Is that a service dog in your shopping cart?

This article may offend some. It isn’t meant to. If it does you might just be one of the offenders. Every day we see more and more people “cheating” the system by bringing fake service dogs into the local grocery stores and other businesses. Before you get excited and say, “wait a sec, how do you know they are fake?” The most obvious way to tell is the dog is not trained in the store. They are pulling on the leash, they are knocking things over, and heaven forbid they have a accident on the floor. Believe me, we see that more often than we can count.

Newsflash, there is no such thing as an emotional support dog that is recognized by the American Disabilities Act (ADA). They haven’t been for more than a decade now.

If you are in need of a service dog and you want to train them yourself, please do you homework and work really hard to make your dog to best it can be. But I ask you this question, if you have a major plumbing job do you tackle it yourself or do you call in an expert plumber? Yes, you may be a handyman but that doesn’t mean you can install a septic system. The same goes for training a dog as a full fledge working dog. If you want it done right, we are the ones in Alaska to call. We will shoot you straight, I promise. Give us a call at 907-841-1603 and speak with Michele.

Public Service Announcement

What is a service dog?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office. (

What is an emotional support dog?

Is prescribed by a mental health professional. Emotional Support dogs are allowable under the HUD and Fair Housing Acts. However, these dogs are not recognized by the ADA as being service dogs and therefore, it should be assumed that they are not allowed to go everywhere with the person. This is where the water gets murky. With so many agencies involved and so many differences in the definitions it’s no wonder the public is so confused.

What is an assistance dog?

According to HUD an assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates on or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

What is a therapy dog?

A therapy dog is a dog that has undergone specialized training to be taken with its owner/handler to visit people in hospitals, schools, after traumatic events, to provide therapeutic care to those in need for a short period of time. Therapy dogs are not allowed to go everywhere in public with their owners.

Is a service dog allowed to ride in a grocery cart?

Absolutely NOT! Service dogs are required to be on a 6-foot leash attached to a flat collar with feet on the ground at all times in public places. Small dogs, however, are allowed to be picked up by the handler for a brief moment and then returned to the ground.

What if the “service dog” goes to the bathroom in the store or other public space?

Other than outdoors and off of a walkway, the dog is never allowed to defecate in public areas.

What if the “service dog” barks, growls, lunges, nips or even bites someone?

This dog should not be considered a service dog and the manager can and should ask that the dog be removed from the store and not allowed back.

This dog is NOT a service dog.

What certifications or identifications am I required to carry?

There are no certifications or identifications that are required. There are no certifying or identifying agencies in any state or nationally in the United States. However, it is suggested that at the least you carry with you the doctor’s prescription for the need of the service dog and a copy of that dogs health certificate.

If I own a business, how can I protect my property, customers, and legitimate disabled customers from being harassed by customers who are not following the Americans with Disability Guidelines in regard to the use of a service dog?

  • When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff 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.
  • Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
  • A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.
  • Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
  • If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.
  • Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.

If you would like more information on our service dog program please visit: Lead Dog Service Dogs


Michele Forto is the lead service dog trainer at Alaska Dog Works. She has been training service dogs for more than two decades and has placed dogs all over the country with clients with autism, mobility issues, soldiers with PTSD and more. She is an advocate for a national registration for service dogs and the issuance of what she calls a “service dog drivers license” which could be recognized in very much the same way our own drivers license is: “A working dog license.” Michele can reached at 907-841-1603 and on Twitter at @micheleforto