Service Dog Laws


Assistance dogs provide support for people with disabilities at a level we could not have predicted decades ago. Over the past 40 years, the role of assistance dogs has increasingly expanded and become more challenging.

Assistance Dogs International defines three types of assistance dogs: 1) guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired, 2) hearing dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing, and 3) service dogs for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing. The category of service dogs broadens to include dogs trained to assist people who have mobility or balance challenges, alert or respond to medical issues such as diabetes and seizures, and support people with psychiatric disabilities and autism (ADI, 2014).

There are approximately 22,000 assistance dogs working in the United States; approximately 12,000 guide dogs (International Guide Dog Federation, 2014) and 10,000 service and hearing dogs (Humane Society of the United States, 2014). The history of the assistance dog field began in 1929, with the establishment of the first guide dog school, The Seeing Eye. Today, there are 82 nonprofit guide dog programs that are members of the International Guide Dog Federation, which is the standard-setting and accreditation organization for guide dog program.

Compared with people who are blind, people with physical disabilities and hearing loss have had only about 35 years of working with service dogs. In the early 1970s, Bonnie Bergin pioneered the concept of a service dog and founded Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions for Independence was the first program in the United States for the training and placement of service dogs. Today, in the United States, there are 133 nonprofit assistance dog organizations that are members of ADI.

Assistance Dogs International or ADI was established in 1987 to set standards and policies for the training, care, and placement of assistance dogs and to advocate for programs and human partners of assistance dogs. Assistance Dogs International only maintains statistics on nonprofit organizations that train and place assistance dogs. There is no reliable source of information concerning for-profit organizations or individuals who train and partner with assistance dogs. To learn more about Assistance Dogs International, please visit their website at ADI.

WHAT IS THE LAW: Assistance dogs and public access?

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, and Service Dogs.  The purpose (1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities; (2) to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities; (3) to ensure that the Federal Government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in this Act on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and (4) to invoke the sweep of congressional authority, including the power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment and to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day-to-day by people with disabilities.

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 responding to 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 dogs 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.

For more information on Indiana laws surrounding “Pubic Accommodations” for service dogs and dogs in training, please visit Indiana Code – Section 16-32-3-2. To learn more about American with Disabilities Act, please visit their website at ADA.

What is a disability according to ADA?

According to the ADA, a person must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability.

An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered. (Department of Justice, 2002).

What is a service dog according to ADA?

The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other dogs individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, dogs are considered service dogs under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government (Department of Justice, 1996).

In other words, the dog must be trained to meet the needs created by the disability. This function can be for a number of medical or other necessities that are required by the owner. Some of these functions are:

  1. A guide dog for someone who is blind.
  2. A hearing alert dog for the hearing impaired.
  3. A dog that can perform certain functions such as informing the owner when she or he is past due to taking medications or,
  4. Alerting or responding to a cue when there is a change in a medical or mental condition.
  5. Alerting a spouse or companion to an upcoming medical problem.
  6. Reducing stress caused by certain environments, be that at work, in an airplane, in the supermarket, or in the shopping mall. To reduce the stress the dog must perform a cued behavior that lessons the stress of the situation.

What is the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog, and an emotional support dog?

There is a huge difference!  To understand the difference between these dogs, please visit Therapy, Emotional & Service Dogs.2018 to learn what purpose each dog serves and which dog has full public access.

What are the Rights of the human partner of an assistance dog?

Under ADA, people with disabilities are permitted to take their assistance dog with them in most places they go, including places that would normally prohibit pet dogs. Some examples of places that might prohibit dogs are restaurants and supermarkets where there are public health concerns. However, people with disabilities, have the right to enter and use those places with their assistance dogs. In addition, business owners, employers, managers, supermarket staff, airline officials, and others are not permitted to ask the individual the nature of their disability. The only requirement is that the individual is disabled, either physically or emotionally.

Service dogs are also allowed in such places as:
Businesses open to the public such as hotels, taxis, shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, etc.

From the ADA’s site regarding service dogs (the law is very explicit and clear):

“When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. 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.”



Those with a service dog are responsible for the training and manners of the dog while in public. If the dog starts to bark in a theater, place of work, restaurant, etc. and is otherwise making a nuisance of itself, then the owner of the establishment can ask the individual to either leave or to remove the dog from this public establishment. The service dog can also be denied access if it poses a threat to itself or others.

With the growing use of assistance dogs and the increased types of disabilities, a service dog can assist us are seeing an increased misuse of the term “assistance dog” and the misuse of the rights of people with legitimate disabilities.

Title II and Title III of the ADA requires that entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. Click here to review the full ADA requirements.

The following is a document published by the Department of Justice in 2015

Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA

Indiana Canine Assistant Network is an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International. For more information on service dog laws, educational material for children, and more, please visit our Resource Page.