According to the Federal Law, or the (ADA) Americans with Disabilities Act (definition as of 2010), A Service Animals is as follows:

Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.

"Someone told me that a psychiatric service dog is not a real service dog, that it is just an emotional support dog.  Is this true?"
NO...  The difference is this:  An emotional support dog, though allowed in "no pets" housing (with recommended note from Dr. and talking with landlord), does not have to be trained, but must behave in order to stay in the "no pets" housing.  An emotional support dog, by it's mere presence, provides comfort to it's disabled or elderly handler.  

A Psychiatric Service Dog is a service dog that is trained to mitigate the psychiatric disability of it's handler.  (Some say 1 'one' task is enough, some say up to 3 'three' is recommended for a service dog.  I say, the more the better, but the ADA does not set a minimum on the amount of work or tasks the service dog must be trained to perform). There are many trainable tasks that a psychiatric service dog can learn and perform to assist it's handler.  The dog can me trained to alert to pending panic attacks, flashbacks, and assist in grounding, waking it's handler from nightmares or night terrors, reality assessment, turning on lights and checking a place before the handler enters and many other tasks according to what kind of psychiatric disability the handler struggles with.

"People say that an Alert is not a trainable service dog task.  Is this true?"

No... An alert is a trained skill.  If a dog is going to alert, he will alert on  his own.  From there, a behavior can be shaped, and thus trained.  Some alerts are easier to train than others.  For example, cancer sniffing dogs are trained as any scent tracking dog is trained.  Cancer is made up of its own biochemicals, which, though we are unable to sense it, dogs can smell it and can be trained to track it, point it out (pretty much) and thus alert it.  The trick here is that scientists have been able to separate the cancer cells so that they can separate it out in order to reward the dog for each time he sniffs and points it out.  This reinforces the alerting behavior.  If a dog is found to alert to seizures before they happen, if this dog is rewarded every time he alerts the person of an oncoming seizure, he learns that this is a desired behavior and continues to do it.  The goal is to get the dog to do it every time (or more times than not).  So let's say a dog begins scratching his handler's leg before he begins to de-escalate into a full blown panic attack.  Once it has been recognized as being an alert, the behavior can be marked and rewarded so that the dog will want to do the same thing next time he senses the same thing.  Thus, alerting can go from just something a dog does on his own, to something the dog knows he should alert to every time he senses it.

Photo below: Rosie is alerting to me. She lets me know when I should take my medicine to decrease my chances of having an attack or episode (PTSD) out in public.  She also assists me to de-escalate when my anxiety begins to rise.

The 2010 Revised ADA Regulations

Implementing Title II and Title III

On Friday, July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department’s ADA regulations, including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design. These regulations will be published in the Federal Register. The revised regulations will amend the Department’s Title II regulation, 28 C.F.R. Part 35, and the Title III regulation, 28 C.F.R. Part 36. Appendix A to each regulation includes a section by section analysis of the rule and responses to public comments on the proposed rule. Appendix B to the Title III regulation discusses major changes in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and responds to public comments received on the proposed rules. The Department’s Final Regulatory Impact Analysis will be posted on this page as soon as it is available.

In general, these final rules will take effect 6 months after the date on which they are published in the Federal Register. Compliance with the 2010 Standards for Accessible design is permitted after that date, but not required until 18 months after the date of publication. The Department has prepared fact sheets identifying the major changes in the rules.

"Equal Justice Under Law"
Service dogs and their handlers pose on the steps of the federal courthouse in Washington DC.

The Updated 2010 ADA, First Major Changes Since 1990:


The definition has been changed so that "Service Animal" now ONLY mean a dog, with a provision to allow miniture horses. They also EXPANDED the disability definition to include non-physical disabilities.

As you can see, it's much better than the 1990 version. Now if they can get the Air Carrier Act to treat PSD's (Psychiatric Service Dog) the same as SD's.

Brand New Definition...

(Thanks for Florida Service Dogs inc. for giving me these links.  I didn't have all this.)

The Old Definition of Service Dog  
How it was legally defined (by the Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990).  A Service Animal is any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide disability-related assistance to an individual with a disability.  If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.  Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or her self.  Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Violators of the ADA can be required to pay money damages and penalties.

"Service Dog Basics"
Service Animal Information-  "Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business"

"What breed of dog can be a Service Dog?"
A Service Dog can be any breed or mix, and any size.  Of course the size will depend on what service the dog will be providing his disabled handler.  A medical alert dog can be a tiny dog.  A large breed is perfect for a mobility dog.
The dogs above are Service Dogs: On the left is a large herding dog, and the right is a Great Dane.
The above dogs are also Service Dogs: on the left is a Yorkshire Terrier, and on the right is a Pomeranian... both toy breeds rarely reaching 10 pounds.

