What do you do when you see someone with an Assistance dog?

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Do You Know What to Do When You See Someone With an Assistance Dog AKA Service Dog?

Jasper an assistance dog getting ready to go grocery shopping.

More and more people are seeing Service Dogs or assistance dogs/animals while out doing their daily routine. However, more often than not, people do not seem to know what to do when they see a disabled person with their assistance dog partner

  • be courteous with handler and dog just as you would with anyone else.
  • We do not want more access or privleges than you have, just equal access!


The disabled handler is accorded the right to take a service animal into places of public accomodation, just because the dog is a service animal does NOT mean that whomever is handling him can bring him into places of public accomodation!
Jake in harness laying down out of the way at a doctors appointment

  • An assistance dog/animal DOES NOT NEED to wear any kind of identifying collar, leash, harness, cape, or any other type of identification items.
  • A team DOES NOT NEED to provide a business owner with any kind of Proof that the dog is an assistance animal in the form of any paperwork, badge, ID, etc.
  • In fact it is illegal for a business to require such identification as a condition of access!

Some of us do use a cape, harness, patch or use other such items to help the public identify our animal as an assistance animal, but this is a personal choice and done as a courtesy to business and the public in general. Again, this is not required and a business can not refuse access to a service animal because the handler does not have “proper identification” as the ADA does not make these requirements on the disabled person.
A service dog/animal is described as any animal that is individually trained to assist the person with a disability. Some disabilities are classified as “invisible” this means that to the usual person they may not recognise the disabled person as disabled. This does not mean that they are not disabled, just that you can not see the disability. These disabled people are also allowed to use a service dog/animal as long as they meet the qualifications for disability as listed in the ADA and Individual State Disability regulations. The dog does not have access in and of himself, the disabled person does. A service dog with a non-disabled handler that is not a trainer is just a pet. With the disabled handler the dog becomes a Service Dog or a Service Dog In Training, the handler is accorded the rights, not the dog!
A reptile is not a service animal as it can not be individually trained to perform tasks of assistance to the disabled person. What is NOT an assistance animal? Reptiles are not assistance animals as they can not be reliably and individually trained to assist anyone. Ferrets and rodents are not assistance animals for the same reason. Some birds can be trained to assist a disabled person, but this is not common. Cats can be trained to be an assistance animal but more often than not, they are actually Emotional Support Animals and as such are not offered the protections of the ADA as assistance animals. The key word or phrase here is that the “Animal Must be Individually Trained to be of Assistance to the Disabled Person.
Some groups do train miniature horses to be guide animals for the blind, so you could potentially run into a horse guide team. Somewhere here in California someone with animal control did give a service animal ID tag to a rat, but I would love to know what that animal really did to assist his disabled person that he could not do for himself, which is the criteria for an assistance animal to be legitimate. There are those that claim that their pet snake, ferret, pot belly pig and other animals are assistance animals that are protected under the ADA but again the criteria is that the animal MUST BE INDIVIDUALLY TRAINED TO DO SOMETHING THAT THE DISABLED PERSON CAN NOT DO FOR THEMSELVES! I SERIOUSLY DOUBT THAT ANY OF THOSE ANIMALS CAN MEET THAT CRITERIA! 

Jasper and I at the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Jasper is retired now and still living with me.
Jasper was my mobility dog, his job was to keep me from loosing my balance and falling down, among other tasks. Service dogs/assistance dogs must meet a set criteria for public access in that they must be calm, stable and under the handlers control at all times. They must not be aggressive to other dogs or people and must not disrupt a businesses normal routine. The dog/animal must be individually trained to do a task that is of assistance to the disabled person such as picking up dropped items, detecting or responding to a medical condition, carrying objects, opening doors, providing mobility assistance, helping to put on or remove clothing and many other tasks. No one task is required of all service dogs, the criteria states that they must be individually trained to provide assistance to the disabled person. I am mobility impaired so my dog provides balance and support while I am out and about. I can not stand for any period of time without experiencing excruciating pain so his job is to brace or lean against my legs to help prevent spasm.
Jasper giving me my cane after I dropped it. (Jasper is my retired dog.) Yes some of us keep our retired dogs, they have worked hard for us and deserve the good life! Unfortunatly for those with program trained dogs, those handlers may be required to give up their retired animals in order to recieve their next assistance dog. This simply is not fair for the team, and I will never understand why. This is why I will train my own assistance dog for as long as I am physically able… Let them pry that leash out of my cold dead hands!

