What is a Service Animal?

Many people are surprised to learn there are over a dozen different specializations for Service Dogs. There are Diabetic Alert Dogs, Severe Allergy Alert dogs, Visual Assistance Dogs, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Wheelchair Assistance Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs, Brace/Mobility Support Dogs, Medical Alert Dogs, Seizure Assistance Dogs and more. What are all of these types of Service Dogs — and what do they do?

When it comes to different types of Service Dogs, there’s one thing that’s clear: the base definition of a Service Dog. According to the ADA, a Service Animal is any dog which is specifically trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual that they would otherwise have difficulty completing on their own.

All of the titles, distinguishing categories and types of Service Dogs have no bearing under federal law — a Service Dog is a Service Dog is a Service Dog. However, the various types of Service Dogs make breaking down the dogs’ functions, jobs and tasks a little easier and can make a trainer’s life less stressful. For example, a Service Dog trainer may have a ton of experience training Diabetic Alert Dogs, but may not be qualified to train and place Visual Assistance or Guide Dogs.

Some Service Dogs perform two or more functions for their disabled handler so you might hear someone say, “Oh, she’s a brace/mobility support dog and a seizure assistance dog.” There isn’t a clear way to classify all types of Service Dogs, nor is classification particularly important. The dog’s type, function, title or classification is usually left up to the dog’s handler. Finally, there’s no universally accepted list of types of Service Dogs

Service Dog Etiquette

What should I do when I see a Service Dog? What is proper Service Dog etiquette?

Smile and be polite to the Service Dog’s handler, but most of all:

  • Do not pet the Service Dog

  • Do not distract the Service Dog in any way

  • Please ignore the Service Dog entirely. You’re not being rude if you don’t acknowledge the Service Dog’s presence.

Service Dog etiquette says when Service Dog has a vest on or is in public with its disabled handler (or trainer), it is working, even if it appears as though it is not. Distracting a Service Dog by making noises, offering food, water, toys or petting may be dangerous to the dog’s disabled handler, especially if the dog is a medical alert dog or brace/mobility support dog. Many handlers have “invisible disabilities,” such as diabetes, hearing loss or other symptoms not readily apparent, and if a Service Dog is paying attention to someone who’s distracting her, she’s not doing her job for her handler.

If you would like to pet the Service Dog, ALWAYS ask the handler first, but don’t be offended if they refuse. Some disabled Service Dog handlers don’t like to chat about their Service Dogs. Most like to go about their day, just like you! Also, never ask personal questions about the handler’s disability or intrude on their privacy. Keep these simple Service Dog etiquette tips in mind, and you’ll have a far smoother experience when you see a Service Dog in public.

Training Standards for a Service Dog


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