• Dr. Rhesa Houston

5 Considerations for Engaging with Service Animals in Public


Do you know how to support guests with service animals? The conversation surrounding service animals has been changing within the last few years. And because September is National Service Dog Month, we’re bringing awareness to service dogs and teaching the etiquette needed when interacting with these dogs in public. Assistance Animals Consulting supports the recent legislation that passed in Alabama on Sept. 1 about misrepresentation of service animals. The demand for animal-assisted interventions is increasing, and as licensed veterinarians, we can help ensure health care providers and businesses keep up.


Did you know veterinarians should be at the forefront of conversations about service animals and animal-assisted interventions? Service animals can assist a variety of individuals and support a range of disabilities — veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, people who need assistance with mobility, the visually impaired and more.


Here are some types of service dogs:

  • Psychiatric service dogs

  • Autism service dogs

  • Medical alert dogs

  • Hearing alert dogs

  • Guide service dogs

  • Mobility assistance dogs


In Jan. 2019, the definition of a service animal changed by law to exclude animals that are not trained to perform work or tasks for someone with a disability. There is a distinct difference between a service animal and an animal that provides comfort or emotional support. Service dogs have been trained to perform specific tasks. For example, someone with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert them when their blood sugar reaches high or low levels. These dogs are “on the job” in public and have been trained to complete specific tasks to help its handler. It’s so important to know how to engage with these animals when you see them in public. This helps everyone involved with human-animal interventions — the animal, the handler and the community.


Let’s first test your knowledge to see what you would do in these situations.

  • Do you know if you can pet a service dog? True or false: If a cute service dog is at the table next to you at a restaurant, it’s okay to pet the dog. (False)

  • What are the requirements for a service animal? True or false: Service dogs have to be trained and well-behaved in public areas such as a hotel or airport. There’s no identification needed. (True)

  • What do service dogs do? True or false: a medical alert dog can be trained to bark if medical intervention is needed. (True)

At Assistance Animals Consulting, we help guide human-animal interventions and provide education on a multitude of issues that affect service dogs and their handlers. Service dog etiquette is important for the welfare of the animal, its handler and customers. It’s important to understand how to distinguish service dogs in public. Contact us for more information on service dogs.


Whether it’s interacting with guests in a hotel or customers in a restaurant, several considerations can help businesses know how to successfully navigate these situations to elevate their customer experience. Be prepared with these tips to ensure the safety of other patrons and the needs of the service dog and its handler are met.


1. Ask if the dog is a service animal required because of a disability. What tasks is this dog trained to perform? Many service dogs are trained through a third-party organization. Veterinarians should be involved in the training of these animals to implement appropriate training techniques and monitor the impact of the training methods on the animals overall health.


2. Understand staff should NEVER ask for any form of documentation for a service dog. This part is tricky because people can purchase service dog registration and certification on the Internet. To be clear, currently there is no federal law requiring service dogs to be registered with a national organization.


3. If the animal is being disruptive, know your rights. Pets negatively engaging with service dogs can distract them and interfere with people who rely on their dog to help them with daily life functions. If a service dog is improperly trained and is being disruptive, the handler can be requested to remove its animal. Learn more about these disruptive behaviors as defined by the ADA and how Assistance Animals Consulting can help guide you and your organization.


4. Lack of education and awareness. This leads to individuals labeling their pet as a service dog themselves, causing confusion and misrepresentation of service dogs. Know your responsibilities in complying with current laws and the ADA and how to hold pet owners accountable.


5. Think about the requirements of service dogs if the animal is wandering around without its handler. If properly trained, the animal will be under the handlers’ control at all times and will adhere to their owner regarding permission to socialize. A task-trained service dog wandering without its handler should indicate its handler is having a medical emergency and needs help.


Some business owners are experiencing difficulties identifying true service dogs from pets that are being misrepresented as service dogs. Recently, it’s become a concern with the increase in customers bringing dogs to restaurants, stores, indoor malls, airports and hotels.


This is where Assistance Animals Consulting can help. Our licensed veterinarians advocate for those participating in human-animal interventions. We know it is important for the public to be educated on service dog etiquette for their own health and safety as well as for the safety of the service animal and handler. We help guide businesses and organizations needing to elevate their customer experience for those with and without service animals. Assistance Animals Consulting is here to support you and your organization. Learn more about our services and how we help business owners, educational organizations and health care facilities. Through our Workforce Development Program, we help business owners and organizations understand veterinary considerations that are specific to supporting customers with service dogs.


At Assistance Animals Consulting, we collaborate, evaluate, educate and advocate for successful human-animal interactions. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your business or organization.

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