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:

  • Mobility Assistance – Such as pulling a wheelchair, opening and closing doors or drawers and providing physical stability, balance and support.
  • Vision and Hearing Assistance – Such as alerting the individual to a sound like the doorbell or phone ringing or guiding the individual through pedestrian traffic, including stopping at intersections and indicating when it’s safe to cross.
  • Treatment Assistance – Such as providing medication reminders, helping an individual with communication-related tasks such as  waking individuals who have chronic pain or are sedated etc
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Additionally, Title II and Title III of the ADA do not recognize emotional support dogs, therapy dogs or comfort dogs as service assistance dogs.

What a Service Assistance Dog Can Do

This section discusses the rights you and your service assistance dog are afforded under federal law. This includes rights regarding getting a home, flying on a plane and accessing public spaces with your service assistance dog.

After the following parts explaining each of the rights afforded to you and your service assistance dog is a final part discussing what the people controlling access to each of these rights can and can’t legally ask you or ask of you.

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 http://www.hud.gov/fairhousing.

A Service Dog Can Attend School Classes With You

As per the ADA, if a student with a service assistance dog is in grades K-12, that service is allowed to accompany that student to classes. The ADA also requires universities and colleges to allow disabled people to bring service assistance dogs with them into classrooms and all institutional facilities and grounds open to students or the public. Even if a dog does not meet the ADA definition of and requirements for a service assistance dog, the students Section 504 team or Individual Education Plan (IEP) may determine that the dog is required for the student to obtain an appropriate and free education.

Universities and colleges may request students with a service assistance dog to register with the Disability Services Coordinator at the school as a student with a disability. Schools can’t ask for proof of the dog’s certification status or training, but they can ask for proof of current vaccinations according to all applicable local and state laws.

To file a complaint about violation of your rights to bring a service assistance dog with you to school and into the classroom, whom you contact depends on the law being violated.

If the complaint regards the IDEA, parents can ask for a review and due process hearing from their state’s educational agency and, even, appeal an unfavorable decision to the state or federal court. You can also make suggestions and give feedback to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services of the US Department of Education at the following address:

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202-7100

202-245-7468 (voice)

For violations of Title II of the ADA or Section 504, contact the Office for Civil Rights at the same address or one of the following toll-free phone numbers:

800-421-3481 (voice)

800-877-8339 (TTY)

In addition to filing a complaint with the OCR, you can also contact a lawyer to file a lawsuit in federal court. To file a federal lawsuit, you must do so within 180 days of the alleged violation, unless there is good cause for the extended filing time.

To file a complaint regarding a Title III ADA violation, contact the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division at the following address and phone numbers:

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Civil Rights Division

Disability Rights Section – NYA

Washington, DC 20530


800-514-0301 (voice)

800-514-0383 (TTY)

A Service Assistance Dog Can Ride Transportation With You

When you’re traveling with a service animal, be that on public or private transportation alike, your service animal cannot be refused transportation access, be that a train, plane, bus or boat. Moreover, you and your service animal cannot be forced to sit in a specific seat or area and you cannot be charged any additional deposits or fees. You are not required to give advance notice that you intend to travel with a service animal.

These rules apply to subways, railways, Paratransit, fixed-route buses, taxicabs, light-rail, limousine services and shuttles, among other transportation modes.

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

The rights and regulations for traveling with a service assistance dog on a plane are required and enforced by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA,) a federal law governing airlines, airports and passengers. Under the ACAA, airlines and airports in the US are required to allow a service assistance dog to accompany his or her handler in cabin in the aircraft.

A Service Assistance Dog Can Go WIth You to Work

The same laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace due to a disability protect your rights to have a service assistance dog accompany you at your place of work, and the same laws requiring employers to make accommodations for your disability requires them to allow you to bring your service assistance dog to work with you.

While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles enforcement in the workplace of the employment provisions of Title I of the ADA, the entity has no particular regulations regarding service assistance dogs.

An employer can prohibit your service assistance dog from the workplace if the dog presents a direct threat to others in the workplace or if they believe allowing the service assistance dog access would pose an unreasonable hardship. If an employer is reluctant to allow your service assistance dog to accompany you to work and it seems to you the refusal may be deemed legally legitimate, you could always propose the compromise of allowing it on a trial basis.

To file a complaint about ADA violations by an employer contact the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged violation at 800-669-4000 (voice) or 800-669-6820 (TTY) or online at http://www.eeoc.gov/contact/index.cf.

For Section 501 complaints by federal employees, contact the EEO officer of their agency within 45 days of the alleged violation. For Section 504 complaints, file with the given federal agency funding the employer.

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

Service assistance dogs are allowed with you into all public accommodations and facilities. More specifically, if customers, clients, participants in a program or members of the public are allowed into a space, whether indoors or outdoors, a service assistance dog must also be allowed to enter with his or her handler. This includes all facilities and establishments that have a general “No Pets” or “No Dogs” policy.

