DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ESA AND SERVICE ANIMAL
First let’s talk about the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs are not permitted in public places – like grocery stores and restaurants. Many people get doctor’s notes from their mental health professional for an ESA when they rent and their landlord’s don’t permit animals. ESAs are good for those that require emotional support and comfort. They are granted access to fly in the cabin of an airplane per the Air Carrier Access Act. Because of this, it’s important that an ESA is well behaved. An ESA is not considered to be a pet. Neither is a service dog.
I consider Cricket to be an emotional support animal. I didn’t need a letter because I own my own home. I don’t necessarily need an ESA anymore because I now have Venus.
A service dog is trained to perform certain tasks for it’s handler. The handler must have a disability. Venus knows approximately 100 cues. Not all the cues are tasks related to my disability. Sit, down, stay, wait, etc., are all included in the cues she knows.
It’s permitted access to most public places with few exceptions – for example, churches may make their own decisions as to whether to allow a service animal on the premises. However, if they deny access then the government can deny public funding.
“Examples of such work or tasks include 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 animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.” (citation)
ADA RULES REGARDING SERVICE DOGS
Some of the ADA rules that apply to service dogs:
- Staff in an establishment may only ask two questions of the handler: (1) is the dog a service animal that is required because of a disability and (2) what task has the dog been trained to perform. No one can ask about the handler’s disability, require the handler to show medical documentation as proof of a disability, ask for identification or proof of training, or ask for the dog to demonstrate a task.
- A handler and service dog cannot be denied access or refused service by a business or organization because someone has allergies or a fear of dog. Accommodations should be made for both people. This is why it’s important that people with ESAs and yes, ‘fake service dogs’ need to stop taking their dogs into public – to minimize the number of dogs that are in public.
- A handler can only be asked to remove a service dog if (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. Note that #1 has a caveat – the handler does not take effective action to control it. Dogs come into contact with new situations at all times. Handlers are trained how to work through a negative behavior. A dog should not be asked to be removed simply because it starts barking because it has encountered something new that has scared him/her. The handler should be given the opportunity to get the dog back under control.
- Restaurants and other food establishments must allow service animals even when state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
- Handlers must not be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably or charged extra fees. If a business requires a pet deposit, that deposit must be waived for the handler and the service dog because service dogs are not pets. (citation)
HOW TO SPOT A FAKE SERVICE DOG
What might you expect when you encounter a REAL service dog vs. a FAKE service dog:
- The service dog is a working dog which means it’s walking. It’s not dressed in a costume. It’s not being carried in a purse or pushed in a cart. There are some that will argue that diabetic alert dogs need to be held close to the chest, but if you take a look at the Diabetic Alert Dogs of America not one of the dogs on their website is a miniature dog that would need to be held close to the chest. Furthermore, the Diabetes Council states that labradors and Poodles make some of the best diabetic alert dogs. There may be some small dogs that are indeed diabetic alert dogs, but I think the vast majority that we see being held by their owners in WalMart are pets. And, this hurts the real service animal doing its job.
- Service dogs in training often wear a Halti. It’s not a muzzle, but a training device. Even after they’re fully trained some dogs need it as gentle reminders. If for example, they start sniffing the ground, which will be rare, a gentle tug of the leash, corrects them. In general though, a trained service dog will not be sniffing the ground. It will be looking straight ahead and routinely looking up at it’s handler to ‘check in.’ A dog that’s constantly sniffing and not making eye contact with her handler is likely a fake. Haltis by the way, are NOT worn because the dog might bite. A dog can open its mouth and eat while wearing a halti.
- Most service dogs are on leash, but there are some exceptions. The ADA simply states that the dog must be under control of its owner. It must be tethered, harnessed, or leashed, unless the disability prevents from doing so, or the devices prevent the dog from safely performing its tasks, in which case the dog must be under the handler’s voice command. I recently had to carry a heavy box into the UPS store. I was having a hard time grabbing Venus’s leash and the box at the same time. So, I got the box, gave her the command to get out of the car, cued her to pick up her leash and carry it. She then opened the door to the store and I gave her the cue to walk through the door. She held her leash in her mouth the entire time. The only time she strayed from my cue is when she saw a familiar face in the store and trotted up to say, “Hi!” She should have waited for me.
