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Winter 2018 Issue:

Service Animals & the ADA:
Quick Guide for Busines Owners

The ADA requires businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service dogs with them into their facilities. This does not mean that a business isn't permitted to have a “no animals allowed” policy. Rather, a business that has a "no animals" policy must make an exception or modification to the policy for people with disabilities who use service dogs.

ADA Definition of a Service Dog

Guide dog leading blink individual through pedestrian area.

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to perform work or tasks that assist the person with a disability.

Examples of Service Dog Tasks

•Guiding people who are blind or low vision.
•Helping with balance and mobility
•Pushing open doors, retrieving objects
•Alerts to seizures, anxiety/panic attacks
•Alerts to noises/changes in the environment

Woman holding small dog

Emotional Support Animals

The ADA does not require businesses to allow emotional support animals in their facilities. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not trained to perform work or tasks. They provide emotional support simply by their presence and the bond established with the person with a disability.


Service dog handlers (the person using the service dog) are not required to show any type of identification as there is no registration or documentation for service dogs required or recognized by the federal government.
Service dogs are also not required to wear a vest. However, many handlers do use vests to show the general public that the dog is working and should not be petted or distracted.

Business owners are allowed to ask two questions to determine if a dog is a service dog.

•Is this a service animal?

•What task or work does the dog perform for you?

Staff may not ask the person with a disability to explain their disability or to provide documentation of disability.

Man lying on ground during seizure while dog holds him in safe position with paw.

Be careful not to assume a person doesn’t really need a service dog based upon appearance.

The service dog in this image not only alerts his handler to seizures, he also keeps his handler stable and safe during a seizure. Note: Many people who use service dogs do not appear to have a disability, such as the man in the photo who has a seizure disorder.


Businesses may restrict service dogs from certain areas when their presence would cause:

•A threat to health and safety

The threat to health and safety must be based on actual risk, not speculation. Service dogs should only be restricted from the specific area that would be affected by their presence. For instance service dogs can be restricted from areas where surgery or medical procedures are performed in a hospital, but not from waiting rooms and cafeterias.

•A fundamental change in the nature of the business.

Sometimes the presence of a service dog would not cause a safety or health hazard to customers or employees, but would interfere or change the operation of a business. For instance, the presence of service dogs was shown to cause distress to small antelopes in a nature exhibit at a theme park. The business had the right to restrict service dogs from that particular area because of its responsibility to protect the well-being of their animals.

Fees and Surcharges

Individuals with disabilities cannot be charged a fee or surcharge because they use a service dog.
Example: A hotel that allows pets may charge a pet fee or deposit. However, a person who uses a service dog cannot be charged the fee or deposit.
Note: Service dog handlers may be charged for any damages caused by the dog. This does not apply to routine activities such as cleaning a hotel room after a guest’s stay.

Handler’s Responsibilities

•The service dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.
•Local vaccination and registration requirements for dogs also apply to service dogs.
•Service dogs must be housebroken.
•Service dogs must be free of lice and fleas.
•The handler is responsible for the care of the service dog. Staff are not required to provide services such as feeding, watering or walking.

Tips for Staff

•Don’t pet a service dog, call to them, or whistle. Service dogs are working, so avoid distracting them from doing their job.
•Don’t offer treats without the handler’s permission.

Removal From a Business

Business owners and staff have the right to remove a service dog that is aggressive, growling, snarling, and of course, biting. Business owners also have the right to remove a service dog if it is disruptive by barking repeatedly, wandering around and/or bothering other customers.
When a dog is disruptive, staff should ask the handler to bring the dog under control. If that doesn’t happen, staff may ask the handler to remove the service dog. Staff may ask that a service dog be removed immediately if the dog is aggressive. Note: The customer with a disability should always be given the option to return without the dog.

ADA Now is a publication of the ADA Coordinator Training Certification Program (ACTCP)

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