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Service Dogs Are Not Pets

Updated: May 13, 2023

***Edited*** An Open Letter to All Security Services Workers

ATTN: All persons holding a valid security services worker license, security guard license or regionally equivalent certification.

RE: Service Dogs, Guide Dogs & our rights as handlers

Let me introduce myself. I am that person you see walking into your store with a dog in a harness / vest. You know, the one whom your store manager / property owner has told you that is not allowed. I am here to tell you that yes, in fact I am allowed to bring my dog in. I am here to tell you that yes, your manager is 100% wrong when they told you that there is a 0-dog policy, or no pets allowed. I am here to tell you that my service dog, is not a pet. This dog is not a prized possession that comes with me everywhere I go because I desire him / her to. I am here to tell you that my task trained service dog is in fact by law permitted anywhere and everywhere the public is permitted except a select few locations.

I would appreciate each Security Service Worker, Security Guard, or equivalent to read up on what a service animal is, what it means to be task trained, what the lived experience of a person with a disability who has a service animal is. I want you to read the legislation, the regulations, the human rights legislations / policies on service dogs. I would love you to reach out to me directly if you desire, to learn more about the impact of your assumptions of my service dog being a pet and attempting to deny me access to which I am provided the right to have. I would encourage you to educate yourselves and observe what a task trained service dog appears like verses an average pet. I would encourage you to instead of stating “No Pets Allowed”, ask the individual if you are unsure “Is that a service animal”, “what tasks is the dog trained to perform to mitigate a disability?”. I would encourage you to challenge what you are informed when it comes to property managers dictating that no dogs, when in fact service dogs are exempt.


That Service Dog Handler You Just Accosted

Why Did I Write This?

Following an interaction I had on Wednesday with a security guard at a local grocery store, and numerous other interactions I felt that there is maybe a need to inform the individuals of the laws, the rights of handlers, and where their training has failed them.

Society seems to thrive on the misconception that service dogs are pets, when this could not be further from the truth. A task trained service dog is the tool in my bag that helps me navigate my world safely. That service dog is what ensures my own personal safety if I have a hidden disability. That service dog ensures that I can retrieve the item I just dropped on the floor. Most importantly, that service dog will retrieve assistance if I fall unconscious. These are just a few things that service dogs are trained to do, but society still wants to deny the dogs and their handlers access to the most basic of locations. Society still wants to believe that just because it is a dog in public that it is a pet. They still want to believe that there needs to be a magical vest that makes it a service animal when this is not a requirement.

Let’s chat about what is required of a service animal for a moment.

Are you thinking of a disability? Take a moment to think about one, and how it may impact a person’s life.

…Think of one yet?... Got one? Great, lets dive into it for a moment. I’ll use my disability I have chosen to really dive into this, feel free to do the same with the one you have selected. Odds are the same concepts will apply.

1. What disability have you thought about? Feel free to place your response for this, and other points below in the comments. I would love to read them. I selected a visual impairment. Let’s say the individual is totally blind in this example. I recognize this is not necessarily the norm but let’s go with it for a moment.

2. Do you know what a service dog for your disability does? Feel free to go as detailed or as simple as you choose. There is pretty much no wrong answer here, as this is a learning experience. A service dog for someone experiencing vision loss is called a guide dog. This dog is trained to navigate the handler’s world safely and confidently. They are trained to stop at all elevation changes (IE: Curbs, stairs, escalators), locate doors, and so many other tasks that it is unreal and adaptable. Most importantly, they are to act as the eyes of the handler. They are required to avoid posts, signs, cars, people, etc. If it can be an obstacle, they are trained to avoid it!

3. What does the service dog look like? This is honestly not a trick question. What would a dog performing your disabilities tasks appear like? There are right and wrong answers for this; however, we are learning, no grades assigned. Is the dog large? Maybe small? What breed is it? For a blind individual the most common breeds are German Shepards, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers. Sometimes they cross breed these three as well. This may be the norm, but these are 100% not the only dogs ever trained as guide dogs, I promise. There have been boxers, standard poodles, great Danes, and so many more. The reality here is if the dog is trainable and has the drive, most likely it can perform guide work.

