A service dog, as the term is used in the United States, refers to any dog trained to help a person who has a disability, such as visual impairment, hearing impairment, mental illness (like posttraumatic stress disorder), seizures, mobility impairment, and diabetes. The right of service dogs in the US to accompany their owners everywhere their owners go is protected under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and parallel state and city laws, and significant monetary penalties have been assessed by courts against those who have sought to abridge those rights.
Outside the US, the term “service dog” refers to a dog that works for police, military, or search and rescue services, while the term “assistance dog” is the legal term for a dog that is trained to provide assistance and support for a disabled person.
Desirable character traits in service animals typically include good temperament or psychological make-up (including biddability and trainability), and good health (including physical structure and stamina). Some service dogs are bred and trained by service dog organizations, while others are bred by breeders and trained by private trainers, or trained by the individuals with disabilities who become their partners. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever crossbred dogs, and German Shepherd Dogs are among the most common dog breeds working as service dogs today in the United States. The term “seeing eye dog” is sometimes used as a generic label referring to any dog assisting an individual who has a visual impairment.
- 1 History
- 2 United States
- 3 United Kingdom
- 4 Japan
- 5 Training
- 6 Tasks, work, and assistance
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
During the First World War, the German army relied heavily on the use of German Shepherds as ambulance and messenger dogs. Schools helped train the dogs. German doctor Gerhard Stalling opened the world’s first guide dog school in 1916. World War II saw a major increase in the number of guide dog schools in the United States. The guide dogs that were used by veterans in the United States are linked to the original training schools set up in Germany to care for World War I veterans.
Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, launched in 1982, train dogs to alert their hearing-impaired or deaf owners to a number of specific sounds by touching their owner’s foot with a paw, or nudging them with their nose.
Dogs For the Disabled, founded in 1988, were the first charity in the UK to train mobility assistance dogs for physically disabled adults. Organizations within Assistance Dogs UK, which collaborate to train dogs in multiple assistance roles for individuals with more than one disability, began in 2003. Mobility assistance dogs are defined as ‘Service dogs’ by Assistance Dogs International as of 2013.
On September 15, 2010, the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, issued new and updated regulations regarding Service Animals, as summarized in its official guidance document, which states:
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
The revised definition of service animal specifically excludes animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support, and states that, “beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA.” There may be state laws giving broader protections to individuals with disabilities in places of public access (e.g.: criminal fines or penalties for injury of a service animal); if a situation arises in which one law gives lesser or greater protections to applicable individuals, the law giving the most protection to those individuals is applicable.
Common tasks for service animals include flipping light switches for someone who lacks the dexterity to do so, picking up dropped objects a human partner cannot reach due to a disability, avoiding obstacles for an individual who is blind or visually impaired, alerting someone who is deaf or hard of hearing to the sound of an alarm clock, assisting someone with a psychiatric disability by providing specifically-trained forms of deep-pressure therapy or interrupting repetitive behaviors (such as might occur in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), or similar disability-related tasks. While any service dog may provide comfort or emotional support to a disabled human partner, in order to meet the federal definition of a service dog, a dog must also be trained to perform tasks or to do work which are directly related to the dog’s partner’s disability.
Service dogs are capable of assisting individuals with autism. The dogs are taught to calm down their owners when they are having an attack or breakdown. The dogs are also there to comfort their owners when they get upset and act as a social support system. It is common for an individual with autism to try to run away from home. If that happens, the service dog is capable of alerting the parents, then locating the individual. The service dog can help prevent their owners from running into traffic or getting into other types of dangerous situations.
Service dogs do not only help owners with disabilities, but they also help emotionally. Experiments have demonstrated that service dog owners experience an improved social life while owning a service dog. This is very important when discussing children that own service dogs. Improving someone’s social life includes more friendly glances/conversations and more smiles directed their way.
While the ADA has narrowed the definition of service animals that are required to be permitted in places of public accommodation, other federal laws continue to provide broader definitions in other areas. For instance, the Department of Transportation’s regulations enacting the Air Carrier Access Act permit “dogs and other service animals” to accompany passengers on commercial airlines. The Fair Housing Act also requires housing providers to permit service animals (including comfort and emotional support animals) without species restrictions in housing.
There is no federal certification of service animals in the United States. Any company, website, or person saying they are/represent the “official United States service animal registry” or the “official ADA registry” are scammers out to a) take money from the disabled b) take money from people who illegally wish to take their pet in non-pet friendly places (an act which greatly endangers both the lives and legitimacy of real disabled handler/service dog teams). This means employees and staff of places of public access are restricted in the questions they may ask an individual who is accompanied by a service dog. If it is not already obvious what service a particular dog is providing his human partner:
Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability; and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Under the ADA, individuals with disabilities who use service dogs are granted legal access to be accompanied by their service dogs in all places of public accommodation. Under Title II, the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by public entities.
Public access rights of owners, handlers, and partners of service dogs vary by country. In the United States, ADA guidance states:
State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act also applies to co-ops and condominiums. In cases brought under the civil provisions of the ADA, prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees; hundreds of lawsuits have been brought based on ADA violations.
