How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

To determine if an animal is a service animal, you may ask two questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

You may not ask these questions if the need for the service animal is obvious. Examples include when a dog is guiding an individual who is blind or is pulling a person’s wheelchair. In addition:

  • You may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability
  • You may not require proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal
  • You may not require the animal to wear an identifying vest or tag
  • You may not ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the task or work

Under the ADA, it is training that distinguishes a service animal from other animals. Some service animals may be professionally trained; others may have been trained by their owners.  However, the task that the service animal is trained to do must be directly related to the owner’s disability.

The handler is responsible for the care and supervision of his or her service animal. If a service animal behaves in an unacceptable way and the person with a disability does not control the animal, a business or other entity has the right to ask that the dog be removed. A business also has the right to deny access to a dog that disrupts their business or poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. For example, if a service dog barks repeatedly or growls at customers, it could be asked to leave.

Service animals in-training are not specifically addressed in the ADA.  However, some state laws may afford service animals in-training the same protections as service animals that have completed their training.

For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Service Animal Basics

Service Animal FAQs

FAQ: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?