Trained service dogs help our clients feel empowered, break barriers, and overcome challenges — unleashing independence and ability for amazing results. But service dog laws can be confusing, especially since there are now several types of assistance dogs.
So, we’ll discuss the history of assistance dogs, ADA public access, how the ADA defines a service dog, and more. Plus, you’ll learn about your rights and responsibilities as a service dog owner.
Assistance dogs provide support, independence, and safety for people with disabilities. Assistance Dogs International (ADI) defines three types of these dogs:
There are about 22,000 assistance dogs, 12,000 guide dogs, and 10,000 service and hearing dogs working in the United States. 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 programs.
Compared to 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.
Assistance Dogs International 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, as there is no reliable source of information concerning for-profit organizations or individuals who train and partner with assistance dogs. Today, in the U.S., there are 133 nonprofit assistance and service dog organizations that belong to ADI.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to guide dogs, hearing dogs, and service dogs. The purpose of this act is to:
Service animals are dogs that receive individual training to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples include:
Service dogs are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog provides 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 “Public Accommodations” for service dogs and dogs in training, please visit Indiana Code – Section 16-32-3-2. To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, please visit their website at ADA.gov.
An individual with a disability is a person who:
The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or another dog individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, the ADA considers dogs to be service dogs, regardless of whether they have a license or certification through a state or local government (Department of Justice, 1996).
In other words, the dog must have received proper training to accommodate the disability and perform a cued behavior that lessens the stress of the situation. This function can be for a number of medical or other necessities that the owner requires. Some of these functions are:
Please see this blog post to learn what purpose each dog serves — and which one has full public access under the ADA.
Title II and Title III of the ADA require that entities permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public may go. Click here to review the full ADA requirements.
People with disabilities can take their assistance dog with them almost anywhere, 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 cannot ask the individual the nature of their disability. The only requirement is that the individual has a physical and/or emotional disability.
Service dogs may also enter places open to the public, such as hotels, stores, hospitals, theaters, parks, and more.
The ADA states that when it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions:
The staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation. Furthermore, they cannot require training documentation for the dog or ask that the animal 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 being a nuisance, the owner of the establishment can ask the individual to either leave or remove the dog from the location. The service dog can also be denied access if it poses a threat to itself or others.
Now that you’ve learned about service dog laws, you (or a loved one) may want to apply for one! They truly change lives and empower people with disabilities to find hope, purpose, and independence.
ICAN trains and places assistance dogs with individuals in Indiana who have disabilities and provides foundational life skills to inmates through their experience as trainers. To learn more, visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.