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5 Vital Public Access Skills Every Service Dog Should Know

One of the most commonly asked questions is, “when is my Service Dog in Training ready for public access?” While that’s a question only you or your dog’s trainer can answer, here are 5 vital public access skills every Service Dog or Service Dog in Training needs to know before beginning work in public.

Public Access Skills: Down-Stay
A rock-solid down-stay is the mainstay of many Service Dogs’ work in public. While there may be brief interludes of task work, many Service Dogs are expected to quietly chill near their handler, under a desk or on a bed until they’re expressly needed. A Service Dog needs the ability to quietly relax in any environment without being intrusive, and a down-stay is usually the default method for most handlers and trainers. Service Dogs aren’t robots, and some shifting is to be expected, especially if your Service Dog or SDiT is place trained to a mat or bed. That being said, most Service Dogs need to be able to quietly rest for 2 or more hours at a time, which is the length of an average movie, college class or time spent working without a break.

public access skills under

“Under” and “Down Stay” often blends to the point of being indistinguishable.

Down stay training begins early, with reinforcement for calm, quiet behavior. Formal “stays” can be taught via many methods, but many people have success with gradually lengthening and rewarding the amount of time their dog spends in one place.

Public Access Skills: Under
“Under” is a behavior that consists of your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training moving fully under a table, bench or chair on cue, with his/her body full tucked beneath the object or your legs as much as if feasibly possible, size depending. The purpose of this public access skill is to prevent your Service Dog from being an obstruction, to facilitate or ease travel (such as on a bus, plane or train) and to help your canine assistant be unobtrusive while in public. One of the biggest compliments a Service Dog handler or trainer can receive is, “I didn’t even know a dog was there!”

To begin teaching “under,” it’s helpful to utilize a low table, like a coffee or end table. Lure your Service Dog in Training or Service Dog candidate under the table, from one side to the other, and tell them to down. “Down” should be built into your partner’s under, and your partner should remain “under” until she’s released, just like a stay.

Public Access Skills: Leave It
“Leave it” means “disregard entirely and do not engage in any way, shape, form or fashion.” It’s vital not only for your partner’s safety, but also for basic public access manners. “Leave it” can be used to discourage inappropriate sniffing, being overly social with another person or dog, picking up food off the floor, or engaging with distractions. It’s important that “leave it” be properly practiced and reinforced with a plethora of distractions before trying to use the command in new places, as dogs don’t generalize behaviors or concepts well.

There are many methods of teaching leave it, but one way to begin involves offering your dog praise and a treat for redirecting from a distraction to you. When you notice your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training starting to automatically offer eye contact when faced with a distraction, you can add a verbal cue.

Public Access Skills: Heeling or Loose Leash Walking
Regardless of what you call it, the ability for your Service Dog in Training or Service Dog to be in public without dragging you, straining at the leash, coughing, choking, trying to get to distractions, etc is vital. No dog is perfect, and like any skill, loose leash walking is perfected via practice. This part of the public access skills actually involves many pieces: ignoring distractions, being focused on the handler, impulse control, being responsive to direction changes, etc. Service Dogs need to be able to walk for several minutes at a time, focused on their handler or trainer, able to ignore distractions, before starting work in public.

public access skills focus

Introduce public access skills in small doses, and always reinforce handler focus!

Note: that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. That means they have the basic skills necessary to redirect to the handler in the face of distraction, even if it requires verbal cueing, luring with a treat, an assistive training device or other method of securing your partner’s attention and focus, like backing away from the distraction until your partner is again able to focus on you and move with you. The point of this public access skill is that you shouldn’t have to fight your partner for attention. Before working in public, you and your SDiT/Service Dog need to have already figured out how to proof distractions, redirect focus and reward sustained focus.

With time, this focus exercise turns into effortless loose leash walking, but everyone starts somewhere. 🙂

Public Access Skills: House Training
This public access skill is non-negotiable. Your Service Dog must be house trained, and your Service Dog in Training, if young, must be housebroken to a schedule with regular opportunities to go outside so good habits are built. Your partner needs to be accident free and offer a clear indication that you, the handler or trainer, can read, when they need to go outside.

