What Is A Service Dog?

Canine Companions created the concept of service dogs to assist people with physical disabilities, over 45 years ago. They’re specially trained to perform tasks to help make life easier for people with disabilities. Canine Companions service dogs work with people with physical disabilities, deafness, cognitive disabilities and military-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There are many other kinds of service dogs doing excellent work such as guiding a person who is blind, alerting to changes in blood sugar for a person with diabetes or responding to acute medical episodes. That’s why there’s a great need for more service dogs!

It takes months of training for a service dog to effectively perform tasks, stay focused on their job regardless of distractions, and to feel comfortable in new or unexpected situations. This level of expert training matters because service dogs are literally the arms, legs, ears and eyes for a person with a disability! The safety of a handler can depend on the training a service dog has received.

Young boy sitting in a wheelchair smiles down as a woman pets a yellow lab in blue service vest standing next to him

Task-trained service dogs make life easier and more accessible for people with disabilities. With the help of their four-legged friends, people with disabilities can have increased independence, peace of mind, confidence and can do more without asking for help. With so many people who could benefit from a task-trained service dog, task-trained service dogs are understandably in high demand! Our goal is to serve as many qualified applicants as possible. 

There are 15,000 accredited service dogs working in North America.

  • Over 7,200 service dogs placed by Canine Companions since 1975.  
  • 65+ disabilities served, including mobility disability, deafness, cognitive disabilities and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
  • 45 trained tasks to assist children, adults and veterans with disabilities live with greater independence.  
  • 2 years of socialization and training to be ready for their job, and many dogs don’t meet the requirements. The dogs that do are expertly trained, unflappable and love to do their job.  
  • $0 cost to clients for a service dog and a lifetime of follow-up services 

What are the rules about service dogs? 

There are a few federal laws that help guide businesses, employers and service dog users on their rights to accommodations in public places or other places pets aren’t typically allowed. The most common set of rules are from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): 

  • The ADA is the law people are most likely to recognize because it governs accommodations for people with disabilities in public places. The ADA also sets behavioral guidelines that service dogs have to follow for their handler to bring the dog in public places like the grocery store, movie theater or doctor’s office. 
  • There are only two questions a business can ask a service dog user when entering the business: 
    • Is the dog a service dog required for a disability? 
    • What task or work is the dog trained to perform? 
  • It’s important to understand that a business can’t ask about a person’s disability or to see the task the dog is trained to perform. This is because many tasks like alerting to a medical condition can’t be demonstrated at-will. The ADA also protects the privacy of the handler, so asking about a person’s disability isn’t appropriate. 
  • If a service dog – or any dog – is behaving in an aggressive manner, a business has the right to ask the handler to remove the dog and return without the dog present. If a service dog is not in control – pulling towards other customers, eating off the floor, jumping, etc. – the handler has the right to get the dog under control before being asked to remove the dog from the business.