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14 Service Dog Myths & Misconceptions That We Need to Stop Believing

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By Nicole Cosgrove

blind man with his service dog

Service dogs are among the most revered of all working dogs. They’re trained to assist people with a variety of conditions that would otherwise impact their ability to live independently, ranging from diabetes to PTSD.

Still, there are numerous myths and misconceptions surrounding service dogs and their duties. Here are the 14 most common ones.

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The 14 Service Dog Myths & Misinterpretations

1. Service Dogs Are the Same as Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Though often used interchangeably, service dogs are different than therapy dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs). Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to assist people with disabilities or medical conditions. Some of the tasks these dogs handle include alerting the owner to take medicine, providing safety checks, alerting passersby to a seizure, or disrupting self-harm. These dogs have specific legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Therapy dogs are pet dogs that have been trained to provide comfort and affection to people in institutional settings, such as hospitals or long-term-care facilities. These dogs don’t provide therapy for their owners but for others.

ESAs are animals that owners keep providing emotional support to, but the term has become nebulous. These animals may be dogs or other types of pets, they don’t require specific training, and they have no specific legal protections.

A white service dog with a woman in wheelchair
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

2. Service Animals Are Certified or Registered

The ADA doesn’t require service animals to be certified or registered. Certifications are essentially just a piece of paper since it affords the owner and dog no more legal protection than without. There’s also no requirement to have these dogs registered, though some registrations with local governments offer benefits like a reduced licensing fee or an alert for first responders that there’s a service dog during a crisis.

3. Only German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers Are Service Animals

Though German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers often make great service dogs, specific breeds are not a requirement. Service dogs come in any shape and size as long as they are appropriately trained to provide care to the owner.

service dog guiding blind woman
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

4. Service Dogs Must Have a Vest

Some owners use a vest to alert others to their service dog, but it’s not required. These dogs don’t need any type of identification that’s visible, and the owner doesn’t need to carry any type of paperwork to verify the dog is a service animal. Under the ADA, business owners can ask if the animal is required due to a disability and what task the animal has been trained to perform, but that’s it.

5. Individuals With Service Animals Can Only Have One

Individuals with disabilities or medical conditions may only have one service dog, but they aren’t limited to only one pet. They can keep other animals for companionship, including dogs, cats, and small animals. They may also have different service dogs that provide different services, such as one dog for seizure alerts and another to remind them to take medication.

black poodle service dog
Image Credit: grandbrothers, Shutterstock

6. Banned Breeds Can’t Be Service Animals

Even with breed-specific legislation, a service animal can be any breed of dog. Breeds can’t be excluded from being a service dog based on fear, such as with Pitbulls. In some cases, a service dog may be excluded, but it’s based on the dog’s behavior, not the breed.

7. Service Dogs Don’t Need to Follow Laws

While service dogs can often enter places where other dogs are not allowed, their owners are required to adhere to local laws regarding animal ownership. These dogs have to be licensed and vaccinated like any other pet.

Service dog giving assistance to disabled person on wheelchair
Image Credit:24K-Production, Shutterstock

8. Service Dogs Have to Complete Rigorous Training

Service dogs must be highly trained to perform certain tasks for people with disabilities, but there’s no formal training requirement or program. Owners can rely on any service dog that can complete the necessary task, whether it’s been formally trained or not.

9. Businesses Can’t Refuse a Service Animal

Businesses may exclude a service animal under specific conditions. Generally, businesses must provide policies with accessibility for individuals with disabilities, including allowing service dogs, unless these modifications would jeopardize a safe operation. For example, service animals are not permitted to enter sterile areas of the hospital, such as an operating room.

Service dogs may also be asked to leave if the dog is dangerous, unmanageable, or not housebroken. This is allowed if the animal may present a risk to others only, not based on the business owner’s personal opinion or past experiences.

blind man with service dog near escalator
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

10. It’s Illegal to Claim a Pet Is a Service Animal If It’s Not

Some states have laws prohibiting fraudulent representation of a service animal, but it’s not the same across the board. There are varied laws regarding service animals in different states.

11. Service Dogs Are Only Used for Blind or Deaf People

Service dogs used to be limited to people with hearing or vision impairments, but their use has become much broader in recent years. Now, service dogs may be used for people with seizure disorders, diabetes, autism, mental illnesses, and other conditions that affect their ability to function in daily life without help.

A golden retriever service dog with a blind woman walking
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

12. Service Dogs Can Detect Drugs

Service dogs and drug detection dogs are different types of dogs that undergo different training. These dogs are trained to respond to different circumstances, not nearby people carrying illicit substances.

13. Service Dogs Want to Socialize

Most people know you shouldn’t pet a service dog, but still try when the owner isn’t looking. This is disrespectful to the owner and the dog trying to do its job. You should never pet a service dog—or ask to pet a service dog—in public. In fact, some states have laws prohibiting interference with service dogs.

service dog training
Image Credit: SasaStock, Shutterstock

14. Service Dogs Never Get a Break

Service dogs are working dogs and must stay focused, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get a break or have a bad life. These dogs spend nearly every moment with their handlers, even out in public, and they enjoy having a purpose. They do get downtime, particularly when their owners are occupied.

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Though there are misconceptions surrounding service dogs, one thing is guaranteed—these dogs are indispensable heroes to their owners. And the more the public learns about service dogs’ duties and training, laws, and proper etiquette, the better they can perform their jobs.

Featured Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

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