A lot of people wonder about whether they need to certify their dog as a service dog. The quick answer is “no.” Any dog that performs a specific task that helps its handler with a disability officially qualifies as a service dog, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. People also often ask if it is necessary to put their dog on a service dog registry. Again, the legal answer is “no.”
Proving your dog is a service dog
To prove that your dog is a service dog, you need to confirm that they perform a task that helps you with a disability and be prepared to state what that task is. You don’t need to disclose anything about the nature of your disability or make the dog demonstrate the task.
What is a non-visible disability?
If an individual has a psychiatric disability, it may not be apparent to others. According to the ADA, a psychiatric disability is defined as a “mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual.” Examples of psychiatric disabilities include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, and personality disorders.
Phobias and disorders are disabilities
Psychiatric disabilities can also include phobias such as agoraphobia, eating disorders, personality disorders, and dissociative disorders such as dissociative identity disorder and depersonalization disorder.
How does a service dog help?
A service dog may perform tasks like interrupting destructive behavior or reminding a person to take their medication at a certain time.
A service dog also may prevent a disability from interfering with everyday life. For example, if a person suffers from panic disorder, a service dog’s task could limit the number of panic attacks they experience by providing a physical interruption like licking their ankles at the onset.
So why do people choose to certify their dog as a service dog?
So now the question becomes if there is no legal reason to certify your dog as a service animal, why are there so many online registries for service dogs and emotional support animals?
The answer is that even though you don’t legally need to certify your dog, when your building manager or landlord or a business owner, or an airline ask to see documentation, it’s much easier to show it to them than to get into a legal argument or explain how psychiatric disabilities are real disabilities.
That conversation at a retail store or with a waiter never goes well.
It’s your choice to certify your dog
The truth is, registering your dog is completely voluntary. While businesses should not ask for certifications or documentation, they often do.
When you’re dealing with a disability, especially a non-visible disability, it can really lighten the emotional toll when you don’t need to explain yourself on an everyday basis anytime you want to enter a business with your service dog accompanying you.
How to certify your dog
There are lots of online registries that will let you certify your dog.
Online registries add your dog to a list and provide visual identifiers like a certificate or ID card you can provide to businesses. You can also purchase vests, leashes, and tags to avoid businesses asking for further proof.
It’s good to obtain an ID card that you can save as a picture on your phone or print out and keep in your wallet.
What to look for in choosing an online service dog registry
When selecting an online certification registry, look for one that is recognized nationwide, is valid for the lifetime of your animal, and offers instant digital downloads. You don’t want to renew your registration at any point because of an expiry date or if you move to another state.
You also want to make sure to obtain digital copies so you can always access your documents when you need them.
Registries like US Service Dog Certification have an ID look-up function that lets a business confirm your dog is registered, and they offer digital-only packages, which are often all you really need.
Beware of websites that ask about your disability
Just like you don’t have to disclose information about your disability to businesses, you don’t have to provide that information to an online registry either.
By registering your dog, you affirm that they are a service dog and that they are trained to support you with a specific task that makes it easier for you to cope with your disability.
Beware of price gouging
Online registries are not affiliated with the government or the ADA, so they are free to charge what they want to maintain operations. Digital certifications shouldn’t cost more than $50, and even that seems expensive. If you want physical documents, like a certificate and ID card, you shouldn’t be paying more than $75 with shipping.
Only purchase what you need
Lots of registries bundle their certifications with extras like guidebooks and ADA information cards. There is really no reason to have these things. Information relating to the ADA and service dogs is available online for free.
Businesses want to see that your dog is registered; they don’t want a legal lesson or a psychology lesson. So, while these guides might be interesting, they are not very practical.
Remember that the only reason to register your dog as a service dog is to visibly identify the dog and avoid conflict.
It might seem like you’re saving money by purchasing a bundle, but it’s best just to buy what you need.
If your building or landlord wants to see a certificate, you don’t need the whole package; just find a registry that offers same-day instant digital downloads so you can register and email them the certification.
If you want to bring your dog with you to different businesses, like retail stores or restaurants, you may want a digital ID card that you can save on your phone or print for your wallet or a physical ID card. A service dog vest, leash, or tag is also practical for taking your dog with you in public.
A final word on whether to certify your dog
Legally, you do not need to obtain a service dog certification, but it can make things a lot easier if you do at the end of the day.