Service Dog Etiquette

What is a service animal?

A service animal is not a pet under federal law. According to the Department of Justice updates to the Americans with Disabilities Act  (ADA),that took effect March 15, 2011,  a “service animal” is limited to a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Some states have legislation that further defines a service animal.

One source for more information on the 2011 updates is:  ADA Update: A Primer for Small  Business.

Types of Service Dogs

This is only a partial list of Service Dogs:

Guide Dog or Dog Guide – Assist people with vision loss.

Mobility Dog – Retrieve items, open doors, push buttons, also assisting people with disabilities with walking, balance and transferring from place to place.

Hearing Alert – Assist people with a hearing loss to sounds.

Seizure Alert/Seizure Response – Also known as Medical Alert-alerts to oncoming seizures and is trained to respond to seizures such as “Get Help” or stay with the person.

Medical Alert/Medical Response – Alerts to oncoming medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, panic attack, anxiety attack, post traumatic stress disorder.


  • Do not touch the Service Dog, or the person it assists, without permission.
  • Do not make noises at the Service Dog; it may distract the animal from doing its job.
  • Do not feed the Service Dog; it may disrupt his/her schedule.
  • Do not be offended if the person does not feel like discussing his/her disability or the assistance the Service Animal provides. Not everyone wants to be a walking-talking “show and tell” exhibit.

Assistance Dogs International has a video on their website called We Welcome Service Animals. It is produced by the California Hotel & Lodging Association Education Foundation. Although it has not been updated to reflect the March 2011 changes in the access laws, it still provides a good overview about assistance dogs for business owners and others.