Suvarna Garge (Editor)

Service dog

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Service dog

A service dog is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as visual impairment, hearing impairments, mental illnesses (such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)), seizure disorder, mobility impairment, and diabetes.


Desirable character traits in service animals typically include good temperament or psychological make-up (including biddability and trainability) and good health (including physical structure and stamina). Some service dogs are bred and trained by service dog organizations, while others are bred by breeders, and trained by private trainers or even the individuals with disabilities who will someday become their partners. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever crossbred dogs, and German Shepherd Dogs are among the most common dog breeds working as service dogs today in the United States. Although dogs of almost any breed or mix of breeds may be capable of becoming a service dog, very few dogs have the requisite health and temperament qualities. Such a dog may be called a "service dog" or an "assistance dog", the terminology typically varying by country or region. The term "seeing eye dog" is frequently used as a generic label referring to any dog assisting individuals who are blind or with visual impairments.


In the United States, the applicable law covering places of public accommodation is Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

On September 15, 2010, the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, issued new and updated regulations regarding Service Animals, as summarized in its official guidance document, which states:

"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

The revised definition of service animal specifically excludes animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support, and states that, "beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA." There may be state laws giving broader protections to individuals with disabilities in places of public access (eg: criminal fines or penalties for injury of a service animal); if a situation arises in which one law gives lesser or greater protections to applicable individuals, the law giving the most protection to those individuals is applicable.

Common tasks for service animals include flipping light switches for someone who lacks the dexterity to do so, picking up dropped objects a human partner cannot reach due to his or her disability, avoiding obstacles for an individual who is blind or visually impaired, alerting someone who is deaf or hard of hearing to the sound of an alarm clock, assisting someone with a psychiatric disability by providing specifically-trained forms of deep-pressure therapy or interrupting repetitive behaviors (such as might occur in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), or similar disability-related tasks. While any service dog may provide comfort or emotional support to a disabled human partner, in order to meet the federal definition of a service dog, a dog must also be trained to perform tasks or to do work which directly related to the dog's partner's disability.

While the ADA has narrowed the definition of service animals that are required to be permitted in places of public accommodation, other federal laws continue to provide broader definitions in other areas. For instance, the Department of Transportation's regulations enacting the Air Carrier Access Act permit "dogs and other service animals" to accompany passengers on commercial airlines. The Fair Housing Act also requires housing providers to permit service animals (including comfort and emotional support animals) without species restrictions in housing.

There is no federal certification of service animals in the United States. This means employees and staff of places of public access are restricted in the questions they may ask an individual who is accompanied by a service dog. If it is not already obvious what service a particular dog is providing his or her human partner:

Staff may ask two questions: (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. Staff cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.


Public access rights of owners, handlers, and partners of service dogs vary by country. In the United States, ADA guidance states:

State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment."


Disabled owners, handlers, and partners of service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA) which generally gives them the right to be accompanied by their service animal anywhere the general public is allowed. Additional federal laws protect people with disabilities partnered with service animals, as well as other types of assistance animals, from discrimination in housing (the Fair Housing Amendments Act) and on aircraft (the Air Carrier Access Act).

Although the ADA grants individuals with disabilities accompanied by service dogs the right to access almost all places of public accommodation where the general public is permitted. individuals accompanied by emotional support animals are not granted the same protections.

Under the ADA, a place of public accommodation may require an individual accompanied by a service dog to remove the service dog from its premises under particular circumstances, one example being if "a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it." Individuals may also be asked to remove their service dogs from, or disallow the presence of a service dog entirely, if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration of the business or poses a direct threat. Persons with service dogs are not required to pay any additional fees on account of the service dog, though the owner is responsible for any damages caused by the dog.


Service dogs may wear special vests, badges, or tags denoting them as service dogs, but such forms of identification are not a requirement of the ADA.


The Americans with Disabilities Act also applies to co-ops and condominiums. In cases brought under the civil provisions of the ADA, prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to recover their attorneys' fees; hundreds of lawsuits have been brought based on ADA violations.

