Service Dogs: How to Distinguish From Pets (Update)

service dogs

Guardian Liberty Voice has updated this article to correct information about service dog certification. GLV regrets the error. The new text is as follows: There is no legitimate certification for service dogs in the U.S. Some organizations issue certificates for passing the training program, others do not.

Service dogs are classified under very specific parameters within The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By definition, they are “trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities.” Among the list of duties for which service dogs are trained are assisting those with physical and mental impairments, guiding the blind, and alerting to impending seizures, as well as helping to pull a wheelchair. Any duties beyond that, including any amendments made by the ADA, help to distinguish between a pet dog and a service animal.

In 1990, the ADA created a set of rules to protect disabled people with specific rights and to prohibit any discrimination related to the use of service dogs. No requirements were made in regards to a license or certification of identification, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The animals were not required to wear a specific vest, collar or harness, either. This made it all too easy for others to find loopholes, especially because the ADA also did not need any proof that the dog was, in fact, an actual service dog.

The general public took advantage of this legal lapse and began bringing their dogs into grocery stores, restaurants and other public places. Because of the law, business owners could not ask for proof  to determine if the animal was a true service dog, and they were only allowed to ask two questions: one about the dog’s training and the other to determine if the dog was required due to a disability of the owner. The answers received, by law, had to be taken at face value. As a result, this allowed the public to easily lie and get away with bringing their pets into public locations and say they were service dogs, ultimately muddling the true distinction from real and fake.

On July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a revised definition of a service animal. Soon after, the Federal Registrar published the distinction, which went into effect six months later on March 15, 2011. The newly revised definition proclaimed that service animals were those who are individually trained to perform tasks or do work in order to benefit a disabled individual, whether the disability be sensory, physical, psychiatric, intellectual or some other mental disability.” Thus, if the dog did not directly aid its handler in a specific medical service, it was not considered a real service dog.

Under the protection of the ADA, service animals are welcome in public places, even those that do not normally allow animals. There is no legitimate certification for service dogs in the U.S. Some organizations issue certificates for passing the training program, others do not. Each dog is trained to assist with the needs of its owner’s disability, and must know how to properly aid them with it.

There is no specific breed of service dog, and they come in all shapes, sizes and color variations. However, the most common breeds include: Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Cattle Dogs, Golden Retriever and Border Collies.

Real service animals have very important roles to play in the lives of their owners. While some of the disabilities may or may not be automatically discernible by the public, the dog must be accurately trained to notice even the smallest change in their owners. This distinguishes them as a real service animal rather than a pet dog.  Above all, a service animal’s purpose is improve the quality of their disabled handler’s life.

By Rachel Roddy


Please Don’t Pet Me
Service Dog Central
Federal Way Mirror
ADA Requirements

16 Responses to "Service Dogs: How to Distinguish From Pets (Update)"

  1. Norman   August 7, 2014 at 7:24 am

    The article/author is incorrect regarding state certification and creates additional problems and grief for the disabled who require a service dog. Dumb dumb dumb…

  2. Beth Balen   August 6, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I think there may be some confusion here between service dogs that assist an individual and service dogs that perform functions such as going into nursing homes, hospitals, emergency rooms, etc. I am from Alaska, and I know our hospital required that “service dogs” pass a training course before being allowed to come in the facility – but that would be to come visit multiple people, not as my own individual service animal.

    My dog Oscar was a service dog for me (emotional support), but he was not eligible to go into the hospital and visit the pediatric floor, for instance, because he had not passed and exam and been certified (and he was so lovable goofy that he would never have passed that!).

    It seems like both sides of this debate are correct, but we’re mixing apples and oranges.

  3. Martha Eubanks   August 6, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Shelby, You are incorrect. Service dogs are covered under federal law, the ADA. While states have their own laws they can not be stricter than the ADA. There is NO state testing of service dogs anywhere. There is no such thing as legal certification. This article is dangerous as it will lead to legitimate teams being denied access.

