Do Service Dogs Have to Wear a Vest?

Kristi Carignan
May 26, 2023
May 19, 2023
6 minutes
There are many misconceptions about the legal requirements for service animals. Learn more about the legal rights and protections for service dogs from Pettable.

Maybe you've been wondering, 'Do service dogs have to wear a vest?'. If you've pondered the legalities around service dogs and official vests, this guide is for you. 

Do Service Dogs Have to Wear a Vest?

Service dogs do not have to wear a vest by law, but many handlers choose to have their dogs wear them for visibility and identification purposes. It's important to note that service dogs can perform tasks without a vest and should not be denied access to public places solely based on their appearance.

What is a Service Dog?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as those who have "been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability." The functional tasks that the dog performs – such as reminding the owner to take medication or helping when they have a seizure – must be directly linked to a specific disability. 

Service dogs can access any area that the general public is allowed, even spaces where pet animals and dogs are not permitted (for example, inside restaurants.)

Service dogs must always meet the following two criteria: 

  1. They are required because their owner has a specific disability. 
  2. They are trained to perform a specific task related to the disability. 

Types of Service Dogs

Service dogs can help handlers with physical disabilities or psychiatric ones. The latter is known as a psychiatric service dog. 

Psychiatric Service Dogs 

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) perform a specific function concerning their owner's psychiatric disability. For example, they might remind their owner to take their anxiety medication, wake an owner when they are having PTSD nightmares or facilitate stressful or overwhelming social situations to reduce anxiety. 

Service Dogs for Physical Disabilities 

Service dogs for physical disabilities perform a specific function related to a physical disability. For example, a service dog might help a handler who is blind or has low vision to navigate the world, or a mobility assistance service dog might help their owner to perform tasks like opening doors or retrieving objects.

Do Service Dogs Have to Wear a Vest in Public? 

As per the ADA, service dogs do not have to legally wear a vest, special harness, or ID tag that identifies them as service animals. However, these vests can be handy as they alert the public that the dog is a working animal.

Please note, that there is no official organization that has the sole right to sell service dog memorabilia. Any website that insists you need a vest, badge, or ID card or requires you to purchase one with your letter/registration/certificate is fraudulent.

Why Do Service Dogs Wear a Vest? 

While legally not necessary, a service dog vest is beneficial for a few reasons: 

  1. They show the public that the dog is working and not there to play. This ensures that people don't engage the dog and distract them while working. This is important as a service dog can become overstimulated in unfamiliar places and act out, causing them to be removed from the premises.
  2. Alert official personnel the animal is trained for a specific task and highlight this fact during emergencies.
  3. The physical sensation of wearing a vest can indicate to a service dog that it is time to work.

Should My Service Dog Wear a Vest?

This is an entirely personal decision. It can be hugely beneficial for service dogs to wear a service vest, but it's ultimately the handler's choice. 

Can My Dog Wear a Service Dog Vest?  

While anyone can purchase a service dog vest, keeping service dog vests for working dogs is best. If your dog is a pet companion, opt for a harness or vest that doesn't infer that the dog is a working animal. 

If you have an ESA, a special ESA vest can alert others that your dog is necessary for your health and well-being. 

How to Get a Service Dog

Owners can train their service dogs using online programs, work with professionals at a specialized facility, or buy a trained service dog. 

Online Service Dog Training

Students will access online tutorial-style videos and can learn the correct commands and tools at their own pace. Handlers will also access information on how to read their PSD's body language.

Online service dog training allows owners to train their dogs from the comfort of their homes. It's ideal for those wanting to train their dog to become a PSD. 

In-Person Service Dog Training

In-person service dog training takes place with a professional trainer or at a particular facility. It can often be more costly than online options. While it might help dogs learn more quickly, some might prefer the comfort of learning new skills at home with their handler. 

Buy a Trained Service Dog

Some people opt to purchase an already-trained PSD. A PSD should always be purchased from a reputable and ethical breeder. However, this can be a costly option and won't work for those who already have a dog they want to train. 

Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Dogs

Emotional support animals (ESAs) offer great companionship and comfort to their humans. They support their owners through challenging psychological and emotional situations and feelings and include a host of animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and pigs. While they are not trained to perform a specific job in relation to a disability, they provide immense comfort and support. 

We've explored that service dogs "are trained to perform a specific task related to their owner's disability." While different, those with ESAs can access emotional support letters through Pettable from qualified mental health practitioners. These letters can legally help owners in terms of allowing their ESAs into rented accommodation and onboard flights. 

Online Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable 

Pettable offers an online, self-paced PSD training program for those wanting a psychiatric service dog qualification. The 15 online sessions are led by a professional trainer, and if you aren't satisfied with the course, we offer a 100 % money-back guarantee. 

The Bottom Line 

Service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and ESAs are all hugely valuable to their owners, offering them support and companionship as they navigate life. In terms of ADA criteria, service dogs are trained for a specific function related to a disability. While they don't legally have to wear a vest, it can be useful while out in public to alert everyone to their role.

Meet the author:
Kristi Carignan

Kristi Carignan is a seasoned freelance writer with over 20 years of experience crafting copy for global agencies and brands. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her furry companions, Sugar the PomChi and Rudy the Shiba Inu, and indulging in hobbies like crafting and home renovation.