Dogs & Laws

The Four-Legged Scandal No One Is Talking About

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Stacie Kitchner’s 4-year old, loyal, obedient, well-behaved Golden Retriever, Sam, goes everywhere she goes. In the mornings, Stacie sometimes outfits Sam with a vest or bandana, sometimes not. They dine at restaurants together, go to the bank, shop at the mall. When they travel, 67-pound Sam rides on-board with Stacie, not in the cargo hold with the other dogs his size.

Forrest Brifton’s 5-year old loyal, obedient, well-behaved Golden Retriever, Chaco, goes everywhere he goes. Each morning, Chaco is outfitted with a vest. Large, white block letters spell out “Service Dog” along the side. Forrest carries a National Service Dog Registry identification card in his wallet along with an official letter from a doctor prescribing him a dog. Together, they dine at restaurants, go to the bank, visit the mall, and travel on-board airplanes.

Can you identify which of these two is a legally recognized, legitimate Service Dog Team and which is a fake? Read on to discover which one is taking advantage of the system.

Want to take your dog with you anywhere? Take them into hotels that don’t permit dogs? Take them into stores and malls that don’t allow them? It’s simple. And in most states, it’s legal too. And no one dares utter a word in protest.

In June 2014, a “service dog” pooped in the aisle forcing a US Airways plane to make an emergency landing so a Hazmat team could enter and clean the carpet.

A ‘Service Dog Team’ is used to describe a service dog, that has been trained to meet specific disability-related needs, and the handler/owner for which the dog has been trained to assist. Legitimate service dogs are trained for hundreds of hours and can perform a variety of specific tasks tailored to their handler, such as opening doors and picking up items, providing guidance to the visually impaired, to sniffing out allergens and alerting to oncoming seizures, or calming a person with stress or panic disorder and many, many more.

More specifically, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal 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.


Service dogs, because of the wide variety of services and assistance they provide, come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds. Yes, any dog, from a 2-pound Chihuahua to a 200-pound Newfoundland, as long as they are providing a necessary service to a disabled handler, can legitimately be service dogs. Likewise, the handlers who service dogs assist can include those with obvious physical limitations, like blindness or mobility impairments, or those with “invisible” disabilities, like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or mental illness, and many conditions in between.

Service dogs are not “pets.” They are as important to their handler’s day to day life, mobility, and ability to function as a wheelchair, crutches, or cane is to someone with a disability that warrants their use.

Additionally, the ADA protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places not normally considered dog-friendly.

State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.

There are, however, some requirements. Service dogs must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered unless such a device would interfere with the dog’s ability to perform his work, in which case the dog must be under full control of the handler through voice or hand signals.

Legitimate service dogs are well trained and a necessity to their handlers. They are trained to not be disruptive or cause a scene while in public. You will never see a service dog jumping up at people, barking or growling (unless alerting their handler to a problem), or even using the bathroom inappropriately.

Still, despite written laws the both define a service animal and explain the rights and requirements of service dog teams, the general public, including business owners and their staff, are largely unaware and misinformed.

Service dogs are NOT required to wear vests, collars, or bandanas that specifically identify them as a service animal, nor are the dogs or their handlers required to obtain certain licenses, identifications cards, or official certification. There is no central governing agency which either trains, certifies, or otherwise verifies the legitimacy of a service animal. There is no official training or obedience protocol that all service dogs must adhere to, simply that they cannot “cause a disturbance” while in public.

In fact, many legitimate, legal service dogs have been trained in the home setting, by their handler.

Although service dog vests, bandanas, or other forms of identification are not required, a vast majority of legitimate service dogs do wear them in a simple effort by their disabled handlers to avoid embarrassing, even disruptive or unsettling questions, to be left alone, or in hopes of peacefully going about their day without confrontation.

So, what’s to prevent a person, like Forrest Brifton, from fraudulently strapping a service dog vest onto his dog, Chaco, and walking through his local mall?

Truthfully, not much.

While the federal government has done an excellent job of putting easily enforceable laws into place that provide and protect the rights of disabled persons and their service dogs at a national level, little has been done to prevent the fraudulent misrepresentation of family pets as service dogs.

Ambiguity in the definition of a service animal, lack of a central governing and certifying organization, and fear of both public backlash and costly litigation by business owners have created loopholes in the system that are big enough to drive a truck through – and people by the tens of thousands are taking advantage.

Because Of Online Service Animal &Quot;Certification&Quot; And Registries, There Are Several Pet Iguanas That Have Been Registered And Issued Documentation And Id Cards Claiming They Are Legitimate Service Animals.
Because of online service animal “certification” and registries, there are several pet iguanas that have been registered and issued documentation and ID cards claiming they are legitimate service animals.

In fact, the laws are so vague that, prior to May 2011 when the ADA updated their definition of a service animal to only include dogs and, in some cases, miniature horses, it wasn’t unheard of for people to claim a cat, a pet monkey, even an iguana was a legitimate service animal, thereby granting themselves the authority to bring those animals into restaurants, movie theaters, malls, banks, and precluding themselves from paying fees associated with bringing them into hotels, rental properties, and onboard airplanes – and, because businesses and staff don’t understand the laws completely, they see a vest and ID card and believe the animal is legit!

A simple google search for “service dog vests” returns over 4 million hits from websites offering “official service dog” vests, certification cards, ID’s, and official looking documents, some for the bargain basement price of $39. Many of these sites even provide customers with a written prescription, or “official” letter from a physician or psychiatrist detailing their “patient’s” need for a service animal. Just answer a few yes or no questions in an online questionnaire and, voila!

It is estimated that there are roughly 20,000 true, legitimate service dog teams in the entire nation, yet hundreds of thousands of vests, certificates, and ID cards are sold every year. It is perfectly legal, in all 50 states, to buy, sell, and possess a service dog vest. The big business of selling such paraphernalia rakes in millions of dollars each year, from both those knowingly bucking the system and those who sincerely believe that answering a few questions and putting a vest and ID card on their dog makes them legit.

Faking a service dog to gain access to public spaces is really not much different than using your grandmother’s handicapped parking placard – with two major differences: it’s easy to prove the placard isn’t yours, and the penalties if you’re caught are steep and easily enforceable.

Although the ADA’s service dog policies apply on a national level, the enforcement of those policies falls under the responsibility of each state. To date, only 16 states have specific written laws pertaining either  to the misrepresentation of  a service dog or to misrepresenting oneself as disabled. To view the written service dog laws in your own state, click here.

Many people claim their pets are service dogs simply to avoid placing their dogs in the cargo hold of airplanes during travel.

Despite all of the good established by ADA laws that protect the rights of the disabled, those same laws have left business owners and authorities with their hands tied. In an effort to protect the privacy of the disabled, very limited inquiries into the legitimacy of a service dog are allowed. Businesses, staff, and officials may legally only ask two questions to a service dog handler:

1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

It is unlawful to ask about a person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

But, fixing the severely broken system isn’t quite as easy as you might think.

Not only is it next to impossible to disprove the legitimacy of a service dog team, the risks of attempting to do so far outweigh the rewards. For example, if staff suspect that a person entering their place of business alongside a dog is fraudulently doing so, they can ask the above two questions – which a person passing their pet off as a service dog will have no moral issue lying about. Still not convinced, they may ask the person and their dog to leave.

It’s very risky for businesses to deny access to people with service dogs, even when they suspect those dogs are merely pets. If they do so, and those suspicions prove to be unfounded, if the service dog team proves to be legitimate, they face serious civil penalties and fees upwards of $55,000 per offense.

Some people believe – regardless of the legislation – they have a right to take their dogs with them wherever they go. Places where dogs were traditionally not permitted are forced to look the other way because of the negative repercussions associated with denying entry to a service dog.

Last August, disabled veteran Richard Hunter was turned away from a Subway restaurant because of the presence of his service dog. A storm on social media followed.

The Four Legged Scandal No One Is Talking About The Dogington Post

How can a restaurant know the difference between a real service dog and a fake service dog? They can’t. And that is the heart of the problem.

On the other hand, if a person is found to be faking a service dog – unless they’re in one of those 16 states with written laws on the matter – they face no more than a proverbial slap on the wrist. Still, in those 16 states, the penalty is minor, usually a misdemeanor, and the fees typically range in the area of a few hundred dollars.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely upon the moral fortitude of individuals or an honor system to prevent anyone with the inkling to do so from faking a service dog.

So, what makes fake service dogs such a real problem?


It can be argued that the majority of people passing off their pets as service dogs aren’t doing so with ill intent. Instead, they’re simply trying to spend more time with the dogs they love.

However, those people that fake service dogs don’t consider the ripple effect of their actions.