To file a complaint for a violation of your rights to enter a business or public space with your service assistance dog, contact the following for complaints related to violations of the ADA Title II or Title III:

U.S. Department of Justice

Disability Rights Section – NYA

Civil Rights Division

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20530

800-514-0301 (voice)

800-514-0383 (TTY)


For complaints regarding violations of Section 504, contact the specific federal agency responsible for overseeing the given funding or program.

What Can a Landlord, Employer, Airline Personnel or Public Space Proprietor Ask Me About My Service Assistance Dog?

As to question, do you need documentation for a service dog, the answer is generally no. Rather, whether a business, hotel, airline, or anyone else overseeing entry to a public place you wish to enter with your service assistance dog, there are only two questions they can legally ask you. These are:

  1. Do you need the dog due to a disability
  2. What duties has the dog been trained execute?

What a person cannot ask you, however, in order to determine whether your dog is a service assistance dog is what your disability is. In addition, those two permitted questions are only permitted if their answers aren’t already visibly obvious.

Exceptions and more detailed answers to the question do you need documentation for a service dog follow.

In the case of an employer, he or she may ask you for documentation verifying that you have a disability if that disability is not visibly apparent. An employer cannot require that this documentation state the name or nature of your disability. He or she can, however, require that the documentation include details on what specific tasks related to your disability the service assistance dog performs for you. In addition, he or she can require this document or a separate statement attest that your service animal is trained to be obedient and well-behaved in the workplace.

In terms of housing, not only can’t a landlord, housing association or rental application ask you about the nature or extent of your disability; they can’t even ask about its existence. If you request an accommodation be made, such as to take residence in spite of a “No Pets” policy, then you can be subject to the same questions and requirements described above. In housing situations not covered by the FHA, such as in student housing, the ADA may apply. In such instances, housing authorities are not allowed to request or require any certification or documentation atll to prove or assert your dog’s status as a service animal.

No one can ask you, either, to provide any proof or documentation that your service assistance dog has been trained, licensed or certified as a service animal. No one can ask you, either, to pay a surcharge, fee or deposit in order to access a public space with your service assistance dog beyond any such cost charged to any other person entering the space without a dog. Facilities must also treat service assistance dog handlers the same as all other people present. In other words, you cannot be sequestered to a specific area due to having a service assistance dog, such as special seating on a bus or a special room in a hotel. Likewise, a facility can only charge you for damages caused by your service assistance dog if that facility also charges people for damages who don’t have a dog. In addition, service assistance dogs are exempt from any local laws that prohibit certain dog breeds.

Finally, note that you cannot be denied access anywhere with your service assistance dog due to a claim that someone there has an allergy to dogs or a fear of dogs. Part of the reasonable accommodations required of the proprietors of these facilities and spaces is to figure out an amenable way to accommodate both the person with the allergy or fear of dogs and you and your service assistance dog.

Who Qualifies for a Service Assistance Dog?

Now that you know what a service assistance dog is and what it can do for a person, this next section covers the qualification that applies to you, the service assistance dog’s owner, or what makes a person eligible to have a service assistance dog.

To qualify for a service assistance dog, you must have a legitimate disability, disorder or medical conditions. Further, this disability, disorder or condition must impair your ability to function normally in life in such a way that a trained dog can help you overcome that impairment enough to function more normally in life.

Responsibilities of a Service Assistance Dog Handler

The handler of a service assistance dog is either a person responsible for the care of the service assistance dog so that he or she may serve the person with the disability or, if that person is able to properly care for the service assistance dog, the disabled person him or herself. That said, when the disabled person is considered the dog’s handler anytime that dog and individual are out in public without another handler present.

To help you determine whether or not you are capable of being your service assistance dog’s handler, the following details the legal responsibilities of any handler of a service assistance dog.

The most important responsibility of a service assistance dog’s handler is for the proper feeding, housing, grooming and health care of the service assistance dog. Beyond this, a service assistance dog’s handler is responsible for all of a service assistance dog’s actions, whether in public or private. That means, your service assistance dog must be in your direct control at all times whenever outside your home. Direct control can take many forms, including a tether, harness or leash, provided the individual is capable of holding onto such an item or using such a restraint could threaten the service assistance dog’s ability to perform his or her assigned duties safely and effectively. Otherwise, the service assistance dog must be under the handler’s strict voice control.

Furthermore, if the dog behaves inappropriately or unacceptably and the handler cannot control the dog, the proprietor or person responsible for any business or public building, program, transportation or outdoor space can legally forbid the dog’s entry or, if the dog is already on the premises, ask you to remove the animal from it immediately. Such behaviors may include, but are not limited to, barking, running away, acting aggressively toward people or other animals or jumping on people. Additionally, to go anywhere outside your home, your service assistance dog must be housebroken.

Facilities required to allow your service assistance dog access are not, however, required to supervise or care for your dog or clean up after him or her.

