ right to ask animals to be removed if they are not housebroken, under control of their handler at all times, or a threat to the health and safety of the public, etc. More info available here.
Q: What is an emotional support animal?
A: An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that aids with psychiatric disabilities (including: phobias, anxiety, depression, and other related conditions) by providing companionship and comfort to the animal’s owner. These animals often do not receive specialized training to aid the owner with skilled tasks. These animals are NOT considered service animals under the ADA or WA law, and persons with ESAs do NOT have public access rights.
Q: What is a therapy dog/animal?
A: A therapy dog (TD)/therapy animal is an animal that is trained to provide comfort and joy, and aid in the improvement of physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning of a variety of people and patients. Therapy animals have been used in clinical, group and individual settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, disaster relief settings, rehabilitation centers, and schools. They are not the same as an ESA or Service Animal, and their handlers do not have public access rights.
Typically, therapy animals go through a training program and often receive certification. Therapy animal handlers can volunteer their services via asking entities for permission, are directed by their therapy animal program(s) to places in need of their assistance, or can be invited to a facility for their services.
Q: What does “work or perform tasks” mean?
A: “Working or performing tasks” indicates the dog is trained to aid in a task or job that a disabled person requires assistance with. This could include: alerting a handler to low blood sugar levels, alerting a handler to an oncoming seizure, providing deep pressure therapy (DPT) to a person with chronic pain, anxiety or PTSD, opening a refrigerator door and grabbing something for a person with limited mobility, pushing the button at a crosswalk or at a wheelchair accessible door, etc. The tasks that service dogs can be trained to perform are widely varied and many new tasks that a dog may aid with are being discovered all the time.
“Providing comfort”, “making me feel better”, “protecting me”, “emotional support”, etc. are NOT considered tasks.
Q: What is a handler?
A: A handler is the owner/guardian of a service animal. This person is required to have a disability as per requirement of the ADA to possess a service animal for the aid of a disability.
Q: What questions can a business/entity/establishment ask me if I am a service animal handler and it is NOT obvious what work or task my dog performs?
A: A business/entity/establishment may ask two questions to determine if a dog is a service animal:
1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Staff are not allowed to ask the dog to perform a task, ask for additional documentation or “certification”, or inquire about the nature of a person’s disability.
Q: Does a service animal have to wear a vest, harness, patch or other identifying article?
A: No. Legally, a service animal is not required to wear or be equipped with anything that identifies it as such. However, many handlers use gear (such as a mobility strap, a guide harness, cape, etc.) to aid in the task the dog is trained to perform to aid with a disability and/or to be more visible. A vest does not automatically mean a dog is a trained service animal.
Q: Can I bring my service animal into a restaurant, buffet or grocery store with me?
A: Yes. Provided that the service animal is properly trained and performs a task that aids a person with a disability, the service animal is allowed to accompany it’s handler. Additionally, service animals may not be prohibited from communal food preparation areas, such as are commonly found in shelters or dormitories.
Q: Can I bring my service animal into a movie theatre, concert hall, venue or stadium?
A: Yes. Provided that the service animal is properly trained and performs a task that aids a person with a disability, the service animal is allowed to accompany it’s handler. A handler may be asked to remove the dog if it exhibits excessive whining, barking or growling that is not used as an alert for a disabled person.
Q: Can a hotel assign a dedicated room to a guest with a service animal out of consideration for other guests?
A: No. Handlers and their service animals are required equal access to “non pet-friendly” accommodations, just as any guest would receive access to. Subjecting a handler to a specific room for such reasons is considered discrimination, provided that the animal is indeed a service animal.
Q: Can a hotel charge a ‘cleaning fee’ for a guest that is accompanied by a service animal?
A: No. Hotels are not permitted to charge guests for cleaning the hair or dander shed by a service animal. However, if a guest’s service animal causes damages to a guest room, a hotel is permitted to charge the same fee for damages as charged to other guests.
Q: Can I have more than one service animal?
A: Yes. On occasion, a handler may have additional service dogs. For example, a handler that has diabetes and requires a diabetic alert service animal may also have severe arthritis and require a separate service animal to assist with mobility. Some persons may require two service animals that assist with mobility as well. As long as both dogs can be accommodated by the space in the public place, they are both allowed access. However, if one dog interferes with the pathways, aisles, etc. of an establishment due to lack of space, a handler may be asked to move to a more spacious area, or to make other arrangements.
Q: Is a service animal allowed to ride in an ambulance with it’s handler?
A: Typically, yes. However, if the space in the ambulance is crowded and the dog’s presence would interfere with the emergency medical staff’s ability to treat the patient, staff should make other arrangements to have the dog transported to the hospital.
Q: Is a service animal allowed to accompany a handler if they are admitted to a hospital?
A: Yes. Service animals must be allowed in patient rooms and anywhere else in the hospital the general public and patients are allowed to go, except for sterile environments like operating rooms and burn units. Service animals cannot be excluded on the grounds that staff can provide the same services.
Q: What happens if I am admitted to a hospital and am unable to care for my service animal?
A: In such a situation, a hospital must provide adequate time for a handler to make alternative care preparations for their service animal. Ideally, the service animal should not be separated from it’s handler, but in some circumstances it may be necessary. It is the not the responsibility of the hospital or its staff members to provide care for a service animal. A handler may choose to have a family member, friend, boarding facility or other arrangement for the care of the service animal while the handler is unable to. If the handler is unable to make arrangements, the hospital may place the dog in a boarding facility or make other arrangements until the patient is released from hospitalization. It is important as a handler to have arrangements made ahead of time in case of an emergency that prohibits them from being able to do so later on.
Certification and Registration
Q: Is my service dog required to be certified by an organization (online or otherwise) to be recognized as a service animal by the ADA?