Businesses what do you do when someone comes in with an assistance dog/animal service dog? First you can ask 3 questions.

  • 1. Are you disabled?
  • 2. Is that your Service Dog?
  • 3. What task does he perform for you?

The disabled person does not have to tell you what their medical diagnosis is and, you can not deny access if you don’t like the task they tell you the dog does. As long as the dog is quiet and displays appropriate manners (ie, doesn’t defecate or void in your business, does not display agression, etc.)you can not deny access to the disabled person and the assistance animal. Your staff are not responsible in any way for the care of the animal. The handler is responsible for anything the animal may do. You can ask them to leave only if the dog/animal is disruptive or aggressive. The mere presence of the assistance dog/animal is not a qualification for being disruptive! The assistance animal is to be considered medical equipment, you would not deny someone from entering your business with a cane, therefore you can not deny them if they are using an assistance animal.
Jake lying down waiting for his next command Public access. What do you do when you encounter someone with an assistance dog/animal? Nothing, treat them just as you would anyone else you run into during your day. The assistance animal is there to be of aid to the disabled person, you wouldn’t try to talk to their wheel chair so you shouldn’t try to talk to the assistance animal.

We try to keep our assistance animals out of the way and as inconspicuous as possible. Here Jake is under my chair at the doctors awaiting my appointment time If you have small children, please… tell them not to touch the assistance animal/dog. It is doubtful that the animal would harm your child, but the disabled person depends on their assistance animal and if the animal is distracted it can not do it’s job which could cause harm to the disabled partner.
An assistance dog may pick up and carry objects for their disabled partner. Here Jasper is picking up a UPS delivery for me. Do NOT scream, point or otherwise try to draw attention to yourself and the assistance dog/animal! We just want to go about our day and get things done just like you do, and no body likes to get that kind of attention! Our dogs do not do “tricks” for your amusement, please do not ask to see what or dog does for us! I would never ask you how you pick up around YOUR yard!

Jake as a puppy getting ready for a training outing. Some states have SDIT laws which allow a “Service Dog In Training” to have the same access for training purposes as a real Service dog has. Do NOT try to touch or pet the assistance animal! How would you like it if I came up to you and started petting your arm? Our service animals are our arms, legs, eyes, hands, etc. They are an extension of ourselves to assist us to do something that we find difficult, painful or impossible to do on our own. An assistance dog is NOT a pet, technically they are classified as durable medical equipment. Of course don’t tell the dog that … LOL. He is happy to do his job and his partner would be lost without him!
If you have children please tell them not to call the assistance animal or try to touch him. It is doubtful that any assistance animal will ever be aggressive to a child, but our dogs are dedicated to their task of helping their disabled partner and the distraction may be severe enough that the disabled person could fall or otherwise be injured, depending on the tasks the assistance animal does for the handler. Please do Explain to your child that the assistance dog is a special dog and his working right now to help his partner and that he shouldn’t be distracted from his job.
Our assistance dogs still get time to be dogs and play. Here Jake is at the beach, he LOVES water to the point of distraction but will still work when I need him. Do not call, give commands to, whistle at, make noises at or attempt to distract the assistance dog/animal in any way as this could cause injury to the disabled partner and makes it difficult for the dog to work properly if he is always looking for a person to play with. We understand our dogs are not automatons and are living, thinking beings. Do not feel sorry for our dogs… They do get time off to be a dog. Even though they may be “off duty” they are always ready to assist their disabled handler. Dogs love Jobs. Your dog has to be left home alone for hours at a time, do not feel sorry for our dogs for having to work. They get to be with us 24/7, this is just where any well loved dog WANT’S to be!

DO offer assistance with opening doors, placing groceries onto counter, reaching high items from upper shelves, etc., just as you would for anyone you see who may be having a difficult time getting those things. Do not be surprised if they refuse assistance. Our assistance dogs allow us to remain as independent as possible and we hate to give up that feeling of independence, just like you do.

  • Offer to help a disabled person with a service dog just as you would offer to help anyone else you see that are in need of assistance, do not be surprised however if they refuse help.
  • Do NOT attempt in any way to distract the service dog/animal from their duties.
  • Do not interfere with a service dog or otherwise hinder his disabled partner. By doing so you are committing a crime and can be sued or punished by law.
  • Do not refuse to allow a disabled person access to normal goods and services because they use a Service dog/animal. Under the ADA regulations a person with a specially trained service animal has the same access rights as anyone else does. By refusing to allow a team into your business or establishment you are setting yourself up to be sued for monetary damages or charged with a crime under state or federal law!
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