4. What equipment does your dog wear? Keep in mind, this is important. The equipment dependent on disability must match the need of the handler. So, think about this carefully. A guide dog wears a harness. This comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colours. Every individual who owner trains a different preference to a harness may have, every program trained dog will also have a different harness style. Program harnesses will have their name / brand located on it somewhere, owner trains will not have a program identifier, they may not even have any markings. Did you know that there is no standardized determination as to what a service dog must be wearing? The only requirement is it aids in the performance of their task. So, if all you stated your dog needs is a leash, you may in fact be correct. Truthfully, in most if not all regions, this is literally the only requirement. This is obviously except for the fact that there is one exception. If a leash prevents your service dog from performing a task, at this point the leash is not required. The general rule to go by is the handler must be always in care and control of their service dog.

What Does a Service Dog Not Look Like?

So now that we have discussed what a service dog looks like, lets chat about what it doesn’t look like. In simple terms, it does not look like a tornado, it does not look like a disaster on paws, it does not look like it is out of control and difficult to impossible to handle. It most certainly does not look like a pet.

How can you say that it doesn’t look like a pet you may ask yourself, and truthfully the answer is much easier than you would ever expect. Most if not all pets are not exposed to high stimulation places. Most pets will never see the inside of a grocery store, concert venue or sports arena. Most pets will not experience things like escalators or tiled floors. Most pets will appear nervous, scared, reluctant to be in an unfamiliar location. Most pets will act up in a way that a trained service dog will not. A service dog will take all the different stimulus in stride and maintain composure. A service dog will be attentive to their handler in a way that most pets will not be.

All service dogs will undergo an evaluation called a public access exam. This may be called the good citizen test, or some variation of these. This test is a core requirement to being a service animal. This means that they are required to be exposed to public access locations, with various levels of stimulation prior to even being allowed to become service dogs. This is not something the average person will ever put their pet dog through. Essentially, A service dog is going to be a well-behaved member of society who in most cases is not even noticed.

Finally, Rights of A Handler & Public Access Locations

Okay, so let’s talk rights. This is a touchy topic, because not everybody will agree with this, not everybody agrees with the laws, and I can respect that, but I don’t have to agree with it. In general, a service dog is permitted anywhere that is generally accessed by the public, or any location where the handler is permitted other than sterile environments such as a surgical suite. Whoa, really? Anywhere? Yes, anywhere. This does in fact come with the biggest exception ever. As a public access location owner / operator, you are permitted to request the handler and the dog leave your property if the dog is acting up. If the dog is being destructive, misbehaving in a way is inappropriate, then yes, you are permitted to request they leave.

Okay, so I am permitted to ask them to leave if the dog is acting up, but what if they are just walking into my property? What can I do? My answer may shock you to your core. Do nothing. If the dog is in care and control, the dog is behaving, and you have no reason to question the animal, just leave it be. If you must ask if the animal is a service animal, I will provide you two examples. The first example is wrong, DO NOT EVER DO THIS, the second example is perfectly acceptable in all north America. The third example is one that I have a personal issue with, but it does apply in a few jurisdictions around North America, and too is acceptable. Keep in mind that I do recommend only using example 3 if example 2 does not satisfy your questions, or you are still unsure and have articulatable reason to be asking for example three.


“NO Pets Allowed”

First off, this is potentially going to be met by irritation, frustration, and a very clearly stated “THIS IS NOT A PET.” You may also be completely ignored. Just DO NOT DO THIS. It is much simpler and less stressful for everybody involved.


“Is that a service dog?” In almost every region across North America this is one of two accepted questions. The other is “What tasks is this dog trained to perform to mitigate a disability”. These questions are generally accepted; however, they may not be worded exactly as shown above, if the spirit of the question and the intention of the question is the same that is fine.

Example 3

“I need to see your *insert jurisdictional ID card here*” As I mentioned, this is acceptable; however, I do not agree with this. I do not agree with this method because not every person is going to have this identification card, as this is not a standard across North America. An individual from Texas most likely will not hold an Alberta Service Dog ID or Blind Persons Rights card, as they may not be in the province frequently or ever. This also really opens the door for potential increases of discrimination of persons traveling if this is a requirement of all persons. I could go on and on, but the reality is this is an acceptable option; however, not my preference.

I hope this will be helpful to you, and your counterparts in the security services field, and I hope that you feel comfortable enough to reach out to me directly if you wish to get more information. As always, please feel free to leave your comments in the comment section, and I will try to respond to each one that I see!

Until the next time

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