ADA & Service Dogs: Common Questions

What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal?

As defined by the ADA, a service animal is a dog that has been individually trained to perform a task or work to assist a person with a disability. An emotional support animal, as defined by the Fair Housing Act, provides support that alleviates the symptoms of a person's disability. Other differences include:

  • Emotional support animals are not required to have specific training or perform any tasks.
  • Under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals are not restricted only to dogs.
  • ADA regulations do not cover emotional support animals.
  • The Fair Housing Act covers both service animals and emotional support animals. 
  • Note: people with disabilities may use animals other than dogs as service animals in their homes.


May a service dog ever be removed from a business?

Yes. Business owners have the right to remove a service dog that is aggressive, growling, snarling, and of course, biting. Business owners also have the right to remove a service dog if it is disruptive by repeatedly barking, wandering around, and/or bothering other customers.
When a dog is disruptive, staff should ask the handler to bring the dog under control. If the dog continues to be disruptive, staff may ask the handler to remove the service dog. Staff may require that a service dog be removed from the facility immediately if the dog is aggressive. Note: The service dog handler should be given the option to return without the dog.


May a service dog be banned permanently from a facility, such as a business or a library?

In most situations, a dog should be allowed to return to the facility. In many cases, a dog may just need some additional training or may have felt unwell or distracted when removed from the facility. However, more extreme situations such as attacking or biting staff and customers may require a permanent ban from the facility. Repeated disruptions over time such as continual barking, wandering, or jumping on customers may also result in a permanent or temporary ban.


Are stores required to allow service animals to sit in a shopping cart?

Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, or the handler must carry the dog. For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose-alert dog, they may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to the person's face. This allows the dog to smell the person's breath and alert them of a change in glucose levels.


Are restaurants, bars, and other places that serve food or drink required to allow service animals to be seated on chairs or allow the animal to eat at the table?

No. Seating, food, and drink are provided for customer use only. The ADA gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by his or her service animal. However, covered entities are not required to allow an animal to sit or be fed at the table.


Are gyms, fitness centers, hotels, or municipalities that have swimming pools required to allow a service animal in the pool with its handler?

No. The ADA does not override public health rules that may prohibit dogs in swimming pools. However, service dogs must be allowed on the pool deck and in other areas where the public is allowed to go.


I want my business to be dog friendly. May I allow service animals other than dogs or emotional support animals into my business?

Yes. The ADA sets minimal requirements; however, business owners may go above and beyond these requirements as they wish to provide services to people with disabilities, providing there are no conflicting state or local public health ordinances.


If a city has an American Pit Bull Terrier exclusion, doesn't that mean this breed is also restricted as a service dog?

No. Cities that prohibit specific breeds of dogs must make an exception for service dogs. The ADA clearly states that service dogs cannot be excluded based upon size or breed. Any service dog that causes a direct threat to the health and safety of others may be removed from a facility. The decision must be applied on a case-by-case basis.


Are service dogs required to follow local licensing and vaccination laws?

Yes. Cities should not make "special" requirements for service dogs that do not apply to other dogs. However, people with disabilities are not exempt from requirements, which apply to all animals, such as vaccinations and licensing. They are also not exempt from paying associated fees. Note: it is not uncommon for cities to waive fees or offer financial assistance to service dog handlers if needed.


My city has passed laws regarding service animals; which do I follow, the ADA or state and local laws?

State and local laws should meet the minimum guidelines required by the ADA. State and local laws may also expand the definition of a service animal to include other animals than dogs. Many state and local laws cover issues such as service dogs in training and/or fraudulent claims that a pet is a service dog. Service dog handlers should follow the ADA guidelines and any additional state and local laws.