Service Dogs are an integral part of life for many individuals with disabilities. Some people experience physical disabilities, while others deal with mental health disabilities. Service Dogs can provide a wonderful resource for both! Whether you’re new to the service dog life or just brushing up on your knowledge of policies and protocols, there’s one thing that’s pretty important to know:
Where is my Service Dog allowed?
First things, first: let’s make sure we’re talking about the same type of dog. What’s the difference between a service dog, therapy dog, and support dog?
Let’s start by defining “Service Dog.” This is a term that often gets misused and misunderstood, so here’s the scoop from the ADA:
“A service dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. They are working animals, not pets. Animals whose sole purpose is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as a service animal.”
Therapy Dogs are trained to provide support, comfort, and affection to people in hospitals, schools, disaster areas, nursing homes, and hospice centers.
Emotional Support Animals are animals that a medical professional has said provide some sort of benefit for a person with a mental disability or emotional disorder. They provide support, comfort, and companionship and don’t require any formal training.
If you’ve got a service dog (or are looking for one), read on for some great tips on going out in public places together.
Service Dog Behavior
If you received your service dog already trained, he should perform these tasks without a problem. If you have a dog that you’re planning to train yourself or get training for, make sure he can check off all these boxes by the end of his training.
– Focus on handler at all times. The service dog’s main job is to provide a service for its handler. As such, his attention should not be easily pulled away from you. Even in busy, crowded, or over-stimulating environments, his focus should be on you.
– Respond quickly to handler’s cues/directions. Being quick to obey and respond is another essential piece of a service dog’s job. If he’s constantly focused on you, this should be very easy for him to do.
– Walk nicely on a lead. Best practice for service animals is to have them on a lead at all times (unless it impedes them from performing the service for which they are required). This could be a leash, harness, or a rigid bridge handle. The best lead for your dog depends largely on how he assists you.
– Remain near handler without wandering away. Even if he’s bored out of his mind listening to you drone on about the latest football game or episode of The Bachelor, Fido should never wander from your side in search of better conversation.
– Have a stable, even temperament in all situations. Part of the service dog’s job is to have a calm demeanor in all circumstances. He should not be easily startled, nervous or excitable – even if someone is dancing in the streets waving bacon around.
– Lay under the table or beside the handler’s chair. Your dog should be comfortable laying under the table you’re sitting at or just beside your chair without begging for food or pawing around for scraps.
– Ignore distractions. SQUIRREL! What squirrel? Fido should be able to easily ignore distractions so he can keep focused on you at all times. Whether it’s a squirrel, a cat, a bird, some bacon, or the mailman- your dog should always stay cool as a cucumber and have tunnel vision for you, his handler.
– Be quiet. Unless your dog is trained to bark to alert you of something (a potential allergen or danger), he should be able to keep quiet. There shouldn’t be any whimpering or whining for food or attention, barking at other dogs to show off or to scare off that pesky mail person.
– Keep his nose to himself. Even if there are food products around, Fido shouldn’t have a nosey nose. Sniffing should be directly related to their task work (like an allergen alert dog) and not random and exploratory.
– Be well-groomed and taken care of. Okay, this one sort of falls on you. It’s important to make sure your dog is always in tip-top shape so he can focus on helping you 100%. If he has fleas or hair growing over his eyes, not only is it unpleasant for him, but he won’t be able to give you undivided attention.
Because assistance animals receive special training to work with individuals with disabilities, they should pose no direct threat or cause any problems when accompanying their owner on outings. Aside from their specialized training, service animals should also have basic obedience training and be well-mannered. They should be housebroken as well, knowing when it’s appropriate to go to the bathroom. It’s important to note that there are two instances where you may be asked to leave an establishment with your service dog: if the dog is out of control or if he’s not housebroken.
Now that we are all on the same page with the definition of service animals, here’s the skinny: Your service dog can go anywhere you can go. Individuals with disabilities rely on their service animals for many reasons. It could be to aid with visual impairments, a physically disabled person with mobility impairments, or a host of other reasons. It boils down to this: any public facility that allows humans should also allow your service dog.
The ADA (American Disabilities Act) says that any state or local government, business, or non-profit that serves the public must generally allow your service dog to accompany you into any area of the facility the public is allowed to go.
Let's talk protocols for some typical outings:
While similar to a restaurant setting where your dog will have to resist the urge to smell all the things, stores are a slightly different environment because, typically, you’re constantly moving through them. This means your dog should remain by your side the entire time and wait patiently while you’re in the line to check out and pay for your items. Don’t ever put your dog in the cart. Not only is it unsafe, but you’ll be hindering his ability to do his job. Because you’ll be walking around the store, there will likely be more opportunities for people to want to stop and ask you about your pup or even offer to pet him. One way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to get a vest for him that says, “I’m working, please don’t pet me” or something similar. This will often be enough to ward off unwanted encounters with strangers and allow you to go about your shopping.
Many people may be surprised to find out that service dogs are, in fact, allowed in restaurants. Not just on the patio but in the actual facility. To keep things above-board, your pet should sit right next to you or under the table during the duration of your dining experience. He should be trained not to beg, whimper, or scrounge for food scraps, so people would hardly know he was even there. Waitstaff are allowed to ask you if your dog is required for a disability (though they shouldn’t ask you specifics on the type of disability). They can also ask about the sort of tasks he’s trained to perform. Aside from that, you should receive no different treatment than a person without a service animal. You can sit anywhere other customers can sit (you shouldn’t be sequestered into a private room or made to sit on the patio). Now, Fido can’t go lurking around the kitchens or anything – but you shouldn’t do that either. Anywhere you’re allowed to go in the restaurant, your dog is allowed to go as well. You may be thinking, “But what about the health code?” This is what the ADA has to say about it: “Establishments that sell or prepare food must generally allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.” So a service dog can’t peruse the kitchens at Olive Garden, but he can certainly sit near you at the table and dream of breadsticks all evening.
When Netflix just isn’t cutting it anymore, and you want to get out for a night on the town, you can take your service dog to the movies! Even if you aren’t watching All Dogs Go to Heaven, Fido can most certainly accompany you to the theater. Just be mindful to sit in the wheelchair area (even if you don’t require a wheelchair), so there is enough room for your dog to lay by your side. Trying to squeeze him into the row with you or even sitting on the end and putting him in the aisle may cause him to be a trip hazard. With the low lighting in theaters, you don’t want to take any chances.
Service dogs are even allowed in hospitals, though the caveat is that they may not be permitted in surgery or a burn unit where the sterile environment would be compromised. Otherwise, your dog is allowed to accompany you to any medical appointments or procedures you may need.
A very important thing to note is that you should never fake having a service dog. It’s a huge disservice to the community at large and you could face legal ramifications.
Public accommodation for service animals is generally not a problem for people with disabilities. You should have no trouble taking your service animal a little farther from home, either. Check out our post on service dogs in hotels for more info. However far you decide to roam, it’s helpful to know your rights and be armed with some general protocols for taking your dog out on the town so you can both enjoy your outings more!
If you would like to see if you qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog, American Service Pets would love to help!