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