Right to Use Service Animals in Public Under the ADA

ADA regulations (Title II and III) state that people with disabilities have the right to use service dogs for assistance in public places.  Public places such as movie theaters, restaurants, grocery stores, clinics, courthouses, libraries, and museums must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities who use them for assistance.  Basically, anywhere the general public is allowed to go, service animals are allowed.

Service dogs may only be excluded from areas when their presence would cause:

  • A direct threat to health and safety
  • A fundamental change to the nature of a program or activity.

For example, in a hospital,  it would be appropriate to exclude a service dog from operating rooms or burn units where the dog’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.  However, service dogs should still be allowed in other areas of a hospital such as cafeterias, clinic waiting areas, or routine examination rooms.

Definition of a Service Animal

ADA regulations define a service animal as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.  Any breed or size of dog may be used as a service dog.

The work or tasks performed by a service dog must be directly related to the individual's disability. Although a dog must be individually trained to perform work or a task, the training does not have to be provided by a recognized or licensed trainer.  A person with a disability may train their own service dog.

Note:  Miniature horses are not included in the definition of a service animal.  However, they are listed as the one exception to a dog that may be used as a service animal.  Visit Fact Sheet on Miniature Horses.

How People with Disabilities Use Service Dogs

Service dogs are often associated with guide dogs that used by people who are blind.  In reality, people with a wide range of disabilities use service dogs for many different types of tasks.  Examples of tasks performed by service dogs include, but are not limited to:

  • 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.

This information is from the U.S. Department of Justice ADA 2010 Revised Requirements.

More resources on service animals.

Miniature Horses

Service Animals & the Fair Housing Act

Service Animals in Health Care Settings

The ADA and Service Animals: Common Questions

Service Animals in the Workplace

The ADA & Service Animals: A Quick Guide

Federal, State, and Local Laws: Which One to Follow?