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Being prepared to answer questions about Service Dogs in public

Man in wheelchair with Service Dog

It was just a quick errand and you thought nothing of heeling your Service Dog in Training (SDiT) into the store. Her behavior is always excellent, she responds beautifully to your verbal commands — and you were just grabbing a couple of things. But when the manager approaches, your palms began to sweat. Even though you know that your state allows SDiTs and you’re doing everything correctly, answering questions about Service Dogs in public isn’t your favorite thing in the world.

You smile graciously, informing the manager that this is your Service Dog in Training, and SDiTs are allowed public access for training purposes under  your state’s law. He apologizes for bothering you, shakes your hand and goes on his way.

You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing it could have gone very, very differently. Unfortunately, not all business owners or employees are fluent with the law as it pertains to Service Dogs  While it can be uncomfortable at times, you have to be prepared to be an advocate for yourself and your Service Dog on some level. When working your Service Dog or SDiT in public, be certain to keep the following points in mind, especially if your Service Dog works “naked,” without any gear.

Service Dog Status
Service Dogs in Training are not Service Dogs. While Service Dogs are protected by federal law and may accompany their disabled handlers anywhere the general public is allowed to be, Service Dogs in Training are not. It is up to each individual state to determine whether or not Service Dogs in Training are afforded the same public access rights as Service Dogs. Always be honest concerning the status of your partner, and never fudge the facts. Know the laws in your state as well as any areas you frequently travel, particularly if your partner is in training. Consider keeping a copy of the laws or the ADA Business Brief: Service Animals in your Service Dog’s vest.

Assistance Dogs International offers a valuable resource (ADI Guide to Assistance Dog Laws) for Service Dog handlers, organizations and trainers that outlines important service/working dog laws for each state, including whether or not Service Dogs in Training have public access.

Service Dog Gear
Federal law does not require a Service Dog to wear gear of any kind. Your Service Dog does not have to wear a vest, harness, tag, ID card, collar or any other working equipment identifying your partner as a Service Dog or Service Dog in Training. This is because anyone who uses a Service Dog is disabled — a fact some disabled handlers choose to be discreet about.

However, the simple fact remains that the public is conditioned to recognize Service Dogs and Service Dogs in Training only when they’re vested or wearing identification. Teams without gear should expect more resistance than teams who work while fully dressed. If your Service Dog performs a job that requires minimal gear for Service Dog or handler safety/comfort, such as frequent movements around sensitive medical equipment, fully-body deep pressure stimulation or simple sensory interruption utilizing grooming or touch, then consider working your partner in a bandana or leash that identifies him or her as a service dog.

Service Dog Access Questions
When you work a Service Dog in public, you pretty quickly get used to questions like, “What’s your dog for?” and “Why do you have a dog?” Most Service Dog handlers know that according to federal law, businesses may only ask two questions:

  1. Is that a Service Dog?
  2. What tasks or work does your dog perform for you?

You’re not required to disclose information on your disability, the exact function your partner serves for you or any other information concerning your Service Dog. However, if a business asks you, in any way, shape, form or fashion, “Is that a Service Dog,” be prepared to politely answer. If your dog isn’t wearing any gear at the moment and you’re informed that there’s a “No Pets” policy, diplomatically let the access challenger know that federal law allows your partner to work “naked” and that this four-legged critter is your Service Dog and she is working for you.

Always be Polite Be certain not to respond defensively or belligerently — it rarely works out to your advantage because it only encourages the questioner to respond in a similar fashion. Before working your partner in public, be sure you’re familiar with the types of questions people may ask, particularly business owners, and consider practicing your responses so you’re comfortable and confident with your answers.

Service Dog Behavior
Service Dogs are held to the upmost standards of behavior. It should be readily apparent to anyone watching that your partner has undergone hundreds of hours of specialized training. While many individuals hold the belief that their Service Dog can accompany them in any place of business, sadly, that’s not quite so.

If your Service Dog’s behavior infringes on any part of anyone else’s experience, then a business can ask you and your partner to leave. Examples of behavior for which a business may ask your Service Dog to leave include barking, marking, smelling badly, vomiting, rambunctious behavior, jumping, sniffing other customers or products or being generally out of control. Before embarking on work in public with your Service Dog in Training, be certain he or she is ready. Remember, you may be the first Service Dog team someone meets. It’s up to you to leave them with an excellent impression.



  • Julie June 25, 2013

    join Citizens for Pets in CONDOS to sign the petition to allow EMOTIONAL to be considered as a disability. Many handlers need EMOTIONAL service dogs & no training is needed. thx

    • Service Dog June 25, 2013

      Please read “HUD updates housing guidelines for landlords, Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs” at:

    • Laury Hohner July 3, 2013

      Sorry to disappoint you Julie but an ESA dog (Emotional Support Animal) is NOT a service dog. It is not protected by the ADA. The definition of a service dog is any dog that is trained to do tasks for its handler that the handler can not do for him/her self. The tasks must be directly related to the handler’s disability. The dog must also be clean, odor free, it must “potty” on command and be the handler must have complete control of the dog at all times. While ESA dogs are very important and have their place, they are NOT service dogs, they can not go everywhere with their owner. They are pets and have no privileges except they do not have to pay a pet fee in an apartment.

