Fake Service Dogs

Fake service animals have become a problem, and it’s mostly a problem for legitimate service dog teams as well as businesses; yet it can affect other community members at times.

Some employees have asked, “Why should this matter to us?” My initial answer is that IT IS ILLEGAL to bring a non-service animal into public accommodations! Allowing this can lead to some hefty fines and possibly more severe penalties (depending on your location). See Florida Bill CS/SB 414 for instance which states that “misrepresenting a dog as a service animal is a second-degree misdemeanor. Those who are caught breaking the law face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.”

After training some employees, I realized if I share the emotional side of the situation, they will be more willing to do the right thing even when it is uncomfortable to them. This quote from a personal friend has had the biggest impact:

After asking some Veterans how it makes them feel when people bring in fake service dogs, one Veteran said: “Really the biggest problem is people that have the fakes, or even trained service dogs that haven’t kept up with training, is that they distract our dogs. If our dogs are distracted, they cannot do their job properly. I always say, you wouldn’t jam a stick in a wheelchair or pinch off an oxygen tube so why would you distract a service dog.”

What impact do fake service dogs have on real service dogs?

  • Fake service dogs put unfair scrutiny on the people who actually need their animals for medical or emotional purposes. Many of these people have a hard time socializing and just want to be left alone.

  • Fake service dogs often distract real service dogs from performing their duties

  • Fake service dogs give real service dogs a bad name because they aren’t properly trained. They’re an insult to the dogs that go through months of intense training to be good at their jobs

  • The service dog reputation is at stake, and it’s because some pet owners think “no pet” policies shouldn’t apply to them

  • Untrained dogs sometimes confront real service dogs, which could lead to dangerous situations

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog

#1 – A dog being pushed in a cart or carried in a purse

  • Service dogs are highly trained so they always need to be alert, ready and able to perform their tasks

  • Sometimes a small service dog is being held close to a person’s chest. Some small dogs are legitimate service dogs, as they can be any size, shape, or breed, trained to monitor certain bodily functions and need to be kept close to their handler

#2 – A dog that is not on a leash

  • You will only see a service dog unleashed when it hinders the task the dog has been trained to perform

#3 – A dog that is pulling on the leash

  • Because they’re almost always leashed while they’re working, service dogs never pull and always stick close to their handler’s side

#4 – A dog who is barking or whining

  • Some service dogs are trained to bark or whine as an alert to warn their owner of an impending medical emergency, like a stroke or panic attack, but would never bark at another dog or whine out of impatience

# 5 – A dog that is sniffing everything

  • When a dog has a job to do, sniffing is a distraction, and service dogs are trained to stay focused

#6 – A dog that has an indoor “accident”

  • Whether they did it on purpose or not, urinating or defecating indoors is unacceptable public behavior for any dog

#7 – A dog stealing food

  • Resisting temptations like this is one of the first lessons a service dog learns

#8 – Dogs that appear nervous

  • Socialization is a major part of service dog training, so they shouldn’t be spooked by loud noises or big crowds, and they won’t cower or tuck their tails between their legs

#9 – Dogs seeking attention

  • Service dogs know they have a job to do, and they only have eyes for the person on the other end of their leash

# 10 – Dogs that are aggressive

  • A dog that is growling, lunging, or showing other signs of unprovoked aggression is not a trained service dog

Legitimate service dog handlers are people who are just attempting to have some sort of “normal” life. Let us do our part in helping achieve this goal!

Please refer to the local laws for your area to find the most accurate and up-to-date information on Service Dogs and other types of working animals. Federal and State law can change at any time. Contact your local area or consult with an attorney in your community if you need additional help.

Here is an ongoing list of some states and their respective laws surrounding fake service animals. Michigan State University also has a nice compilation of individual State laws.