True, legitimate service dogs are highly trained, incredibly well-mannered, and under the complete control of their handlers at all times whereas fake service dogs are often disruptive, they haven’t had the hundreds of hours of training and socialization required to handle the tasks of a working dog. Likewise, their handlers often lack complete control over their dogs and don’t appropriately handle having their access to public places challenged, as a trained service dog and an experienced handler with full knowledge of rights and responsibilities, as well as laws, would.

As a result, fake service dog teams create unnecessary discrimination toward legitimate teams. A business owner or their staff who has dealt with unruly behavior from a “faker” will immediately pass judgement on a true service dog team, the very minute they walk through the door. This discrimination leads to poor or even unlawful treatment of legitimate service dog teams in a variety of ways, like isolating them in an empty part of a restaurant, being ignored or overlooked by salespeople, following them around a store, etc.

Further, fake service dogs pose a genuine safety hazard not present in true service dogs. While service dogs are predictable, reliable, and trained to remain calm, quiet, and out of the way in a variety of circumstances, a family pet disguised as a service dog is most often not so reliable, making them a threat to both other patrons and to real service dogs that may enter the premises.

Disabled persons already inevitably deal with some form of bias or discrimination on a regular basis. The recent influx of fake service dog teams has created a culture where business owners and staff, more often than not, are suspicious of all service dog teams. Instead of assuming that most are legitimate and a rare few are fake, the common assumption is that most are fake and very few are real.

What can be done to solve the real problem of fake service dogs?

Service Dog

The solution isn’t entirely clear. While many have suggested the federal government take steps to create an official, legally recognized central registry, this solution could potentially infringe upon the privacy rights of the disabled.

In addition to a central registry, some argue that a specific, centralized training protocol needs to be established for all service dogs to adhere to. That program would include specific tasks that all registered service dogs must perform, like sitting under the table at a restaurant, not reacting to distractions, remaining calm at all times, staying out of the way, properly riding on an airplane, etc. However, since the tasks performed by service dogs vary so greatly from one handler to the next, developing a one-size-fits-all training program is an incredible – if not impossible – undertaking.

And then, there becomes the issue of providing resources for every single disabled person in the country to have access and the ability to become certified by a single, central agency, without creating excessive costs or infringing upon their rights.

There is no question, however, that those found to be misrepresenting their pet as a service dog need to be held accountable and legally reprimanded with stiff penalties that make the risk much greater than the reward. But without legislation, the problem will only escalate in the future.

In the meantime, more and more people are ordering service dog vests freely on the Internet.

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  1. Avatar Of Karen L Waeltermann

    Karen L Waeltermann


    We have a lady that comes into our Walmart store with her so-called service dog. This little dog sits on her lap but anytime anybody gets close to her even in just passing, the dog barks and growls. When I had concern about the barking and growling this lady’s daughter decided to show me their little card that had a 1-800 number on it for disability saying that their dog was registered and that I legally couldn’t ask anything. This is happened multiple times with a dog has growled showing its teeth and they still proclaim the dog as a service animal. I know we cannot question them at all except for when they first walk into the store we could ask if it’s a service animal. And if they tell us yes we have to let them in with their animal. Obviously this is not a service animal. But how do you approach somebody who is so defensive and tell them they have to leave the store if the dog keeps doing this. And then to be told we don’t have a right to say anything that she can have her dog with her. I just hate when they bring in their pets passing them off as service animals. And we cannot do anything about it. Because they are protected under the law.

  2. Avatar Of John Parsons

    John Parsons


    You state, “Still not convinced, they may ask the person and their dog to leave.” This is incorrect. Only the dog may be ejected from the business, the individual may remove the dog and then return to complete his or her business.

  3. Avatar Of Patricia Williams

    Patricia Williams


    Amazed at the attacks going on here by someone who seems to think that a guide dog (who clearly needs rigorous training to do their job) is the only type of service dog that is legit. My parents’s dog is self trained and also acts as a Therapy Dog visiting the handicapped. He is a little too friendly because of the amount of time he spends comforting disabled people, but other than that he is a great dog. He is trained to do everything that he needs to do to help both of my parents. He has been on trains, planes including a long trip to Hawaii. Even on rides at Disney World without a single issue. If you drop something he will have it picked up and back in your hands in no time. That is just one of the things he does for them. He usually walks with my mom but if he’s tired he ride on my dad’s scooter. They didn’t need a fancy group to train him to do everything they need help with. If there is something that they need in the future my mom will train him to do it.

    She gave me the confidence to start training our dog after we discovered that he could sense when my husband needed to check his blood sugar. We never trained him to do that we just realized that whenever J’s blood sugar levels were off S started licking my husband’s hand and whimpering. So we started training him to do other things that he needed to do in order to go places with us and possibly save my husband’s life. Most of the stuff was easy since he was already well behaved. We even taught him to pick things up for us since that was very helpful to my husband especially. He’s had 2 hip replacements and 5 back surgeries. (Degenerative disk disease) It can be painful for him to pick things up. I have a bad knee and it’s helpful to me too. Sadly he is no longer with us. But we are training our new dog to do some of the things that will help my husband.

    As a matter of fact our new dog M helps me clean the floors by bringing me anything that I point at. Now I am teaching her to pick things up and put them in the trash on command. We just started practicing going out in public and she is doing really well. Although she did bark at the pet shop, for some reason only at 2 of the dogs and they were with the same person. I corrected her all 3 times. She also barked (2 quick barks) at Burger King when a worker scraped a chair loudly right next to us. Heck it startled me too. And she was just a little nervous when the stocking carts in Walmart rattled by and once when we got in a crowd and she got crowded – but not crazy nervous. She just made a little jump away from the sound, sort of behind my leg. Since she is in training she doesn’t have to be perfect. I feel that as long as a dog isn’t barking and disruptive, doesn’t potty on the floor, and isn’t a danger to anyone then it’s really none of your business if they are or aren’t up to your standards. I suffer from PTSD after an attempted kidnapping (the guy also tried to kill me) and years ago I had an amazing dog who could sense my panic attacks coming on and he would come and comfort me usually before I’d really realized that I was in trouble. For 2 years I didn’t have a single major panic attack when I was at home. I always wished that I could take him with me everywhere. About the time I found out about being able to train your own service dog a neighbor walked down the street and shot him in our yard. I was in awful shape for months and I still miss him. He would have been very easy to train in a way that would have helped me. (I am sure that my doctor would have given me a note if I’d asked.) I shouldn’t be denied the right to self train and have a service dog because I can’t afford to pay someone to train my dog to act like a guide dog. I can tell you right now the dog that is a life saver to a blind or deaf person would be of no use to me or my husband.

    • Avatar Of Amade



      I completely agree with you. I self trained my mom’s sd, and I am currently looking for one of my own (ptsd). I kind of disagree with the new law that only if the dog is “task trained” to alert he qualifies as a service dog. To me it sounds like if the dog isn’t taught the behavior from the beginning he isn’t a service dog. My mom’s sd as a pup picked up when she or me were going to have a panic episode. He would come over and try to make us engage with him in some activity. We never had to really train it from the beginning, it was a natural thing that just came from him. Some people say that this is an ESA (emotional support animal), but this is a task and it doesn’t make him any less a service dog. The “behavior” does help mitigate my mom’s disability and it is a task. He alerts before an episode and will do his best to help you control and go through it. He now also helps my mom out with mobility issues. (picking up stuff she drops and bringing it up to her hands) I see Emotional Support Animals more like lap dogs or a pet to cuddle with when you feel bad. They dont “perform” a job to help you.

      I don’t agree with dogs that don’t have at least minimal public behavior. If they will bite me or lunge at me I don’t think they should be allowed into a public building, service dog or not. Business owners are afraid of kicking fakes out cause they are wearing a vest, but they sure don’t hesitate to kick out the dog that isn’t wearing all the bells and whistles.

      I think your sd is perfectly ok. We can’t expect our dogs to be robots, we humans ourselves sometimes make mistakes. Ignore the haters, there’s plenty of them everywhere on the web, especially on the sd subject. I don’t even bother on answering their comments.

    • Avatar Of Lori Kendrick

      Lori Kendrick


      …on a ride at Disneyland?!!! Smh

  4. Avatar Of Nancy Mills

    Nancy Mills


    They are all “service dogs.” If you want to take your dog on a plane or into a restaurant you should not need government certification or a dumb vest. Dogs taken out in public all the time are generally better behaved than people. It it’s a big dog, yeah, they need to pay for his seat. But it’s time to stop discriminating against non-human animals. Sure you have the occasional incident where somebody poops on the floor or gets mouthy (they really should be trained to be civilized) but the more they are taken out into society the better they behave. I like kids, but I will have to say I’ve experienced a lot more disturbances from kids on planes, or for that matter, people with bad BO or big mouths, than dogs (0 incidences, personally.) This shouldn’t even be an issue. Stop regulating folks to death and we won’t violate so many needless “rules.”

