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ADA Service Animal Guidelines: What You Need to Know

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, is the law that governs service animals and protects service animal handler's rights. The ADA also provides guidelines for what qualifies as a service animal, setting requirements for breed, training, and other important rules.

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April Brightman
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February 20, 2024
November 22, 2023
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6 minute read
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November 22, 2023
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Discover ADA guidelines for service animals: rights, regulations, and responsibilities. Ensure equal access today!

Guidelines set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act work to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, as well as their service dogs and animals.

What is The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act — often referred to as the ADA — was established as we know it today in 1990. It exists to legally prevent the discrimination of individuals with disabilities when it comes to accessing public places and services, employment, and education.

How Does the ADA Define Service Animals?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs of any age, size, or breed who are individually trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. The ADA’s definition of service animal doesn’t affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” used by the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, both explained in this article.

ADA Service Animal Training Requirements

The ADA’s service animal training requirements state that dogs must be trained to perform tasks that directly support a person’s disability. Examples of this could include a service dog guiding a person who is blind, or being trained to retrieve objects for a person with mobility issues. A psychiatric service dog can do things like recognize signs of an anxiety attack before it comes and alert their handler.

Service animals aren’t required to be registered or to complete professional training programs, and they don’t have to wear any identifying items like vests or ID tags. 

ADA Rules on Where Service Animals Are Allowed

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act service animals are allowed to go anywhere people are. People with disabilities have the right to bring their service dog with them anywhere they would normally go, even if the business or building has a no pets policy.

ADA Guidelines on Service Animal Proof

When it comes to proof of a service animal, the ADA has guidelines that protect the privacy rights of individuals with disabilities. As we mentioned, service dogs aren’t required to wear any identifying items (like a vest or ID tags), but there are also guidelines for what businesses and their employees are allowed to ask regarding the legitimacy of a service dog.

Businesses and employees or those working in a state/local government facility and are unsure about whether a person’s dog is a service animal are only allowed to ask the following two questions for service animal proof:

  • Is this a service dog?
  • What specific service tasks are they trained to perform?

When a Service Animal Can Be Denied Per the ADA

While accommodating individuals with disabilities and their service animals is the law, there are some circumstances under which a service dog may be denied access to a public place or business. According to the ADA:

“A business or state/local government does not need to allow a service animal if the dog’s presence would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public.”

Another way to say this is that service dogs may be denied access if their presence or behavior poses a threat to the health and safety of the public.

State-Specific Service Animal Laws

State and local governments are required to enforce and honor all federal laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities and their service animals. They can have additional guidelines in some cases, like requiring service dogs to be licensed and vaccinated. They can’t, however, require registration or certification for service dogs or restrict service dogs based on breed.

Other Service Animal Laws

In addition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are other sets of federal laws in place to protect the rights of people with disabilities — including those who use service animals — when it comes to housing and transportation. These laws are known as the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits the discrimination of individuals seeking rental housing by landlords or rental agencies. It states that people may not be discriminated against based on race, religion, sex, gender identity, orientation, marital status, or disability. This also applies to individuals with disabilities who use a service animal.

The Fair Housing Act makes it so that people with disabilities who use a service animal are exempt from policies that restrict pets in general, restrict animals based on size or breed, or require a pet fee. Since service animals aren’t considered pets, they’re considered medical tools necessary for managing symptoms associated with a disability. 

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) falls under the U.S. Department of Transportation and exists to protect the rights of people with disabilities to travel and to do so with their service animals if necessary. 

The ACAA makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability or because they use a service dog. These laws apply to all flights to, from, and within the United States.

Meet the author:
April Brightman
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April Brightman is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for traveling and hiking with her rescue pup, Marley. She's written for pet-centered sites like Outward Hound, as well as outdoorsy adventure brands like BearVault, Hipcamp, and Explorer Chick.

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