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  • Writer's pictureJenny Stamm

Service Dog Registration

Updated: Feb 8

In the service dog world, “registration” is seen as an ugly term. But why is that? And is “certification” any better? Well, it depends on who you ask, but we’re going to go into the differences a bit in this article so you can form your own opinions. As you may know, service dogs in the US are not required to have any kind of registration, certification, or other proof that they are, in fact, a service dog team.

With that said, it can be very helpful for a team to have something to “prove” that they are a real team to avoid access issues. However, many who don’t know any better or who just want to bring their dog with them use these same sites to try to get around the laws. And, in doing so, they actually threaten the safety of real service dog teams.

First off, “registration” is generally (not always, but very commonly) used by organizations that offer an ID and/or certificate for a fee. You may have to check a box that says, yes, this dog is a real service dog/ESA/whatever, but they never meet you in person. They never see what training (or lack of training) the dog has. And they don’t tend to do a lot of education.

Most of the “fake” service dogs out there (or, especially, the people bringing dogs with an ESA vest or Therapy Dog vest into places like the grocery store) used one of these registration sites to get an ID they can wave in people’s faces. That doesn’t mean that they meet the legal criteria for being a service dog or even a service dog handler.

“Certification” is generally (but not always) done by an organization that either trains the dog before matching them up with a handler (like Canine Companions for Independence) or meets the handler and dog and tests them before giving out a certificate (and often an ID and a branded vest). At least in this case, the organizations are making sure that the training has been done correctly and that the team is actually a service dog team.

However, giving out IDs and vests also encourages the belief that service dog teams require an ID or other proof to go into public places. This can (and does) cause access issues that, while against the law, are stressful and draining for all involved. Many service dog partners have needed to run into the grocery store and forgotten their vest at home, so they try to run in and are refused entry (though, legally, they don’t require a vest). They’re told that “other” teams have shown an ID, so, therefore, all service dog teams must need a vest and/or ID to prove their legitimacy.

So, many in the service dog community view “service dog registration” as fake and a danger to service dog teams. It encourages others to simply pay to pretend they and their dog can go into public places they, quite honestly, should not be going. They also see “certification” as harmful as it perpetuates beliefs that can harm service dog teams who don’t have the spoons to deal with access confrontations.

I tend to lean towards disliking registration and supporting certification. Certification through training can help prevent access issues by giving teams support and a way to easily bypass many access questions presented. However, it does have its downsides and can definitely hurt other teams in the process. So, it is a hot topic among service dog teams and many either strongly support or strongly oppose these things for the reasons above.

If you have any other reasons that you think registration or certification should (or shouldn’t) be supported, please leave a comment!

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