Deciding to get a service dog can be one of the most life-improving decisions that you ever make. Service dogs can not only provide valuable assistance in your day-to-day life, but they can provide you with companionship and unconditional love.

The gained benefits are apparent. But having said that, the actual reality of working with and traveling with a service dog can be a bit complicated and confusing. This is because you may be told that you cannot bring your service dog into a particular location such as housing, hotels, airlanes, buses, trains, and other public locations, even though you have a legal right to do so.

There are various statutes that govern the laws and use of service dogs in public places. With that said, you may not know how to respond if you are accused of illegally bringing your service dog to an area where you are legally entitled to bring your dog.

This article is here to help you understand that you have certain rights and benefits when working with a service dog in public. By understanding your rights, you can feel more confident, and avoid any uncomfortable or awkward situations that may arise when taking your service dog into public locations.

The Service Dog Laws

To start, it is helpful to examine the major statutes that affect your use of a service dog. Those three statutes are the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACAA”). The ADA is a comprehensive law that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.” The FHA is a law that protects people from discrimination when engaging in house-related activities like purchasing a home, obtaining a mortgage, or seeking housing assistance. The ACAA is a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability when individuals are traveling by plane.

All three of these laws together provide the basis of the rights and benefits you have when working with your service dog in public. While it can be confusing, there are some helpful resources online.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
For instance, the ADA has provided comprehensive documentation on how service dogs are treated under the law. Luckily, you are well-protected under the ADA. You can bring your service dog to places like salad bars and other self-service food lines, any room of a hotel, patient rooms in a hospital, bars, gyms, and fitness centers. Along with this, if a business employee inquires about your service dog, they can only ask two specific questions under the ADA: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. That said, there are some areas that, under the ADA, are not absolutely required to allow service dogs. Some of those locations are places of worship, but you will want to review the ADA documentation to answer any specific questions.

Fair Housing Agreement (FHA)
Specifically, regarding the FHA, it prevents people like landlords from discriminating against individuals with a disability. If a landlord includes a “no pets” clause in a lease, for instance, that landlord still has to provide “reasonable accommodations” to allow pets who serve as assistance animals. While you will need to ensure that your animal is indeed a service animal versus an assistance animal, you have the right to request a government agency investigate your claim if you believe your landlord is discriminating against you.

Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

Now there is the separate question of bringing a service dog onto an airplane. The ACAA does permit service animals (including emotional service animals) on airplanes, but they may be excluded if they are too large or heavy, pose a direct safety to others, cause a significant disruption of cabin service, or are prohibited from entering a foreign country. There are also some stricter rules if you have emotional support or psychiatric service dog—most notably, documentation that you must provide to the airline before bringing your dog on board. For more guidance on traveling with your service dog, you can click here for help from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Stand Up For Your Rights As Service Dog Owner

The ADA, FHA, and ACAA provide you and your service dog with extensive protection. These are legal rights that can’t be taken away from you. Ultimately, knowing that you have these legal rights will give you more confidence as you and your service dog explore the world.

Although not required by law, we recommend registering your service dog. Registration helps you avoid hassles and confrontations when people try to prevent you and your service dog from accessing public and private locations. The registration process provides you with an accredited ID card that you can show as proof anytime you are questioned. You’ll also be able to get and equip your dog with a Service Dog Vest that acts as visual proof to anyone who would try bare your access. In many cases, the vest helps avoid any questioning altogether.