All of this information pertains to service dogs in the United States of America. Please consult your local state or province for individual laws and more information. Together we are EPIC!
What is a service dog?
A service dog, or assistance dog, is a dog that is especially task trained to mitigate their handler’s disabilities. A service dog must be well behaved and respond well to their handler. According to ADA law, they can go almost anywhere their handler can go. A service dog can be any breed, color, or sex, provided that the dog is adequately equipped to assist with their handler’s disabilities.
What is “task trained”?
Service dogs must be trained to do at least one specific task that mitigates their handler’s disabilities. A few examples of these tasks include a guide dog leading a blind person, a hearing dog alerting a Deaf person to a sound, a medical alert dog responding to a person’s seizure episode, a psychiatric service dog clearing a room before their handler with PTSD can enter it, and a mobility assistance dog retrieving an object for their mobility impaired handler. This list of tasks is not exhaustive; every person with a service dog is different and will require different tasks. Comfort, or the simple presence of the dog being there, is not legally considered a task under ADA law.
What’s the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog, and an emotional support dog?
A service dog is a dog that is especially task trained to mitigate their handler’s disabilities. A therapy dog is a dog that provides comfort to large groups of people, such as at a nursing home or university. An emotional support dog is a pet that provides comfort to its disabled handler. Service dogs are the only type that is allowed to go anywhere with their handlers, whereas therapy dogs must be invited to the places where they provide their support. Emotional support dogs are not allowed in public with their handlers, but under the FHA they are allowed to live in no-pets housing, and under the ACAA, fly with their disabled handlers. None of these animals are legally required to be licensed or certified in any way. The online “certifications” you can find are all scams!
How do I start the process to get a service dog?
In the United States of America, it is legal under ADA law to acquire a service dog through an organization or through private training, sometimes called “owner training”. If one chooses to search for an organization that meets their needs, we recommend they consult the Assistance Dogs International website (https://assistancedogsinternational.org/) for a list of programs that serve their area. Private training is the process of obtaining a dog and task training it yourself, and/or with the assistance of a private, professional trainer. If you would like to privately train your service dog, consider consulting a local behaviorist or trainer for help choosing the best service dog candidate!