Often when we encounter a service dog with their partners, we immediately notice them, and the urge to interact or even pet them can be strong. However well-intentioned, it’s important to be aware of the rules surrounding working dogs.

What is a guide or service dog? Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Guide dogs are the guiding eyes for people who are blind or visually impaired. Service dogs are assistance dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities are allowed to be accompanied by their guide or service dog in all places the public is permitted.

As a business owner, can I ask for proof if it’s a service dog? You can only ask two questions of an individual with a guide or service dog:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

You cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

The general rule of thumb is:
don’t touch or distract them.

Below are some tips and guidelines when interacting with a service dog and their owner.

  • Don’t touch the dog without asking permission first. This is a distraction and may prevent the dog from tending to their human partner.
  • Speak to the person, not the assistance dog. Always approach an assistance dog calmly and speak to their human partner before touching or addressing the dog.
  • Please don’t feed the dog. Food is the ultimate distraction to the working dog and can jeopardize the working assistance dog team.
  • Do not whistle or make sounds to the dog as this again may provide a dangerous distraction.
  • If you’re with your dog, please keep your distance and allow the service dog and their partner the right of way.


Canine Companions

Guide Dog Foundation

Paws of War

William James College

Other Resources

State-by-state Service Animal Laws

American Bar Association’s Information on Service Animals

ADA’s Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals