People with disabilities who are partnered with a guide, hearing, or service dog have legally protected rights of equal access and equal treatment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, it’s important to remember that this comes with a number of responsibilities on the part of assistance dog handlers.
Some of these responsibilities are even legal requirements. While it’s against federal law to discriminate against assistance dogs and the people who depend on them, failure on the part of the handler to comply with a few rules can be grounds for being asked to leave a public place.
Remember, too, that each individual service, hearing, and guide dog partner acts as an ambassador for the entire community. By meeting the responsibilities of assistance dog handlers, you promote awareness and understanding among the general public.
So, if you or a loved one is partnered with an assistance dog—or if you’re considering such a partnership—take the time to review these responsibilities of assistance dog handlers.
Your Responsibilities as an Assistance Dog Partner
- Protect and promote the health and safety of your hearing, guide, or service dog at all times and in all places; you are responsible for the full cost of care
- Although there are no assistance dog-specific licenses, certifications, or IDs, your dog must be in compliance with any state or local vaccination and general canine licensing laws
- Keep your guide, hearing, or service dog clean and well groomed; a noticeably dirty or smelly animal can be prevented from entering a business or other public place
- Be properly prepared to handle situations in which you are illegally barred entry with your assistance dog
- Maintain control over your assistance dog while in public areas; failure to successfully control her with voice commands, hand signals, or other means can legally result in being asked to remove her from a public area
- Leash, harness, or tether your assistance dog in public (unless this prevents her from performing an essential task, or your disability prevents the use of such devices)
- While hearing, guide, and service dogs should be trained to minimize the space they take up, not to bark or growl, not to act aggressively, not to approach other people or animals, and to otherwise behave well, it’s up to every handler to ensure that the dog is not disruptive to others
- Make sure your assistance dog doesn’t block any public walkways or emergency exits
- Be cognizant and as considerate as possible of the fact that some people are afraid of or allergic to dogs
- Do not allow your assistance dog to urinate or defecate in inappropriate locations (you can be asked to leave a public place if your dog is not housebroken); always clean up after her, which may mean having someone with you if your disability prevents you from doing so yourself
- You are responsible—including financially—for any property damage or injuries caused by your service, guide, or hearing dog
- Explain politely that your dog is an assistance animal working to keep you safe, and that she therefore cannot be distracted, when people attempt to talk to, pet, bring their dog over to, or otherwise interact with her