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What is a Service Assistance Dog?

As distinct from a pet dog, a service assistance dog, as defined by Titles II and II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is any dog that a person with a disability owns in order to help him or her perform certain essential daily and life activities that he or she would not otherwise be able to perform by him or herself.

Within that general definition, certain specific rules, restrictions and guidelines apply. Key among these is that a doctor’s letter acknowledging your disability alone does not turn your pet dog into a service assistance dog. Rather, the tasks the dog performs for you must directly be related to your specific disability. These may include:

Emotional Assistance – Such as offering deep pressure for calming purposes, recognizing signs of emotional distress and facilitating removal from the triggering stimulus, including crowds and claustrophobic situations, helping reduce emotional stress and overload in the workplace, offering tactile stimulation and affection, locating exits and a service dog for anxiety.

Treatment Assistance – Such as providing medication reminders, helping an individual with communication-related tasks such as conveying
a need and waking individuals who are sedated.

Security Assistance – Such as checking for intruders, calling for assistance, turning on or off lights, preventing strangers from getting too close and guarding valuable possessions while in public.

Medical Crisis and Other Emergency Assistance – Such as retrieving medication to relieve symptoms, retrieve beverages so medication can be taken, retrieving an emergency telephone, summoning aid, answering the door, calling an emergency hotline like 911, alerting their owner to a smoke alarm and aiding in a safe exit and carrying needed medical supplies.

What a Service Assistance Dog Can Do

1. A Service Dog Can Live With You In Pet-Free Homes

2. A Service Dog Can Attend School Classes With You

3. A Service Assistance Dog Can Ride Transportation With You

4. A Service Assistance Dog Can Fly With You In Cabin For Free On Domestic Airplanes

5. A Service Assistance Dog Can Go WIth You to Work

6. A Service Assistance Dog Can Enter Pet-Free Businesses and Public Buildings and Access Pet-Free Public Spaces With You

1. A Service Dog Can Live With You In Pet-Free Homes

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA,) a person with disability is protected from housing discrimination, including being forbidden from having a service assistance dog or being denied housing because of having a service assistance dog. Rather, in fact, landlords must make reasonable accommodations to allow you and your service assistance dog to take (or retain) residence. This applies even in “Pet-free” and “Dog-free” housing. One such reasonable accommodation would be to waive any pet fee or deposit.

To file a complaint about a housing violation of your rights to have a service assistance dog live with you, contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at 800-669-9777 (voice,) 800-927-9275 (TTY) or online at