Service Dog FAQs
Helpful Information on Service Dogs
What is the difference between a Service Dog, an Emotional Support Animal, and a Therapy Dog?
A Service Dog (SD) is trained to assist one specific person who has a disability to help that person function in day-to-day life. They must be under control, clean, and have proper manners any time they are in public and working.
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) requires no special training. An ESA only has special permissions regarding housing (under the Fair Housing Amendments Act) and, currently, airplanes. They are not allowed anywhere in public that a pet dog is not allowed. It still requires a disability and an ESA also requires a professional’s note indicating that the dog is necessary.
A Therapy Dog is trained to be polite and gentle, generally working by going into hospitals to help the sick, letting kids read to them, or similar works of charity. A Therapy Dog has no special allowances and may not be taken anywhere unless a specific facility gives permission to enter with the Therapy Dog.
Where can service dogs go?
Service dogs go with their partner anywhere the general public can go with a few exceptions. They are allowed in restaurants, hotels, public transportation, cafeterias, stores, and more. Service dogs can be excluded from churches, clean rooms, or anywhere that a service dog would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the business. A service dog can also be asked to leave the premises if it is not under control.
For Airplanes: the Air Carrier Access Act currently permits airlines to require a licensed professional’s current note (written within the year of the flight) to get permission to have a psychiatric service dog or emotional support animal accompany their partner onto the plane. Other service dogs do not require any extra documentation.
Can my service-dog-in-training go with me everywhere?
Under the ADA, a “service dog in-training” is considered a pet. Every state has differing laws about how in-training dogs are handled.
For example, Pennsylvania offers in-training service dogs the same rights as fully-trained service dogs. However, New Jersey only allows service dogs in-training into public places if they’re accompanied by a trainer from a recognized organization.
Who can train a service dog? Does it have to be a professional? How do I know who can help?
Under the ADA, a service dog can be trained by anyone as long as it is trained specifically to help an individual with a disability and is under control in public.
It is important to make sure that a service dog’s training is held to high standards, so it is highly suggested that you work with a professional who can either train a service dog for you or who can help you train your own service dog.
New Jersey and many some other states do not allow service dogs in-training in public locations unless they’re being trained through a recognized organization. In those cases, if you train your dog completely on your own, you cannot train for the all-important public access experience.
There is no national certification for service dog trainers, but you want to make sure that you work with someone who has plenty of experience training obedience, behavior modification, and service dogs.
How much does a service dog cost? Is it cheaper if I train my dog myself?
Service dogs are expensive, both in time and money. The cost for an organization to care for, train, and raise a dog to be a service dog can be upwards of $30,000, though these are generally bred, raised, and trained in their facility.
It is cheaper to hire a professional to help you train your dog, though the exact cost depends on the proposed service dog’s age, previous training, and more. This is also much more of a commitment from you for your time and effort. You must make sure the trainer holds you and your service dog to a high standard.
Even once you have a fully-trained service dog, your partner will still require regular training, standard costs (such as food and vaccines), and time spent on making sure they are well-kept (cleaning paws, ears, etc.).
How long does it take to train a candidate into a fully-trained service dog?
The amount of training needed varies by the proposed candidate’s age, previous training, temperament, any behavioral challenges, and more.
A dog will generally be at least 1 year old and will often be closer to 2 years old before being considered fully-trained, to make sure the changes that occur through puppyhood (both physically and mentally) have settled into a reliable dog with reliable training.
A dog who starts with a high level of training may take as little as 6 months of training, but most dogs require closer to 2 years of training. Some will require more.
Does a service dog require certification? What about the websites that offer registration and licensing?
There is currently no national certification or registration for service dogs or their partners. While many websites offer “registration” or a certificate for your service dog, the majority simply have you sign up, possibly ask for a fee, and then put your information in a database, without offering any protection or validation.
While not legally required, if an organization makes sure service dog teams are trained to a high standard, certification can offer protection by:
Easing the service dog team’s way through day-to-day life with recognizable credentials
The organization helps interact with the public when problems occur
The organization makes sure that all service dogs are held to an acceptable standard, which means the public will more likely recognize the service dog team as valid
Does a service dog require a vest? Or a plastic ID? I can get one on the internet, right?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Service Dogs do not require any kind of identification (including a vest or ID), even in public. However, the general public does not understand the laws and having a vest makes your service dog easily identifiable. Offering a laminated certification ID eases many people’s concerns about legitimacy, helping prevent some of the most common problems service dog teams run into in day-to-day life.
While you can order these things online, as with certification, getting them through an organization helps provide legitimacy and support. They will ensure the vest is of a high quality and easily-recognizable. The ID will include not only the service dog team’s information, but also contact information if questions about the service dog’s training arise, making things less stressful for you, as a handler.
What happens if someone questions the legitimacy of my service dog?
Legally, if an employee of a business is not sure if your dog is a service dog, they can ask only 2 questions:
Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Employees may not request documentation, require the dog to demonstrate its task(s) or work, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability.
However, many people do not know these laws, so be prepared to stand up for yourself and your rights.