Service Dogs: A Quick Guide

Service Dogs: A Quick Guide

  • Kirsten Thornhill - 18.05.2020

At least once or twice before, you’ve seen people with physical disabilities or impairments accompanied by a service animal. Although you never want to blatantly stare, it’s pretty incredible to watch service dogs at work!

Service animals are four-legged and furry little miracles doing amazing work. I mean, what better support could a person ask for than the care, compassion, love, and cuddles an animal can give?

In today’s day and age, there is more social awareness around the acceptance of Service Animals (SAs) in public areas, airports, workplaces, and housing developments, to name a few. 

If you or someone you know thinks that they would benefit from having a SA, then you’re reading in the right place! Today’s article will cover the definition of a service animal and what they are responsible for and trained to do. In addition, we’ll cover the laws protecting these animals, the best dog breeds recommended for SAs, and how one can qualify to be a service animal. 

Ready. Set. Go!

The Difference: Emotional Support Animals vs Service Animals

Let’s start from day one. Many individuals may confuse what service animals and emotional support animals (ESAs) are and what exactly they do. This may result in laws that protect these animals a little more than confusing. Many often mix up where SAs and ESAs can go and what they are allowed to do. Not only is there a definite difference in their roles, there is also a very legal difference.



There are 3 federal level laws in the United States that protect service animals. They fall under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service animals and their disabled owners are also protected by case law, meaning that their cases can appear and be tried before a judge. 

Emotional Support Animals

An ESA, emotional support animal, can provide excellent support to those with physical or mental disorders and or emotional needs. However, these animals are not specifically trained to perform physical tasks to help a person. ESAs provide more so emotional assistance over physical assistance. There is no training required for an emotional support animal or emotional therapy dog to become an official ESA.



According to the guidelines putting into play by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), persons or pet owners must be able to provide proof of a mental condition or psychological disability that has been officially verified and diagnosed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other medical professional. Some common disorders that are ESA related are anxiety, depression, personality disorders, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The paw parent must be able to provide documentation related to their diagnosed conditions in order to qualify for an ESA. 

Service Animals

Most service animals are canines that have learned how to serve as a guide dog. Service dogs provide assistance to people with mental, physical, and or emotional disabilities. For instance, an individual who is physically disabled, requiring a wheelchair who is deaf and or blind, would be a qualified candidate for a service dog. Fun fact: service animals can also be mini horses!



Service dogs are equipped and specifically trained to help dog handlers/owners in emergency situations. For instance, service dogs are trained to do the following tasks:

  • Bring a disabled person the phone to call 9-1-1 or a family member
  • Answer the door when someone is knocking or ringing the doorbell
  • Bark or alert someone else when the disabled person needs help
  • Recognize when the individual is in discomfort
  • Provide support when a person is having a physical or psychiatric episode, such as a seizure
  • Fetch mail or medication
  • Aid a disabled person when he or she needs to climb stairs
  • Alert the dog handler when there is an emergency, such as a break-in attempt
  • Provide support and stability when performing physically-demanding tasks

Service animals require extensive training and are allowed to go in just about any and every public place, this includes restaurants. Service dog owners must be able to prove that they have a physical disability or need that can be supported and aided by a service animal. Service dogs also carry a special pack or backpack that holds an individual’s medications inside. 

Where Can Service Dogs Go

Many SAs can visually be seen wearing a service animal vest. According to the ADA, service dogs are usually allowed in any place that serves the public, including hospitals and healthcare offices. The point of a service animal is to accompany a physically disabled person to wherever they need to go. 

Organizations, non-profits, and businesses are required under federal law to allow public access to any and every individual, regardless of disability. This also included a disabled individual’s place of work. Yes, service dogs are allowed in public places, but they must be harnessed or leashed by their handlers at all times. 

Dog handlers are responsible for their animal at all instances. Managers, business owners, and other individuals are not allowed to refuse service or ask a disabled person to remove their service animal from the premises. Allergies or a fear of dogs are not viable reasons to ask a disabled person to leave or remove the dog. 

