ADA Service Animal Requirements for Businesses
Service dog retrieving item from counter staff for handler.

 

The ADA requires businesses to allow people with disabilities to use service animals in their facilities.

Service animals may accompany their handler (person using the service animal) wherever the general public is allowed. 

ADA Definition of a Service Animal
Service dog wearing vest guiding blind person.

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to perform work or tasks that assist the person with a disability.

There are no size or breed restrictions on what type of dog may be used as a service animal. Local breed restrictions do not apply to service dogs.

Miniature Horses
Black and white miniature horse.

Miniature horses may be used as a service animal as an exception to a dog.

However, a business can consider whether their facility can accommodate the miniature horse based on the horse’s type, size, and weight.

The rules that apply to service dogs also apply to miniature horses.

Service Animals are Not Considered Pets
Sign on door stating "No Pets" "Service Dogs Welcome".

Businesses are still permitted to have a "no animals allowed" policy. However, businesses must make an exception or modification to this policy for people with disabilities who use service dogs.

Emotional Support Animals
Women holding small white dog.

The ADA does not require businesses to allow emotional support animals in their facilities.

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not trained to perform work or tasks. They provide emotional support simply by their presence and the bond established with the person with a disability.

Examples of Tasks Service Animals Perform
Service dog pushing pedestrian walk button for handler.
  • Guiding people who are blind or low vision.
  • Helping with balance and mobility
  • Pushing open doors, retrieving objects
  • Alerts to seizures, anxiety/panic attacks
  • Alerts to noises/changes in the environment
Examples of Tasks Service Animals Perform
Large dog holding man having seizure in stable position with paw.

Be careful not to assume a person doesn’t really need a service dog based on appearance.

The service dog in this image not only alerts the handler to seizures, he also keeps the handler stable and safe during a seizure.

This man would typically not appear to have a disability.  His service dog does not have a vest or harness because they could get in the way when the dog performs its task.

 

Identification

Service dog handlers (the person using the service dog) are not required to show any type of identification as no registration or documentation for service dogs is required or recognized by the federal government.

Service dogs are also not required to wear a vest. Many handlers, however,  do use vests to show the general public that the dog is working and should not be petted or distracted.

Questions Staff May Ask

Business owners and staff are allowed to ask two questions to determine if a dog is a service dog.

  1. Is this a service animal?
  2. What task or work does the dog perform for you?

Staff may not ask the person with a disability to explain their disability or to provide documentation of disability.

Questions Staff May Ask

Staff also may not ask that a service dog perform a task to prove it is a service animal.

Reason: This may confuse the dog and detract from its training. Remember, the tasks/work service dogs perform are not "tricks". Service dogs are trained to perform tasks/work when needed.

Fees and Surcharges

Individuals with disabilities cannot be charged a fee or surcharge because they use a service dog.

Example: A hotel that allows pets may charge a pet fee or deposit. However, a person who uses a service dog cannot be charged the fee or deposit.

Note: Service dog handlers may be charged for any damages caused by the dog. This does not apply to routine activities such as cleaning a hotel room after a guest’s stay.

Tips for Staff
Service dog with Do Not Pet sign on harness.
  • Don’t pet a service dog, call to them, or whistle. Service dogs are working, so avoid distracting them from doing their job.
  • Don’t offer treats without the handler’s permission.
Handler's Responsibilities for Their Service Dogs
Woman giving her service dog water.
  • Must be under the handler’s control at all times.
  • Local vaccination and registration requirements also apply to service dogs.
  • Must be housebroken.
  • Must be free of lice and fleas.
  • The handler is responsible for care.
  • Staff are not required to provide services such as feeding, watering or walking.
Restrictions Based on Health and Safety
Woman wearing mask and gown putting away sterile supplies.

Businesses may restrict service dogs from certain areas when their presence would cause a threat to health and safety.

  • The threat to health and safety must be based on actual risk, not speculation.
  • Service dogs should only be restricted from the specific area that would be affected by their presence.
  • Example:  Service dogs can be restricted from areas where surgery or medical procedures are performed in a hospital, but not from waiting rooms and cafeterias.
Restrictions Based on Fundamental Change to the Business

Businesses may restrict service dogs from certain areas when their presence would cause a fundamental change in the nature of the business.

  • Sometimes the presence of a service dog would not cause a safety or health hazard to customers or employees, but would interfere or change the operation of a business.

    For instance, the presence of service dogs was shown to cause distress to small antelopes in a nature exhibit at a theme park. The business had the right to restrict service dogs from that particular area because of its responsibility to protect the well-being of their animals.

Removing a Service Dog from a Business
  • A business has the right to remove a service dog that is aggressive, growling, snarling, and/or biting.
     
  • Businesses also have the right to remove a service dog if it is disruptive by barking repeatedly, wandering around and/or bothering other customers.
     
  • When a dog is disruptive, staff should ask the handler to bring the dog under control. If that doesn’t happen quickly, staff may ask the handler to remove the service dog.
     
  • The customer with a disability should always be given the option to return without the dog. 
For More Information

Want to learn more about service animals and the ADA?

The ADA National Network provides a service animal resource hub that links to information addressing a variety specific issues related to service animals.
Visit https://adata.org/service-animal-resource-hub