In New York, the New York City Human Rights Law administered by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) provides further parallel protection with regard to violations in this regard by landlords and management of co-ops and condominiums, despite a building's policy of no-pets at all or no-pets in certain locations. Furthermore, the City of New York states that:

"All service dogs in New York City must have a valid dog license issued by the City's Department of Health. You may also request ... a tag that identifies your dog as a service dog. The tag is optional and businesses open to the public, including restaurants, must allow access to a service dog whether or not the dog is wearing a service tag. You must meet certain requirements to obtain the tag. Businesses may not demand any proof of disability or certification of the animal to allow a person to access the business with their service animal."


In 2009, New York City paid a 65-year-old woman $10,000 to settle a federal lawsuit against it that it had violated the ADA by denying the woman with her service dog access to transportation with the dog. Two New York City policemen had given her a ticket for bringing her dog into a subway station.

In 2013, a Brooklyn Federal Court judge ordered the MTA to pay a 70-year-old Manhattan woman $150,000 to settle a lawsuit over her service animal. The judge ruled that the MTA had violated the ADA when its drivers, motormen, and conductors denied the woman access to transportation with her dog, or improperly demanded to see its papers.

In May 2014, federal United States District Court Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr., held that when a condominium association did not allow a condo resident to keep a service dog, because that violated the condo's rules, the condo's behavior was "absurd" and "unreasonable". The condominium settled with the condo resident for $300,000.

In the year ending June 30, 2014, there were 1,939 lawsuits in the United States for ADA violations, up 55% from the previous year.

In December 2014, weighing in in a federal lawsuit in San Francisco against Uber for it not allowing riders to take service dogs in Uber cars, the US Justice Department said that Uber was required to do so under the ADA.

In March 2015, a San Antonio jury awarded a service dog owner $29,000 after finding that his employer, a Schlumberger Ltd. subsidiary, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employer had denied the dog owner's request that he bring his service dog to work.


People who have service animals are permitted to deduct, as part of medical expenses if medical expenses are deducted, the expenses related to buying, training, and maintaining the service dog or other animal. This includes expenses for food, grooming, and veterinary care. It is limited to service animals for people with visual impairments, hearing impairments, or another physical disability.


The Service Dogs Access Law was established in the country of Japan in 2002. In the years from 2000-2015, the presence of service dogs in Japan increased with the establishment of the Service Dogs Access Law.


A service dog is a dog that performs a task that mitigates a disability of the dog's owner. Since each person experiences a disability differently and therefore has different needs for assistance, each dog is to some extent custom-trained for the individual it will help.


Service dog puppies may be fostered by programs to private families to be reared until they are old enough for advanced training.

Some individuals may elect to train their own service dogs. There are diverse reasons for this decision cited by owner-trainers, including the failure of existing programs to answer unique needs, closed waiting lists of pre-established training organizations, and extensive knowledge of dog training. Owner-training of one's service dog is permitted, and becoming more common, in certain countries, primarily in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, in both England and Ireland.

In the U.S., service dog owner-trainers may opt to train breeds not commonly associated with service dog work, a fact which has led to both great success and great controversy, as the primary federal law addressing service dogs "does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals."

Tasks, work, and assistance

A service dog can learn many ways in which to assist an individual with a disability. Some service dog provider organizations tailor training of each dog to each potential partner, while others may train all dogs with the same skill set and partner their dogs only with a specific group of individuals whose disabilities may be assisted by those skills. Owner-trainers generally train their own service dogs to perform work or to do tasks which aid directly with their own disabilities.

Psychiatric service dogs

One list of potential tasks a service dog might be trained to perform to assist an individual with a psychiatric disability includes the following:

  • bringing medication to alleviate symptoms
  • retrieving an emergency phone in crisis situations
  • providing balance assistance
  • carrying medical supplies or information
  • providing tactile stimulation
  • turning on lights and searching rooms prior to a partner entering
  • Guide, hearing, and service dogs (non-psychiatric)

    A number of tasks and work a service dog might do to assist individuals with vision, hearing, mobility, or other disabilities, as compiled and published by Joan Froling, former president of International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), a non-profit, cross-disability advocacy group composed of individuals partnered with all types of service dogs, includes:

  • indicating changes in elevation
  • navigating around obstacles
  • locating objects on command
  • retrieving dropped items
  • alerting to the sound of a doorbell or fire alarm
  • carrying items
  • opening and closing doors
  • providing counterbalance or balance support
  • steadying a partner while transferring from a wheelchair
  • References

    Service dog Wikipedia