  5. Avatar Of Dan



    I don’t think there is a person on here with a REAL guide dog from a ADI or IGDF school? you all bitch yet you are the ones with glorified pets without proper training.

    • Avatar Of Amy Farland

      Amy Farland


      thank you for sharing.

    • Avatar Of Ln



      A dog doesn’t have to be a guide dog to be a service animal…my dog detects seizures for me. She’s never once stepped foot in an ADI or IGDF school. So you’re telling me that my seizure detecting dog is a fraud because I couldn’t pay for some fancy school like you did? You realize that’s equivalent to calling someone stupid because they didn’t go to an expensive college, right? Extremely immature and ignorant comment.

  6. Avatar Of Dan



    People need to understand the difference between a companion dog and a service dog. first a REAL service dog has to be trained at a ADI or IGDF accredited school. A drs note does not cut it. BY LAW a companion dog is not allowed in the same places a service dog is. Guide dog/Service dog, Blind, deaf, seizure response, wheel chair. Companion dogs, PTSD, Panic attacks, Autism ect. My Guide dog was trained for two years before I met him, then 200 hours with traniers and myself and my guide dog, cost of training 25k and follow up every 6 months, vet reports ect. It makes me sick with these pop up schools that train a glorified pets for two months and call it a guide dog. Its making it harder and harder for people like me who have a REAL service dog to go places as you have these people slapping a vest on a two month trained dog for migraines and poof go into public. Migraines? really? what’s next a guide dog for hemriods, to bark in case you sit down?

    • Avatar Of Brandy Arnold

      Brandy Arnold


      Dan, service dogs can be trained by their owners. There is no officially accredited school (or group of schools) that all service dogs must be trained or certified through. An official service dog certification does NOT exist. Service dogs do NOT require ANY certification. There is no “ID card” that’s official. They aren’t even required to wear a vest. This is part of the problem. BUT – creating a single accreditation program that works for all service dogs is not as simple as it sounds. Each service dog is trained to perform a variety of duties, specific to their handler – individually trained to meet their handler’s needs. To create an accreditation program that covers the huge variety of duties service dogs provide is nearly impossible. Further, such a program would infringe upon HIPPA and ADA privacy laws that protect the disabled.

      Also.. not sure if you’re saying that PTSD, panic attacks, autism, etc do not need service dogs, but that, too, is not true.

    • Dude, I am a professional service dog trainer, who is not a member of ADI. Why? Because I am not a “non profit” business.
      Please remove the large hemorrhoid from your ass(that would be your head, btw), and stop drinking the Koolaid that ADI and GUIDI shoves down your throat.
      BTW, I have MS, Diabetes, and have trained several guide dogs.

    • Avatar Of Patricia Williams

      Patricia Williams


      A service dog does not need to be trained by either of those places. YOU are LEGALLY allowed to train your own service dog. Otherwise many (most) people who are already having trouble making ends meet under a mountain of medical bills wouldn’t be able to afford one at that prices the groups that you cite charge for training. (By the way there are plenty of other places that train dogs to perform tasks for disabled people) You are confusing a service dog with a guide dog that needs a lot more training. You are also dismissing how debilitating many things that you don’t consider worthy of a service dog can be. Have you ever had a real migraine? I have, I suffered from them for years before I started having seizures. One of them came on more quickly than the other and within about 60 seconds I had flashing light and dark spots in front of my eyes. Usually that takes long enough to creep up that I can get to a safe place but not always. I was in a mall and I couldn’t even see to find a place to sit down. I had to rely on the help of strangers but they might now always be there or willing to help. Or they might be someone who would take advantage instead. Thankfully my migraines have changed over the years and I rarely have that happen anymore. But a service dog who could sense when they are coming on and lead me to a safe place would be an amazing asset to me or others who I know who get them even worse. And since stress can trigger them they might even be able to head one off. I know that the dog I have now is good about comforting me when I am stressed or a little panicked. She isn’t really good though when I am having a full blown panic attack. I don’t have a doctor’s note saying I am disabled but I have no doubt that with my medical history I could get one if I wanted to and if I put the time and effort into training my dog to do everything that the law says she has to do in order to help me then you have no business telling me that I don’t deserve to have her. (BTW we are training her but not to help me to help my husband. She is a great help to him and after working with her for over a year at home we have just started taking her places with us as the next step in her training.

    • Avatar Of Monguani



      You’re seriously comparing migraines to hemorrhoids?

      Migraines are a recognized disability and can be very debilitating. I’m not talking about the pain even. Clearly you are ignorant. Did you know that migraines can cause temporary blindness, paralysis, and SEVERE muscle weakness (among MANY other symptoms). So, yes, SOME people with migraine need a service animal, either to sense them early so medication can be administer on time and/or potentially dangerous activities such as driving don’t conflict with a rapid onset, or to fetch medication or get someone to help in cases of emergency.

      Migraines wouldn’t be covered by ADA if they weren’t a disability. Migraines are a potentially severe neurological disorder, and are better compared to epilepsy.

    • Avatar Of Amy Farland

      Amy Farland


      you need to read the ADA. your statements regarding the legal definition of service animal are not factually true in the least. These dogs do not have to be agency trained. Service dogs can be used with all of the disabilities you mention. State laws permit business owners to report dogs who do not act appropriately. The same as business owners’ ability to report people who do not act appropriately to the police. no diff.

  7. Avatar Of Katherine



    I have a three year old German Shepherd service dog that recently completed her training to assist me with my PTSD by alerting me of a panic attack before it happens as well as alerting for migraines. I am a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and suffer from severe panic attack that are debilitating cause by NYTimes send my time spent the service. 99.9 percent of the time she behaves perfectly, as all service dogs should, however, there was one incident that actually just happened today that’s at my favorite hotel. I walked into the lobby past at least 7 people, and 325 children from ages 2 to 11. One of the kids saw her and ran away screaming because they were intimidated by her looks. she remained calm and ignored everything going on when we entered the hotel there was a woman vacuum right in the middle of the lobby that so oblivious to her surroundings I had to excuse us to pass her still my dog remained calm (despite the fact that vacuums were once her arch nemesis prior to training) , I approached the desk to get my key remade because it wasn’t working on my door which was about as far away from the front door as humanly possible forcing us to walk through the entire hotel and upstairs just to get to our room (for me all of these things were very nerve racking) I know that I was very close to SEVERE panic attack STATUS and had already started to freeze up and and was having trouble breathing when another guest brought their small, barking chihuahua inside the hotel lobby. The dog was barking incessantly and finally, my dog broke her composure long enough to bark at most 3-4 “barks” in rapid succession while I simultaneously corrected the behavior and she immediately went back to her service dog behavior (German Shepherds have notoriously intimidating sounding barks) including persistently alerting me of the panic attack I would inevitably experience after. Before I could make it 10 feet down the hallway, the vacuuming woman ran after me and loudly, with no regard to my privacy, or any sort of discretion told me to get out. My dog is too scary to be here despite my immediate ability to control and correct her one and only two second or less mistake. On top of this, the hotel itself is DOG FRIENDLY!, I would completely understand if this was a repeat behavior or if any lunging or aggressiveness were taking place to accompany her bark or if she refused to obey me, unable to control her in any way censure then sure, pull me aside ask me quietly to leave with my animal or if she not a problem with believing her service animal status, I could either a. Prove it or B. just suck it up and pay the $15 pet fee which I could have cared less about. what really burns my britches about this situation is that the other dog, which was obviously not a service dog was allowed to bark incessantly and misbehave without that pet owner being spoken to you at all for any reasons it. It is it really fair that because of the sound of my dogs bark I was forced from a hotel? is there anything I can do about this? By the way I was only at the hotel for 2 hours and I’m not getting any form of refund whatsoever. To top it all off I have been going to this hotel for 3 years everytime I am in town and have never had an issue with her either as a pet or a service dog and she’s barked plenty of times before she was properly trained. I’m not quite sure I understand the logistics here. I would like to know if I’m wrong? what if anything could I have done differently? I plan to send her for some more hours for her training before I take her to another hotel or public place again because the last thing I want is for people to be intimidated, but that also makes it impossible for me to go anywhere by myself for more than an hour or two feeling comfortable. I am at a loss