House training is one of the few directly stated points in federal Service Dog law that can allow a business to remove your Service Dog from the premises, so make sure your partner is ready for an outing before beginning it.

Public Access Skills: Final Considerations
Many people will ask, “How can I prepare my dog for public access without working them in public?” What’s important to realize is that your partner needs basic obedience skills before working in public, so that you guys can focus on the public-specific behaviors, manners and training without worrying about basic manners and skills. The skills above (heeling, down stays, etc) form the foundation of public access training, and they can be practiced at home and polished so that when you get in public, you already have the competence and confidence to not have to worry about fighting over food, basic distractions or stays.

Do they need to be perfect? No. Even very young puppies can go on short, 10-15 minute outings where they work one age-specific exercises, like, remaining sitting with the handler when someone walks by. It’s all about proper foundation and reinforcing, but it’s best to figure out the basics out of the public eye.



  • Judy Wilbur June 6, 2015

    I am so glad to have found this sight. My Daughter has a emotional support dog, with his help she has been getting out in the world, and making new connections. She is volunteering with the SPCA Summer Camp for Kids Program. While talking with the woman that runs it she mentioned it would be good to teach the children about the dos and don’ts of meeting a service or working dog. I would like to create a flip book for her to follow as she explains to the kids, about service dogs.
    If you have any printable material (i.e. signs of service dog tags, list of dos & dont’s, info on how to support service dog training, charts of different types of service dogs) I could use I would very grateful. Thank You, Judy Wilbur

    • Anything Pawsable Staff June 6, 2015

      Hi Judy! We’re glad to have you here too! Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are an important type of working dog, but they are not the same as Service Dogs.

      ESAs help individuals by comforting them with their presence but are not required to perform work or tasks related to a disability. ESAs have their own rights, separate from Service Dogs. Under FAA guidelines, Emotional Support Animals may travel in cabin with a passenger if you give 48 hours advance notice and carry a letter from your doctor, and are also allowed in housing under the FHA. Of course, ESAs do not have public access rights and therefore do not need to wear vests or any identifying gear.

      ADA REG § 35.104 Definitions. “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability . . . The effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”

      The difference between an ESA and a Service Dog is the high level of training and tasks — not your disability. Being disabled isn’t enough, many disabled people have pets. It’s the level of training and specific tasks a dog is trained to perform that mitigate a disability that make a dog a Service Dog.

      For those with anxiety, being paired with a Service or Emotional Support Dog can make things worse. People with who are partnered with Service Dogs often face questions and skepticism, especially those with invisible disabilities. Before you begin to explore partnering with a Service Dog, you should know that they do not always make life easier, and you should fully consider it. Please read:

      You can learn about different types of working dogs here:

  • songs4silence July 14, 2015

    Heeling, down, under, stay (I have that as a built in command until released), wait, leave it – all so important, just for general saftey, for them mostly. House training is kinda – like, mandatory. LOL

  • Terry July 30, 2015

    I have a ESA one year old Great Pyrenees that has learned to open gates, kitchen cabinets, I have migraines that causes me to be unstable when I stand or walk, he is always right beside me. When I get down to look at something on the lower shelves at the stores I’m not able to get up I use him to help me to my feet. I would like to get him fully trained if possible but can’t find anyone in the area where I live to help me. We have been to all the puppy classes some twice just to make sure I have the rules right and by different teachers. I have had back surgery and have arthritis.