"I thought only Guide Dogs were allowed in public places."
Guide dogs are service dogs that are trained to assist people who are visually impaired.  They are only one kind of service dog, and are probably the most commonly known type of assistance dog.  However there are dogs that are able to assist people with an assortment of disabilities including: medical alerts dogs (for diabetes, Seizures) , Mobility dogs (assist balance and moving around, pulling wheelchairs), Dogs that assist people with Autism (and assists the families of children with Autism), dogs that assist with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (such as assisting some of our returning veterans) and other Psychiatric and neurologic disorders, and hearing alert dogs just to name a few.
L-R A service dog (Belgian Sheep Dog) accompanies his handler on a train, A service dog (Bernese Mountain Dog) accompanies her handler to a Funeral, A service dog (Bull Mastiff) accompanies his handler to the grocery store.
Left-- A Service Dog (Golden Retriever) heels along side his handler's wheelchair.  This particular dog is one of Rosie's friends and he is an amazing service dog who learns things with ease to adjust to his  handler's increasing needs.  Right-- Rosie accompanies me to the hospital and lays across my legs to keep me warm.  She does not like to be left on the floor in hospitals, and actually I would rather have her next to me and off the dirty floor anyway.  She would not be able to accompany me into a surgical suite, or any place where a complete sterile field is necessary.

"Someone I met has a hybrid wolf as a service dog.  Is this allowed?"

Short answer... No.  A service dog is a DOG...
On the internet, this is a greatly debated topic. People are passionate about wolves who are listed as an endangered species in the United States of America. Wolves are not domestic and should not be expected to behave as such.  They are wild animals and will act wild despite training and socialization.  Breeding a wolf to a breed like a Husky or GSD in my opinion (and I emphasize that this is my opinion) is not a good idea, especially if you are looking to create the ideal service dog. Wolves by nature are shy and can be skittish.  Not a good Service Dog characteristic. Huskies and GSDs in their own right are considered dogs with a high prey drive, and dogs who can be prone to aggressive behavior.  They are strong dominant breeds and mixed with a wolf (anything mixed with a wolf) does not create a sound dog that can be trusted for public access.  Not everyone can be trusted to properly handle (let alone train) a Wolf Hybrid.  Remember:  A HYBRID WOLF is a mix of ONE dog breed with a WOLF.  A WOLF-DOG is a mix of a WOLF and MORE than one dog breed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfdog.  In many states, Wolf Hybrids have a lot of restrictions put on them making it impossible to use such a mix as a service dog.
To Be Continued.

"Someone said my service dog doesn't need to have obedience training.  Is this really true?"

According to the ADA, a service dog must be TRAINED.  It must be trained to do work and tasks particular to the disabled person's needs, and it must be trained to behave in public. The ADA says that a service dog does not have to be certified from a specific training facility, and it says that you do not need to show proof of training of the service dog, but this is not the same as saying a service dog doesn't need obedience training.  A good strong base of basic obedience training is necessary for the dog to learn to follow commands and to behave appropriately in public (as a service dog is supposed to, not as a pet does.)  I recommend obedience of assorted levels for a service dog in training.  I recommend collecting the completion certificates, (Canine Good Citizen is a nationally recognized certificate), and keeping a thorough training journal of public access training.  A handler who's service dog does not behave appropriately in public can be asked to remove the service dog from the business, but the disabled handler is allowed to return without the dog to complete his/her errand.
Service dogs need to have good leash manners
and know how to behave appropriately when in public.

"How can I prevent access challenges when I am out in public?"
First of all, make sure that your service dog behaves professionally when out in public with you. Although the ADA says you don't have to, most service dog teams suggest vesting or harnessing your service dog, and attaching the identification patches that state that your dog is a service dog to those vests and harnesses.  These things will not totally prevent all access challenges, but should greatly reduce them.

Dressed for work!

"If my state laws state one thing, and federal law states another, does federal law trump state law?"
No.  Whichever law provides the most protection to the disabled person is the law that trumps the other.  This means that if state law says your dog must be certified, but federal states that they don't have to be, then your dog doesn't need to be certified.  However, if someone challenges you regarding your lack of certification, the police can do nothing to help you out unless they wanted to.  You can make a report with the ADA, but that is a longer term resolution.  These are things to keep in mind when traveling about with your service dogs.  Become very familiar with your state's service dog laws and also the federal service dog laws so you know when your rights are being violated.

If you have a question (and maybe even an answer) you feel is important for people to know, please leave a comment or email me with the question (and answer if you have one.  Otherwise I will research the question for the best answer).