- A service dog will have a good heel (standing to the left) or side (standing to the right) of the handler. The halti helps control any tugging or pulling, but again, a service dog will not be yanking a handler along. This would be too dangerous. So, if you see this – it’s not a true service dog. It could be a service dog in training, but the handler should have control and actually BE TRAINING the behavior. I once had Venus in the store. She was heeling perfectly. A ‘pet’ owner was being dragged by her dog, who was several feet ahead of her, saying, “good heel, good heel.” Obviously, it wasn’t.
- A trained service dog doesn’t bark at other dogs. In fact, it shouldn’t bark at other animals in general. We will occasionally hear her whine when she’s not getting her own way – wants to get up and play, for example, but given the ‘quiet’ cue, she stops. If a dog barks at people and other dogs in the store it’s not a trained service dog. It might be in training, but then the handler should be training the behavior. In other words you should see treats coming out and the handler talking to the dog.
- Pottying accidents. A dog in training is going to have accidents in public. It’s why we carry paper towels and clorox wipes in our treat bags. In the state of Oregon dogs in training are permitted in public. Not all states allow this. Our dogs start going into public places as puppies and puppies have accidents. Even the older puppies have accidents as they encounter new places, sights and sounds. The JLAD dogs are all taught to squat and urinate – even the males, so there is no marking of territories or getting additional items wet if there is an accident. Older, fully trained dogs should not have accidents, but they should always be pottied before entering a public place. Dogs are trained to potty anywhere, including the sidewalk because grass isn’t always available. So, please be kind and don’t wrinkle your nose or make a cruel remark if you see a service dog pooping on the sidewalk. Rest assured, we’ve got a bag in hand, ready to take care of it. We’re just happy she did it outside and not inside. A fully mature service dog will not be having pottying accidents in public buildings unless it’s sick.
- Loud noises like fireworks and cars backfiring will not spook a service dog. She might perk her ears to let you know she heard it, but more often than not she won’t even do that. So if a dog looks nervous, is cowering, has its tail between its legs it’s either not a true service dog or may have been truly traumatized by something. I mention trauma because just like I mentioned in #5 that a service dog will not bark at other dogs, Venus was recently attacked by another dog. We had to almost immediately set up a playdate with a dog she knew to make sure she didn’t develop a fear of other dogs. The playdate went very well, but we’ll have to watch her carefully the first time we go out and see another dog to see how she reacts because she was indeed traumatized, although otherwise physically unhurt.
- Service dogs do not usually steal food. They’re never given table food so there isn’t usually a habit of begging, but when Venus was younger and we took her to a Christmas party, she was very interested in sniffing all the good smells coming from the buffet table as we made our way down the line. The key is that I kept correcting her and didn’t let her get away with the behavior. In other words, I worked the behavior. We recently walked through the park where it looked like a child dumped a cup full of Cheerios. She walked right over them as though she didn’t even notice them. If she had noticed them, I would have cued her to ‘leave it’ and we would have kept going.
- Service dogs are never ever aggressive. They won’t bark, growl, or lunge at another person because they are not trained to protect like a guard dog. They can alert when someone is nearby, but they won’t go on the attack for the handler. Cricket is a barker. She never would have made it, but I now know how to work that behavior so hopefully she’ll stop barking at home as much as she does.
- When a service dog is wearing it’s coat or vest it knows it’s working and all eyes are on the handler. If the handler is sitting, the dog may sleep and look otherwise lazy or tired, but in fact she knows she’s working and I can guarantee you she’s sleeping with one eye open and one ear perked up. When Venus was first trained in the prison,to wake me from nightmares, I tested it at home. She was sleeping beside me on the floor next to my bed. I was awake and started making noise, breathing heavy, and moving about. She got up so fast and was licking my face I was shocked. I tried it again – this time facing away from her after Scott had left for work…so his side of the bed was empty. She ran around the bed and jumped on it like the Flash! And, she did this from a full sleep.
- Displaying rude behavior in public – rolling around, showing her belly, rubbing up against someone in line, licking someone, jumping on someone. These are all indications of a fake service dog or a dog that needs more training.
- Service dogs shouldn’t be seeking attention from people around her, although if she sees someone she knows she may wag her tail and want to say, “Hi” like Venus does, but won’t until given the cue that it’s ok to visit.
PETTING A SERVICE DOG
Some service dogs, like Venus know how to visit with someone – let them pet her, but never pet a service dog without first asking and don’t be annoyed if the handler says, “no” because often times a dog just visited a few minutes or moments before and another visit would be too distracting. I only let Venus visit a maximum of 3x a day. And, always wait for the handler to tell you it’s ok to pet the dog and respect the handler when she tells you the visit is over because it will be brief.
