Understanding Service Dogs and ADA Cards: What You Need to Know

service dogs ada cards

Service dogs are task trained animals that provide assistance to people with disabilities. To help ensure that service dogs and their handlers are protected under the law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows for special cards that can be used to notify the public and businesses of your rights. In this guide, we'll explore what service dogs are, how they can help, and what you need to know about ADA service cards. This guide is helpful for anyone that is trying to understand more about service dogs, service teams and accessibility rights in public places.

What's Inside This Guide:

  • What is a Service Dog
  • Purpose Service Dogs Provide for Handlers
  • What Tasks a Service Dog can Perform
  • Description of ADA Cards
  • How to Get an ADA Law Card
  • Rights and Responsibilities of Service Dog Owners
  • Why Service Dogs ADA Cards are Useful
  • What to Look for in ADA Service Cards
  • Conclusion
what is a service dog

What is a service dog?

A service dog is a highly trained animal that provides assistance to people with disabilities. These dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that help their handlers with daily activities, such as opening doors, retrieving objects, and providing balance support.
Service dogs can be trained to assist people with a variety of disabilities, including physical disabilities, hearing or vision impairments, and psychiatric disorders. They are not considered pets, but rather working animals that provide essential support to their handlers. They are considered medical equipment and are treated as such from a legal perspective.
There is a common misconception that service dogs only exist for the blind or those missing limbs. They provide many tasks for people with varying disabilities which we will provide down below. Read more about specific information related to guide dogs on Guide Dogs for the Blind.
For example, a service dog's handler cannot be charged a pet fee at a hotel for the presence of their service animal. This also includes breed discrimination and size restrictions in living situations if they are publicly owned. Keep in mind, if a service dog violates the section of the ADA pertaining to control of the dog and housebreaking regulations or destruction of property they are no longer protected.

Tasks service dogs provide for handlers

service dog ada cards

In order to be considered a service dog, the animal must be trained to perform tasks that are directly related to the handler’s disability. These tasks must be trained to mitigate the handler’s disability and a prescription from a physician is required to obtain a service dog as a method of treatment.
Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which allows them to accompany their handlers in public places, including restaurants, stores, and other businesses.
Some service dog handlers carry ADA cards to help educate others about their rights and the rights of their service animal. It’s important to remember that service dogs are not pets and should not be approached or distracted while they are working.

What tasks can a service dog perform?

service dog questions

Service dogs are trained to perform a wide range of tasks to assist their handlers with daily activities. These tasks can include retrieving objects, opening doors, turning lights on and off, providing balance support, alerting their handler to sounds or alarms, and even calling for help in an emergency.
Some other tasks many service dogs are trained to perform include behavior interruptions, cardiac alert, seizure alert or response and crowd control.
The specific tasks a service dog is trained to perform will depend on the individual needs of their handler and the type of disability they have.
It's important to note that emotional support animals and therapy dogs are not considered service dogs and do not have the same legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What is an ADA card and how does it relate to service dogs?

service dogs can go anywhere

An ADA card is not an official document or certification for service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require service dogs to be registered or certified, nor does it require their handlers to carry any specific documentation.
However, some organizations offer registration through their programs to signify completion of training or vests for service dogs as a way to help their handlers navigate public spaces and avoid confrontations with business owners or other individuals who may not understand the laws surrounding service dogs.
It's important to note that registrations, cards or vests are not legally required and do not provide any additional legal protections under the ADA.
Keep in mind that laws and regulations surrounding service dogs differ around the world. Even in the United States the laws and regulations surrounding service dogs in training differs.
To find the laws regarding service dogs in your state visit the .gov website for the state you are looking for and search for ADA information. It's important to remember that some states will have language that may contradict or be confusing when compared against the federal guidance provided by the ADA.
ADA will protect you in situations where state law is confusing or less clear.

How do you obtain an ADA card?

ada service dog cards

As mentioned earlier, an ADA card is not an official document or certification for service dogs. Therefore, there is no official process for obtaining one.
Some organizations like service dog training centers or breeders may offer ID cards or vests for service dogs, but these are not legally required and do not provide any additional legal protections under the ADA.
It's important to remember that the ADA only requires that service dogs be trained to perform specific tasks for their handlers and that businesses and other entities must allow them access to public spaces.
Many people believe that there is a required registry for service dogs. This is not true in the United States.
While other countries do have requirements for service dogs to be registered and carry identification at all times as well as a requirement on how many tasks they serve for their handler, the US does not.

What are your rights and responsibilities as a service dog owner?

service dog ada laws

As a service dog handler, you have the right to bring your dog with you into public spaces, including restaurants, stores, and other businesses.
Additionally, businesses do not have the right to discriminate against service dogs or service dog teams. As a service dog handler you should expect to be treated equal to any other patron of a business.
You also have the right to be accompanied by your service dog on public transportation, such as buses and trains. However, it's important to remember that you are responsible for ensuring that your dog is well-behaved and under control at all times.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), not the ADA protects your rights in air travel as a service dog team. The ACAA is enforced by the Department of Transportation and makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate because of a disability.
You may be asked to remove your dog from a public space if it is behaving aggressively or causing a disturbance. Additionally, you are responsible for the care and well-being of your service dog, including providing food, water, grooming and veterinary care.

Why an ADA card is useful to service teams

Although there is no legal requirement for service dog handlers to carry ADA cards, many choose to do so to make their lives easier.
These cards can be helpful in situations where access to a public place is denied, as they provide information to business owners or employees in a calm and less stressful manner.
By providing facts on why and how they are in violation of the law, the intention is to avoid escalation of the situation and hopefully change the course of their actions.
If the business or organization still chooses not to abide by the information provided, you as the service dog handler, can inform the ADA of the fact that the information was provided in your complaint.
Additionally, ADA cards can be useful for well-intentioned members of the public who may be interfering with the tasks your service dog performs. By simply handing them a card, the handler can move on without engaging in a lengthy conversation.

What to look for in a Service Dog Cards

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Since your service dog cards are serving a very specific purpose there are several things you should look for in an ADA law card.
We've provided a list of features that you should look for when choosing which service dog card is best for you.

Basic features you need on an ADA card

  • Reference to ADA Law with contact number and/or website
  • Basic requirements for access to public places

Best features for service dog cards

  • Specific information related to what people and businesses can or should do around service teams
  • Specific information related to what people and business cannot or shouldn't do around service teams
  • The ability to edit text on your ADA law card to be more specific to your dog and their tasks performed
  • The ability to customize your service dog card based on the most common violations of ADA law that you and your team experience
  • Reminder to the reader that not all disabilities are visible
  • A photo of your dog or your dogs breed

service dogs


Service dogs provide a lifeline to people with disabilities. They perform many tasks that aide the handler in their daily activities. Often times, the disabilities are not visible to others. This does not negate or minimize the need of the tasks performed by service dogs for their handler.

Service teams are able to use ADA cards to educate or remind those that are unaware of how the Americans with Disabilities Act protects service dogs under the law. Service dogs ADA cards can be given to businesses, employees or the general public in an effort to increase understanding and decrease stress for the handler.

Next time you encounter a service team in action, remember to admire the work the service dog is doing the handler from afar. It's also important to keep in mind that interfering with a working service dog distracts them from the important work that they do for the handler and in some situations could be putting their life at risk.

For more information on service dog ADA cards or to find one that works for you and your service team CLICK HERE

service dog denied access

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