      • Service Dog July 3, 2013

        Well said, Laury! Julie also contacted us through email and we’ve cleared everything up for her, but that’s well worth repeating here.

        • Colleen marks March 5, 2016

          So, whoever asks about your dog, legally they may ask only 2 questions in accordance with the law.

      • Taxandria March 29, 2015

        I have never heard of an animal being able to urinate or defecate on command. Can you really literally train a dog to release his bowels or bladder at a command?

        You really laid it on, kind of like the way I tell people that Aspberger’s isn’t a real disorder since the DSV-V nixed it and put every type of autism under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder. “Sorry to disappoint you, but you’re NOT an Aspie…”

        • Taxandria March 29, 2015

          Bah, the DSM-V. Typo.

        • Blaire April 13, 2015

          Yes you can. Although not all dogs will go every time it still tells them to go now or wait till later. My SD and I use the command “hurry” to tell them they will have to go release themselves or not.

        • Mlee April 29, 2016

          My SD does and has never had issues. A well trained SD learn and know. The ad will also give sign they have to go.

  • Pat Hairston June 25, 2013

    Good article. Under service dog gear, be clear that most state laws do have a requirement for service dogs in training to be identified. Also, check sate laws for this information.

  • Monica October 13, 2013

    I from back in the day when the law was new and we had a hard time everywhere getting access. So I have always vested puppies in training and my first dog wore a vest. My second and now my third dog wore and wear a Stabilizer Mobility harness. I had a picture ID made and included my USSDR number, and I made a harness handle sleeve that identify my dog as a service dog and the back side has a patch that says Balance Assist Dog. I just feel that it helps if bus drivers and business owners have a question. My dog does retrievals even if it is a dropped fork/spoon ect. So that might be a concern to a restaurant owner. So for me just better to head off problems.

  • Anne Mills January 4, 2015

    When does an “in training” dog become a service dog? My dog is able to perform the tasks I need due to my disability, but is still learning other citizenship requirements. He loves people and has a hard time ignoring them when they engage him. He becomes excited and rubs his head on them, unless I can stop the person and the dog in time. He also loves the smells he comes across. I am constantly giving the command “leave it!”, which he obeys, but then needs to hear again at the next great smell or person who wants to interact. We take him to the grocery store constantly in an effort to teach him to ignore the smells, but he still needs training in that area. On the other hand, he is great in restauants, airports, airplanes, bathrooms, doggie potty places, library, etc. It doesn’t seem appropriate to label him “in training”, when he does perform the medical service I need.

  • songs4silence January 19, 2015

    If you are going to write a blog about service dogs would you also please includes references to the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners ( The ADI is not the only word on service dogs in town and some of their published ethics and standards are conflicting and in direct violation of the ADA.

  • Izzy February 12, 2015

    How do you answer “what service your dog performs” to nosey people asking out of curiosity? I don’t want to tell everyone and their neighbor about my medical conditions. No one asks why a person in a wheel chair is in a wheel chair.

    • Anything Pawsable Staff February 12, 2015

      Hi Izzy, actually people ask why people are in wheelchairs all the time. Individuals who have bouts of pain and only use a wheelchair part time are often confronted about their disability. How you answer this question depends on the specific tasks your dog performs.

    • Nic March 1, 2015

      if it’s the mgr of a biz, i whisper 2 them that dog is a seizure alert animal… they usually respect the privacy… if it’s a Nosy Posy.. I advise them it’s against the law 4 them 2 ask details, but suffice 2 say.. i am disabled & require the dogs assistance.

      • Anne Mills June 5, 2015

        That happened to me today. I was in a restaurant that I had been in many times with my dog, usually wearing a jacket. Today he wasn’t. The owner’s husband harassed me for awhile wanting a certification card, etc. When he asked, I simply said “He is a mobility dog.” For others, it isn’t necessary to go into what is wrong with you that you need a dog, just what the dog does. “He is an alert dog” should suffice for seizure dogs and a great many other medical problems, including deafness. Once you say what the dog does, that usually quiets nosy-posy, because they don’t usually want to ask what that means. If they go farther, for me, I say mobility dogs help people who have various medical problems get around. Same for alert dogs. They alert people who have various medical problems. Once they see you aren’t going to go into it, they usually give up. Then I talk about how great my dog is!

  • hailey January 9, 2017

    I have four dogs but my city only allows three I was wondering since one of them is a service dog is it still illegal


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