About Service Dogs

I want to answer some basic questions that I had before I trained Lennie, and I assume you have the same question. Here goes:

  • Do service dogs have to be registered or certified, or licensed?
    • No, not at all. However, all dogs have to be licensed as a dog in most cities in the United States. Licensing is cheap, and you can get vaccinations at vaccination clinics run by local pet stores. I know some people are against vaccinations. If you are one of those folks, you will have considerable trouble taking your dog anywhere. You may even lose your dog. I am not going to argue for or against vaccinations here, but because of rabies, distemper and many other bad diseases that are picked up by dogs from the ground, your dog is not only in compliance with state and city laws, but your dog is safer.
    • Be very careful about the issue of certifying your service dog! There are no legal, government run certifying agencies for service dogs regardless of what anyone tells you. There are scam websites ‘out there’ that make it sound like you do have to certify your dog as a service dog. You do not.
    • I do recommend that you get your dog a service dog vest. There are multiple websites which sell them, and Lennie has one. However, the vest is not mandatory.
  • How will  others know my dog is a service dog?
    • Basically, if your dog’s service tasks are obvious, like pulling your wheelchair or a guide dog leading his or her master, or if the dog provides stability and balance.
    • You can get a service dog vest (search Google for service dog vests). That works well for Lennie. He has only been barred from one public place–a university of all places–so I do not go there any more and neither does he.
  • What about rules and laws of the state / city / region I live in?
    • Local laws regarding your dog are not legally binding. You only have to follow the ADA (United States Government) guidelines (see the article on this site, or go to the ADA website). Service dogs are regulated under the United States Americans with Disabilities Act only. There are not state or local laws that supersede these regulations.
    • However, that being said, you do have to make sure your dog behaves well, is current on all vaccinations, and is housebroken. Lennie is a little ‘gentleman’ in that he does what he is instructed to do, and waits for the next command. That, however, took time. Often people know he is a special dog since he follows my commands so well.
    • Wherever you go, you must supervise your own dog and not leave him or her alone. Business entities are not required to supervise anyone’s dog.
    • NO ONE is allowed to charge you for the dog up front for any reason. However, if your dog damages something on their premises, you will have to pay for that.
  • Should my service dog wear a vest?
    • Wearing a vest is not mandatory, but it definitely cuts down on questions and confrontations. Lennie’s vest also has his city tag and rabies vaccination tag attached to the vest. People can tell in an instant that he is a service dog, is ‘legal,’ and is vaccinated.
  • What if someone wants a lot of information about my dog or me?
    • They can only ask two questions (by law):
      •  Is the animal required because of a disability?
      • What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
  • What if someone complains that they are allergic to dogs?
    • Dog allergens are not airborne, and service dogs are bathed regularly. That means that the person has to touch the dog to have an allergic response. Certainly you will not allow your dog to go up to other people anyway. You can remind the person that dog (or cat) allergens are not airborne and your dog has not come into contact with anything that person has.
    • When dogs are bathed at least 2 times per month, they stop producing allergens anyway. Lennie gets a bath once per week.
    • Some people will have a placebo response to your dog; i.e., they will get allergic symptoms in the absence of coming into contact with the allergen. This is unfortunate, but always remember that they should not touch your dog and you cannot stop their reaction–your dog’s allergens, if they are present at all, are not airborne. You cannot control their responses.
  • There are many more questions on the ADA website, and those questions are asked and answered on that site, or here. I urge you to read this information soon.

p.s. Dog training tip: you must be direct with your dog. Ignoring him, saying long sentences to explain “why” or “why not” will never work. You must stick with very basic commands and say them the same way every time, using emotion in your voice to convey approval or disapproval.

Dr. Marcie