A: No. Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.
There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal. -ADA.gov
Q: Does my service dog have to be professionally trained?
A: No. However, a service dog must be individually trained to perform a task that aids a person with a disability. This training is often times highly specialized and is not a just a simple task that a pet may be trained, such as “sit, down, stay”, etc. The service animal may know the mentioned commands, but is able to perform a specific task. You may owner-train a service animal, so long as it performs a task that mitigates a disability and the animal exhibits the proper behavior and etiquette required for public access.
Q: My city requires all dogs to be licensed and vaccinated, is my service dog an exemption?
A: No. Service animals are not exempt to local licensing and vaccination requirements, local animal control policies or public health requirements. However, in some circumstances, a reduced or waived fee policy may be in place specifically for service animals. Check with your local licensing facility or ask a veterinarian for more information to get the best answer for the policies where you are located.
Q: My city requires me to register my dog as a service animal; is this legal under the ADA?
A: Absolutely not. Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA and is considered discrimination. However, as stated above, service animals are subject to the same licensing and vaccination rules that are applied to all dogs.
Q: Are there breed restrictions for service dogs?
A: No, any breed of dog may be a service dog. However, it would be unethical to use certain breeds to aid in certain tasks to aid with a disability. For example, it would be unethical to use a Miniature Schnauzer for mobility assistance such as counterbalance or wheelchair pulling, whereas if a handler used a Great Dane, the dog could be perfectly capable of assisting with such a task. It is recommended that you research the strengths and weaknesses of a breed that you may be considering for a specific task. Likewise, it is recommended that certain precautions be taken (especially with mobility/balance assist dogs) to ensure the safety of both the service animal and the handler. Many handlers will not start training a dog for mobility work until the dog reaches a certain age (18-24 months) and has had health testing done for joint health (usually PennHip or OFAs).
Popular breeds for service dogs include but are not limited to:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Standard Poodles
- Smooth Coated Collies
- German Shepherds
- Australian Shepherds
- Border Collies
- Great Danes
- Pembroke Welsh Corgis
- Miniature Schnauzers
It should be reiterated that while ANY breed my be a service dog, it does not mean all breeds are suitable for service dog work. It is VERY important to do research on the breed you consider for the role of a service animal, as some breeds are better suited for certain tasks that others would not be. Take into consideration the temperament, physical requirements, lifespan, health concerns and trainability when selecting a breed.
Q: Can a handler and service dog team be denied access to FHA housing, a public entity or facility based on their breed or a municipality ordinance that bans that breed?
A: No, any breed of dog is allowed access and to accommodate its handler as long as it is a service animal. Exclusion of a service dog based on fears, bias towards the characteristics of a breed, assumptions, generalizations or stereotypes of how the dog may act because of its breed are not allowed and is discriminatory. However, if the service animal is acting unruly or exhibits a threat to the safety of the public (lunging, growling, barking, biting, etc.) the animal is subject to removal from the entity, regardless if its breed.
Q: How long does it take to train a service dog?
A: There is no ‘exact’ amount of time that it takes to fully train a service dog. The length of time depends on many factors, including but not limited to: the dog’s breed, age, temperament, attention span, level of focus, socialization skills, etc. Service dog programs generally have very specific training programs for every dog. Training can begin as early as 12 weeks for basic obedience and as late as 3 years if not later for more specialized training. Generally, it takes between 18-24 months to fully train a service dog. Every dog’s training time will vary.
Q: Can a rescue/shelter dog be a service dog?
A: Yes, provided the dog has been properly socialized and has a sound temperament, they may be trained to be a service dog. The best chance at selecting an appropriate candidate from a shelter is by working with an experienced behaviorist who can give unbiased assessments of potential dogs. It is important to note that very few dogs in shelter settings have the proper socialization, temperament and health to be successfully trained as a service animal, particularly if they have been in shelter settings frequently and/or for extended periods of time.
Q: Is my service dog allowed to sit in a shopping cart at the grocery store?
A: Typically, no. If a service dog (such as a diabetic alert dog) is required to be close to the handler’s face to perform a specific task to aid with a disability (such as detecting glucose level changes via breath detection), the handler should carry the service dog in their arms or in a chest carrier. Placing the dog in a cart where persons put food and other consumables poses a threat to public health safety, and therefore the dog should either remain on the floor or in the handler’s arms.
Q: Are restaurants and bars required to let my dog sit in a chair/booth or allow the animal to be fed at the table?
A: No. Seating, food and drink are provided for customers of the human variety only. The ADA allows the service animal to accompany the handler into the establishment, but entities are not required to allow the dog to sit at the table, in a chair/booth or be fed at the table.
Q: Are gyms, fitness centers, hotels, or municipalities that have swimming pools required to allow a service animal in the pool with its handler?
A: No. The ADA does not override public health rules that prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service animals must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go.
Q: Are churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship required to allow individuals to bring their service animals into the facility?
A: No. Religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA. However, there may be State laws that apply to religious organizations.
Q: Do apartments, mobile home parks, and other residential properties have to comply with the ADA?
A: The ADA applies to housing programs administered by state and local governments, such as public housing authorities, and by places of public accommodation, such as public and private universities. In addition, the Fair Housing Act applies to virtually all types of housing, both public and privately-owned, including housing covered by the ADA. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers are obligated to permit, as a reasonable accommodation, the use of animals that work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability. For information about the Fair Housing Act, see HUD’s Notice.
Q: Do Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, have to comply with the ADA?
A: No. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities to participate in Federal programs and services. For information or to file a complaint, contact the agency’s equal opportunity office.
Q: Do commercial airlines have to comply with the ADA?
A: No. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is the Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel. For information or to file a complaint, contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, at 202-366-2220.
(July 2015). Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and The ADA. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html