Lastly, as the service assistance dog’s handler, you are also required to keep the dog’s vaccinations current according to local and state laws.

What Makes a Service Assistance Dog Legitimate?

Legitimate assistance dogs include a service assistance dog, psychiatric service dog and, in some circumstances, emotional support dog. Which one is best for you depends on your needs. If you have a physical disability, you need a service assistance dog. If you have a mental disorder, you need a psychiatric service dog.

If you’re wondering how to apply for a service dog, the answer is that you don’t have to apply. You only have to qualify for a service assistance dog and have a legitimate service assistance dog. If, having learned what a service assistance dog is and does and for whom, you’ve decided that you want a service assistance dog for yourself and believe you qualify for one, this next section will show you how to register one.

Registering a Service Assistance Dog

Whether a service dog for anxiety or a mobility disability, registering your service assistance dog is an option, not a requirement. This section explains more about service assistance dog registration, including its benefits and how to do it.

Is it Required to Register or Certify my Service Dog?

United States law requires you to neither register nor certify your service assistance dog nor obtain identifying ID cards or vests. That said, taking those actions could make life a whole lot easier for you and your service assistance dog. A big part of the reason why is that many people who work at the places you wish to enter may not be fully aware of all the laws regarding service assistance dogs with which they must comply. In such instances, having additional documentation or other verifying identification can be of great help to you in getting your rights honored.

Benefits of Registering a Service Assistance Dog

While registering a service assistance dog is not required by law, when you register dog as service dog, it could provide you tremendous benefits that help to make your life and your service assistance dog’s life both easier, especially when you register dog as service dog with Certifymypet.

Service animal certification, aka service animal registration, provides you and your service assistance dog the legitimacy, authority and certainty you need to avoid hassles and delays and bypass obstructions to exercising your full rights. When you register service dog with Certifymypet, you get the following benefits:

  • Legitimate doctor’s letter – Certifymypet will connect you with a licensed MD who will meet with you via videoconference to confirm your status as a person with a disability and your need for a service assistance dog. Assuming you qualify, this physician will give you signed and dated letter on official letterhead that you can present to anyone who doubts your status as a person with a disability who needs a service assistance dog.
  • Identification card – You will also get an official-looking, weatherproof, waterproof and wear-proof polyvinyl chloride (PVC) ID card declaring you as a person with a disability who has a legally authorized service assistance dog. This card includes information on where an authority can contact to confirm your qualifications to have a service assistance dog. If your ID card gets damaged or lost, you can get replacements for as long as your service animal certification is active. You’ll also get access to a digital version of your ID card that you can download to your smartphone or other mobile device or print from your computer.
  • Harness and vest – Certifymypet will also provide you with a vest and harness for your service assistance dog that helps to identify that dog to others as a service assistance dog. Not only is this useful for authorities such as airport personnel and proprietors of public spaces, but it also indicates to other patrons and members of the public that your dog is a service assistance dog and should neither be feared nor bothered. This can help tremendously to prevent people from questioning or harassing you for having a dog in a space that normally prohibits them. The harness and vest you receive with service dog certification with Certifymypet are reflective in the dark, weatherproof and waterproof and contain a pocket to hold your identification card.
  • Service dog registry entry and doctor’s letter validation – While there is no single, national or otherwise authoritative database of all disabled people with service assistance dogs, Certifymypet retains one of its own, and it’s one of the largest in the business. Through service animal registration with Certifymypet, you get yourself and your service assistance dog listed in a service dog registry that authorities can use to verify your claims of legitimacy for yourself as a disabled person and your dog as a service assistance dog. Authorities have two ways to verify your qualifications through the Certifymypet database: by calling (833) ESA CERT or going online to Verificationesa.com. Either way, representatives will be standing by 24/7/365 to receive inquiries from such authorities and provide the necessary verification without betraying any confidentiality.

Note that, while service dog registration is not required by law, what is required by law in most states and localities is that you license your dog like any other pet dog in the area where you live.

How to Register a Service Dog

Even though service dog registration is entirely optional and up to you, should you choose to avail yourself of the value and benefits of service dog certification, to register service dog couldn’t be easier. Simply contact Certifymypet to get started with your USA service dog registration.

As for how to register service dog with Certifymypet, you simply fill out and submit a service dog application. This is essentially a patient intake form including your name or the service assistance dog’s handler’s name and both your addresses (if applicable) and the service assistance dog’s name, breed and/or species and an uploaded image of your service animal. Upon receiving your service dog application, Certifymypet will, then, schedule your videoconference with a doctor licensed to practice in your state of residence. That’s all you need to know about how to apply for a service dog. All you do from there is attend your appointment and, shortly thereafter, receiving your doctor’s letter and other benefits.

Now that you know how to certify a service dog, once you do it, Certifymypet even runs a blog that helps you stay abreast of all the latest changes and updates to USA service dog registration requirements and other relevant laws affecting you as a person with a disability and a service assistance dog.