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  • Writer's pictureJenny Stamm

Are "fake" service dogs ruining everything?

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

One term you’ve probably heard is “fake” service dog. Many places and people rail against these fakes causing trouble in stores and other public locations. I’ve previously written about what a service dog is and why only service dogs are given public access, but what is a “fake” service dog and should we be worried about them?

A “fake” service dog is any dog that doesn’t meet the definition of service dog, whether it’s because the handler isn’t (visibly) disabled, the dog isn’t trained, the dog is a certain breed or size, or the dog is misbehaving. Most often, when people are talking about “fake” service dogs, they mean that the dog is a pet that isn’t well-behaved and that they aren't necessary for their handler's well-being.

The term isn’t really accurate, though. There is no restriction on size or breed of dog that can be a service dog. There are some restrictions like service dogs need to be able to do their work, so they can't be restricted in a shopping cart (there's also health concerns to consider), but any size or breed of dog can be a "real" service dog.

Our service dogs are also not robots and even the best-trained and -behaved ones can have off days or can be provoked. Now, of course, we hope our service dogs don’t react to anything, but when multiple employees in a store have been constantly barking at your dog (a true story), it’s not a surprise that your dog gives off a couple of barks back. They may look “fake” in that moment, but that doesn’t make them illegitimate.

The biggest problem we have is the lack of knowledge among the public and businesses. When businesses don’t know their rights, they’re either too worried to allow any dog in (denying access rights to legitimate service dogs) or they’re too afraid to deny any dog and allow even those dogs that are lunging, growling, etc. in.

When the public doesn’t understand what service dogs are, you get many people believing the “You can take your dog with you anywhere” ads that appear all over the internet and paying those companies for fake registration/IDs. Those who actually handle a service dog will know that no registration is legally required and that having a service dog isn’t all positives. In fact, if you ask a service dog handler if they like being able to go anywhere with their dog (which you shouldn’t do, by the way), the answer will almost always be that, no, they’d much rather be able to go places without their dog.

Unfortunately, no matter what we do, some people will always break the laws, both judicial and of common decency. However, the more we can educate others, the better public locations will be because they will understand that they have to allow service dogs, but that they’re also allowed to deny access to any dog that either doesn’t task/work or that is misbehaving and causing a disturbance. Instead of trying to gatekeep and shame others by using the term “fake” service dog, we should focus on educating everyone so they can follow the rules themselves.

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