  4. Shelby F.   August 6, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I can see where some of you are coming from but she isn’t attacking people with service animals or misleading any one. Washington state may not required service animals to be certified but some other states may (I’m not going to look at every state law). Although Washington state has said a service dog must have more training then a pet dog and to prove it is different in public. Most dogs are certified depending on their needs (ie: seeing eye dogs, seizure dogs, dogs trained to smell certain allergies in food). It isn’t required but some times it can make life easier if they were. Also this article doesn’t cover emotional support animals or therapy animals which has it own regulations that they must follow and meet certain guidelines. I have ESA myself and find that this article isn’t offensive in any way.

    • Shannon   August 6, 2014 at 7:11 pm

      ESAs are only considered service dogs in housing and on airplanes, and in some specific localities. They are not service dogs under the ADA, in fact they are explicitly excluded.

      The concern is that there is NO LEGAL CERTIFICATION and no standardized state testing.

      Also Seeing Eye Dogs are guide dogs trained by The Seeing Eye. Not all guide dogs are Seeing Eye Dogs (in fact, most don’t come from The Seeing Eye).

    • umrayya   August 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      “I can see where some of you are coming from but she isn’t attacking people with service animals or misleading any one. Washington state may not required service animals to be certified but some other states may…”

      There is no legal certification for service dogs, period. The government does not certify service dogs.

  5. umrayya   August 6, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    This otherwise very good article contains a glaring, and very important error. There is NO official testing or legal certification for service dogs whatsoever, not at the federal level, and not at the state level. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities act explicitly disallows this.

    Please correct this error. Once you have done that, this will be an excellent article.

  6. Matt Easton   August 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks for clearing that up Ben you beat me to it.

  7. Ben Ezzell   August 6, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    An interesting article … right up to the point of reading the reference to state mandated tests … because there are no such things, the ADA explicitly disallows such; you may not ask the nature of the disability, request any task to be demonstrated, request any registration (there are none legally), request any kind of documentation. If (repeat IF) the nature of the service dog’s task(s) are not obvious (don’t ask a blind person why they have a guide dog, etc.), you are allowed exactly two questions: 1) Is this a service dog? (Ans: Yes) 2) What service does this SD perform? (Ans: varies but could simply be He/she is a Medical Alert Service Dog [PERIOD] … I am not required to explain any further.)

    As a further stipulation, if you are simply Joe or Jane Public, you are not allowed even these two questions … or at least we are not required to respond. Only if you are a business we enter (i.e., owner or employee) do you have any vested interest in asking.

    Even suggesting such requirements is doing a tremendous disservice to the handicapped community by leading to such requests. Please, talk to someone with some knowledge before publishing such material. I should be happy to provide references and contacts for you.

    • Shannon   August 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      Disabled, not handicapped.

  8. Julia Markham   August 6, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    I have no clue where you got the idea there is a Federally recognized state registration. Please reread your own sources. You are incorrect and actually are making life harder for those of us with disabilities who use SDs.

  9. Shavonne   August 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Not all several animals are trained in programs I myself have a service animal I have trained on my own since she was a puppy, furthermore the state does not have to test a service animal for it to legally be labeled a service animal

  10. Michelle   August 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    There is no such thing as a state required test for certification. There is no required certification. Service dogs should be well trained, well groomed and perform tasks their disabled handlers cannot do for themselves. They may be trained by an organization, or by the handler themselves. Please research and correct your misinformation

  11. Martha Eubanks   August 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    This story contains both incorrect and misleading information.

    First, the statement that service dogs must past a state test to be legally certified is not true. There is no standard test. There is no required or recognized test. There is no legally recognized of required certification.

    The story goes on to list the most common breeds. While this was true at one point in time, it is no longer. Any breed, or mix of breeds, can be a service dog, and there is no longer a most common breed.

  12. Amy Kaplan   August 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Actually, certification and testing are NOT required, and the ADA makes it illegal to require such. There is also no legitimate national registration or certifications. I hope you will correct the inaccuracies in your article.

  13. Peter Christensen   August 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Well-written! Now, what’s a therapy dog or an emotional support dog? See here:


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