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Service Dog Myths: 6 Common Misconceptions

New Life K9s service dog, Lola.

There is no doubt there’s some confusion about the role service dogs play and what is assumed rather than what is a fact. People may assume things like; service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy animals are all the same thing; real service dogs have to wear those “service dog on duty” vests; service dogs can only be professionally trained. We will put some of that confusion to rest in this post.

In this post, we will debunk some of the more common misconceptions surrounding service dogs.

Listed below are six very common misconceptions about service dogs debunked.

Service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs; same difference right?

This is one of the most common misconceptions among the public. Emotional support animals or ESA’s and therapy animals are NOT the same as a service animal. Simply put, service dogs are trained to do work and perform tasks that directly mitigate the symptoms of a person’s disability. Furthermore, service dogs are granted access to public places that ESA and therapy dogs are not. Another important fact is that service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA does NOT protect ESA’s or therapy animals.

Service dogs need to be professionally trained

Although it might be more convenient and easier to have a service dog professionally trained, it is not a requirement or a law. A service animal does not need to come from a professional training organization or other programs. A person with a disability reserves the right to train his or her own dog. 

Service dogs need to be registered online

This is also a very common misconception, mostly because there are scores of websites online that sell service dog certifications and registration. Service dogs do NOT need to be registered online nor do they need to show proof of training. The ADA and the Department of Justice do not recognize these online registration entities.

Businesses or other people can ask to see a service dog verification

It is NOT legal to ask a handler for proof or for verification for their service animal. The reality is, service dogs are not required to be registered as a service dog. According to the ADA, there are only two questions a business or person may ask a handler when it is not obvious that their dog is a service animal:

  1. Is the service animal required because of a disability? And
  2. What task or work has the dog been trained to perform?

Service dogs aid people with obvious disabilities

A lot of people may visualize a dog guiding someone who is blind when they think about service animals. But a guide dog is just one of many types of service animals. It’s important to realize that not all people with service dogs will have an “obvious” disability. There are many service animals that aid people with unseen disabilities including but not limited to; post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, seizures, and diabetes.

Service dogs have to wear identifying garments

Although there are many online sites that sell “service dog” tags, vests, harnesses, and other identifying garments, this is NOT a requirement. The ADA does NOT require that service animals wear such garments.

These service dog myths are commonplace and there are so many more out there.  Knowing the real facts about service dogs is empowering and helps reduce confusion surrounding service dog laws, training, practices, care, and more. Be sure not to make assumptions and to know the real facts.


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  1. Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA,
  2. Grace, Key “5 Common Service Dog Myths Debunked” Anything Pawsable. 13 January 2017

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