Do I Need to Certify my Dog?
The answer is, it depends in what environments you want to use your dog’s skills and where you live. Some counties and states do not need certification while others recommend it and still others require it. This post covers what is generally needed in North America.
If you are only going to use your dog at home, and own your own home (excluding strata) and take him only to places that any pet dog can go, the answer is no service dog certification is needed.
Rental and Strata
If you rent or own strata, there are separate laws to cover that. Contact Fair Housing Act in the US for more details. Housing and Urban Development (HUD)also applies. In Canada it is the Provincial Tenancy Act that applies. Each province varies but in BC if your dog is certified by the BC government, then the landlord cannot prevent you from keeping the dog. Dogs that are certified as retired service dogs can also legally stay with the handler. Without the certificate, the dog would usually be considered a pet.
In some circumstances where your work environment is suitable and safe, the employer and other employees are okay with it, you may also not need to be certified to take your assistance dog to work with you. Some places of work welcome dogs generally, and others may be open to your assistance dog if it is proposed to them. If there is a dog or pet policy in writing, get a copy of it. Otherwise, we suggest asking for permission in writing to protect yourself and your dog. Of course, it is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is well-behaved and welcomed in the place of work. The laws governing taking a service dog to work are different than public access laws. You may need to get an “employment accommodation” to take your dog to work in some places.
It will also depend where you work if your dog has access at all. In food preparation areas or operating theatres or other places where the public is not allowed, even a certified dog may not be allowed. Check your local laws and talk to your employer. An employer cannot discriminate against you for having a service dog but they may be able to limit access where you can take the dog. Talk to a disability laywer for the exact details of your situation. AskJan is one such resource in the US.
Transportation (Air, Train, Ferries)
In Public Places/Public Access
If you are planning on having your dog assist you in public places such as restaurants, stores, and on public transportation etc, the answer varies.
If you need to take your dog in public places where pet dogs are not allowed, yes, certification by the provincial body in some provinces of Canada (BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia (soon) is recommended and will make your life easier if challenged by a retailer or accommodation provider. In the UK, Yes. In the USA, no as residents are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Here. Each country has its own laws.
Note: Even if your dog is certified, anytime your service dog causes a disturbance (barking, whining etc), shows aggression or fear, or has a housetraining mistake, you can be asked to leave the premises if you have been asked to remedy the situation and do not or cannot.
Are "Service Dogs in Training" (SDit) Protected for Public Access?
It depends on where you live. Some states protect them it, some do not. For example, in BC, the handler must work or volunteer for an Assistance Dog International (ADI) accredited organization. Owner-trainers are not protected. In California, teams in training are allowed public access for training purposes.
How Long Does it Take to get a Dog Ready for Certification?
It depends. Some dogs started as puppies and trained professionally can be ready by 18 months to 2 years. Dogs trained by owners usually take longer as they have lives to lead and they are not professional trainers who are training every day. How old the dog is and how much previous training s/he has had before you start also affects the duration. It depends on the dog and how willing and interested s/he is to learn, how dedicated you are as a trainer, how good your training skills are, your specific tasks and many other factors like your health while you train.
Remember that not all dogs that start training will be suitable in the end to be certified to assist you in public places. Incorrect temperament for the job, significant behavior issues, trauma and health issues are common reasons that a dog doesn’t make it. Be prepared to remove your dog from training and find another. Plan what will happen to the dog. Will you rehome him? Will you keep him?
Education of both the Retailers and Members of the Public is an Important Role of the Handler
Having a service dog puts you in the spotlight as you have a dog when others don’t. Much of having an assistance dog is about taking the time to educate the public about the laws. Be prepared to answer questions and be delayed in your daily activities. Having your service dog in training identified with a training vest is one way to show you are serious about training, but is not required by law.
What Identification Does my Dog Need Once s/he is certified?
Once your dog is certified, s/he will wear the identification provided issued by the certifying body. In BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia, retailers can only ask if your dog is a certified service dog and to ask to see that collar tag/certification. Make sure you can produce it at all times in public. If the dog is not wearing a certification tag or you do not have it, the establishment may choose to prevent access. They can also ask for the certification number from the tag and call to verify that your dog is registered with the province. If you or your dog create a disturbance, they can ask for your dog’s tag number and make a complaint to the Ministry of Justice.
In the United States, retailers, public transportation (bus, subway) and accommodation providers (hotels, motels, campsites etc) can only ask if the dog is a service dog and what tasks the dog performs for you.
What about Service Dog Fakers?
If your dog is not a service dog or is not certified in a region that requires it, and you claim s/he is, that is fraudulent representation and you may be subject up to a $3000-$6000 fine depending where you are located. If you live where your dog does not need to be certified, s/he does need to have specific training both for public access (120 hours) and for tasks that specifically mitigate your disability to qualify for public access as a service dog. This is where the documentation and proof of training can help you prove your dog is legitimate.
Can We Get Certified Online?
Maybe. There are many scammers out there who will issue you a vest and certificate without you working with them or ever assessing your dog. Some may or may not require you to submit a note from a health care provider. If they will sell you a certificate and a vest but otherwise no training or testing (in person or online) then they are likely just taking your money. Find out if the certification they provide are recognized by the laws you need them for (transport, accommodation, employment or public access.)
A couple of simple criteria to rule out bogus tests:
1). All legitimate assessment/certification tests for owner-trained teams are done live (either via webcam or in-person) possibly with small pieces done with video recording. Public safety is the number one concern for certifying bodies. The testers need to see you and your dog working together (live via webcam or in-person) in a public place. They want to see that you have good relationship with your dog and that you look to your dog and your dog looks to you. They are looking for a dog that is not showing fear or aggression and they want you to know how to care for your dog. They also will make sure you know your rights and responsibilities as a service dog handler and that you will be able to handle being confronted in public about your service dog’s access without freaking out on retailers or accommodation providers who ask. They will ask what tasks the dog does for you to specifically mitigate your disability and that they are deliberately trained, not ones the dog figures out on his own).The application process may be online, but there will always be a live part of the test.
2). The organizations doing the certification in North America will be accredited by either Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation or a state or provincial body (BC, Alberta or Nova Scotia governments in Canada for example) or an organization that has been contracted by the state or province to assess the team in person.
If the certifier doesn’t meet these two criterion, then it will not be a legitimate one in North America. Realize that having a provincial certification in Canada does not guarantee your ability to fly with your dog (as of Aug 2022) and Transport Canada’s laws are different than Public Access Laws.