Can a Restaurant Ask for Proof of a Service Dog?

If you’re bringing your task-trained service dog into a restaurant, or you’re a restaurant owner, you might be wondering if a restaurant can ask for proof of a service dog. When it comes to the law, there are a few essential things you should know. 

In the United States, restaurants cannot ask for documentation proving the need for a service dog, per the ADA; However, they can ask the dog’s handler two essential questions, which can help them determine the credibility of a service dog team. 

Next time you enter a restaurant or see a service dog entering through the doors of your restaurant, this guide will help you be prepared for what to do, how to act, and what to ask.

What Defines a Service Dog? 

The ADA (Americans with Disability Act) states that a service dog is a dog trained in one or more tasks to aid in a physical or mental disability. 

A service dog can be anything from a dog that guides the blind to a dog that helps an adult with autism complete tasks in their day-to-day life. Service dogs even exist for PTSD and anxiety, as well as other mental disorders. 

Service dogs perform tasks such as: 

  • Alerting when their handler may pass out or have a seizure
  • Guiding a blind handler through the streets 
  • Assisting a deaf handler with answering the phone or door
  • Providing deep pressure therapy for someone with anxiety
  • Pressing elevator buttons for someone with a wheelchair
  • Providing mobility support for someone who has trouble walking
  • Calling 911
  • Alerting to blood sugar drops 
  • Alerting to migraines 

There are so many ways a service dog can assist a handler and so many disabilities that they serve. There is no one way that a service dog looks. Many breeds can be service dogs, including small and extra-large breeds.

What Can a Restaurant Ask From a Service Dog Handler?

Service dogs are highly trained. There is no official service dog registry that exists. Service dogs can be owner-trained, trained by a professional, or trained by a program. Depending on the budget and needs of the handler, they will train each service dog differently. 

For this reason, it is illegal for restaurants to request an “official identification card” for service dogs to enter their restaurant. However, they can ask two questions outlined by the ADA. These are: 

  1. Is this a service dog task-trained to aid in a disability for its handler? 
  2. What tasks does this service dog perform? 

Restaurants cannot ask: 

  1. Where is your identification? 
  2. What is your disability? 
  3. Where was your dog trained? 
  4. Are you actually disabled? 

Handlers who believe restaurants are being discriminatory can report the abuse of the law to the ADA, which could mean a hefty fine for your business. Discrimination can be as simple as kicking a legitimate service dog out of your restaurant, even if you were just uneducated.

When Can Restaurants Deny Entry to a Service Dog?

If a restaurant owner has suspicions that a service dog is not actually a service dog, you can’t act out of suspicion alone. 

Here are the criteria that legally allow you to remove an animal from the premises:

  • The dog is barking (not for a task) and disrupting customers
  • The dog is aggressive, growling, lunging, or biting
  • The dog has used the bathroom on the floor or near food areas inside 
  • The dog is sitting in a booth or at the table and not performing a task (dogs should be on the floor at all times)  
  • The dog is walking around off-leash, causing disturbances 
  • The dog is an ESA (Emotional Support Animal) or pet 

Important: Emotional support animals provide emotional support to their handlers and are only given equal housing rights through the FHA, not public access through the ADA. For this reason, they’re not permitted in public places that aren’t pet-friendly. 

A service dog that does more than one physical task for an emotional disability is not an ESA. It is a psychiatric service dog.

FAQ

Let’s take a look at some commonly asked questions about service dogs entering restaurants. 

How do you prove your dog is a service dog? 

You don’t need to prove that your dog is a service dog. You only have to answer the two legal questions required by the ADA. Failure to answer these questions can mean the restaurant can remove you from the property. 

If a business asks you for any identification or further proof, point them to the ADA website. You can also buy ADA information cards that show companies your rights. These are not identification cards and shouldn’t be used as such.

How should a service dog behave in a restaurant?

Service dogs should always heel next to their handler, not invading the space of other restaurant guests. At the table, the dog should lay underneath the table near the handler’s feet. 

The dog’s tail, head, and legs should all be tucked out of the way of the restaurant pathways. The dog should not bark, have an accident, act aggressively, or be untrained. 

Note: A service dog may move out of its tucked position to perform a task. If a service dog is performing a task for its handler, do not interrupt it or try to talk to it. The dog might be saving the person’s life.

How should restaurants treat service dogs? 

If you see a service dog in your restaurant, do not interact with it. You can ask the two questions mentioned in this article to the handler. Once they respond, you do not need to prod any further. 

Never touch a service dog. Do not try to play with it, bring a treat, or distract it from its job. The dog is there to focus on the handler, and even the slightest distraction can mean they miss an important cue that saves someone’s life. These dogs are not a toy.

Conclusion 

All restaurants should use the two ADA-required questions to get proof that a service dog is valid. Asking for identification or papers is not allowed. Many handlers will bring ADA cards along with them to educate businesses on the laws, as they’re not widely known. 

Now you are aware of the service dog laws in the US and how to get proof of a service dog from your customers. Use this information wisely, and let your other restaurant owners know as well.

Sources Used

https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

https://udservices.org/blog/types-of-service-dogs/

https://adata.org/service-animal-resource-hub/misconceptions

https://www.ada.gov/criminaljustice/cj_complaint.html#:~:text=To%20learn%20more%20about%20filing,.gov%2Ffiling_complaint.htm.&text=You%20may%20also%20file%20a,514%2D0383%20(TTY).

https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/assistance_animals

https://adata.org/guide/service-animals-and-emotional-support-animals#:~:text=While%20Emotional%20Support%20Animals%20or,service%20animals%20under%20the%20ADA.


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