Service Dogs 

What is the difference between a“Service Dog,”
an “Emotional Support Dog”and a “Therapy Dog”?

Service Animals for Business Owners

Service and Companion Animal Owners: Know Your Rights!

Service dogs have legal rights in public places and are animals that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. They are defined in the the US Department of Justice ADA Regulations dated 2010 as well as the Washington State law against discrimination, RCW 49.60.218.

An “Emotional Support” or comfort dog does not have the same legal privileges as a service animal. “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals” as defined by the above Federal Regulations and Washington state law. However, a very well behaved “comfort or emotional support animal” leashed and focused on its owner might be allowed on the premises at the discretion and permission of the manager or owner of the business.

A “Therapy dog” does not have the same legal rights, however, the dog and his/her handler are trained, and tested to partner with agencies such as schools, clinics, nursing homes, jail or court rooms and disaster response teams. They work with specific populations for the purposes of providing support to those in a nursing home or disaster victims, a school to assist children to read, or a jail or court to provide non-judgmental support.
Examples of Service Dog work:

  • guiding people who are blind,
  • alerting people who are deaf,
  • pulling a wheelchair,
  • alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure,
  • reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications,
  • calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack,
  • or performing other duties.

Service dogs are working animals, not pets.

The work or task a service dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. There are many organizations that will sell service animal vests, leashes and register a dog as a service animal but there are no legally recognized registries or organizations with official power to declare an animal a “Service Dog.” Instead, the owner of the animal must be able to state and justify that the dog provides a specific task to aid in activities of daily living or alerting a person about a medical emergency, medication time etc.
Which dogs have legal access to a public facility?

“State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow Service Animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment,”
What is the expected behavior of a Service Dog?

“Service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.”
What questions am I allowed to ask the owner of a Service Dog?

When it is not obvious what service the dog provides, only limited inquiries are allowed.

Staff may ask two questions:

“Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
“What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”

Staff cannot ask about:

– the person’s disability,
– require medical documentation,
– require a special identification card or training documentation
– or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.”

Are there exclusions to the ADA rules?

“People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other customers, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by customers with pets, it must waive the charge for service dogs.”

“Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service dogs in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.”

“Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.”

May I ask that a Service Dog be removed from the premises?

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

(1)   The service animal is out of control
the handler does not take effective action to control it
(2)   The service animal is not housebroken.

When there is a legitimate reason to ask that the service dog be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.”


Information contained in this brochure was adapted from the US Department of Justice 2010 publication on service animals. and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination:  RCW 49.60.218

For local information, contact the Northwest ADA Center, 1-800-949-4232 or

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) visit or call 800-514 0301 to speak with an ADA specialist.

Web sites:

Federal Regulations:

Washington State Law Against Discrimination:

Developed by the Accessibility Advisory Committee of Jefferson County Public Health Department, March 2016.

Funded by the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment.

– Contributed by Shirley Williams,
Member, Jefferson County Accessible Communities Advisory Committee