The JJs List Blog

Service Dogs: Pets, Pests or Medical Equipment?

Posted by on June 11, 2013 - 37 Comments


Review of Wedgewood Farms Restaurant

Review that inspired this post - about being refused entry to a restaurant because of the presence of a service dog

I recently read a review on about a couple accompanied by their Service Dog who visited Wedgewood Farms Restaurant in Burlington Township, New Jersey, and who were refused service by the manager on duty.

As I read about this couple’s victimization I felt waves of anger and disbelief wash over me. I wanted to do something to help educate Americans on the valuable role that Service Dogs serve in our society. Hopefully this editorial will help diminish prejudice against these important animals and their owners by the business owners of restaurants, stores, banks, bakeries, coffee shops and other Main Street business.

What Is A Service Dog

A service dog pressing a button to open an aut...

A service dog pressing a button to open an automatic door. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My company is the Chicago Dog Coach, a Chicago dog training company that specializes in training Chicago Service Dogs for private citizens and veterans in Illinois. I specialize in providing Service Dogs for veterans and private citizens who desire to procure their own dogs that are trained to their specifications.

As a nationally credentialed Occupational Therapist and a dog trainer, I find that I can assist Americans in a very unique manner. I find that the best way to help overcome miscommunication, ignorance and prejudice about Service Dogs is to look at the actual federal law. I find that the law is very clear on what a Service Dog is, what a Service Dog does and what a Service Dog is not.

The ADA (The Americans With Disabilities Act) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. The federal rules are explained below:

“The rule defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals.”

The Training of Service Dogs

In many cases Service Dogs are generally carefully bred and undergo rigorous training before they are matched with a partner. The Service Dog training is so complicated and demanding that most Service Dog programs have a failure rate of about 80%. My program is very different from the standard national programs as I have a success rate of close to 100%. In the program offered at my company, The Chicago Dog Coach Dog Training Company, the owner choses his own dog from the dog breed of his or her choice and works closely with a professional dog trainer to train the dog in an dog- centered manner.

I train the Service Dog to be reliable on and off leash, to perform a task to assist the individual to complete their ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living), to be well-mannered in public; and most importantly to be non-aggressive to people and other dogs. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are those personal functional activities required by all of us for continued well-being and include things like taking medication, personal hygiene. getting to work and mobility.

For many individuals with disabilities, assistance from other human beings or Service Dogs to perform activities of daily living is a daily need. Preserving one’s sense of dignity and self-esteem when receiving services is something that must be learned, and requires patience, flexibility, and a commitment from both Service Dog owner and the public. Building meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships with Service Dog owners and local businesses takes patience and hard work on everyone’s part, and I for one, think that it is worth the effort.

What Does A Service Dog Do?

A service dog putting keys into his owner's hand.

A service dog putting keys into his owner's hand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can assure business owners that if a Service Dog appears in the door of your business it is a very special animal that is serving a medical need, a medical need that may be visible or invisible to the naked ete.

These Service Dogs are recognized by our government as “necessary medical equipment” that the person must have in order to maintain their life and lifestyle. I find that it helps many people to think of the dog as a furry pacemaker, or a wheelchair with a friendly face.

The Service Dog can perform tasks that are used to reduce illness or disability for a person, the tasks themselves are incredibly varied. The Service Dog may serve people in some of the following ways:

  • to guide and assist blind people with orientation,
  • to alert deaf people to sounds,
  • assist people with mobility disabilities to pull their wheelchairs or retrieve items,
  • warn people of an imminent seizure or low blood sugar,
  • remind people with psychiatric disabilities to take medication, assist veterans with new complicated mental and cognitive disabilities with activities of daily living as they reenter civilian life.

Your Rights As A Business Owner

Many business owners are confused and even angry because they are under the mistaken belief that a Service Dog if it is allowed to enter the premises will take their business hostage, damage goods and frighten consumers away. Trust me, nothing could be further from the truth! Service Dogs are better mannered and under better control than most children. As a matter of fact, I have seen business increase at establishments that allow Service Dogs to enter their businesses.

The law supports the rights of the disabled person to use a Service Dog and also requires the Service Dog owner to be responsible for the behavior of the dog. In addition the law does allows the business owner to maintain an orderly and safe

atmosphere even with the entrance of a Service Dog. The law requires Service Dogs and their owners to operate in a responsible manner to protect the business owner and clientele:

1. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents him from using these devices. Individuals who cannot use such devices must maintain clear control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

2. However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages.

3. You may exclude any service animal from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays aggressive behavior such as barking, growling, snapping or biting near or at guests or customers may be immediately excluded and escorted out of the establishment.

