The one thing that every service dog team fears is being denied their public access rights. And businesses also fear denying access to a legitimate service dog team.
Public access is always a challenge for service dog handlers AND businesses. And unfortunately, if you are unprepared, these questions about service dogs can escalate into an aggressive confrontation between employees and service dog teams. No one wants this to happen.
We’ve all seen the videos online of these confrontations. It normally ends in an SD team being denied access, security being called, threats and anger for everyone, and both parties look bad. It not the warm fuzzy feeling you typically get when encountering a service dog.
As a business, you want to include your disabled clients while protecting them from fake service dogs who could be a liability for the team.
And as a handler, you don’t want to get lumped into the group of fakes, denied access, or be viewed as a troublesome client.
No one wants to handle this situation wrong. Bad interactions between service dog teams and businesses are bad for both parties.
This post discusses:
- What can a business ask about service dog
- What a business cannot ask about a service dog
- When can a business ask a legitimate service dog team to leave
- Resources for Handlers & Businesses to Learn more about public access
The Questions about Service Dogs a Business Can Ask You
As always, we’re referring to Federal ADA guidelines for service dogs in the United States.
According to the ADA, Businesses can ask these two questions about service animals:
- Is this a task trained service dog to negate your disability?
- What tasks does the dog perform for the handler?
I highly recommend that you get familiar with the United States ADA guidelines before attempting public access.
The ADA is still a rather new system, being established in 1990. You are still encountering business owners that have been in business prior to the establishment of the ADA.
Public access is NOT general knowledge, and there is a lot of misinformation about assistance animals out there. And also, many exceptions to policy.
I carry these little information cards in my wallet to provide to business owners who have additional questions about their rights.
Each includes what questions they can ask, ADA contact information, the Law information, and telephone numbers that they can call to get questions answered about policies.
While these cards are not required, they have helped me show that I care about their rights as well and not just my own. This helps businesses remember the do’s and dont’s for service animal questions.
What a Business Cannot Ask About a Service Dog?
There will some businesses that have inappropriate requests from assistant dog handlers. Your rights are being impeded if you are “required” to provide any of the following by non government & state businesses:
Public businesses cannot require you to provide training information, certifications, registration, service dog letters, or any form of ID or Identification for your service dog.
This is to protect service dog handlers that choose to train their own service dogs.
–Like myself and Koda! We are owner trained, therefore we will not get any accreditation from a service. Our access would be denied because I trained my own service dog. That’s a no no.-
While they cannot ask you for id, it is a great idea to keep you emergency information on you or your service dog.
Performance of Tasks
You do NOT have to show what tasks the dog can do, but you do have to tell them what tasks the dog performs!
This is not a circus and you’re not a performing monkey on a tightrope.
Identify Your Disability
Your disability is YOUR business. You do not have to disclose it.
However, I typically do as I like to get to know management and the employees of the businesses that I frequent should an emergency arise. This helps the staff help me better as I will need 911 assistance.
Most psychiatric incidents will not need this type of assistance, so you do not have to disclose that your dog is a psychiatric service dog, if you so choose.
Exceptions To The Law
Can other businesses ask additional questions about service dogs? Yes. State & government programs, housing, and airlines are allowed to ask additional questions about service dogs.
State & local programs may require additional stipulations for access by service dog teams.
Some state & government programs require a service dog to wear gear identifying the dog as a service dog.
There are states in the USA that have passed laws requiring that service dogs wear gear stating they are a service dog.
The state of Virginia is one of those magical states that require a service dog or service dog in training to be identified with gear.
Yes, your state can ask you to wear service dog gear. It is a law, and it is required. Your individual state also determines your rules and regulations, not just the ADA guidelines. You are required to follow the laws in the state you are in, not just the state you reside.
Example: Washington DC requires all service dogs to be leashed at all time, even if the handler is not actively holding it. And for the service dog to have a clear and visible vest on while working.
Another exception is the United States Military facilities. Contact your local military legal office for information about the do’s and dont’s for each facility.
It’s always best to ask questions first when dealing with your state & government programs such as the DMV, military facilities, etc.
It’s also a great idea to keep a spare service dog vest in your vehicle even if you don’t normally vest your dog in public businesses. This will save you a bunch of time when visiting government and state facilities.
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Housing & Airlines Exceptions
Housing and Airlines do NOT fall under the ADA.
You may be required to provide your service dog letter to either administration, and fill out paperwork to them to keep on file.
You do NOT have to register your service dog with a program- that is unlawful and against policy. All registries are voluntary of the handler and cannot be compelled by a entity to gain access to services and goods.
You may be required to provide proof of your dog’s vaccines as well as a health certificate, depending on where you are flying.
Housing and airlines may ask additional questions about service dogs to protect their tenants, passengers, and of course, you and your dog!
If an airline asks what breed your dog is, please be respectful. They’re not worried about breed bans as they do not apply to service dogs. There are certain breeds that cannot fly due to their delicate respiratory systems and they are trying to ensure it’s safe for your pooch.
Related Post: Is an Emotional Support Dog the Same as a Service Dog?
When Can a Business Ask a Service Dog to Leave
The Service Dog is not potty trained.
This should be a given, but lots of service dogs in training go out into public way too soon. Not only because the dog isn’t potty trained, but communicable disease risk exists.
Dog urine & feces is a disease risk.
Dogs that are not potty trained should not be in public buildings until they have completed this step of their training. This is to keep the humans and other service dogs safe, not to make your life harder.
You can socialize puppies & dogs to assess their suitability for the job without going to public businesses.