    • Anything Pawsable Staff August 4, 2015

      Hi Terry! First, it’s excellent that you understand the differences between ESAs and Service Dogs! Training a Service Dog can be a valuable and rewarding experience, but you should know that it is not easy and requires at least 120 hours of hard work. Not all dogs are cut out for this type of work and many washout, so you should be emotionally prepared should your dog not work out. Under the law it is permissible for individuals to train their own Service Dog, however, we recommend you still work with a private trainer or get a dog from an organization that provides fully trained service dogs if you don’t have experience training animals

      Never, ever put a vest on a dog or claim it as a Service Dog in Training that is still displaying any inappropriate behavior issues. There are plenty of opportunities to socialize a dog in public at pet stores which allow animals, public parks and other areas which allow dogs. You may register once formal training has begun. Please be aware that not all areas extend Service Dog public access benefits to cover Service Dogs in Training (SDITs). Should your SD candidate not work out for some reason, please let us know so we can remove him or her for you.

      Having a disability isn’t enough — your dog must be trained in specific tasks (our guidelines state you must have at least two tasks) that you would otherwise have difficulty completing on your own.

      Before you begin to explore partnering with a Service Dog, you should know that they do not always make life easier, and you should fully consider it. Please read:

      If you don’t already have a list of specific trained tasks, the first thing you should do is sit down and write out a list of specific things you would like your dog to perform. Tasks or work should be things that are physically necessary. Under the law, people are allowed to ask you what specific physical tasks your dog performs and you should be prepared to explain. Providing comfort or emotional support are not qualifying tasks.

      Please read the following article:

      Please read:

      How will you know when your dog is ready to graduate from an “in training” status to the status of a full fledged assistance dog with whom you are entitled to have public access rights?

      An excellent tool for evaluating a team’s readiness to graduate [e.g. finish up formal training] is the Public Access Certification Test (PACT) which can be found on the website of Assistance Dogs International at The ADI Public Access Certification Test was developed over 15 years ago as a consumer protection measure by the ADI Team Testing Committee, which included input from both providers and IAADP Partner members. Overall, the goal of the test is to discover whether or not a particular team is ready to go places out in public without trainer supervision. The safety of the dog, the handler and the public were the main considerations in developing the specific exercises for testing the team.

      This test creates a level playing field, since it does not matter whether it is a guide, hearing or service dog team being tested or who trained the dog. What matters is the team’s performance. Every ADI program is required to administer this test before graduating and credentialing a team.

      Disability mitigating tasks or work are not critiqued during the test. However, to establish a dog’s eligibility to take this test to become an assistance dog, ADI programs would ask for a demo in advance of at least three service dog tasks, three hearing dog sound alerts or a series of tasks known as “guide dog work.” To document the dog performs tasks in the home such as seizure response work, alerting to an attack of hypoglycemia late at night or fetching a portable phone or beverage, a program may ask the client to submit a video tape of the task(s).

      The Public Access Test evaluates the dog’s obedience and manners and the handler’s skills in a variety of situations which include:

      A. The handler’s abilities to: ( 1 ) safely load and unload the dog from a vehicle; ( 2 ) enter a public place without losing control of the dog; ( 3 ) to recover the leash if accidently dropped, and ( 4 ) to cope calmly with an access problem if an employee or customer questions the individual’s right to bring a dog into that establishment.

      B. The dog’s ability to: ( 1 ) safely cross a parking lot, halt for traffic, and ignore distractions; ( 2 ) heel through narrow aisles; ( 3 ) hold a Sit-Stay when a shopping cart passes by or when a person stops to chat and pets the dog; (4 ) hold a Down Stay when a child approaches and briefly pets the dog; ( 5 ) hold a Sit Stay when someone drops food on the floor; hold a Down Stay when someone sets a plate of food on the floor within 18″ of the dog, then removes it a minute later. [the handler may say “Leave It” to help the dog resist the temptation.] ( 6 ) remain calm if someone else holds the leash while the handler moves 20 ft. away; ( 7 ) remain calm while another dog passes within 6 ft. of the team during the test. This can occur in a parking lot or store. Alternatively, you could arrange for a neighbor with a pet dog to stroll past your residence while you load your dog into a vehicle at the beginning of the test.