4. If the animal is not house-trained and urinates/defecates in your establishment you do have the right to immediately remove the animal.

What to Do If You Are Refused Access

If you are illegally denied access to or otherwise discriminated against in a place of public accommodation because of your Service Dog, stay calm. First, explain that the ADA protects your right to be accompanied by your service dog in places of public accommodation. It can ease the fear and frustration of all involved if a copy of the federal law is provided for reference.

If that does not get you admitted, then ask to speak to the manager or supervisor that is on duty. Repeat the explanation in a calm voice. If you are still not admitted, you can then politely offer to call the police to have them explain the federal law to the business owner.

In my experience if the issue gets to the point that the police are called and presented with the ADA, the establishment will reconsider their position and admit the Service Dog and owner.

Sometimes writing a letter to the person who owns the facility will result in an apology and a change in policy. Disability advocacy groups might be interested in pursuing the issue on your behalf but I would suggest this as a last resort.

In closing I hope that this article has clarified the role of the Service Dog, the Service Dog owner and the business owner so that all parties concerned can enjoy the benefits that the animals bring to our citizens.

Other Recent Articles:
Ami Moore the Chicago Dog Coach with three dogsWritten by Ami Moore
Ami Moore, also known as the Chicago Dog Coach, is a professional dog training and behavior expert. She has trained assistance and service dogs for adults and children with a variety of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual disabilities and is a member of SARA as a Service Animal Trainer. She can be found on YouTube and Facebook.
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I think service dogs are amazing. I really don’t see how they are pests and it’s unbelievable that people can be refused access to places with their dogs. They’re highly trained animals serving an important purpose, they’re hardly going to cause any trouble. I take off my hate to those who train them.

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Joseph Moser says:
Jun 15, 2013

I was the one who posted the original story about Wedgewood Farms. My wife went ahead, after much trepidation, and visited the township police station, about the incident. The only person they let her speak with was a young police officer who essentially discarded her complaint about the restaurant but finally went to speak with a Court Clerk, who apparently told him that the police did nothing to enforce NJ Title 10 laws. Somehow or other, the matter percolated up the police “chain” and the matter turned into a COMPLAINT about the officer who original responded. My wife grew fearful (not surprising in light of a form letter she received pointing out that if the complaint turned out to be false) there were legal actions possible against the complainant) of retaliation from local officers. As it turned out, a lieutenant in the police force finally reached out and advised that investigation of the “complaint” (which WE had never filed) proved that the police response had been negligent and that administrative remedies (including a training session for all officers on ADA requirements) were being put in place. He further THANKED her for bringing the matter to their attention and apologized for any worries she may have experienced.

rcv says:
Jun 28, 2013

It seems ridiculous that you cannot even ask to see if the dog is ACTUALLY a service dog. Just b/c someone tells me it is a service dog does not make it so. And if you think that is not possible, go to Walmart on any given day and see how many people park in the handicap spots who are not handicap. I hate to break it to you but we live in a world where people don’t always tell the truth. I am happy to allow any service dog entrance, but only if it is, in fact, a service dog and not just a pet you want to take everywhere. Just like with parking, you have to display a handicap sign in your car, you should have to display some authorization for the use of a service animal.

rcv says:
Jun 28, 2013

Perhaps the confusion is coming from business owners who cannot determine if it is in fact a service animal. I shouldn’t be allowed to take my dog into a building and a business owner should be able to refuse me entrance…UNLESS I can show that the dog is a service dog. Then I don’t know anyone who would have a problem. Again, handicap signs in cars, service dog signs on dogs.

[...] this video clip I am helping the owner increase her level of influence over her service dog. Dale McCluskey’s Dog Training is located in Saint Cloud [...]

Samantha says:
Jul 04, 2013

I love this article, it’s so educational. I have a service dog, as I am deaf and I can’t count the times I’ve been frustrated because business owners turn myself and my service dog away, it happened so often that I went to the society where I acquired micha( my service dog) and asked if there was anything they could do to help me and they have Micha a tag clearly stating she was a service dog, as if the harness wasn’t enough. Thankfully he buses where I live have priority seating at the front where people in wheelchairs or with walkers or strollers or service dogs can sit, it’s nice to be able to take Micha on the bus without any hassle. I should show this article to some business owners that still won’t let me on premise because they don’t believe Micha is a service dog. Thank you for the amazing article.

jefffrey says:
Jul 15, 2013

So what prevents any person who has a dog with him when tey come into a business from just stating that this dog is aservice dog? Must Owners provide proof?