Furthermore, if the person does not have control over their animal, organizations and businesses do have the right to ask the disabled person to leave. Business can also question the disabled person if the service animal is required and or what tasks can the dog perform to aid the person. 

Service dogs are allowed in airports and the cabins of airplanes with proper documentation and certification, of course. 

Service Animal Rights 

Like we briefly mentioned above, SAs are allowed full access to the public, they can enter places like grocery stores and restaurants, where ESAs cannot. 

Service animals are permitted anywhere a severely disabled person needs to attend that requires their service animal. This can include areas such as classrooms, hotels, airports, and hospitals. 

Some public places may require a person to provide the proper documentation to confirm the service dog’s current status. In addition, public places that charge an animal fee or deposit are required to waive these charges for those with service animals. Do note though, hotels are well within their rights to charge a person for any property damage done by the person or service animal. 

National Service Animal Registry

If a person qualifies for a service animal, she or he does NOT legally have to register the animal as a service animal. There is no official service dog or animal registry in the US, but one of the most well-known organizations is the National Service Animal Registry. 


This registry has been a resource for families and friends for years! It is free and easy to register your service animal. Individuals who qualify for a service animal can apply via the online form on their website.

Once an individual has completed their application submission, an ID number will be emailed to the recipient, which can be used to access the National Service Animal Registry at any time. Individuals will be emailed a copy of their registration to serve as an official documentation, if wanted or needed. 

Dog Breeds that Make the Best Service Animals

Much like us humans, different dog breeds are unique and have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some doggos are better at being guard dogs, playing fetch all day, or pulling sleds in the snow. Thus, not every dog breed will make a good ESA or SA. 

Here’s a small tid bit of the top dog breeds that have proven to be great ESAs and SAs. Here are the top 10 best dog breeds:

1. German Shepherd

German Shepherds aren’t just police dogs for no particular reason. This dog breed is extremely obedient and loyal. They make great guard dogs too. Although their stamina and size might be a little intimidating, these dogs are incredibly social and gentle creatures, when trained properly. 

2. Beagle

Known for being gentle, active, social, and kind dogs, beagles make for great service dogs and therapy dogs. They are small dogs, making them easy to take on the go and travel with. 

3. Rottweiler

Most people wouldn’t associate a Rottweiler with being a service dog. Much like German Shepherds, they look super intimidating and aggressive, but they can be a great service animal with excellent training. 

4. Labrador Retriever

These dogs can be so much more than playing fetch or retrieving balls from the living room. Labs have been proven to be great therapy dogs! They are friendly, social, highly intelligent, and super versatile. They can learn how to be a service dog or a therapy dog. 

5. Saint Bernard

Commonly referred to as “gentle giants”, this dog breed is extremely patient and calm. They are obedient and loyal, great for small children and or families. 

6. French Bulldog

These cuties make great companions! They are quiet, calm, loyal, and often want attention all the time. They are even-tempered, making them great SAs. French Bulldogs actually make even better ESAs or therapy dogs. 

7. Pug

The pug is a great therapy dog, especially for those with physical or emotional needs. Pugs have been proven effective therapy dogs for children with Autism as well as other mental disorders. 

8. Pomeranian

If a small sized animal is important to you, Poms are the way to go. Pomeranians are small, friendly, and social beings. Elderly individuals are relying on Poms for emotional support, due to their high levels of affection and love. 

9. Bernese Mountain Dog

Highly intelligent, strong, and a work dog by trade, Bernese Mountain Dogs make for great SAs performing tasks, working on the farm, or participating in backyard family sports. You can train this dog breed rather easily. 

10. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Proven to be great emotional support and therapy for those suffering with depression or anxiety, these dogs are reliable. 

Service Animals: Final Thoughts

When all is said and done, a service animal may make the best canine companion to provide you with more than just physical and mental support. As we detailed above, disabled individuals are well within their rights and are well protected under numerous federal laws to have a service dog by their side at all times - any time, any where they need to go. 



If you or a loved one you know has a physical, mental, or emotional disability, they may likely qualify for a service animal. 

Leave a comment