Public Access


Public Access

Public Access

Every week I field a few calls from interested prospective clients looking to train their pet to become a service dog. However, I often find that people are confusing service dogs with therapy dogs or an emotional support animal. More and more people are now utilizing dogs for various tasks that make them more visible in public places, which is amazing!  Dogs have the incredible ability to help people by performing tasks or alerting them to medical issues. This means that people who were previously totally dependent on others are gaining independence and control with the help of working service dogs.  The hard part is that many of these dogs work with people who have disabilities that are difficult to see: we all know what a blind individual being guided by a dog looks like, but someone with PTSD or Diabetes can be more difficult to discern and can lead people to think that anyone can have a service dog.

It is important to keep in mind that the dogs you see in Target© or at the mall are working with someone who may not otherwise be able to function as well independently. These dogs are not pets.  While only true service dogs are allowed access to public places, there are actually three types of dog you may see with labeled vests or harnesses and they have different rights and responsibilities:

1. Service Dogs are individually trained to perform tasks and do work that mitigate their handler’s disabilities and improve quality of life.  Service dogs are much more than highly trained companions. They work as part of a team with their disabled partners. Service dogs help them attain the safety and independence from which their handlers’ disabilities would otherwise limit them.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places, such as businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, etc. Additional acts of law, like the DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act, DOJ/HUD Fair Housing Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act protect the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals under a wide variety of circumstances under which the ADA may not be applicable (flights, housing, etc). People using service dogs have a recognized disability and to misrepresent a pet as a service dog is illegal and undermines those that actually rely on a canine companion. Most service dogs are hand-selected or bred specifically to perform their service and are generally trained from birth by an organization specializing in service dog training and placement, while owner-trained dogs do exist, they are less common as many pets cannot handle the work of a service dog.

2. Emotional Support Animals are not required to undergo specialized training.  Their primary roles are to provide their disabled owners with emotional comfort.  Emotional support animals can benefit a disabled individual, psychologically, tremendously. While the ADA does not grant owners of emotional support animals the right to be accompanied by these animals in establishments that do not permit pets such as stores, restaurants, hotels, etc.the DOJ/HUD’s Fair Housing Act does allow for disabled owners of emotional support animals to reside in housing that has a “No Pets” policy, as a reasonable accommodation.  The DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act also allows those with proof of a disability the accommodation of being accompanied by an emotional support animal if medically documented as necessary.

3. Therapy Dogs also receive extensive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals that do not own them.  These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit various institutions like hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes, and more.  Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re on-duty. Therapy dogs do not have any rights allowing them to enter any stores or establishments.  They generally must pass an evaluation annually and spend time making others smile.

Handlers rights to be accompanied by these dogs in 
establishments open to the public are protected by the 
Americans with Disabilities Act. 
Dogs must be physically and temperamentally sound to tolerate a 
wide variety of experiences, environments and people. 
These dogs may live with their disabled owners in housing with 
a “no-pets” policy in place. 
Dogs visit hospitals, schools, hospices and other institutions to aid 
in psychological or physical therapy and promote healing; petting 
is encouraged.  
Dogs are individually trained to perform tasks or do work to 
mitigate their handler’s disabilities and improve quality of life. 
Petting, talking to, or otherwise distracting these dogs can 
interfere with their job and pose a serious danger to the dog and 

Service dogs are meant to assist people with disabilities, not to join their owners on outings for fun.  Keep in mind that many service dogs only live with their partner during their working years and are not raised by their handler, but come to them as fully functioning partners in order to assist them in daily life.

If your dog has an awesome temperament, you should consider becoming a therapy dog team. This does not provide you with any additional rights or privileges, but it is great way to help others in your community.  TDI ( and Pet Partners ( are two of the larger therapy dog organizations that visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities.  Hope this helps to clarify the various roles dogs can play in the lives of those in need.

Happy Training!

Tamar Paltin
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator