A service dog accompanies and assists a person who is physically or mentally disabled. These dogs may perform such specialized tasks as opening doors, picking up items for their owners, turning lights on and off, and alerting deaf owners to sounds such as crying babies, doorbells and telephones. Some may alert epileptic owners of an impending seizure or provide some kind of assistance to the owner during and after a seizure.
While there is no single official national service dog registry, and federal laws do not require that a service dog be registered or certified, some private organizations register them and provide harnesses, collars or vests that identify them to the public as service dogs. In addition, some states, including California, Maine and Maryland, require that service dogs be registered with an official state or county agency or through an approved service-dog school. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to bar a service dog from public places. Still, registering your service dog can help give you credibility in stores, restaurants and other types of businesses, even when registration isn't required.
Check with your county animal control office to see if your service dog must be registered in your area. In most cases, no registration is required, but some counties have some exceptions. Typically, this type of registration is part of the normal licensing procedure. The county may want to keep specific training information for your dog on file or may simply list him as a service dog.
Select a private service-dog registry for registering your dog. Even when registration isn't required, owners report fewer problems with business owners and the public in general when their dogs are registered. Check each of the registries to see which one offers the benefits most important to you. You'll usually get a registration card when you sign up, and can buy accessories such as vests or collars designed to identify your dog as a service dog. The registry you choose needs the right equipment in the appropriate colors for your state. The requirements vary, but a bright orange collar, leash or harness is one of the more commonly used means of identifying service dogs.
Complete a registration form, including all requested information. Requirements vary from one registry to the next, but in general you’ll enter your name, address, a description of your dog and the reason you have him. Registration may also include agreeing to rules of conduct and the registry site’s terms of service.
Print the registration information, and carry it with you when you're with your service dog. Your chosen registry may mail you a membership card to keep in your purse or wallet to show to anyone who questions you about your dog. Registry services typically also sell service-dog information cards you can use to educate people who ask you about your dog. Once you have your registry number, the process is complete.
You should be able to register your service dog for free. Beware of sites that charge for this service. Ask about fees before signing up with such a site. Unless the registry owners can give you a valid reason for the fees, you are likely to be wasting your money on a disreputable registry.
If you have trouble choosing a registry service, ask a service-dog trainer which registry she recommends. You can also ask other owners of registered service dogs for their opinions and recommendations.
- U.S. Department of Justice: Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business
- U.S. Department of Justice: Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals
- Assistance Dogs International: Guide to Assistance Dog Laws
- United States Service Dog Registry: About Us
- National Service Animal Registry: Frequently Asked Questions
- Assistance Dog image by Scott Maxwell from Fotolia.com