5 ways to tell a fake service dog from a real one

The ongoing problem of undertrained or untrained animals being passed off as service dogs is being addressed in some states by legislation, but new laws won’t necessarily solve the problem.

So, how can a business or an individual tell a fake service dog from a genuine one? Service Dog Central has been tackling the problem for awhile now, and has a few tips:

  • Certification is not proof. A certification, registration, vest or ID isn’t required by law (although if this changes, we’ll let you know), and in fact are often sold over the internet for a small fee.
  • Behavior can tell you a lot. A service animal that doesn’t follow the owner’s commands well, acts aggressive, is overly playful or hyperactive, is likely not a trained or legitimate service animal.
  • Emotional support animals are not service animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act only addresses service dogs (and miniature horses, for some reason, under a separate provision). Although properly-trained ESAs can be a very positive thing for their owners, they are not protected under the ADA.
    • ESA owners still can get consideration: Airlines, for example, deal with the ESA dilemma by requiring owners to present a doctor’s note at least 48 hours in advance of their flight. Service Dog Central has very detailed instructions here.
  • Businesses can ask. The Department of Justice allows businesses to ask a service dog owner just two questions:
    • Is this a service dog that is required because of a disability? (You can’t ask what the disability is.)
    • What is it trained to do in order to mitigate this disability?
  • Google it! If you’re not certain a certificate or ID tag is legit, look up the name of the issuing agency that’s listed on the card, vest or collar tag.

Some service dog trainers do issue certificates to owners. However, these are only useful when an owner is in court to prove that their dog is, in fact, a service dog. They’re not something to wave around in a business after a misbehaving, poorly-trained dog causes a disruption.

In fact, owners of legitimate service dogs generally know their rights when entering a business, and have a well-trained dog that behaves appropriately. Sometimes that dog wears a vest, but again, a vest is not an indicator that the service dog is legitimate. Rather, the dog’s behavior and the owner’s level of knowledge are the strongest evidence.

So far, we’ve addressed service dog owners’ rights at the federal level. However, each U.S. state has its own laws regarding service animals. Definitions, types of service animals, and other things can vary by state.

Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center last year published a comparison table of assistance animal laws in each state. Check out the table here.

Some states, like California and Connecticut, require proof of a dog’s status as a service dog and issue a license tag. About 18 states have made it a misdemeanor to fraudulently claim that one has the right to be accompanied by a service animal.