Dan says:
Jul 16, 2013

When you have to have a government agency and laws to make American’s do what we would do naturally, ( Helping people, helping neighbors, helping strangers)
America has forgotten or never taught the 10 Commandments. If we all followed these commandments I would not nor would anyone be writing a comment.

Devon says:
Jul 18, 2013

I have a service dog who is a chihuahua. He is an alert service dog. Because when you look at me you cant tell that i have a disability, and my service dog is being carried, a lot of people give me grief for having him. I completely understand where they are coming from and offer his id immediately when asked about him to help people understand and i try to educate that there are more than just service animals for the blind and people bound to a wheel chair. I like when people are comfortable with me and Dakota being there. Not talking smack when i walk away from me being rude. Its all about education! I think people with service dogs should have no problem showing proof that their dog is a service animal

lauren Battista says:
Jul 23, 2013

i would love to get more info for the survice dog. i have trying to find one for my self for years.

Alberta says:
Jul 25, 2013

My family owns a restaurant and unknowingly refused a service dog. From our perspective we had no choice, because multiple staff members have servere allergic reactions to dog hair. The police were called to explain to us the federal law,so we allowed them to stay. The man, in the end, chose on his own to leave without eating. While yes, service animals do good for their owners, there are legitimate reasons for refusing entrance.

lin says:
Jul 27, 2013

ADA states allergies or fear if dogs is not an allowed reason to turn a service dog away.
As a business owner there are 3 questions allowed by law you may ask. 1) are you disabled 2) is that a service dog 3) what job does the dog do.
Anything else is against the law including asking for proof. A Department of Justice complaint (proven) starts at a huge fine, it was $110, 000 fir the first complaint and over $300,000 after the first time. That was the fine 2 years ago when I looked it up and provided it to a local place that did not want my dog. They quickly decided he was allowed.

Donna L. Carlaw says:
Jul 30, 2013

Great article. I have wondered at times about the pets I see being brought into the cabins of airplanes, but usually these animals are small and cause no problems. However, a couple of weeks ago I was flying from Miami to Houston. In the United waiting area, I was lunged at by a very large German Shepherd – not once, but twice. The dog was very menacing, and he and his family were sitting across from me. He was showing his teeth and barking. The people were almost as aggressive as the dog, shouting at me that the dog did not like me, and that was why he was reacting that way. I was a bad person, and the dog was basically a good judge of character. I told United about it, and they did not care, at least so far. The customer service gentleman in Houston did listen to me and took down a report, but I have not heard from the airline, except for two automated emails. Anyway, moral of the story? Watch out for viscious, fraudulent service dogs even in airports. Public, beware. Some of these fake service dogs are actually dangerous.

No Dogs Allowed says:
Aug 05, 2013

The sad reality is that most people are ignorant of the law. In california, people feel that they are entitled to bring their dogs with them everywhere, or that carrying your dog into a business is acceptable so long as you don’t let it touch the floor. People also buy service dog vests online (which is also against the law). It’s normally very obvious by the behavior of the animal whether or not the dog is a service animal, but if a manager approaches the customer they lie and say it’s a service animal or therapy dog (which is also against the law and has a fine associated with it.) In starbucks I often pull the managers aside and point out patrons with dogs in the store. True, there are exceptions where an owner has the right to allow dogs and I am respectful of that (and often don’t frequent those places), however in most places where food is served, grocery stores etc, only service dogs are allowed. I’ve always lived with the idea that just because I love my dog, doesn’t mean that everyone else does. I always keep him on the leash in public places (other than fenced in dog parks) and make him wait outside when I get my coffee on sunday am. I feel like this restaurant story most likely has two sides, so lets not hate on the owner too much as I’m sure non-service dog owner idiots like the ones in southern ca, probably forced the owner to have to take a hard stance on animals in the restaurant. As regular dog owners we need to be more respectful and responsible so that actual service dogs can do their job .

Jake says:
Aug 06, 2013

My late former roommate was a guide dog user throughout the last few years of his life, and I can remember 2 instances where he was denied service. One was a taxicab driver and the other was at a nearby diner. The taxicab incident got resolved right away when the driver summoned another cabbie to come pick up my roommate. The other incident got resolved when my roommate reported the restaurant to the then disabilities specialist for the City of Evanston. The restaurant owners were very quick to apologize. I’ve also been to said restaurant, and these owners have been good to me and my roommate though when he was still a cane user. They are from Korea and probably just didn’t understand the use of the dog.

