Information for service dog owners, businesses, landlords, and the general public
Service dog resting quietly as his owner selects a book
Service dog Japhy helping his owner pick out a new book

According to federal law, service dogs are allowed to go anywhere with their handler, including restaurants and cafés! The only exceptions to this rule are private clubs and churches.

Sometimes, you may not be sure if a dog entering your business is a service dog or not. In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions:

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

Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability.

However, the ADA does not prohibit non-employees from asking questions. So if one customer was to inquire about another customer’s dog and an employee happened to hear it, that would be completely acceptable.

Recognizing a Service Dog

It’s relatively easy (but not common) for people to get away with claiming any dog to be a service dog, but legally, you are only allowed to bring a fully trained service dog into public places! Sometimes it can be hard to know if a dog is a service dog as there are so many types, including service dogs for PTSD which you really wouldn’t be able to tell right off.

Here are some helpful tips to recognize a fully trained service dog:

Most, but not all service dogs, have a vest or harness. If you see someone carrying a dog, it’s probably not a service dog. Fully trained service dogs are taught to walk by their owners side on a leash! Some exceptions include:

  • A person who uses a wheelchair may use a long, retractable leash to allow her service animal to pick up or retrieve items. She may not allow the dog to wander away from her and must maintain control of the dog, even if it is retrieving an item at a distance from her.
  • A returning veteran who has PTSD and has great difficulty entering unfamiliar spaces may have a dog that is trained to enter a space, check to see that there are no threats, then come back and signal that it is safe to enter. The dog must be off its leash to do this job, but may be leashed at other times.
Service dog handing money to a cashier while the owner holds on to the counter
Service dog Japhy was trained to hand money to the cashier while Brendan held on to the counter.
The ADA requires that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times.

What Does “Under Control” mean?

Under control means that a service animal should be harnessed, leashed, or tethered while in public places unless these devices interfere with the service animal's work or the person's disability prevents use of these devices (such as in the situations listed above). In that case, the person must use voice, signal, or other effective means to maintain control of the animal.

Service dogs are not allowed to bark repeatedly in a lecture hall, theater, library, or other quiet place. However, if a dog barks just once, or barks because someone has provoked it (which some people like to do, believe it or not), this would not mean that the dog is out of control.

What can my staff do when a service animal is being disruptive?

In the unlikely circumstance that a service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.

Stores and Restaurants

Most fully trained service dogs are trained lay quietly by their handler. For example, in a restaurant, the dog can lay under the table or, if there’s no room under the table, to lay quietly by the side of the table but not in the way of the waitstaff. It would be helpful if the host or hostess consider this and direct patrons with service dogs to the best location. When at a retail store, service dogs are trained to stay, sit, or lay right next to their handler who is shopping, not be wandering around!

At the Gym

Service dogs are also allowed into the exercise gym with their handler. This is another very good reason people should not be slamming down weights! It would be very helpful for a trainer or other employee to point out a good location for the dog. Remember, the handler needs to be in physical control of the dog, or in hearing range of the dog. For example, if they are using a pool to work out, the dog needs to be laying by the side of the pool, but not too close as to be splashed or laying in a puddle of chlorinated water, which can cause a rash!

At Work

Service dog pressing the handicap door open button while his owner stands with a walker
A common job for a service dog is pressing the handicap button to open the door.

Workers with service dogs usually have them under their work desk, beneath their register, behind a work counter, or in another area close to their workspace but out of theirs and customer’s way. A service dog with someone at work cannot be petted, played with, or otherwise distracted! With having a dog around, it can be very tempting to want to do these things, but remember, even though it doesn’t seem to be working, it is still important not to distract it. This is so the dog knows that this is still a time to behave and not get relaxed and let loose!

A service dog with someone at work should not be petted, played with, or otherwise distracted. It can be very tempting to want to do these things, especially if you love dogs, but remember – even though the service dog doesn’t seem to be working, it’s still important not to distract it!

Recreation with a Service Dog

When their handler is busy at recreational activities, a service dog should still be close at hand, but if they need to be out of the way for safety reasons (like a swinging golf club), they should be tethered a safe distance away. For example, a service dog could be tethered to a nearby telephone pole, fence, or bench while the handler has fun at a golfing range or batting cage.

Don’t forget, always try to have a cold bowl of water available to the service dog. It would be helpful for an employee to help with this!

Always at Work

While at a movie or play with their handler, a service dog can takes a little break from working, but don’t be fooled. They’re still keeping one eye open and their ears alert in case they are needed!

Service dog sitting at a picnic table at the park with his owner

Download this information

All of the information on this page has been compiled by NHCSSD founder Brendan Madden and is available for download here:

 Suggested Admittance Policy
 Recognizing a Service Dog


Please feel free to contact us with any questions. NHCSSD Chair, Brendan Madden, is a former service dog owner and is happy to answer the questions and concerns of other service dog owners. Brendan is also available to speak with businesses on how they can best serve employees and customers with service dogs.

Disclaimer: Any information provided on and our associated social media accounts is non-binding and for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be construed or interpreted as a legal opinion, counsel, or advice.