      *** It is highly recommended the test be video taped to document the team passed it.

      IAADP agrees with ADI’s ethical position that the amount of training given to an assistance dog should NEVER fall below the minimum level needed to pass this Public Access Test.

      NOTE: Passing the Public Access Test does not mean the organization, ADI, officially “certifies” your dog, since ADI does not certify any dogs and neither does IAADP. It is up to the program or trainer giving the test to provide the desired credentialing. Most furnish a laminated photo ID Card signed and dated by the provider, certifying this dog [insert name] has been trained for the disabled client [insert name] as a Service Dog for the Disabled. [or as a guide or hearing dog] On the rear side, there is a helpful statement about the state or federal law granting access rights to disabled handlers and at the top, a reference to the state law, citing its numbers, and/ or the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

      CERTIFICATION is not required in the USA. Many states lack programs willing to certify dogs that did not go through that program’s training course. The DOJ decided to foster “an honor system,” by making the tasks the dog is trained to perform on command or cue to assist a disabled person, rather than certification ID from specific programs, the primary way to differentiate between a service animal and a pet. It opened the door for people to train their own assistance dog, usually with the help of an experienced trainer, if a program dog is unavailable.

      Testers: If you are not enrolled in a program or taking lessons from a trainer willing to administer the Public Access Test and provide ID on successful completion of the test, it is worthwhile to find a trainer who would administer The Public Access Test. You could recruit a local trainer certified through The National Association of Obedience Dog Instructors ( or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. ( ) ,or an obedience class instructor, or a Canine Good Citizen test evaluator. Trainers usually will charge a fee for their time. You might ask a colleague, in a pinch, to video tape the test and score it, for scoring is self explanatory. Have the tester sign and date it, then keep the test with your training logs in case of an access dispute someday.

      Registering a dog does not make a dog a Service Dog. Registering with us is a formal way of stating that you understand what is involved with training and using a Service or Assistance Animal; how important your behavior, and that of your Service or Assistance Dog, is to the general public and other Service and Assistance Animal teams; the legal definition of a Service or Assistance Animal; the Minimum Training Standards for a Service or Assistance Animal and what is involved with a Public Access Test. For more information, see “What does Registration mean?” below.

      What does Registration mean?
      We’re an extra step that goes above and beyond the law. Under the law it is not required that Service and Assistance Dog teams show or have identification in the form of a vest, special harness, training certificate or registration. Nor is it required that animals are officially trained, certified or registered with any state, federal or independent organization.

      Simply registering with us does not qualify an animal or an individual as a Service Dog Team or provide any special rights, legal or otherwise. If someone found not to comply with our training or behavior standards we can remove or suspend their registration rendering any materials they have invalid.

      We hope to help reduce the number of people abusing the ADA by requiring our Registrants to understand that intentionally misrepresenting an animal as Service or Assistance Animal for any reason is not only unethical, it is also illegal.

  • October 26, 2015

    My Siberian Husky, Mia, would make a great PTSD service dog. What I’d like to do is to get her certified as a therapy dog so I could take her to the VA and Children’s hospitals and nursing homes to cheer people up. She loves people, and especially radiates towards sick people, people in wheelchairs etc. as if she knows they need some happiness. She is a rescue and has worked out really well for me. She has good habits but of course, her nature is to pull and she would not make a good seeing eye dog. I would like to train and certify her just so I could take her with me as a volunteer to the VA etc. I would keep her with me on a leash for visits. She is smart and knows commands. What do I need to do to get her authorized so she can assist? She is amazing and brings happiness wherever she goes. Please email me. Thank you.

    • Anything Pawsable Staff October 26, 2015

      Thank you for your question! Please do not confuse Therapy Dogs with Service Dogs. They are two completely different types of working dogs (and there is much debate over whether it is proper to cross train for both types of work.) For more information about Therapy Dogs, please visit

  • PINGBACK: Just a Spoonful of Treats Makes the Puppy Go Down (How To: Down) | Kelsie Iris: Service Dog September 3, 2016


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