With that said, businesses know that even service dogs can have accidents. But the difference is that service dogs do not try to mark the products or pee on people.
Service dogs normally have an alert or signal to tell the handler they need to use the restroom. And most handlers carry a little potty pack to clean up if their pup has an accident to disinfect the area after an accident has occurred.
Personally, I carry this little service dog clean up kit to disinfect any areas that my dog drools, sprays water from drinking, lays for longer periods, etc. As a service dog handler, you are responsible for your service dog.
My recommendations for your potty clean up kit.
Health & Safety is Required
There are places that service dogs just should not be. For your safety, and the safety of the dog.
Make note: allergies to a dog from other customers is not a reason to keep a service dog team from using a business. The business must make arrangements to accommodate both parties at the same time.
Places a service dog should not go:
- ICU- Due to the severity of illness, service dogs are NOT allowed in ICU with their handler, unless the person in the ICU bed is the handler. You cannot take your service dog to visit a loved one in the ICU.
- Gun Ranges- Service Dogs are still dogs and it is hard to judge how they will react being so close to continuous gun shots. Service dogs are not trained to be around continuous gun fire like military and police working dogs. Gun ranges may not allow service dogs to protect your dog’s hearing, protect them from becoming fearful and having to retire early, protect them from accidental firing accidents, etc.
- Psychiatric Hospital Admittance- If you have a psychiatric service dog like I do, there is one hospitalization that your dog is not allowed. Because of the nature of these hospitals and the mental disorders that reside within, service dogs are not allowed into in patient programs. The other patients may not be in control of their actions and can hurt the service dog. They will try to work with you to make the best accommodations for you. -In my case, I was assigned a social worker, an outpatient program with check ins, and had a trusted adult to be my chaperone 24/7 until my mental status changed.-
- Sterile Areas or Areas with Radiation- Your service dog cannot be in surgery with you. And some procedures like radiation scans require that your service dog be out of the room. They make sure your pup can stay with you in common areas, but they need to protect your health and safety as well as the dog.
- Dangerous Activities- It should be said that taking a service dog on a roller coaster that goes upside down is a no no. If the dog cannot perform it’s duties, it may be denied access to certain activities.
- The Zoo: You may not be able to access all parts of the zoo because of the animals reactions. You cannot take them into the petting zoo, you cannot go behind the scenes and be up close with the animals. Use your best judgement when using services like this. There are some amazing opportunities to get up close with animals you otherwise would never interact with. -I got the opportunity to volunteer to clean and arrange an exhibit for a Komodo dragon at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. If I had taken my service dog, I wouldn’t have be allowed to participate and wouldn’t have had the chance to touch and interact with this great exotic animal.
The Service Dog is Not Under the Handler’s Control.
A service dog must be under the control of a handler at all times. That means:
- The dog cannot be sniffing foods and goods unless it is a task for detecting allergens.
- The dog cannot bark uncontrollably. The dog can do a bark alert if it is a task.
- The dog cannot show aggression. Period.
- The dog cannot pull on the leash unless it is a task for forward momentum mobility. Example: Koda puts slight pressure into his harness to keep me moving forward, but he walks at my pace.
- The dog cannot interfere with other service dog teams. The dog must remain neutral to other teams using the premises.
- The dog is interfering with services and changing the nature of the program. Don’t expect your service dog to canter beside the horses at a local equine therapy center. Your service dog will be required to stay away from the horses.
- The dog does not listen to the handler despite the handler telling it instructions.
- The dog is running loose and interfering with the experience of other consumers while the handler is alert and oriented. A common task for service dogs is alerting other humans when a handler has fainted or fallen. They are trained to get them help. This is not an example of an out of control dog, but a well trained one.
The Service Dog team is aggressive, disruptive, and abusing the staff.
All businesses have the right to refuse service to aggessive customers. Your disability does not make you exempt. If you are aggressive, disruptive, and abusive to the staff; you can be asked to leave or even be banned from the business.
Good conduct keeps your public access options open, not being aggressive and pushing businesses into doing things your way.
What To Do If You Believe A Business Violated Your Disability Rights
You can file a complaint directly with the ADA and they will look into it.
They may determine that there is no further need to look into the complaint and drop it without your knowledge. If they decide your rights have been impeded, they will contact you for further information.
Or you can choose to hire a disability lawyer and dispute the actions.
You will be responsible for all charges and fees should you choose to contact a lawyer.
If you choose to per sue action against a business, be prepared for backlash, such as a suspension of privileges to the establishment, a reputation of a troublesome service dog team in your community, etc.
Always try to work with businesses on becoming more accessible before filing official ADA violation charges against them.
Good relationships in your community go a long way to helping other service dog teams in the future, and help provide businesses with positive interactions to expand their service dog knowledge.
Final Thoughts about Service Dog Public Access Challenges
Questions about service dogs are not uncommon when it is not clear if your animal is a service dog or when another service dog team is using the business. These service animal questions are there for the protection of businesses and the public.
Both service dog handlers and businesses have rights, and we both have a responsibility to do our best to make interacting with each other as pleasant as possible.
There are places a service dog can be denied access, not because of a disability, but because of health and safety issues.
State & government facilities can request additional information about your service dog or request you wear a vest.
Working with your local community business and creating better relationships can help them become educated on proper service dog questions and help other handlers in the future.
Working with a service dog is a great priviledge and we should all work toward better interactions for the public.
Do you have a tip for other service dog handlers or business to help create better relationships? Share it in the comments!!
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