    • Avatar Of Patricia Williams

      Patricia Williams


      That hotel employee was wrong and I hope that you wrote a letter to their corporate office. I would have demanded a manager even if the hotel was not dog friendly, but even more so since it was. I try to stick to pet friendly hotels since I am still training the dog we have now and she will occasionally make a mistake (especially after a really long day traveling)but there are times when it’s just not possible to find one that isn’t too expensive. We are getting ready to visit my parents and one of the hotels where we are staying (I had a voucher for a free room) isn’t pet friendly so I am hoping that she won’t misbehave but it’s a 15 hour drive from home and even with frequent stops she will have been cooped up a lot. Now if she barked like the little yappy dog and I didn’t correct her I’d get it. I loath people who allow their dogs to bark and bark like that. Mystic is allowed to bark twice to alert us to someone in the yard if she barks more she is given a command to quit. On rare occasion when that doesn’t work it’s followed by commands of heel and down. Usually when she doesn’t obey it’s a large dog or coyote in our yard or something on the porch that has her worried. She hasn’t done that though when we are staying somewhere else so hopefully she won’t. 🙂

  8. Avatar Of Lyn



    My husband uses a service dog for mobility purposes and it pisses me off when people pass off a pet as a service dog. As many of us can’t afford the thousands of dollars to pay for an already trained dog and insurance companies don’t pay for them, at least ours wouldn’t. Like many disabled on a fixed income our dog was home schooled thru the help of training manuals, generous on line support groups and trainers who donated time. A simple solution I think for the frauds passing pets off as service dogs would be the same solution used for handicapped parking. The doctor who wrote the form for my husband to get the tag for the car to park in handicapped parking would write a form saying a service dog was needed. No need to disclose medical information, just the doctor saying a service dog would be medically appropriate. Then a tag for the dog given and like the handicapped parking tag a letter given to the person with name, physical description ie height weight hair eye color and sex like a drivers permit only no pic needed and the person is told to keep it in their wallet. If a question comes up there is no dependence on the dog’s ID the human partner had a letter or card with the person’s description and medical authorization the dog is needed. No medical information needs to be disclosed, that is between doctor and patient. Just a tag and card like for handicapped parking. The tag could even be gotten from the local dog license dept with the medical authorization. It’s just a thought from someone who lives with a real working service dog that keeps hubby from falling, picks up things he drops, including him when he falls, helps with his daily work and life and even help do laundry! We don’t need certified trainers, we don’t need people regulating the “service dog business”. Someone who needs one of these dogs doesn’t just go to anyone, they want a dog that does their job, even if they have to home school that dog to get it. What is needed is to get the selfish, self centered we’re above the rules folks from passing off their pet as a needed service dog. The same folk who will park in the handicapped space for just a minute. A medical tag and card is a good start on weeding out the frauds.

    • Avatar Of Dan



      is your dog trained at a ADI school? you are a fraud and making harder for real service animals like mine to go into public. you have a glorified pet not a guide dog.

      • Dude, I am a professional service dog trainer, who is not a member of ADI. Why? Because I am not a “non profit” business.
        Please remove the large hemorrhoid from your ass(that would be your head, btw), and stop drinking the Koolaid that ADI and GUIDI shoves down your throat.
        BTW, I have MS, Diabetes, and have trained several guide dogs.

      • Avatar Of Ln



        You mentioned before that seizure detection dogs are on your list of approved service dogs; that’s what my dog does for me. I have idiopathic seizures, which means we have no idea why I have them even after hundreds of tests and medications. She alerts me of a seizure coming on usually within 3-5 minutes of it happening by letting out a small and sometimes barely audible “gruff”. If I do not respond to her “gruff”, she will position herself in front of me and place a paw on my leg and “gruff” again. Sounds like she was trained at your beloved ADI school, right? Wrong. She was actually never trained to detect my seizures; she just did that on her own. In fact, she was almost a year old when I had my first seizure and was just my pet dog with excellent obedience and mannerisms. I never ever thought I would need a seizure detection dog. Granted, the first time I ever had a seizure she was a little too vocal because she had never been trained in how to respond to a seizure before, but after months of training she now does the exact same routine every time before I have a seizure. I trained her myself with the help of a veterinary behaviorist. Now, you tell me, does it sound like I have a “fake” service dog to you? She is my service animal. She is registered. She is very well behaved, performs her task flawlessly and has never stepped foot in an ADI school. You may think you’re helping the fraud service dog situation by telling these people who are describing a legitimate need for a service dog that they’re contributing the problem, but really you’re just making it very clear that you have a severe false sense of entitlement simply because you paid 25k for your service dog. Get over yourself.

  9. Avatar Of Sharipdx



    I’d rather shop with dogs around that most of the screaming, running wild, dirty, mannerless brats at most stores, in particular those at Walmarts!

    • Avatar Of Jo. Unrau

      Jo. Unrau


      ShariPDX, I totally agree with you. My dog is much better mannered, quieter & better behaved than most human children, & it isn’t just WalMart. Movie theatres, malls, restaurants & on the street. I’d be ashamed of my dog if he behaved like a lot of peoples kids, & often the parents are right there & think it’s ok for their obnoxious little brats to be a nuisance to everyone. Some of them even think it’s cute. Ignorant morons!!

  10. Avatar Of Irene Irene says:

    I have been diagnosed with PTSD. My adopted pet, turned into a service dog. I didn’t actually know I needed a service dog until I met this dog. He absolutely knows how to calm me down. He weighs less than 5 pounds and anyone who meets him feels better just holding him. I did NOT have to train him to do this, he just naturally reacts in a calming fashion to my stress. He is an extremely well behaved, docile dog. He knows very few commands. He doesn’t need to, he is almost always in my arms or within arms reach of me. I wish people would understand that there are many many disabilities, not all of which, are visible.

    I know now, that I will always need a service dog and if my next dog is not as well behaved as this guy is, I will definitely spend the time and if need be, the money to get him trained. It absolutely IS, the responsibility of the service dog owner to make sure their service dog, not only service’s their personal disability needs, but also does not behave inappropriately with the general public, as well. I do not believe that means that the dog needs to be professionally trained, nor does the law require this.

    My service dog’s main function is to alert me when my stress level is high and he will actually come over to me and put his paws on my chest. When we travel he hangs out in my made for dogs back pack! He always has my back! He is amazing!

  11. Avatar Of April



    Why not have trainers certified and chip the dogs that are certified SD – not mentioning their ‘specialty’. If a business owner has a doubt, download an App that reads & verifies the chip. If someone trains their own dog, have the dog pass a ‘certification’ test of some basic commands and chip them.

  12. Avatar Of Gart



    I am a 50 year old male with Diabetes, HIV, Spinal Stenosis, herniated disks i neck and back, neuropathy, OCD, major depression, GAD and PTSD. and hearing impaired. My dog is a trained Service Dog, he is a Jack Russell and getting up there in age and is blind. Some people gave commented that because he is blind he is not eligible to be my service dog. Not true. He has his Service Dig medallion from state of California, is registered and I had to go o the animal control where a police officer looked over my dog and Io show them what he does. They issued me a card from the police department on one side is his picture and the other side is my picture. And they gave me the medallion. I didn’t get anything over the internet except a vest. I clip his ID card on to his vest. I have mobility problems so when I go grocery shopping I sometimes bring him with me, I walk with a cane so I cant walk with cane, push a cart and have my leash in other hand so I put him in a cart but with a blanket under him. Wal-Mart is the worse and have told me I couldn’t take him in cart. I ignored him. One time I was looking at some items on a shelf and about 4 young kids went to the cart and harassed my dog and moved the cart in a volatile manner. My dog felt threatened and barked once. The manager said I had to leave because he barked, I explained that those idiot kids made him feel threatened and he had every right to bark even if it was just once. They threatened to call police and told them to go ahead. They never did, My point is my dog is blind as still able to perform the tasks he was trained to perform. And I have legal documentation from sate of California and he was approved by my local police department. Across the street there is a pit bull that is supposedly a service dog but every time her sees my dog the Pit barks like crazy and tries to lunge at my dog. That is one fake-ass service dog.