Eileen says:
Aug 07, 2013

I work with a teacher who is an insulin dependent diabetic that has an implanted pump. She has an “alert dog” who wears a vest while on campus. She brings it in her classroom, cafeteria and teacher’s lounge. She allows the dog to roam freely throughout the classroom, pee on pads which she just dumps in the classroom trash can (and expects the custodians to take out the trash), brings it into the teacher’s common eating area, and lets it go up and down the hallway. She often picks it up and carries her from location to location (it is toy-sized). The students play with it throughout the day, allow it to climb onto their laps, and brings it around on campus with its leash. The dog has on more than 5 occasions-to me personally-”greeted” me by leaving the side of the diabetic, run across the room and either lick my feet/toes, gets underfoot and creates a need to establish a different path into the classroom. I love dogs, so thankfully my reflexes did not come into play which would have like resulted in me kicking it off my foot, across the room.

This teacher is also extremely messy and unorganized so the dog has access to all the student supplies left out like glue sticks, pens/pencils, papers and backpacks. She also allows the students to eat in the classroom and they often leave crumbs/debris on the floor desks that the dog will eat.

At what point can I resolve this issue so either

1) the dog must stay at that teachers side WALKING, on the leash,

2) students do not interact with the dog while it is supposed to be working.

Please advise.

Di says:
Aug 10, 2013

Great article. I wondered about the advice to call police to “have them explain the ADA.” Police are charged with enforcing *criminal* statutes. They have no oversight of civil law. Rather like ‘disputes with your neighbor over property lines’ the only thing the police can do is tell you that they can’t do anything and you should call a lawyer.

I’d encourage the author and readers to reconsider this one piece of advice. Calling police officers for things that have nothing to do with their job is frustrating for them, achieves nothing for you, and takes law enforcement resources off the streets.

Just to be clear – this is a common point of confusion, and the author is hardly alone in that misconception. It is otherwise an excellent article and, IMHO, spot on.

Ami A. Moore says:
Aug 24, 2013

I am so impressed with the quality of the conversation on Service or Assistance Dogs. I do stand by my instructions to call the local police to if one is refused admission. If the person who was refused entrance wishes to continue to a higher level, a police report is an important document. The second reason is that the business has committed a crime by denying access of the team and the local police are the first line of defense. Many times police officers when presented with the proper information can talk to the business owner and actually help smooth things over.

autumn bouley says:
Aug 27, 2013

I was denied access to a hotel with my 2service dogs and was harassed as well as my service dogs. When I went to go get help I got someone to come back and help me try to explain the laws to the hotel people the hotel people had my dogs taken away from the room I rented and I was kicked out. the hotel did not have any signs not permitting service dogs so I was completely in tears of what was done to me and my service dogs. What can I do to report this place

Nancy says:
Aug 30, 2013

I have a chihuahua. I have carried him in a backpack for almost 14 years. I have asthma and he is trained to react. I never put the backpack on the floor. At a restaurant I was told I have to place the bag on the floor, I refused. Then today going into Sams they told me I either need to have him on a leash or carry him. What? He is in a backpack! I do not know where to go to find rules on this.

Mel C-B says:
Aug 31, 2013

In response to rcv’s comment. You claim that many people park in handicap parking spaces that are not visually handicapped. All disabilites are NOT visible. Not ALL disabled people require a wheelchair. I am sick of the judgmental people and their comments when I get out of my car when I park in the handicap spot. Should I be required to show you proof that I was deemed Disabled by the Social Security Administration? Should I be required to show you my medical records proving that I am disabled? Should I lift up my shirt to show you that I have a feeding tube that will stick with me for the rest of my life as a result of my metabolic disease? In order to get a handicap plate or hangtag, your medical doctor has to complete a form that is presented to the BMV. I have been to hell and back and I do not appreciate ‘healthy’ people’s comments on what they cannot see with their eyes. I’m also sick of returning to my car and finding that someone (with no handicap tag or plate) has parked on the blue striped lines inbetween the handicap spots making it damn impossible to get into my car to leave! Someone actually was still in their car with the windows rolled up and refused to make eye contact with me when I informed her that she was parked illegally and was preventing me from getting into my car. I had to climb through my passenger door posing risk of pulling out my feeding tube!! This country is full of selfish, close-minded people. Show some respect. It’s not always black or white. For the rest of my life, I will live in the grey.

jl says:
Aug 31, 2013

The law reads that there are 2 questions that can be asked of the service dog hander, be it in training or in actual service:
1. Is this a service dog.
2. What is the service dog trained to do.

