A service dog walks with a person.

U.S. Service Dog Law Basics

Have you ever considered getting a service dog to help with your medical condition?

Service dogs are dogs that are trained to help their owners with their disability. Disabilities are conditions that impact a person’s ability to navigate life and do basic life tasks. Service dogs can be helpful for people with chronic and terminal illnesses, blindness, deafness, severe mental illnesses such as major depression or PTSD, and much more.

Finding a dog

Getting access to a fully-trained service dog can take months or years, and can either be donated by training organizations to people in need or sold to people with disabilities. Prices for service dogs are extremely high, averaging around $40,000.1 This can be financially inaccessible for most people.

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Training a dog

Service dogs can also be owner-trained. According to the ADA, a service dog must perform at least two basic tasks that help the handler’s disability.2 I personally went the owner-training route in order to get access to a service dog for my narcolepsy, which is a chronic and severe neurological sleep disorder.

Be careful about online trainer certification programs

When researching service dogs, it is common to come across online certification programs that claim to be national registries for service dogs. These are expensive and are not recognized by ADA law. In summary, online certification programs are a waste of money and a scam! It can be easy to be tricked by these websites, since they are so rampant and often are the first websites to pop up when online searching about service dogs.

Following the laws

According to the ADA, a service dog is a trained dog that has been taught specific tasks to help their disabled handler. Just putting a service dog vest on a dog that is not task-trained to help their handler does not make that dog a service dog. In fact, it is illegal to do so.

However, these laws are not often enforced which makes it difficult for disabled people who need their service dogs with them in public. Untrained dogs in public spaces can be disruptive and can even cause bodily and emotional harm to real service dogs. This can put the service dog as well as the disabled handler in real danger, since distracting a service dog from its tasks can cause it to lose focus on their handler and miss medical alerts.

Inaccessible places

As a service dog handler myself, I have come across many inaccessible public spaces. Some public places have refused to allow my dog to accompany me without some form of service dog certification. However, according to the ADA, businesses cannot require service dog certification of any kind. This can be confusing to businesses since fake paid certificate programs are so commonly seen online.

According to the ADA, public businesses can ask you two questions about your service dog. One, is this a service dog? And two, what tasks is it trained to perform? For example, my service dog is trained to provide medical alerts, self-harm interruption, and fetches my medication on command or when she senses it is time to take medication.

Service dogs can be wonderful for people with disabilities, allowing us to participate in life activities that we would otherwise be unable to without them.

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