  13. Avatar Of Brian



    My family and I volunteer for an assistance dog training facility in Canada and have been doing this for over 7 years now. Like America, our disability act is governed provincially and not federally so public access is different between provinces.
    Here in British Columbia, the BC government has just finished the second reading of a new legislation that better defines a service animal. Adding to that, all service dogs will need to be certified by Assistance Dog International credited school. Once the dog is certified, they will be issued a government ID that will grant them public access.
    Any service dog not currently certified will have to have their dog certified if they have not been trained at a facility.
    So any business will be able to ask to see a dog’s government ID. Failing to produce one can result in refusal of service and if reported, can result in a fine.
    More information on the changes can be found here:

    • Avatar Of Nerissa



      Not quite true. I also live in BC with a service dog. However, there is a simple plan in place to certify assistance dogs that are not trained by an school affiliated with Assistance Dogs International. The government plans to authorize a third party to administer a public access test that is open to all service dog teams. Pass the test and get government ID – simple and effective. Also, the ID will not be legally required, only recommend. There are many, many incorect reports circulating. For the most updated and accurate information, please go to the Ministry of Justice website:

  14. Avatar Of Tara



    I notice that this article fails to make any distinctions between working and non-working service animals. Working service animals are limited to dogs and mini horses and do require a lot of training and are allowed in public at any time. It does not mention non-working service animals that can include dogs, mini horse, cats, and more. These animals are primarily confined to the house and are not allowed out in public without a certified psych note detailing the time frame that the animal is needed in public and why it needs to be in public as well as covering the patient’s disability too. Non-working service animals only get privileges when it comes to flying and housing and the handler must be present and have control over the animal at all times. While it may not have the same strict training as a working service animal, non-working service animals are not allowed to be disruptive in any way and can be asked to leave if they cause problems. Even when it comes to flying and housing special fees still apply as animals that can’t fit under a seat must have a seat(s) bought to accommodate them as they are allowed under the plane and when staying at a hotel or renting a place you can’t pay a pet fee, but you may have to pay another fee that people with wheelchairs and other devices have to pay to cover minor damages to the place. This fee can only be up to a certain percentage of the rent that is paid, but it is a fee none the less.

  15. Avatar Of Bb



    Hi, I found your article very interesting & educational. I know in our Australia dogs are not granted these rights unless they have passed what is called a public access exam to prove they are safe/trained to enter such an environment. I do however have a highly trained specialist USAR dog that could pass this exam but I have never done it because she simply isn’t a service dog. It now however looks like we will have to pay for & sit the exam as recently it has come to our attention that the flight authorities will not let the search dogs fly in the cabin of a Helicopter. They actually want the dogs in a luggage compartment that is actually far to small to fit the search dog crates (which we use on public flights) & has no ventilation or lighting. Guide dogs however that usually have no Helicopter training are allowed in the cabin. In a disaster we need to get our dogs in fast in order to save lives, they have passed temperament tests, handling tests, agility & obedience exams & mine is qualified to a internationally recognised level then it is really disappointing to find that they are then being restricted because of a lack of paperwork & of course someone needs to pay & this is a volunteer position that is completely unpaid. It seems to me in some situations all common sense is lost! For this reason I think the definition of a service dog should be reviewed to include dogs that save lives not just dogs that assist those with disabilities.

  16. Avatar Of Sally Inghram

    Sally Inghram


    Recently I saw an online ad from a company called “Free My Paws” that sells service dog vests. The ad said “Want to learn how to rent an apartment without paying a pet deposit?” and then a link to their site. On the site they give you a test to take to determine if you are disabled, and at the end of the test it says “Not Disabled? Take the test again, as it is all up to interpretation and you might pass the second time”. Tell me how this “legitimate” company gets away with advertising to people “get a dog, lie about it, buy a vest, beat the system”.

  17. Avatar Of John Deitrich

    john deitrich


    You forgot to mention that a lot of states also have Trainer’s Access Right. The trainers have no certification requirements so it’s difficult to tell if a dog is ‘in training’ or just a pet.

    I’ve had Service Dogs for the last 20 yrs so I’ve seen my fair share of abuse. Personally, I don’t mind as long as the dog is well behaved and doesn’t cause a problem that makes real SDs look bad.

    Requiring a certification to have an SD makes it more difficult for us to go anywhere. We I go out I don’t want to be stopped everywhere I go to show certification, I just want to do what I went out to do.

  18. I am a service dog trainer who helps other owner trainers train their dogs for this very reason. It is hard enough to get a dog from a program when you are seriously disabled and fall within the categories that programs train for, but when your disability falls outside of those categories and/or is multiple disabilities which requires cross training, a need to train your own dog does exist and having an experienced trainer to guide you helps. I am also a service dog user myself and my second dog, Malcolm, is about to graduate this coming July/August (

    A central registry would be extremely difficult for owner trainers with such a wide variety of disabilities, some of which may never fly with their dogs or even eat in a restaurant. I know of one handler who couldn’t due to extreme MCS. So tucking neatly under a table at a requirement wouldn’t have been something that handler would have trained their dog and would have never been considered a useful task for her. Each dog for each handler needs to be examined based on that handler’s needs and disability, which leads to who is permitted to review my medical records, who is qualified to know enough about my dog’s training for basic obedience to recognize his level of training on that level and who is qualified enough to test him on him for Public Access and who is qualified enough to test him for the tasks I need for my disability and recognize what he does is a task? How far do I need to travel to have my dog tested? What is the cost I pay to have it done? How often is my dog tested? This may become an undue hardship to an already encumbered group of people in our society.

    Instead, part of the ADA already states that on a Federal level if a person is found to be claiming their dog is a service dog when it is not, they can be fined up to $5,000 dollars, receive up to 90 days jail time and loose their social security benefits for life. Why then is this not being enforced on a national level? Why if we are locating an finding on a state level individuals who are charged and clearly guilty of faking a service dog state level wise with weak state laws, not pushing the crime up to a Federal level and simply letting the Federal Crime of impeding on a Disabled Person’s Civil Right (the ADA is a Civil Law) handle this issue?

    As a disabled individual who uses a service dog I am tired of hearing “It’s nice to see a real service dog and not one of those fake yappers” when the person is referring to a small dog. I know many legit small dog teams that are highly trained and it’s the small dogs who are ruining it for my small dog teams and making their lives very hard. It makes me angry and hurts my feelings that people think it doesn’t hurt anyone to bring their dog into the store or to claim their dog, which is antisocial and barks, into the store isn’t hurting anyone. It does. It hurts the service dog teams who use small dogs, it hurts the service dog teams that use medium dogs and it hurts the service dog teams that use big dogs who have to defend their fellow team members. We are a community and we feel strongly when any member of our community is badmouthed because someone couldn’t take the time to run their dog home before stopping to get a gallon of milk.

    Please, I don’t take my dog with me because I want to. I take my dog with me because he is my medical equipment. He helps me walk, keep my balance, get things off the shelf for me, find my car when my medications make me forget where I parked, and gives me a level of independence I lost when my progressive disease took over my life. If I had the energy, lack of pain and normalcy I had before this disease, I would gladly have him be a pet dog at home and enjoy his playful personality there. Instead, I am taking years off of his life with the stress of public access by asking for his assistance and he’s gladly giving it to me because he is a dog who needs a job to be complete.

    • Sorry, calling bullshit on this:
      “Instead, part of the ADA already states that on a Federal level if a person is found to be claiming their dog is a service dog when it is not, they can be fined up to $5,000 dollars, receive up to 90 days jail time and loose their social security benefits for life”

      The ADA only carries penalties to businesses who deny access. There is no federal law against faking service dogs.
      Please post a link proving this!

      It does absolutely no good to lie.

      Kind of like the article says something about a $55,000 fine for faking? Please post the link verifying that outrageous statement.

  19. Avatar Of Kathy kathy says:

    I can tell you of someone that I KNOW has a “fake” service dog license.If you are interested please send me a private message.

  20. Avatar Of Maria



    I was with my service dog Laddie who I got from NEADS in Princeton, MA. Last year I met up at with a member of this clubhouse where I go who had his small dog with him. I asked him the two questions about the service dogs. He told me his dog was a service dog. At that point the dog was barking and nipped at Laddie I went in and told the a staff member that the dog nipped at Laddie and this dog that this member has is not a service dog and he needs to leave. This member eventually was asked to leave and not to bring his dog to the clubhouse any more.
    Thank you so much for this article. This problem has definitely gotten out of hand. I wish the law was more strict about fake service dogs. My service dog Laddie and I recertified every 4 years. They tests us of the various commands to see if Laddie still knows them. Such as the leave it command, sit and down stay, under table, fetch leash, fetch crutch as well as opening doors etc. I carry a NEADS ID with a picture of Laddie and I and he wears a vest that has a NEADS lable on it and also says assistance dog on it. I also carry a little book with the MA laws for service dogs as well as a card for the ADA laws for service dogs. When we travel I carry all of these items as well as a current health certificate.

  21. Avatar Of Pixelfish



    One issue I rarely see mentioned concerns allergy sufferers. We are not uncommon, and while I understand the need for a person who needs their service animal to function, I have little sympathy for the faker. One dog in close proximity in a closed room (or on a long flight) can cause me to have respiratory issues within an hour. (Allergens act cumulatively so more dogs/cats equals worse conditions for me. I always take meds before flying just in case and I have a rescue inhaler, but still would prefer to minimize contact.) My allergy isn’t considered a protected disability in the US (it is in Canada, I believe) so the person with the service animal trumps me. I generally don’t mind this as our paths normally cross less often, and a person with a legit service animal needs that animal to function but I have had to request that a coworker not bring their non-service animal pet to the office for the day. The fakers are harming me and other allergy sufferers simply so they can sneak their pet into movie theatres or avoid fees.

