What is a Service Dog?

Mobility Service Dogs West Coast Project’s first-hand experience is firmly grounded in the truth that the FUNctional independence created when a well-trained Service Dog is working in unison with its Handler allows for a full and balanced life. A very wise and seasoned Service Dog Trainer told Janie always to remember that a Service Dog is spot on with its service 85% to 95% of the time. The other % of the time, it needs to be a fun-loving dog. We believe that it is essential to have doggie fun adventure time when the Service Harness comes off. For Beckett, it is nose work fun and fetching in a big field near our apartment. Finding a doggie daycare that caters to Service Dog Handlers or an active human that can give your Service Dog a nonworking doggie kind of experience once a week for a few hours is an excellent gift to our Service Dogs to incorporate into your routines. The training, your consistency, and ever-flowing love, full of kindness is always ongoing and requires lots of time, patience, and a supportive, interactive community. MSD-WCP is here to provide puppy raisers, handlers, trainers, and the supporting crew the interactive network for a successful full life. We are a small but mighty organization that depends on your transparency and integrity as we work hard together to achieve your perfect SD Team!

Top Dog Obedience in Tucson, AZ has a beautiful definition that begins like this:

You’ve entered this training program to teach your dog to be a service dog. But what does that mean? What is a service dog?

First of all, a service dog is a dog. He’s not a robot; he’s a living, breathing creature with feelings and wants and needs. He has his own identity, temperament and personality; he’s an individual. Second, he’s not Superdog; he’s not Lassie. With training, he will become a helpmate, a partner. He will learn to do things for you that you never dreamed possible; he might even save your life. But he’s still just a dog. He’ll have days when he can’t seem to focus, and he just wants to play. He’ll drive you crazy with his barking or his chewing or his digging. He’ll throw up on the carpet at two in the morning and get you up during the night with diarrhea. And he’ll love you unconditionally. He’ll greet you like a long-lost friend when you return from the store. He’ll put his head in your lap for comfort when you’re sad. These are the things that make up a dog.

But you’ve entered into a partnership to take your relationship with your dog one step farther than the average pet owner. You’re training him to be a service dog. You might want him to retrieve things for you and help you up, take off your shoes and socks, open the door and pull your wheelchair. You might want to take him to work or school, to the store and the restaurant. So, it’s important for you to understand right from the start just what a service dog is.

What does a service dog look like? The important factors are that he looks good, that he looks healthy and happy. Your dog should be well-groomed. This is especially important if he has a long coat, but every dog should look clean when he goes out in public. It’s very important that he maintain a proper weight. A dog that’s fat is not a good representative for service dogs, and it’s very hard on a working dog to carry a lot of extra weight. It will shorten his life. Your dog should, of course, be under good control before he ever goes out into public places. He should be calm and confident.

What will a service dog do for you? There are so many things that a dog can be taught to do. If you have a need, there may be a way to teach your dog to help. You need to be realistic, though, and remember he’s still just a dog. He will offer you companionship and love, and he’ll listen to you without judging or blaming. He’ll learn as much as you can teach him and be happy to help. As you move forward in your training, you’ll think about the ways that he can assist you in your everyday life.

What will you do for your service dog? You’re forming a partnership here; you and your dog will become a team. That means that you have responsibilities to him. He’s dependent on you for his basic needs—food, water, shelter. But there’s much more to this partnership. You need to return his love and show it in ways he can understand. Talking to him, petting him, playing with him will bring as much joy to you as it does to him. You must also groom him regularly, take him to the vet regularly, and make sure he understands his place in your pack. If you are fair and consistent in your training, it will strengthen your relationship, and make you both happy. This is how you achieve teamwork.


When it comes right down to it, no one can ask all the right questions. You and you alone know whether or not a Service Dog is right for you and your lifestyle, and at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s going to have to dig deep and accept responsibility for your choices. Service Dogs bring peace, independence, security and a new degree of ability to thousands of people, and if you’re going to be one of them, congratulations, and welcome to the Service Dog community. If you’re not, though, that’s ok — Assistance Dogs are not right for everyone, and we’d even hazard to say partnering with a Service Dog is not right for most people.

We hope to have stirred your thoughts up a bit, though, and helped you to recognize Service Dog partnership isn’t as straight-forward as it can seem.


So you think you want a Service Dog? Or to be a Puppy Raiser? You need to know how challenging it is to go out into public places with a service dog.  Below is a list of some of your rights with a service dog in various situations. You may often be challenged by businesses and public places that will refuse entry to you because you have a dog.  You need to consider whether you will be willing to politely and kindly stand up for your rights in these situations, before you commit to having a service dog of your own or to being a puppy raiser.  MSD-WCP’s goal is to educate both you and public venues and to facilitate smooth Handler and Service Dog access. We will be here for you, but you will be the one having to stand up for yourself in each situation. The ADA requires service dogs be permitted into public areas and provide reasonable accommodations to allow that access. Here are some things to know prior to becoming a Puppy Raiser or Service Dog Handler:

  1. Please be  aware that the handler and the person with the disability many not be the same. However, the person with the disability must be present for the handler with the dog to have access.

  2. Any dog disrupting business activities due to poor behavior may be asked to leave the premises. The handler should be asked if he/she would like to continue without the dog being present.

  3. Service dogs must be allowed to accompany their handlers to and through self-service food lines. Similarly, service animals may not be prohibited from communal food preparation areas, such as are commonly found in shelters or dormitories.

  4. In the school (K-12) context and in similar settings, the school or similar entity may need to provide some assistance to enable a particular student to handle his or her service dog.

  5. There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certifications or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service dog.

  6. Many states have laws regarding access for persons with disabilities who utilize service animals. The U.S. DOJ recognizes whichever law (State or Federal) is more lenient on the side of the person with the disability.

  7. When asked what task the dog performs… If the handler states, “mobility assist” they have not answered the question of listing a task. The business representative can state that it understands the function but that these are not tasks and again ask: “What task does your service animal perform for you?” You need to be prepared to answer this question with specifics.

  8. Access is for the person: not the service dog. Businesses restricting service dogs can be directly reported to the DOJ.

  9. While there is no direct way to report a business to the DOJ people who are trying to pass their dogs as service dogs, many states now have violations for fake service dogs. The best solution is to educate business owners about how to tell the difference and how to approach the owners with kindness.

  10. Dogs whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or promote emotional well-being DO NOT qualify for public access under the ADA and must travel as a pet.

  11. Therapy Animals and their handlers have been trained to perform animal-assisted interactions with clients in approved hospitals, nursing homes, schools, prisons, libraries, care homes, and airports.

  12. A service dog and handler team can legitimately be refused access to Private Clubs and Churches. However, when these locations are opened for a public event, they are considered to be eligible for public access. (Example: a wedding at a church or a concert at a private club that includes the public- both are open to handlers and service dogs.)

  13. At public swimming pools, service dogs are permitted in the swimming area but not in the swimming pool. Private swim pools can make up their own rules regarding service animals access.

  14. Hospitals and ambulances must allow handler and service dog to be present everywhere the general public is permitted to go. Special gear for entry usually equals no service dog entry. Ambulances must take the service dog with the handler unless doing so is contra-indicated for the handler’s care.

  15. Cruise Lines do not encourage service dogs on board. Seasickness and small spaces can usually be handled with other mobility tools. However, service dogs are legally allowed, and you may bring yours with you.