Service Dog Registration Of America

Do Service Dogs Have To Be on a Leash at All Times?


Service dogs are lifelines for their owners. For people living with physical or psychological disabilities, the assistance that service dogs provide is life-changing.

While these helpful friends are legally protected to go just about anywhere with their owners, that freedom comes with restrictions. Here is everything you need to know about service dog ownership and leash laws.

Does a Service Dog Have to Be on A Leash at All Times?

The short answer to this question is yes, but you must consider many factors.

First, it’s important to distinguish between a service dog and an emotional support animal. What’s the difference? Emotional support animals are not entitled to the same protections that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines for service dogs.

The ADA specifies that the training and function of a service dog must be directly related to its owner’s disability. Examples include seeing-eye dogs, hearing dogs, psychiatric dogs, sensory signal dogs, and seizure assistance dogs. But even service dogs are required to be leashed in almost all cases.

There are cases in which a person’s disability makes leash use impossible, and in that case, the leash law laid out by the ADA permits an exception. One example where the ADA may grant an exception? Consider if a service dog’s owner is a wheelchair user, paralyzed from the neck down. This owner would require the assistance of an animal to help cross the street, enter buildings, and such, but obviously, the owner cannot physically hold the leash.

If you have an assistance animal, ensure you always carry their documentation with you. A shopkeeper or other business proprietor will likely stop you if you try and bring your animal inside. People will only sometimes give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your companion is a service dog specially trained to help you navigate public space. So be prepared to defend their presence while you go about your day.

What Are Service Dogs Needed For?

Service dogs perform various functions for their physically or psychologically disabled owners. Wherever there is a “lack,” an assistance animal can be trained to compensate for that lack. For example, suppose someone has partial or full blindness. In that case, trainers can orient a seeing-eye dog to help their new owner navigate both public space and their private dwelling, performing vital functions such as fetching a phone or life-saving medication. Dogs also train to bark when obstacles approach their path.

Service dogs undergo a rigorous training process that lasts an average of two years – and often costs thousands of dollars. There are service dog grants for those who need cash assistance, but the point is that these are not your average pets. These are high-functioning super-animals who deserve special protections to assist their owners best.

Issues Services Dogs Help With

  • Assisting Sensory-Impaired Owners: Blind, deaf, and other seeing-impaired persons need help working light switches, hearing/seeing if they are in emergencies, and getting around in public.
  • Seizure Alert Assistance: Those with epilepsy may keep an assistance animal who can sense when a seizure is coming on and call for help and brace for a sudden fall.
  • Allergy Detection: Service dogs can also train to sense the presence of allergens such as peanuts or shellfish and alert their owner before they accidentally ingest something that may cause harm.
  • Autism Support: Autistic folks and others on the autism spectrum can benefit from the mobility assistance that service dogs provide.
  • Diabetic Alert: Canines are so intelligent that they can even train to sense when their owner is approaching a dangerously low blood sugar level. They can then alert the owner and fetch them their insulin.

Service Dogs Vs. Emotional Support Animals

As mentioned above, service dogs and emotional support animals are different. To qualify for a service dog, you must be able to demonstrate you have a physical or psychological disability that limits your everyday functioning.

Emotional support animals, however, do not need to pass the same muster. A doctor can write a patient authorization to keep an emotional support animal for any emotional disturbance they may face. These animals also perform a vital function in providing their owners companionship and solace. However, as they aren’t “needed” in the same ways as service dogs, no special protections exist for them in the ADA. That means they may be kicked out of restaurants and can’t fly on planes.

What You Should Know About Leash Laws and Service Dogs

ADA Requirements

The ADA states that service dogs must obey the same leash laws as all other dogs. This requirement means they must be leashed or harnessed when outside the home – at all times.

ADA Exceptions

Exceptions to this rule apply in cases where the owner cannot physically hold a leash. Likewise, it may apply when a dog needs to be free to perform tasks they cannot perform on a leash, such as fetching items or clearing the path so their owner can get by.

Can My Service Animal Be Asked To Leave?

There’s certainly nothing stopping shopkeepers and business proprietors from asking service dog owners to remove their animals from the business. Or landlords from their properties, for that matter.

But the ADA prevents service dogs from being removed from premises, as long as you have your documentation. (Let this serve as another reminder!) So they can ask all they want, but if the rubber meets the road, they cannot physically remove your service dog without breaking federal law. And if they attempt to, they could face misdemeanor charges.

Register Your Service Dog with SDRA Today!

If you’d like to learn more about who qualifies for service dogs and how you can register your pet as a service animal, contact the Service Dog Registration of America.

We provide hassle-free service dog registration, supplies, and information to those curious about service dog ownership.