In New York, the New York City Human Rights Law administered by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) provides further parallel protection with regard to violations in this regard by landlords and management of co-ops and condominiums, despite a building’s policy of no-pets at all or no-pets in certain locations. Furthermore, the City of New York states that:
“All service dogs in New York City must have a valid dog license issued by the City’s Department of Health. You may also request … a tag that identifies your dog as a service dog. The tag is optional and businesses open to the public, including restaurants, must allow access to a service dog whether or not the dog is wearing a service tag. You must meet certain requirements to obtain the tag. Businesses may not demand any proof of disability or certification of the animal to allow a person to access the business with their service animal.”
Service dogs are accommodated for individuals who have a disability. ADA requires schools to permit the use of service dogs, but it doesn’t require the schools to supervise service dogs. Students should be responsible for their own dog if it is disruptive. In schools, service dogs may help with performing tasks, or trained for individuals with social phobias.
Under the Fair Housing Act, a service dog is allowed in campus housing if it meets the following criteria:
- The dog’s handler is disabled
- The dog is trained to perform tasks for the individual to mitigate/ease their disability
- The handler has documentation of their need for their service dog
The following aren’t permitted as a service dog on campuses:
- Animals other than dogs (miniature horses can be trained to be service animals and would therefore be allowed access the same as a service dog)
- Emotional support dogs/pets (some campuses allow)
Disabled owners, handlers, and partners of service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA) which generally gives them the right to be accompanied by their service animal anywhere the general public is allowed. Additional federal laws protect people with disabilities partnered with service animals, as well as other types of assistance animals, from discrimination in housing (the Fair Housing Amendments Act) and on aircraft (the Air Carrier Access Act).
Although the ADA grants individuals with disabilities accompanied by service dogs the right to access almost all places of public accommodation where the general public is permitted, individuals accompanied by emotional support animals are not granted the same protections.
Under the ADA, a place of public accommodation may require an individual accompanied by a service dog to remove the service dog from its premises under particular circumstances, one example being if “a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it.” Individuals may also be asked to remove their service dogs from, or disallow the presence of a service dog entirely, if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration of the business or poses a direct threat. Persons with service dogs are not required to pay any additional fees on account of the service dog, though the owner is responsible for any damages caused by the dog.
Service dog and partner at the 2014 Special Olympics.
Service dogs may be identified by an optional harness, backpack, vest, bandanna, or labelled leash, which may sometimes be colored to indicate the type of service dog. The ADA does not require the service dog to be identifiable by item such as an ID tag, harness, or leash.
A study found that 4 particular dog breeds were especially successful in becoming service dogs. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses, and German Shepherds were found to be most likely to graduate training and become service animals. The study found that the Labrador/Golden Retriever crosses and Labrador Retrievers were the most successful when in training for a shorter period of time, while German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers were most successful if they were trained for longer than a 4-month period. Small dogs are also widely used as service dogs. They are not able to guide or pull, but they are able to be medical alert or PTSD dogs.
In 2009, New York City paid a 65-year-old woman $10,000 to settle a federal lawsuit which claimed it had violated the ADA by denying the woman with her service dog access to transportation with the dog. Two New York City policemen had given her a ticket for bringing her dog into a subway station.
In 2013, a Brooklyn Federal Court judge ordered the MTA to pay a 70-year-old Manhattan woman $150,000 to settle a lawsuit concerning her service animal. The judge ruled that the MTA had violated the ADA when its drivers, motormen, and conductors denied the woman access to transportation with her dog, or improperly demanded to see its papers.
In May 2014, federal United States District Court Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr. called it “absurd” and “unreasonable” when a condominium association did not allow a disabled resident to keep a service dog because the dog violated the condo’s rules. The condominium settled with the condo resident for $300,000.
In the year ending June 30, 2014, there were 1,939 lawsuits in the United States for ADA violations, up 55% from the previous year.
In December 2014, in conjunction with a federal lawsuit in San Francisco against Uber for it not allowing riders to take service dogs in Uber cars, the United States Department of Justice ruled that Uber was required to do so under the ADA.
In March 2015, a San Antonio jury awarded a service dog owner $29,000 after finding that his employer, a subsidiary of Schlumberger, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The employer had denied the dog owner’s request that he bring his service dog to work.
In December 2016, a judge in federal court in California held against Uber for failing to pick up passengers with service dogs, and awarded sanctions, money for the testing of a new approach, and $2.4 million in attorneys fees.
In March 2019, in Delkap Management, Inc. vs. New York State Division of Human Rights the New York State Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) held that even in a “no-dogs” cooperative a shareholder must be allowed to have a service dog. The co-op board had denied a shareholder permission for a service dog. The shareholder filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which enforces New York’s anti-discrimination laws. The Division found that both the co-op board and its management company had discriminated against the shareholder, and had unlawfully retaliated against her. The Division awarded the complaining shareholder $5,000 in compensatory damages, plus $10,000 in punitive damages, and also imposed $5,000 penalties against both the cooperative and the management company, and required mandatory anti-discrimination training for their personnel. The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the Division’s imposition of damages and penalties against the co-op board and managing agent for their failure to abide by New York’s laws relating to service dogs.
