Access Laws for Service and Guide Dogs

Written by our robot friends at with light editing by the Guide Dog Foundation Team for accuracy 

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Having a service animal can be incredibly beneficial for citizens with disabilities that require the help of a service animal. However, it is important to understand the laws and regulations surrounding the use of dogs as service animals in public. This article is designed to provide an overview of guide dog and service dog access laws, focusing on the rights of citizens with disabilities that are assisted by a service animal.  

First, it is important to understand that there are two types of service animal laws: federal and state. Federal law protects the rights of those with disabilities who use service animals in any public place, such as a store or restaurant, within the United States. The Americans with Disabilities Act. (ADA) requires businesses to allow service animals, such as guide dogs, into their establishments.  

The ADA defines a service animal as any dog that is individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, such as guiding individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Under the ADA, service animals must be allowed in all public places, such as stores and restaurants, without being charged additional fees or denied access. Additionally, businesses cannot ask questions about the person’s disability or require proof of training for the service animal.  

On the state level, some states have additional requirements and protections for service animals beyond those required by federal law. This is a great resource for state-specific laws and regulations.  

There is a difference between guide dogs and service dogs. Guide dogs are trained to assist individuals who are blind or have impaired vision. They provide assistance by helping their human partners safely navigate their environment and alerting them to potential dangers or obstacles. Guide dogs can help their owners feel calm, secure, and less anxious in social situations. 

Service dogs are trained to assist individuals with physical disabilities or mental impairments such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unlike guide dogs, service dogs do not lead their owners but instead perform tasks such as retrieving objects, opening doors, alerting people to medical episodes or changes in behavior, etc.  

As mentioned earlier, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of individuals with disabilities by ensuring that they have access to public places and services. Under this act, any business that serves the public must allow people with disabilities who use service animals into its premises unless it can demonstrate that allowing the animal would fundamentally alter its operations. Additionally, businesses cannot charge extra fees for customers who bring service animals into their premises, nor can it require proof of certification or ask intrusive questions about an individual’s disability. Lastly, businesses must treat individuals with disabilities that use service animals courteously and respectfully, just like they should any other customer. 

It is essential for business owners and members of the general public alike to understand guide dog and service dog access laws so that we can all ensure that these individuals receive equal treatment under the law. It is important to remember that these laws exist not only for citizens with disabilities but also for businesses who want to ensure compliance while still providing quality customer services. By understanding these laws we can work together towards creating an inclusive society where everyone has equal opportunities regardless of their disability status. 

Learn more about Guide Dog Foundation and how we help aim to improve the quality of life for people who are blind, have low vision, or have other disabilities.