Service animals

Service animals are dogs trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with post-traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act. Some state and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the state attorney general’s office.

Service animals FAQ

How are service animals controlled?

Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal or other effective controls.

Who is responsible for taking care of a service animal at work?

The employee is responsible for taking care of the service animal, including making sure the animal is not disruptive, keeping it clean and free of parasites, and taking it out to relieve itself as needed. Employees are responsible for the care of their service animals, but employers may have to provide accommodations that enable the employees to do so. When an employee is allowed to bring a service animal to work, the employer should consult with the employee to find out what accommodations are needed to care for the animal. For example, an employee might need to adjust their break times to take their service animal outside.

Other inquiries, exclusions, charges and other specific rules related to service animals

  • When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions:
    1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? 
    2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
  • Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
  • A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless:
    1. The dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or
    2. The dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.
  • Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
  • If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, customers with disabilities may also be charged for damage caused by themselves or their service animals.
  • Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.

How should you deal with co-workers who are allergic to a service animal?

  • Allow the employees to work in different areas of the building.
  • Establish different paths of travel for each employee.
  • Provide one or each of the employees with private/enclosed workspace.
  • Use a portable air purifier at each workstation.
  • Allow flexible scheduling so the employees do not work at the same time.
  • Allow one of the employees to work at home or to move to another location.
  • Develop a plan between the employees so they are not using common areas, such as the break room and restroom, at the same time.
  • Allow the employees to take periodic rest breaks if needed, e.g., to take medication.
  • Ask if the employee with the service animal is able to temporarily use other accommodations to replace the functions performed by the service animal for meetings attended by both employees.
  • Arrange for alternatives to in-person communication, such as email, telephone, teleconferencing and videoconferencing.
  • Ask if the employee with the service animal is willing to use dander-care products on the animal regularly.
  • Ask if the employee who is allergic to the service animal wants to, and would benefit from, wearing an allergen/nuisance mask.
  • Add HEPA filters to the existing ventilation system.
  • Have the work area — including carpets, cubicle walls and window treatments — cleaned, dusted and vacuumed regularly.


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