People who have service animals are permitted to deduct (as part of medical expenses if medical expenses are deducted) the expenses related to buying, training, and maintaining a service dog or other animal. This includes expenses for food, grooming, and veterinary care. This permission is limited to service animals for people with visual impairments, hearing impairments, or another physical disability.
Fake service dogs
There have been reports of people fraudulently passing off untrained, ordinary pets as service dogs by purchasing service dog vests and other accessories from online companies, prompting law enforcement agencies to investigate and penalize the perpetrators. As of early 2019, 23 states in the US had passed laws that prohibit the misrepresentation of a non-service dog as a service dog. Staff of an agency covered under the ADA can only legally ask two specific questions to determine if a person has or is bringing a service dog onto their property: whether the dog is a service animal, and what work or task the dog has been trained to perform.
Outside the US, the term service dog refers to a dog that works for police, military, or search and rescue services, while the term ‘assistance dog‘ is the legal term for a dog that is trained to provide assistance and support for a disabled person. Assistance dogs within the UK include guide dogs, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and dual-purpose dogs.
The first recorded school to train guide dogs was established in Germany in 1918 after the First World War, and the first training school in the UK. Most of the first schools for training guide dogs were established in the United Kingdom.
The Service Dogs Access Law was established in Japan in 2002. In the years from 2000-2015, the presence of service dogs in Japan increased with the establishment of the Service Dogs Access Law.
A service dog in Oslo
A service dog is a dog that performs a task that mitigates a disability of the dog’s owner. Since each person experiences a disability differently and therefore has different needs for assistance, each dog is to some extent custom-trained for the individual it will help.
Dogs were first trained to be service dogs during periods after war to help soldiers who had suffered disorders or disabilities such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dogs were also trained to help soldiers in combat. Early service dogs received training for two years, and during those two years between $25,000 and $50,000 was expended for just one dog.
Service dog puppies may be fostered by programs to private families to be reared until they are old enough for advanced training.
Some individuals may elect to train their own service dogs. There are diverse reasons for this decision cited by owner-trainers, including the failure of existing programs to answer unique needs, closed waiting lists of pre-established training organizations, and extensive knowledge of dog training. Owner-training of one’s service dog is permitted, and becoming more common, in certain countries, primarily in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, in both England and Ireland.
In the U.S., service dog owner-trainers may opt to train breeds not commonly associated with service dog work, as the primary federal law addressing service dogs “does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals.”
Tasks, work, and assistance
A service dog can learn many ways in which to assist an individual with a disability. Some service dog provider organizations tailor training of each dog to each potential partner, while others may train all dogs with the same skill set and partner their dogs only with a specific group of individuals whose disabilities may be assisted by those skills. Owner-trainers generally train their own service dogs to perform work or to do tasks which aid directly with their own disabilities.
Psychiatric service dogs
One list of potential tasks a service dog might be trained to perform to assist an individual with a psychiatric disability includes the following:
- bringing medication to alleviate symptoms
- retrieving an emergency phone in crisis situations
- providing tactile stimulation
- turning on lights and searching rooms prior to a partner entering
- alerting their handler to an impending anxiety attack
- providing DPT (deep pressure therapy) to calm their handler
- interrupting their handler from performing dangerous repetitive behaviours (such as scratching, hitting their head, etc.)
- interrupting a panic attack, flashback, major depressive episode, or anxiety attack
Guide, hearing, and other non-psychiatric service dogs
A number of tasks and work a service dog might do to assist individuals with vision, hearing, mobility, or other disabilities, as compiled and published by Joan Froling, former president of International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), a non-profit, cross-disability advocacy group composed of individuals partnered with all types of service dogs, includes:
- indicating changes in elevation
- navigating around obstacles
- locating objects on command
- retrieving dropped items
- alerting to the sound of a doorbell or fire alarm
- carrying items
- opening and closing doors
- providing counterbalance or balance support
- steadying a partner while transferring from a wheelchair
- Assistance dog
- Autism service dog
- Bonnie Bergin
- Emotional support animal
- Guide dog
- Hearing dog
- Medical response dog
- Mobility assistance dog
- Psychiatric service dog
- Seizure response dog
- Service animal
- Therapy dog
- Service Dogs at Curlie
- “NYC Commission on Human Rights Legal Enforcement Guidance on Discrimination on the Basis of Disability,” NYC Commission on Human Rights, June 2018.
- Assistance Animal State Laws – Michigan State University
- Disabilities and Medical Conditions – TSA (Transport Security Administration)
- Sorry, no kangaroos: Service-animal impostors face crackdown
- Finally, Colorado Is Cracking Down On Service Dog Fraud
- New York Lawmakers Propose Legislation to Combat Service Dog Fraud
- Falsely Claiming to Have a Service Dog Is Now Illegal in Virginia