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Can You Legally Ask for Proof of Service Dog?

You cannot legally ask for "proof" of a service dog, and no physical proof exists. Registration, certificates, and even vests are not a legal requirement for service dogs. You can only ask two questions of the handler to determine if the dog is a service dog needed for the assistance of a disability.

Matt Fleming
February 20, 2024
April 24, 2023
6 minute read
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Grant FiddesGrant Fiddes
SEO Associate
April 24, 2023
August 18, 2021
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It is important to know you and your service dogs rights. Gain an understanding of service dog laws and more with Pettable.

Many public places and businesses may not know how to handle a service dog and its owner, leaving them asking: “Can you legally ask for proof of a service dog?” 

Service animals, such as Psychiatric Service Dogs, can help individuals in many ways, both emotionally and physically, and it isn’t uncommon to see them accompany their humans as they traverse the world around them. They can provide much-needed assistance for people with disabilities ranging from physical limitations to mental health disorders, and their specialized training can make a world of difference in the individual’s daily life.

What does the ADA Say about Service Dog Proof?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as a canine of any size or breed that performs a particular task for someone with a disability (physical or mental health-related). It provides service dogs with certain specific protections and privileges not available to standard pets or emotional service dogs. The ADA has strict rules about asking for proof of a service dog.

According to the ADA, a service dog is not required to wear a vest or other form of ID or documentation; it simply must be trained to perform a task directly related to a person’s disability.

Did You Know?

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and are legally granted access to places where pets are prohibited, such as airplane cabins, storefronts and restaurants. Find out more

What Can You Ask About a Service Dog?

When an individual and their service dog enter a public place or business, the ADA provides certain guidelines for business owners, managers, or employees. Although you or your staff may have many questions when presented with a service dog, the ADA strictly limits what you may ask the owner. 

If it isn’t obvious that a dog is a service animal, staff are only allowed to ask two questions: (1) “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” and (2) “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” You are not allowed to ask about the individual’s specific disability or ask for medical documentation, but they may ask what the dog is trained to do, such as retrieving items or assisting with medication, for example.

Can Airlines Ask for Proof of Service Dog?

When it comes to service dogs, airlines are not allowed to ask for proof of their status. Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal means a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, just like the ADA. 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines are required to recognize dogs as service animals and accept them for transport on flights to, within, and from the United States. However, airlines may deny transport to a service dog if they are too large to accommodate, pose a threat to the health and safety of others, or cause a significant disruption in the cabin or airport gates.  

Can a Hotel Ask for Proof of Service Dog?

The ADA prohibits hotel staff from asking for proof of a service dog, which means it is not to be considered a pet and can accompany its owner or handler in their rooms and public areas. Neither can the hotel charge an extra fee for the service dog, as they might with a pet. But the handler and their animal are still expected to follow certain rules of the hotel. For example, the dog must be under the human’s control at all times, refrain from being a disruption, and not cause any damage. 

Can a Landlord Ask for Proof of Service Dog?

The ADA also prohibits discrimination based on disability in public accommodations, and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires property owners to provide reasonable accommodations for the disabled and their service dogs. Landlords are not allowed to ask tenants about the nature or extent of their disability. However, individuals must request reasonable accommodations, and if their disability is not apparent, they must provide documentation about the needs the service dog fulfills. This is to enable the property owner to properly review the request.

Service Dogs in “No Pets Allowed” Businesses

In businesses that typically don’t allow pets, the ADA protects the rights of disabled individuals and their service dogs. Business owners and staff must let the service dog accompany their handler in any public area of the space without any proof or documentation. Also, they may only ask the same two questions approved by the ADA.

Do Service Dogs Need to Wear a Vest?

Legally speaking, service dogs are not required to wear a special vest — but it may be a good idea to consider. Outfitting your service dog with a vest lets the public know that it is a working dog, not a pet. A vest provides added visibility that may help the handler avoid unwanted interactions, and it can reassure business owners, staff, or others that the dog is trained to assist its handler.

Types of Service Dogs

Service dogs can be trained to assist in many ways, both physically and emotionally. In general, there are two types of service dogs: Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) and dogs for physical disabilities. These can be divided into a number of specialties, depending on the individual’s needs.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

When it comes to PSDs, these dogs can be trained to care for an individual’s specific mental health disorder; they may also provide a degree of comfort and joy. For people with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a PSD can be trained in tasks that help alleviate their mental health symptoms, such as providing physical comfort. These animals operate under the standard ADA guidelines for service dogs.

Dogs for Physical Disabilities

The other type of service dog cares for an individual’s physical disabilities. There is a wide array of specialties these animals can be trained in, depending on the person’s needs. These include Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs), guide dogs for the visually impaired, and seizure support dogs. 

Training a Psychiatric Service Dog

If you’re an individual who would like to convert your pet into a psychiatric service dog, you have two choices to get them up to the task: online psychiatric service dog training and in-person PSD training.

Online Psychiatric Service Dog Training

Pettable offers a professional online psychiatric dog training program led by a certified PSD trainer with years of experience. The 15-part video can enable you to train your own dog in duties related to your mental health, easily and at a pace determined by you and your dog’s needs.

In-Person PSD Training

Some choose to enroll their dog in an in-person PSD training program. While it may sound appealing, this type of training is typically more expensive and less convenient than the online alternative.

Service Dogs VS Emotional Support Animals

Emotional service animals (ESAs) are different from PSDs in many ways — most importantly, they are not protected under the ADA. While standard service dogs are trained in specific tasks related to the disability, ESAs are not. That’s not to discount what they do provide: comfort, companionship, and emotional support. 

Online Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable

If you’re ready to elevate your canine to a working dog, Pettable provides an online psychiatric dog training program that is second to none. We guarantee our program will work for you and your companion, so contact us today to get started!

Meet the author:
Matt Fleming

Matt is a Midwestern-based writer and devoted dog dad, living with a sweet mixed-breed pup named Robin. A life-long dog lover, he had the pleasure of growing up with several German Shepherds, a Cocker Spaniel, and a Black Labrador. He is a full-time editor, as well as a musician and poet, who loves basketball, birdwatching and listening to The Cure and Nick Cave.

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