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Do Emotional Support Dogs Have Same Rights As Service Dogs?

Do you think unscrupulous, able-bodied pet owners are finding yet another way to scam the system? In an effort to take their dogs with them everywhere, dog owners appear to be pretending their dogs are certified service dogs. Is the rise of fake service dogs causing harassment for true service dogs and their disabled companions.  Let's find out the facts!

Service Dog Requirements

For your dog to be a true ADA service dog, you and the dog must meet three requirements as per federal service dog laws:

1. You must have a legally recognized disability.
2. The dog must be trained to perform a task specifically related to that disability that you can not do for yourself.
3. The dog must have public access training and be well behaved to a degree above and beyond most dogs.

According to the ADA Requirements, service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties”.

Emotional Support Dog

An Emotional Support Animal is a dog or other common domestic animal that provides therapeutic support to a disabled owner through companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, affection, and a focus in life.  If you have a qualifying health condition, you can get a doctor's letter stating that you need an emotional-support animal.  However, federal law only allows your Emotional Service Animal (ESA) access to housing and air travel. You can't take an ESA to restaurants, stores, etc. as you would a service dog.

Fake Service Dog

Putting a "working dog" vest on an untrained dog and calling him a certified emotional service dog is unethical.  Under the ADA, "dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals".  Unfortunately, making you feel less depressed or emotionally supported is not a trained task; therefore, your dog would not be considered a service dog.

However, if your dog is trained to alert you to an anxiety attack from PTSD, then he could meet the requirements of an ADA service dog. If you just want your dog to comfort you when you are feeling down, the use of dog stairs at home can allow your dog the freedom to snuggle with you on the couch while lifting your spirits.

Therapy Dog Training

What’s the problem with sneaking your pooch in under the guise of a trained therapy dog? He’s cute, he’s a great pet, and is usually well-mannered, right? Under most situations, you are probably correct. However, a truly trained service dog has extensive preparation under strict therapy dog requirements; not only for their specific duty but also for the variety of situations they might encounter.

If your dog would have any reaction to unknown people approaching, kid’s squealing, merchandise possibly falling down, or any abundance of unforeseen situations, you are putting your dog into situations that may make real service dogs look bad.

Business Requirements for Disability Law

One challenge for businesses is their limited ability to determine a truly trained service dog. Businesses are only allowed to ask two questions to someone entering their establishment with a dog:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, a special service dog card, or the training documentation for the dog.

Unfortunately, when you falsely answer “Yes” to both of those questions and then your fake service dog acts in a negative manner, businesses begin to become suspicious of the true nature of the service dog team. This creates a domino effect that affects the next person that accurately answers “Yes” to both questions because they have a dog with a true service dog certification.

How to Make your Dog a Service Dog

 Trained Service Dog

If you have a legally recognized disability and want your dog to meet the requirements according to the ADA, all is not lost. There are many steps for dogs to become legitimate service animals but it is possible.  It is best to hire a professional trainer unless you have experience with advanced dog training.  Remember, true service dogs are not pets; they are trained to be on the job 24/7 unless told otherwise. They must be trained for all situations including riding in cars and buses, going up escalators and stairs, and waiting undistracted in busy walkways.

There is no question that service dogs are a great tool for many; by following the proper training protocols, you can ensure your service dog is ready for his new job. If you just want your dog to comfort you when feeling a bit depressed, make sure you have a set of pet stairs at home or in your vehicle so they can safely be there for you in your time of need.

Tell us what you think.  Should Emotional Support Animals have the same rights as trained Service Dogs?


Don't miss these beautiful dog photos!  "Hard-Working Dogs Honored by Photographer, Andrew Fladeboe".


Photo Credits:  Gary Hershorn/Reuters, Hawaii Fido, Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

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Comments 1

  • Jody

    I know many people who claim that their dog is a therapy/service dog when they have absolutely no training and usually out of control. I think this is so wrong in so many ways. I understand the laws where you cannot ask what their disability is, but you should have to provide the ID card of the organization you are registered with, with a picture of you and your dog.