Fake Service Dogs – Why It’s Never Okay

I just read an article on Fusion.net titled, “Don’t scam the service dog system just because you love being with your pet.”




I think this article does a great job of quickly and simply explaining some of the problems legitimate service dog handlers are currently facing.  I encourage you to check it out at this link: Fusion.net

I doubt I have many friends who don’t know exactly how I feel about fake service dogs.  I find it appalling that anyone would pass off their pet as a service dog.  To me, it’s just as offensive as illegitimately using a handicap parking space.  Now, I know that there are people who do this who don’t understand that what they’re doing is actually harmful to someone else – they aren’t being malicious.  However, in this day and age, with the educational tools at our fingertips, I see no reason why anyone should be confused about what is or is not allowed.


Allow me to expound on the information that is most often misrepresented:

  1. Service dogs are NOT the same as therapy dogs or emotional support dogs.
    • Most dog lovers will tell you that their dog provides comfort, support, and joy in times of stress.  That’s wonderful – mine does, too!  However, those general qualities do not make your pet a service dog.  I do not have a right to bring Tucker into Walmart just because I enjoy having him with me.
    • Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks related to their owner’s disability.  People often compare PTSD dogs to emotional support dogs – they are not the same.  PTSD dogs have trained skills.  Some typical skills/commands are: standing between the handler and other people, notifying the handler when his/her name is called, and waking the handler from a nightmare.
  2. Service dogs are NOT required to wear or carry identification.
    • The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) specifically states that service dog handlers are not required to show identification or discuss the specifics of their disability with anyone.  If a dog enters your place of business, you may ask only two questions: is that a service dog, and if so, what service does it perform?
    • Personally, I think every business who claims to certify service dogs or promotes selling service dog materials to non-service dog handlers should be penalized.  I have seen numerous businesses advertise that they can certify your dog and add your name to a national registry.  Don’t waste your money folks – there is no such thing.  And yet, service dog materials ARE important since the ADA does NOT require certifications – handlers typically want something that notifies the public that the dog is working and should not be distracted.  It’s just another fine example of a product that was likely intended for good being abused.
  3. Service dogs CAN be asked to leave a business if they are not under control or are not housebroken.
    • In my experience, most legitimate service dogs don’t have many issues in this department.  True service dogs are highly trained and are typically very well-mannered.  Even so, if, for whatever reason, the handler is unable to control the dog, they may legally be asked to leave the premises.


Why does all of this matter?  Because fake service dogs, who quite often behave badly, give real service dogs a bad reputation and cause business owners to deny access to legitimate service dogs.  I have spoken to blind individuals with dog guides who have been denied access simply because someone assumed their dog was a fake.  It happens folks, but it shouldn’t.

Help me educate those who are unaware and call out those who are abusing the system.

If you have questions, please ask.

Here’s a link to a portion of the ADA: ADA – Service Animals

Chelsea Cutler, Certified Professional Trainer

Below: Future Leader Dog Tucker at five months old, bored out of his mind while I gave a presentation at Western Carolina University.  (2011)  Note: In the state of NC, service dogs in training with their trainer are given the same access rights as working service dogs.


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