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  • Writer's pictureJenny Stamm

Should Every Dog Be Allowed in Public?

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

A vested service dog lays on the floor between their partner's feet

There’s a phrase used in the service dog world: “public access.” This term is used to mean that a dog has the rights to go into places that are otherwise non-pet-friendly. So, a dog without public access could go to PetSmart or Home Depot with their handler, but only a service dog has public access rights and can go to, for example, a restaurant.

I’ve explained the rights of various dogs to go into public in another post. In the US, only service dogs are allowed public access. Many people, however, want to bring their pets or Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) with them when they go to stores or even restaurants. I have often heard the question “What’s the harm?”

So, should every dog be allowed in public? What’s the harm in allowing every dog in public?

The easiest answer is that service dogs receive hundreds of hours of training and are generally trained to “be invisible” unless they are needed. If a service dog is not under control (barking repeatedly, urinating, etc.), they can even be removed from public locations. Pets, therapy dogs, and ESAs do not have the legal protection to be in non-pet-friendly places. They also don’t have the training that service dogs receive.

Having a poorly-trained or untrained dog in one of these locations can distract a service dog from their vital work helping their partner survive. Many animals who should not be in public locations have attacked service dogs, leaving many service dogs no longer able to work.

What about well-trained and -behaved dogs, though? Surely a dog who has their Canine Good Citizen certificate or who can “be invisible,” even if they’re not necessary like a service dog, can be allowed in public, right?

No. While service dogs receive hundreds of hours of training and are taught to “be invisible,” those are not the reasons that they are allowed public access. Service dogs are considered medical equipment that is necessary for their partner, just as a wheelchair or oxygen tank might be considered.

There are many people in the US who are terrified of dogs or are severely allergic to dogs. Those people deserve the right to go into public places without having to deal with their fear or allergies. Service dogs are allowed to go into public places despite this because they are required medical equipment for their partners. A dog who is not a service dog, no matter how well-behaved, does not and should not overwrite the rights of these others who don’t want to (or can’t be) around dogs.

So, what harm does allowing every dog in public do?

  1. Poorly-behaved dogs can distract a service dog from their medically-necessary work

  2. Poorly-behaved dogs can attack and ruin hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of work with a service dog

  3. Even well-behaved dogs can cause severe allergy attacks or fear in bystanders (and they don’t have the right to supercede these others’ rights to freely access public locations)

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