SERVICE DOG REGISTRY AND CERTIFICATION
There is NO national registry for service dogs. All the online registries you see that will take your money, send you a certificate and harness, and sometimes an ID card, are FAKE. Let me say that again….they’re FAKE. There is no national registry or certifying board of any kind. It would be a violation of the ADA. See the ADAs FAQs here.
That doesn’t mean you can’t train a dog on your own. You can. You just have to follow the ADA rules.
IF YOU SPOT A FAKE SERVICE DOG
If you think you spot a fake service dog, ask to speak to a manager and ask what the policy is about pets in the store and advise him or her of what you witnessed. You might also need to provide some education.
While Venus was still in training I walked into my primary care provider’s office and saw signs saying that only registered service dogs were permitted. I gently explained the ADA rules, the state law, and pointed the office manager to the ADA website. The next visit a week later – the signs were edited to state “No pets or ESA animals. Service dogs welcome.”
Venus is NOT registered or certified. The ADI accreditation that Venus has simply shows that JLAD adheres to absolute highest standards in all regards to all aspects of their operations, including ethical treatment and training of dogs, ethical treatment of clients, solid service dog training and follow-up care (citation). The ID card we have is carried in her coat so if she ever gets lost someone can easily contact JLAD or me. She’s also microchipped. And, we have both medical insurance for her and replacement insurance for her if she were to God forbid, be stolen or die.
I know the problem of fake service dogs is getting more widespread. I see dogs practically everywhere I go now, in so many stores. It detracts from those that authentically require a true service dog.
My SD is a big ole boy lately it feels as though he’s trying to bring my clothes with me. I have to use him for stability issue, today my toddler and I just had to have our nose swabbed for COVID if they come back positive then I will understand why he was trying to get into my clothes with me as I have been having serious balance issues not to mention my asthma chasing after the toddler….
Such a very important post! People that need service dogs usually are given the recommendation for purchasing. But so many people try to pass of their pets off for a service dog! Thank you for sharing your story and tips!
Thank you again. This is so informative and important to know.
Wow – I had no idea there was so much to a service animal! Sadly I have seen a lot of people take advantage of the “service dog” and abused it.
This is such a great informational post! I was not aware of many of the differences, regulations, and restrictions/allowances. Thanks for sharing.
Great information. My husband used to work at hotels and would see many people claim that their dog is a service dog so they could keep it in the hotel, he always knew they weren’t. Thank you for sharing.
This is wonderful info. It’s different than our common “knowledge”. I always thought there was some sort of certification for these animals. Thank you for this in-depth explanation. I’ve seen a lot of pets being taken on airplanes; and, there’s a great cartoon about an “emotional support bar cart” being brought on a plane.
Thank you so much for writing this. I have seen people who openly admit they are gaming the system to get free airline tickets or bring their dog in to the grocery store. It is very upsetting to me because they are ruining it for the people who actually need their dog. I am hoping there is some kind of legislation coming to help combat this problem.
This is great information. I may look into getting a service dog for my son.
It’s a real shame that people are taking advantage for their own selfish ends. This is great info!
There’s so much great information here! I feel like everyone these days is trying to get on the ESA train but don’t really know what the rules are.
Very informative! I appreciated learning these facts!
Thank you for explaining the differences and what to look for.
There’s always those few who take advantage no matter the situation. Sad, but true.
I had to re-read the difference between the two. I knew about service dogs. But I have not heard about ESA before. What a well written post! I learned something new today. Thank you!
This is such an important post! Working in a clinic, we encounter this often.
A lot of great information! I had no idea! Thanks for writing this wonderful post!
Good article. I work at Walmart and I see fake service dogs often. We do have a employee who uses a service dog who exhibits all the correct behaviors you spoke of above.
When I worked at Disneyland we had issues with this on a daily basis. Working with them every day you start to pick up on those different things.
Lots of great info. Sadly some abuse the rules. As a realtor I deal a lot with fake emotional support animals.
Very infomative post! Thanks for sharing this valuable information.
Great info. Rideshare drivers are constantly posting about this because people will claim their dog is a service dog and usually it’s pretty obvious when they are lying and taking advantage of laws protection people who need them with no regard that some people have allergies and no one wants hair in their car just because they wants to take their pet with them.
Wow all good things to know!