    • The ADA actually addresses allergens and how to handle them. If a person had an ADA level allergy to dogs and a service dog user is in need of use of the same room or facility, then both must be accommodated. This can be accomplished by placing the two as far apart as possible (such as in a classroom or homeless shelter) or in different rooms. Both parties are considered disabled and thus covered by the ADA and not held special or above the other. Just because I am a service dog user doesn’t mean you are less of a human being due to your allergies. Mind you, mild, non-ADA level allergies are not reason to deny access to a service dog team, but when allergies are life threatening, then yes, the ADA does indeed directly address it in the law. You can find it under Title II.

  22. Avatar Of Donna



    I have depression, anxiety, and I am agoraphobic. I have prescriptions from my doctor for mine and they are carried with along with their most current vet records.

  23. Avatar Of Stephanie Willoughby

    Stephanie Willoughby


    The problem I experienced working at a museum was the number of patrons telling us that there dog/puppy was a therapy animal and must be allowed to enter. On one occasion a woman was bringing in her son’s pit bull puppy claiming her child needed it. (The kid was never once next to the dog). The puppy couldn’t even sit on command and continued to lunge and bark at patrons.

    • Avatar Of Nancy Lauer

      Nancy Lauer


      There is a big difference between a “therapy” animal and a “service animal”. Under most circumstances, a therapy dog or animal is not trained to complete tasks for the disabled person. A Service dog or animal is trained in some way to help the person with the disability such as guiding someone with a seizure disorder to a safe place or actually reaching in the vest pocket for the person’s medicine or a list of current meds or an explanation of the person’s disability as many disabilities are” invisible “. A therapy animal, while they do serve a certain purpose, are not the same as a service animal and they aren’t usually given the same rights.

    • Avatar Of Mary Ellen Thomas

      Mary Ellen Thomas


      A therapy dog is not considered a service dog. A therapy dog does not have the same legal rights to access public places that a service dog does. If a person tells you their dog is allowed to enter because it’s a therapy dog, then you know it’s a fake, because a person actually needing a service dog would never refer to the dog as a therapy dog. A therapy dog is the kind of dog that goes to a hospital or nursing home to make the patients fell better and provides no other service. They do not have access to restaurants or public places that pets are not allowed to go into.

  24. Avatar Of Jennifer



    Seriously? A plane makes an “emergency landing” bc of… dog poop? Tell me you’re joking. I mean, please – I’m a medical doctor, and I’m struggling to understand how dog feces is a “hazardous material.” No doubt plenty of human secretions end-up on airplane carpets – vomit, baby poop, urine, you name it! – and I highly doubt those ever warrant an “emergency landing.”

    I don’t have a service dog (I have a certified therapy dog, which is a different thing), and you make some OK points, but I’d stop short of calling “fake” service dogs a “real problem.” A real problem is not having access to clean water – not someone “faking” a dog’s credentials. The fact that you expose one such “fraudulent” person by name – one Forrest Brifton – struck me as unkind, as though you have some ax to grind with this particular guy. And your comparison with handicapped parking is off-base – using someone else’s parking placard is wrong bc it means taking a spot reserved for a legitimately handicapped person, whereas “fake” service dogs don’t limit access to similar scarce resources. Just some things to consider.

    • Avatar Of Nadia



      Did you not read the article? Have you ever spoken to a service dog handler about this? Frauds may not limit resources in quite such an obvious and easily quantified way as fraudulently using a parking space, but they contribute to a culture of suspicion and resentment towards disabled people simply trying to live their lives. Legal provisions, common courtesy and compassion are gradually stripped from people who require them because people think they abuse or don’t deserve them or they’re too great an inconvenience to others. If that isn’t limiting access to scarce resources, I don’t know what is.

    • Avatar Of Cherry Filter

      Cherry Filter


      The “but there are bigger problems out there” response is such bullshit. Just straight up say that you don’t care about this issue. As humans, we are well and capable of caring about multiple issues, big and small. It’s also clear that you didn’t quite grasp the concept of this article.

    • Jennifer,

      I user a service dog in my day to day living and because many people believe that it’s okay to just bring a dog into Walmart because Walmart was so badly sued by people who “had a right” to bring their service dog into Walmart, Walmart actually stopped asking even the two legally required questions. This means Walmart became the doggy free-for-all in my town, especially the one right by Petsmart. Puppies in people’s arms of no older than 6 to 8 weeks of age. Small dogs with poor attitudes barking from carts where children sit. Dogs mugging for attention. Dogs with dirty coats. Dogs sniffing merchandise. Here I am, with a dog providing my balance, well groomed, highly kept up and and doing everything I need to keep my day to day living for me as normal as possible and I am being blocked by strangers because the guy up the aisle from me “allowed them to pet their service dog” and they now have grabbed my then 80 pound German Shepherd by the head, which by the way he hated, but he was so well trained and evenly tempered he wouldn’t do more than look to me to deal with them, and they are pulling him out from under me and risking my falling.

      Now you tell me, exactly how does “Faking” a service dog limit a scarce resource again? It took me 1 hour 45 minutes to cross from the front door to the back of the store and back to get a half gallon of milk, the only thing I needed, and leave because of people blocking, stopping and interfering with my dog and I was spit on, called names and told I was a B*tch for not letting them pet my service dog like the other service dogs in the building.

      That scarce resource was my time and my energy. I was utterly exhausted, in pain and near tears by the time I got home and anything else I may have wanted to do that day was not going to happen.

      So, yes, it is indeed a problem for us.

    • Avatar Of Laurs laurs says:

      fully agree! I had the same thoughts.

    • Avatar Of Gayle



      Jennifer, actually “fake” service dogs does potentially limit access for disabled benefiting from service dogs. When they have experienced a poorly behaved fake dog business cite that as justification to deny access to even the best trained and legitimate service dog. Many are reluctant to comply with, or even ignore the ADA laws for service dogs, and fake service dogs increase reaction.

  25. Avatar Of Kiabia9



    As the owner of a very well trained Golden Retriever I have to say I can understand the desire of the owners who want to get these “Service dog” vests to have their pups with them in more places. I spent a lot of time and work on my dog, and at 2.5 years old he is better behaved than I’d say 95% of the dogs we encounter, if not more. I would love to be able to have him by my side wherever we go, I hate leaving him at home, but I also hate tying him outside a grocery store, coffee shop, mall, etc, while I’m inside. I don`t have a car, so we’re also very limited as to how far we can travel. (our local transit only allows either a service animal or an animal that fits in a small cage, my 90+ pound Golden doesn’t qualify)

    There has been some talk about looking into having dogs allowed on transit and requiring owners to be responsible for any mess their dog may make. Of course this means you will have those who are responsible and clean up after the piddles and poops that sometimes just happen, even if you do your best to ensure your pup goes before you ride, and those who take advantage of the fact our transit isn’t consistently monitored by security or other employees and they’ll walk away from a mess, much like some dog owners clean up poops in parks and others leave it where it falls, or like some transit riders paying every time they ride and others hitching a free ride due to the same lack of monitors and checks. One opponent to the idea said “well what if a dog gets motion sickness and throws up on the train or bus?” I can tell you as a loving dog owner who relies heavily on public transportation that if carrying a few supplies like poop bags, disinfectant wipes, and other things needed to clean up the odd mess means that I can spend more time going to a lot more places with my dog I would gladly take the risk of the occasional oops and take care to clean it up if it were to happen. Sadly some owners don’t see things the same way, and they give the rest of the dog owners a bad rep. It’s hard to walk through the local park carrying my bag of poop and see the 30 other piles that have just been left on trails (not always at the edge) and in the grassy soccer field and open play areas. It disgusts me too, not just those people who aren’t dog owners or lovers. And I know that they tend to judge all dog owners based on those few that leave a mess.

    That’s really the problem here with this issue. Because of irresponsible dog owners I am limited to either hanging out with my dog in my immediate neighbourhood, tying him outside of the shops (and worrying if someone’s going to steal my friendly loving dog) or leaving him at home, or going out with friends and family that do have vehicles for the occasional further outing to someplace different. The only option I would have to be able to take him on public transportation or into places (for now at least) would be to get one of these false “service dog” packages. That’s just wrong and would feel really slimy to me, for lack of a better word. My dog is extremely well behaved and has been getting compliments since he was a young pup as far as how good he is, he does do a lot for me as far as social anxiety, personal comfort, getting me up and moving when there are days I’d rather just stay in bed, and so on, but he is not a service dog. He can get excited if a person or dog shows any kind of attention to him, and he’ll want to go visit and make friends. This issue is one that even some service dogs can sometimes struggle with, and he lacks the structure and hours of specific training to be able to handle the distractions and crowds of the more public places. I’m confident if he were to go someplace public that allows friendly healthy dogs that he would handle it well, but he lacks the professional “detachment” a true working service dog is trained to show. He’s more like an off-duty service dog in that regard – well trained, well behaved, but playful and friendly rather than quiet and professional.