Not “trained to do for you” or any invasive question. These are enough. Any mis behavior on the part of the dog or handler as regards aggressive behaviors, etc. are met with being removed from the premises. Simple as that, and it’s nobody’s business what the disability is or why the dog is a service dog – period. Just because someone in the public has a suspicion of some sort or a rant does not mean they have the right to complain here or anywhere else at the handler/team. It is a crime to deny access to the team, just as it is a crime to imply that a pet is a service dog. A police report is an important document when needed. It is not pleasant to advocate for oneself in the face of an irate business person or the public, but it is our right to do so.

Stephanie Hitchman says:
Sep 05, 2013

My husband and I own a hotel and a woman registered and said she had a service dog. We had no problem with that. She said is was for her retarded son. She let the dog urinate on flowers in our teak garden area. As she was putting that dog in our garden suite, another large dog starts running around wildly, pooping and the entrance to our hotel and continued running through our garden seating area and pooped again. The dog was without a collar. The owner finally came out of the suite and called her dog. I questioned why a service dog is running loose. She went off on me about laws etc.. She was extremely rude about me questioning her at all. She said she was going to sue us and will probably own our hotel. I feel she was fraudulent and hurts others who have legitimate service dog needs.

Lynne Perrin says:
Sep 26, 2013

I ;ive in an apartment building. Can I park my electric scooter in the hall way to recharge? My apartment is so small and cannot accommodate my scooter.

philister says:
Oct 03, 2013

Hi Lynne, I would suggest you contact your building manager or landlord first to find out if you can park your scooter in the hallway.

Jody Hoffman says:
Jan 01, 2014

Are service dogs required to have insurance?? I have heard that the company that train service dogs will provide insurance. Is this true??

Philister Sidigu says:
Jan 02, 2014

Hi Jody,
Please take a look at the ADA requirements and FAQ sections regarding service animals. Here’s a link to ADA revised requirements:
also a link to the commonly asked questions section:

john justin says:
May 08, 2014

The article does not explain how to determine iif the dog is actually a service dog or the pet of someone lying about it. Is there some document that can be presented?

My wife was bitten by a dog not properly controlled and working ion in the medical field I have seen severe injuries from pets when there was no provocation.

Ami The Chicago Dog Coach says:
May 15, 2014

I have a packet for corporations and small business owners that will guide them on the proper procedures to make sure that the dog is a Service Dog. Please contact me for the packet.

Joe Dancesintherain says:
Dec 06, 2014

I have a question. My friend said that a service dog attacked her daughter. How likely is this to happen,or in fact would a service dog ever attack anyone?

Mike says:
Apr 05, 2015

I work in a casino and we do admit service dogs. However we are finding more and more that people are coming into the casino with a service dog but another person, friend or family member is taking the dog to the other side of the casino, leaving the person with the disability without the presence of the dog. What can we legally do?

Cathy TurnerW says:
May 10, 2015

I have a seizure dog who is to sleep with me, etc… She goes everywhere with me and is complimented on her manners. Because I can’t get out much, I feel she needs more training when I CAN get out. My husband doesn’t want to take her to many places and he has never seen her in her role. I feel she should go everywhere so she will learn not to be distracted at new experiences, etc… She does well and minds well, but we have certain things we need to work on. I feel I need to do the deciding and doing what we’ve done for training. Her and I have a intuition with each other, but it’s hard to explain. If I took her to church, she would lay at my feet in her small holder or sit quietly and sleep touching me at my side. I’m questioning my self. Please help!

kate burda says:
Jun 10, 2015

How should other children treat a service dog that will be used on a daily basis in a 1st grade classroom? What training should the students get?

Shelton says:
Oct 15, 2015

The reason they cant ask for training proof is its legal to train your own dog. My dog is a mastiff breed, American Allaunt. I’ve trained her myself. I have documentation from my medical provider, they have observed the training and have approved the benefit of the animal. Eva, is well mannered, never barks, sits under the table, never leaves my side. I haven’t had any issues so far. Ive been using her for about 5 months now. This is why the law states the rights to the Handler /Trainer are the same as the disabled person. To allow a training period for owners with less resources.

ESA Doctors says:
Mar 12, 2016

People need to understand the difference between a service dog, emotional support animal, and therapy dogs. The public is not educated and see all assistance animals as the same thing.

[…] Service Dogs: Pets, Pests or Medical Equipment? […]

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