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Service Dog Registration and Certification Guide

Many sites offer "registration" or "certification" for your service dog for a fee. Contrary to popular belief, service dog registration or certification is not legally required. The only requirement for a legitimate service dog is specialized training on tasks related to their handlers disability.

April Brightman
May 15, 2024
October 30, 2023
7 minute read
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
Marvy BeckmanMarvy Beckman
Sunstar Clinical
October 30, 2023
August 18, 2021
7 minute read
Updated By
Be aware of sites and organizations offering illegitimate service dog registration that does not provide benefit.

Getting a service dog has a few prerequisites in order to be protected under the law. To make sure your service dog is legal and legitimate, here are the key pieces of information you’ll need.

Service Dog Registration

Service dog registration is not legally required in most places. While voluntary registries exist for convenience, the law typically only requires well-trained, task-performing service dogs to assist individuals with disabilities. Focus on training and ensuring your dog meets legal criteria, rather than registration, to enjoy your rights and privileges.

What is Service Dog Registration and Certification?

Service dog registration is the process of submitting your dog's information to a database, paying a fee, and receiving a service dog ID number, certificate, or ID card in return. Service dog registration is not a requirement for owning a service dog, as you only need to ensure your service animal is fully trained in order for them to be legally recognized. Unfortunately, many people use service dog registration services as a way to illegally misrepresent their pet as a service animal, and many other well-meaning individuals are tricked into believing registration is a legal requirement. There are many sites and organizations that offer this service, none of which are an official government body or service.

However, as long as you understand what you are paying for, service dog registration can offer some peace of mind. Showing a registration number or ID card can smooth over interactions with people questioning your service dog's legitimacy.

Do Service Dogs Need Registration or Certification?

Service dogs don’t need registration or certification to be protected under disability, housing, and travel laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). They do need to be specifically and individually trained, and a psychiatric service dog letter is the best way to prove your service dog’s legitimacy. 

Is There an Official Service Dog Registry?

There is no official service dog registry or database in the United States. Any company that promotes ‘registration’ or ‘certification’ of a service dog other than a psychiatric service dog letter (PSD letter) is likely not a legitimate source for service dog owners.

Service dog in park with handler.

The Proper Way to Get a Service Dog

As we mentioned, getting a service dog requires a few steps. To make sure your service dog is legal and legitimate, make sure you work with a company that moves through the proper channels to provide you with a legitimate psychiatric service dog letter.

Have A Qualifying Disability

The first requirement for getting a service dog is having a qualifying disability. Examples of disabilities that qualify for service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) include both mental and physical disabilities such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Seizure disorders, like epilepsy 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Speak with a Licensed Health Professional

Once you’re sure your disability qualifies for a service dog, you’ll need an official diagnosis from a licensed health professional. Consultations with clinicians like doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and licensed mental health professionals (LMHPs) are required in order for a psychiatric service dog letter to be issued, which serves as documentation of your need for a PSD.

Train Your Service Dog

The final step in getting a psychiatric service dog is getting them trained. There are no specific training requirements in order for an animal to be considered a service dog, but they must be individually trained to perform disability-relayed by either their owner, a professional trainer, or an agency. 

Unnecessary Service Dog Certification Methods

Some companies that claim to offer documentation for service dogs may try to sell you unnecessary products and services. Knowing what to look for can help you keep yourself from getting scammed. 

Service Dog Registries

There is no official registry or database of any kind for service dogs or emotional support animals. Companies that offer ‘registration’ or ‘certification’ of service dogs without offering a psychiatric service dog letter (which has a prerequisite of a consultation with a health professional) aren’t providing any sort of legitimate documentation. 

Service Dog Certificates & ID Cards

A service dog certificate or diploma for a service dog is another unnecessary document that unfortunately doesn’t hold any weight in protecting your rights to a service animal for housing, travel, or employment accommodations. Identification cards are another item that companies sometimes promote to give the illusion of legitimate service dog certification but legally do not prove authenticity. 

Service Dog Vests

Items like service dog vests, harnesses, or tags make for great visuals but aren’t required and don’t provide any legal legitimacy for a service dog. Companies that focus on the promotion of these items and not on providing services that lead to a legal, legitimate psychiatric service dog letter may be great places to get accessories, but won’t be beneficial in protecting your rights to a service dog.

A woman hugging her golden lab on a hike in the woods.

Do I Need Proof that my Dog is a Service Dog?

In most situations, you aren’t required to prove that your dog is a service dog. It can be hugely helpful to you, however, to have documentation like a psychiatric service dog letter. A PSD letter comes in handy in several situations, including being exempt from housing restrictions or fees, being able to travel with your service dog, and requesting reasonable accommodations for employment. 

What if Someone Asks for Proof of a Service Dog?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), business owners and their employees may ask if an animal is a service dog and what tasks they’re trained to perform, but they are not allowed to request proof of a service dog. No one is allowed to ask about the nature of your disability or for any proof of its existence. 

Who Can Get a Service Dog?

Any person with a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is eligible for a service dog or assistance animal. Service animals like psychiatric service dogs exist to support individuals with disabilities to enjoy a better quality of life. Their job is to do work or perform tasks that can help relieve or assist in challenges associated with a person’s disability. 

Types of Service Dogs

Different types of service dogs support different types of disabilities. The type of service dog that’s best suited for you depends on your disability and your specific needs.

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs are one type of service dog that specifically supports people with blindness or other vision impairments. They’re trained to help their handlers navigate obstacles and proceed safely while taking directional cues from both their human and their environment. 

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are canine companions trained to perform one or more tasks specific to supporting a person with a cognitive disability or mental health condition. 

Psychiatric service dog tasks can include doing things for their handler, like retrieving items or providing support in the form of deep pressure therapy. PSDs can also perform guide tasks like preventing their handler from entering a dangerous situation, or getting them out of one if they become triggered or overwhelmed. 

Mobility Assistance Dogs

Another type of service dog unique to the tasks they perform is a mobility assistance dog. These trained canines provide support and assistance to handlers who have mobility challenges related to their disability. They can assist people in wheelchairs or with injuries, for example, who need support with things like balance, strength, and navigating obstacles. 

Meet the author:
April Brightman

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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