There’s no need for a lengthy introduction here. There’s no doubt about the answer to this question. It’s a resounding “yes” – it is illegal for anyone to ask you to show service dog papers to allow you to bring your service animal into their establishment.

As the owner of a service dog, – whether it’s an autism assistance dog, mobility service dog or another type of service dog altogether – you know the benefits your animal provides in your day-to-day-life.

If you’re a business owner, it is also important to understand the law to ensure you remain on the right side of it.

In this article, we’ll look at what the law says about this question, and where confusion may have arisen.

What does the law say on service dog papers?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets out the framework for how service animals and their handlers should be treated in a public setting.

“An individual with a disability accompanied by a service animal may not be asked to provide documentation of a disability, to answer questions regarding his or her disability or have the service animal demonstrate its work.”

The wording is very clear.

If you have a service animal, there is no need to provide documentation, certification or any papers regarding your disability or your service dog. Additionally, you should not be asked any questions about your disability and your service dog does not need to demonstrate the tasks it has been trained to perform.

service dogs at the grocery store

If the law is clear, why is this still confusing?

There are a couple of scenarios which may have led to confusion regarding the legitimacy of service dogs.

The ADA does go on to specify two questions which staff may ask when a individual’s disability is not apparent to determine if the service animal is legitimate.

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

  2. What task or service is the animal trained to perform?

In this case, as a handler, you simply need to calmly explain the tasks the dog has been trained to perform. There is still no requirement for you to provide papers or certification to prove the validity of your service dog.

What about businesses who display signs saying ‘no pets’?

Businesses are within their rights to prevent admission of pets onto their premises. But a service animal is not a pet, and businesses must make exceptions to allow service dogs and their handlers into their establishment at no extra cost. People with disabilities cannot be treated differently or less favorably than other customers.

There are only two justifiable reasons why a service animal can be asked to leave the business premises:

  • The dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it.

  • The dog is not housebroken.

In these instances, staff must offer the service dog handler the opportunity to purchase a product or service without the animal’s presence.

Should a service dog wear a vest?

Even though it is not required to have a service dog vest, we do recommend utilizing one. During the service dog training process, we use the vest as a way of letting the dog know when it is time to work. The vest helps the dog differentiate between a leisure walk as opposed to working.

Another good reason to use the vest is that it informs people know straight away that it is a service dog. This helps to prevent others from approaching and disturbing the dog while he/she is working.

A service dog vest also brings awareness. Parents are more likely to educate their children on what the service vest on the dog represents, and explain that this type of dog is different than a typical pet.

What about websites selling service dog certification papers?

This is where some confusion has potentially arisen in recent years. You may be familiar with websites across the internet run by companies who are willing to charge extortionate fees for unnecessary service dog paper certification. In addition, many of these companies also offer badges, tags, vests and other accessories for service dogs.

Remember this – service dogs are not required to wear a vest or required to have any identification at all. Many of these websites are looking to pry on service dog owners who may be unsure of the specifics of the legislation.

In conclusion

As a service dog owner, knowing your rights is very important and will make life far easier. Your rights are enshrined in law for a reason – to protect you and your quality of life.

If you have any questions about the information contained within the legislation, we would urge you to read the details on the Americans with Disabilities Act website. You can also contact us with any service dog queries you may have.

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