    I think if more places adopted an open-door policy for friendly well-behaved dogs there would be a much better life for dogs that are like mine and their humans. But I’m not willing to lead people to believe I am disabled in a way that I’m not, I think it’s abhorrent and a disservice to people who suffer from very real injuries, illnesses and disabilities that need their dogs or other equipment and consideration just to be able to live their lives.

  26. I wouldn’t want any pet placed in the cargo compartment on an airplane like luggage. They’re living, breathing souls with feelings like the fear & anxiety which they definately suffer from when being stuffed into an airplanes cargo compartment for however many hours the flight is. It’s a scary place & no animal should have to suffer the awful loud & scary sounds that take place in these compartments. It’s just plain cruel to make an animal have to travel this way on an airplane. Not to mention airlines are famous for mistreating & losing these precious animals. The airlines need to have areas on planes specifically for people & their crated animals to travel on board together in the airplane cabin. Animals are just the same as a child to a lot of us animal owners & they deserve to be with their family during a flight. There’s something wrong with people who view pets as luggage. Only people that consider their pets to be a member of the family & treat them as such should be allowed to own an animal. It’s a serious responsibility & not just a toy or entertainment to be ignored or abandonded if you get bored with them or they get old.

    • Avatar Of Janed JaneD says:

      Are you willing to pay three or four times the going rate for a ticket to compensate for the space your dog’s crate will take up? Probably not.

      • Avatar Of Dr Cathy

        Dr Cathy


        Jane, the vast majority of dog crates would fit in the seat of an airplane. Why would that seat cost more than the seat I’m sitting in? If a human doesn’t fit in an airplane seat, s/he is often required to buy a second seat. To avoid having my dog treated as luggage, I would buy the second seat.
        I don’t understand why you think a dog crate would cost three to four times as much as a ticket.

        • Avatar Of Nadia



          Most dogs would not fit comfortably in a crate the size of a normal aeroplane seat… Anything bigger than the average spaniel would need almost twice as much space. My greyhounds certainly wouldn’t. The most popular pet dog breeds, Labradors, Collies and GSDs, wouldn’t.

          I don’t disagree with you that animals should not be treated like luggage, but I do think they would require considerably more space. The logistics of getting animals onto a plane in an orderly manner would also require increased resources, so I can imagine that a dog ticket would indeed cost 3 or 4 times as much as a usual ticket.

        • Avatar Of Siveheart



          Not to mention, you already have to pay the same cost as a plan ticket just to have them shoved in the cargo hold. It’d be one thing if they were treated well back there, but they aren’t and its just wrong. I’d rather just drive where it is I’m going if at all possible even if it’s more expensive rather than have either of my dogs shoved in a cargo hold and treated like disposable property rather than the living breathing creatures they are.

  27. Thank you for the balanced coverage on this issue. You may see my other comments on a story commenting on this story.

    I’m skeptical of the 20,000 figure for service dog users. Certainly it isn’t hundreds of thousands, but 20,000, across service dogs of all types, owner trained and program trained, seems low to me.

    You’ve nailed the issues surrounding a nationwide SD certification. In addition, I suspect the upkeep and establishment of such a thing would be a nightmare, not to mention setting the thing up to be fair and with proper checks and balances. It would, in short, cause more problems than it solves.

    No, we do need legislation, but not laws that would make obtaining ID’s and working gear more difficult for owner trainers. Any law that’s passed should significantly punish the impersonation of a person with a disability. Since the right of access is the right of a person with a disability, *not* the dog, anyone passing his dog off as a service dog is by default claiming he has a disability.

    I want to expand on this a little. There are, as you point out, limits to the right of a person to be accompanied by a service dog. Any dog, service dog or not, who is disruptive or not properly housebroken or not under the handler’s control can be removed from a business. Whether through fear or ignorance, business owners are not availing themselves of this right. Your dog, service dog or not, cannot, for instance, be fed from your table at a restaurant, and the manager would be well within his rights to have the dog removed. Importantly, service must still be provided the customer, though without the dog. As a service dog using community, we’ve fallen down on this part of the education we need to provide.

    Before legislation therefore, I believe a good start on this would be education, both of business proprietors and of the general public. Let us first change the way we frame the right of access. Please say that a person with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a service dog, individually task trained to perform tasks or work to mitigate a disability. It’s an important distinction. Please do not say that a service dog has the right to go anywhere the public is allowed, because this is inaccurate. The dog does not have this right. If he did, my guide dog could accompany anyone, not just me. Yes, it really is an important distinction. If people understood they were claiming to have a disability when perhaps they do not, perhaps they wouldn’t be so eager. Not foolproof of course, as evidenced by the use of disabled parking placards, but I honestly believe many of these fakers don’t see it in the same way. You want a dog that can go anywhere with you? OK, what kind of disability do you want to go along with it?

    • I have a Service Dog who is well trained and I have a disability. I have gone to many places with my dog and have never had a problem nor have I been asked what she is trained to do. I have not seen any service dogs in the area where I live. I live very close to Seattle and if there are so many fake service dogs I have yet to see one. Is there a rule or a law that when you are in a restaurant with your service dog you must not give them food or water? I have never heard that it is not allowed. I do wish more people who work with the public would know the law regarding service dogs.

  28. Avatar Of Joebob



    Seems like a non-issue to me. So a fake service dog disrupts things. That doesn’t mean the next service dog (real or fake) is going to do the same thing. It’s just like having kids in a public place. Some act right while others don’t.

    The only way you are going to stop people from bringing fake service dogs into public places is to make anyone using a service dog show some identification or proof the dog is legit. This will make it even harder on the legit service dog users and federal law already says you can’t do that. I don’t see how stopping a few people from using fake service dogs is worth that hassle.

    • I agree. There is already a law giving stores. etc. the right to ask them to leave if the animal is doing something wrong. If we start a certification requirement it will cost and most disabled can’t afford more expense. Dogs are an expense already. My dog is groomed every six weeks, dog food, and the vet are is a big cost. I had to pay for the training too. I do carry the Federal Law papers with me just in case I should need to show someone the law. I also have a handicap card for parking. I really don’t think there are a lot of fake service dogs and as long as the dog is well behaved I would not care but is it were aggressive I would care. I have taken my dog on the train but not on a flight. On the train there was plenty of space for the dog right next to me.

    • Except the dog disrupting things before my dog arrived now causes the store manager to follow me around the store and watch me like a hawk. What if I have PTSD or an anxiety disorder? This happened to one handler. The handler came in right after a fake service dog user came in. That faker’s dog was disruptive to the point it peed on the floor, the owner allowed lots of people to pet it and approach him and it knocked over displays. The handler, who had a serious anxiety disorder, bad enough that simple shopping trips could trigger black outs, came in with her legit service dog. She was spit on by a customer when she refused to let the customer pet her service dog, since the last service dog handler was letting everyone pet their dog. She was also called names. The manager called followed her and directly asked her if her dog would pee in the store. By the time she was close to where she wanted to get her three items she was seeing black spots and had to abandon her cart and rush out of the store. She never got her items, ended up sitting in the parking lot in her car crying with her dog working overtime calming her due to a major panic attack all because a fake service dog was disruptive. You don’t know the damage it causes us. It’s a huge ripple effect. Leave your pets home.

  29. Avatar Of Chris



    Great article on legitimate service dogs and fakers. I do wish you had included that the ADA specifically says that providing comfort or emotional support do not count as tasks and that dogs such as emotional support dogs do NOT qualify as service dogs and their handlers/owners do not have the same rights of public access as the handlers of legitimate, trained service dogs.

    • Avatar Of Janed JaneD says:

      Thank you for your comment! It infuriates me when people say they have to have their “service dog” along because makes them less nervous to fly or helps overcome a social anxiety. Plenty of people have these issues to some extent and don’t bring along a dog, cat, lizard or horse everywhere to get them through the day. A true disability means that a person has an impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities. Being nervous or shy doesn’t qualify.

      • Avatar Of Zombiepaws



        Service dogs for psychiatric disabilities are real, and are just as legitimate as any other service dogs.

