• Rhesa Houston, DVM

Service Dogs in a business: Rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers

Updated: May 15, 2018


Rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers

In my work as a veterinarian, I’ve come across stories on how businesses are having more customers with service dogs. The use of service dogs is rising. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service dog into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go.

How is your business educating employees on the rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers (your customer) when they are in your business? Are your employees trained to know the rights and responsibilities of the service dog handler?

At Assistance Animals Consulting, we are veterinarians, recognized experts uniquely qualified to serve the community by providing resources for education, behavioral understanding, and guidance regarding working animals. Our veterinarians are here to support you and your business.

Our educational platform was developed to provide education for your business and employees on the rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers. Our goal is to reduce or prevent violations of the ADA that can require your business to pay money damages and penalties.  Ultimately, our goal is to help your business better support your customers with disabilities using service dogs.

We have provided answers to the 5 most common questions businesses need to know to understand the rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers/customers.

Common questions regarding the rights and responsibilities of service dog handlers

1. How do you know if the person with the dog needs a service dog?

  •  It is important to understand there are visible and non-visible disabilities.

  • The ADA does not require service dogs to wear a vest, ID tag or specific harness to identify itself as a service dog.

  • There is currently no required national service dog registration.

Businesses can ask 2 questions to the handler of a service dog:

  1. Is this a service dog?

  2. What task has this dog been trained to perform?

Questions you cannot ask a person with a service dog:

  1. Cannot ask the dog to perform the trained task.

  2. Cannot ask the nature of the person’s disability.

  3. Cannot ask for documentation for the dog.


2.  What can happen if the service dog is disruptive?

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service dog from the premises unless:

  1. The animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it.

  2. The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

In the case of a disruptive service dog, the business should give the handler/customer the option to obtain goods and services without having the animal on the premises.


3.  What are disruptive service dog behaviors?

  • Barking when not specifically related to the handler’s disability.

  • Inappropriate elimination- urinating or defecating within the business facility.

  • Aggression towards people and other animals.

  • Being non-responsive to the verbal commands of the handler.


4.  Will I be held liable if a negative event occurs in my business? If so, how can I cover myself to reduce my liabilities?

  • Regarding business liabilities, we do not provide legal advice. Please consult with your attorney.

  • Handlers/customers with disabilities who use a service dog cannot be charged extra fees, isolated from other patrons, or treated less favorably than other patrons. However, if your business normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer/handler with a disability may be charged for the damage caused by his or her service dog.

5.  Is a service dog dangerous?

  • A true service dog should never be dangerous if a person approaches in a non-threatening manner.

  • If for any event you must approach a handler/customer with it’s service dog you should speak directly to the handler.  

  • You must understand the service dog is working and is considered a life line.  

  • It is important to not distract the service dog.

  • You should never touch the working animal without the handler’s/customer’s permission.  Generally, most handler’s will discourage any interaction with their working animal.

Our veterinarians at Assistance Animals Consulting are here to advocate and serve clients with disabilities as well as educate and inform businesses about the rights and responsibilities of each. To learn more about assistance animals, and how your business can be ADA compliant, contact Assistance Animals Consulting today.

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