The New Handler’s Guide to: Access Issues

Being a service dog handler is an ongoing learning process. The major problem that many new handlers don’t know how to navigate is an access issue. 

“Is that a service dog?”

While people are always becoming more educated on service dogs and the laws surrounding them, there will also always be those who don’t know—and don’t want to know—what rights service dog handlers have.

So long as a service dog is appropriately trained—or actively in training, in some states—it is typically allowed wherever the general public is allowed. However, an increasing abundance of fake and poorly trained service dogs has led many business owners to be reticent about allowing service dogs into their establishments. 

Businesses can ask service dog handlers two questions:

  1. “Is that a service dog?”
  2. “What task does the dog perform?”

These questions are to be used by businesses to determine whether or not a service dog is legitimate without directly asking about a patron’s disabilities. Know that, no matter what, businesses have no right to ask what your disability is.

No dogs, no exceptions.

There are very few circumstances in which a service dog can be denied access. In any space the general public can go, a service dog can only be denied if it is unruly, extremely dirty (i.e. covered head to toe in mud), or not potty trained. 

Certain spaces do reserve the right to deny access to a service dog team for a number of reasons. Churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations, for example, do not have to allow access to service dogs based on faith. Hospitals and psychiatric facilities can also deny access due to safety risks, for both patients and the dogs. 

However, most establishments must allow access to service dog teams. 

What to do when you’re denied access.

There are a number of ways to handle an access issue. Oftentimes, businesses will allow access after some education. Carrying ADA cards is a quick and simple way to educate establishments. There is also a downloadable service dog FAQ from the US Department of Justice that can be shown in cases of access issues. 

In cases where the situation could escalate, it’s safest to call your local department of justice to handle it. 

In any case, stand firm and know your rights—a service dog is not an undue burden. You are allowed to go where any average able-bodied person can go.

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