      • Avatar Of Nadia



        ‘Nervous’ and ‘shy’ do not adequately represent nervous or anxiety /disorders/, which – please take it from a long-term sufferer – can be incredibly debilitating. Blanket dismissing such conditions as shyness further demonises those with mental health difficulties and makes it harder for us to seek and receive help.

        • Avatar Of Heather



          I suffer from PTSD and the alpha soup that comes with it. I served in the Navy for 6 years , I was raped and left with the scars that will hunt me for the rest of my life . I was told that a ESD would help me start to heal and that I could and should start working with one so I looked at many dogs till I found the one that worked with me! Feb 2015 I started living and working with a 14 pound mix that has opened the world to me. I walked into a mall for the first time in 22 years. I ate out for the first time too. No ES dogs are not service dogs they DO fall under different rules however, they do perform a task for the handler. My ESD Bishop knows when I start to have an “attack” and will start to Q me into coming back .When I panic he calms when I cry he comforts I do not clam that he is a service dog I am truly open about why I have him and his vest says Emotional support if a place of business says they do not want us there we leave never to return. I am not shy or nervous I am a victim of the past . I want to shop in a mall I want to go out and see the world and with my ESD I am learning how . This article talks about fake service dogs not therapy dogs or emotional support dogs my dog does help me we live under different rules from service dogs and still people call us fake. they want to know why we have or need them . So I ask you should I wear a vest that says RAPE VICTIM so people understand why I am shaking and crying and running out of a crowd ?

      • Psychiatric service dogs for PTSD, disabling anxiety and other mental health issues are highly trained dogs with a long laundry list of tasks they perform. These tasks can include, but are not limited to, preventing their handler from stepping into traffic during a disassociative episode, interrupting self harming behaviors, alerting to upcoming anxiety attacks, leading their handler to a quieter area to prevent an anxiety attack, reminding their handler to take medications (said medications can affect memory), clearing a room to ease a handler’s anxiety, providing passive blocking to lower a handler’s anxiety, provide Deep Pressure Therapy to help calm their handler, provide space between their handler and others when needed, get help when their handler has a stress related seizure from anxiety (yes, they happen), prevent their handler from injuring themselves from a fall from a stress related seizure, roll their handler to prevent choking during a stress related seizure, wake a handler from a stress related seizure, prevent a stress related seizure; prevent a panic attack/anxiety attack/stress related seizure during a flight.

        You may not see the injury to that service dog’s handler’s mind, but the dog spend hundreds of hours training to work with and provide the specific tasks it does for that person. That person may have fought in Afghanistan or or Iraq or some other country for your freedoms and though not wearing a uniform that day while boarding a plane with you, you may show a bit of compassion for the team and stop complaining.

        Not all disabilities are visible.

        If you would like to learn more about how dogs can help those with mental health issues read Healing Companions by Jane Miller.

    • Also note that the ADA and ACAA are not the same law. The Air Carriers Access Act which covers flight does permit Emotional Support Animals and requires a different ruling for those who use PSDs (Psychiatric Service Dogs) for flights. I, as a mobility service dog user, do not have to inform the airlines 48 hours in advance with a doctors note written on a doctor’s letterhead within the last 12 months that my dog is of need for my medical condition to fly. On the other hand my fellow PSD users do. That is discrimination and I am hoping many of us will get that changed specifically for those who use service dogs. I can see it for ESAs, but not service dogs. Housing also has differing rules for ESAs. DOT (Department of Transportation) also has differing rules. You have to remember, ADA covers public access an employment, not education, housing, transportation or airlines.

  30. Avatar Of Jc



    This is where the public can make the difference. I recently confronted a fake team in a grocery store where the dog had its nose in a bag of fresh-baked bread. I asked the two questions mentioned above. Since this was not a legit team, the first response I had was “It’s none of your business. My disability is protected.” I assume a valid handler would be aware of the Department of Justice policies regarding the two questions that may be legally asked. However, I informed the handler that these two questions are permissible under that DOJ’s guidance regarding the ADA, and repeated my questions. The final question was answered with “He is a comfort dog.” I then explained that the law does not recognize emotional support animals (with exception of PTSD) and asked if he would like to take his dog out now or if I should call law enforcement to assist him. Since I do not work at the store where this happened and made this clear, the store could not be held liable. I then gave the store manager a copy of the DOJ guidelines regarding this policy, so his staff would know how to handle it in the future. If you intend to address it as a citizen, I would suggest carrying one or more copies of the DOJ guidance with you to both ensure that you are following appropriate procedure and to educate anyone threatening you or concerned with your actions. However, even with this, the problem will continue to grow until this is resolved. It just buys legitimate teams a little more deserved privacy and protects their rights a little more.

  31. I am glad that someone has taken the initiative to write about this topic. I worked for years in a pet store. On a weekly basis people would come in with “service dogs” that weren’t authentic, trained service dogs. Many of the vests these dogs wore actually had the website stitched onto them where they were ordered from. I looked them up and found exactly what you reported in this expose of yours: that one can order a “service dog” vest for $150 (and up), along with “medical doctor” prescriptions. What baloney!

    So many times these dogs were completely disruptive in the store: barking and lunging at other people’s pets, peeing and pooping, etc. This creates a bad image and reputation for the true service dogs that have hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of training, are well behaved, and truly serve a purpose.

    I too am waiting to see how this will unravel; if there will ever be any accountability for impostor service dogs and the people who perpetuate it.

  32. Avatar Of Lisa



    If the major problem is that fake service dogs are sometimes disruptive, whereas real service dogs are so well trained that they are not, then perhaps what we need is a paradigm shift: It should not be that only real service dogs are allowed in public places; it should be that both real service dogs and very well-trained family pets, as attested both by the animal’s observed behavior and by some kind of documentation (perhaps AKC or UKC performance tests–the owner could carry an ID card issued by the national dog club, let’s say) should be allowed to go pretty much everywhere their owners go. At the same time, people whose animals really do cause problems perhaps should be sanctioned more. Honestly, though, I live out here in Seattle where at least until recently there’s been a ton of tolerance of family pets (dogs, cats, etc.) in supermarkets, drugstores, coffee shops, etc., and personally I have never observed an actual problem caused by an animal. I know in Europe they are allowed many places they can’t go in the US, and it works out fine I believe people really exaggerate the problems caused by family pets in public.

  33. Avatar Of Andrew Dube Andrew Dube says:

    When a dog is license for service and registered by the state they should put a chip in the dog stating it is a registered service dog.And every business that allows a service dog should have a hand held chip machine if they think the dog is acting strange to check the dog if it is a legal service dog.If it is not a legal service dog then they can ask them to leave.

  34. Avatar Of Mary Locke Mary Locke says:

    Thank you for this article which legitimizes my feeling and attitude about the online “certification”. There are two people just in my small town of Prescott that have their dogs wearing vests and have “cards” and from the animal’s and the owner’s behavior, I know they are not legit. And there is a third that I have suspicions about. I went online to find where to go for training with my dog and was almost all of the way through an application before realizing that the site was not about training, but about selling the “equipment”. Thank you again for this astute and clarifying article.

  35. Avatar Of Suzanne Suzanne says:

    Great article, I was unaware that do many people would abuse the system. That is a shame, because every time people abuse a legitimate system that is needed by people, the ones that truly need it are the ones that get hurt in the end. Thanks for bringing this into the light.

    Suzanne Dean

  36. Avatar Of Eileen



    This problem has gotten so out of hand where I live that Property Managers are saying “make your dog a service dog” and your dog will be allowed. So the cultural norm here is to post “No pets allowed” with the expectation that all you need is a “service dog” vest to move in with your dog.

    My colleagues (I am a doctor) get requests to sign a piece of paper so they can bring their dog on the bus. And it is not just “once in a while.”

  37. Avatar Of Donna



    If owners of businesses got rid of their no dogs allowed rules, I think that there would be a lot fewer incidents of people trying to pass off their dogs as service dogs. Having said that, the owner or manager still has the right to ask a person to leave if his or her dog is not behaving appropriately. Managers think they can’t ask a service dog team to leave if the dog is not under control. This is just not true. Even so, I have seen some non-service dogs behaving much better than some children.

  38. Avatar Of David White David White says:

    There is an advertisement at the top of the article for “Service Dog Vests”.

    • Avatar Of Brandy Arnold

      Brandy Arnold


      The ads are generated by Google and are out of our control… this just exemplifies how big the problem is, how big the industry is, and how the companies selling these products are reaching pet parents.

      • Avatar Of Gayle



        have you complained to Google, or to the regulatory agents of Google service. Saying it’s out of your control is accepting the ads. At least add a first paragraph stating that such ads are for business that promote illegal activity. And you could give information and encourage readers to report these business that promote illegal activity.

    • Avatar Of Omg



      That’s hilarious!!!!

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