The Please Don't Pet Me header, multiple service dogs .

PDPM > About Service Dogs

What is a service dog? 

First, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as:

“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."

However, there is much more to know about service dogs than the legal definition.

A service dog is a dog that receives extensive training to perform a job which mitigates his or her handler’s specific disability.  The relationship between a service dog and his or her handler is commonly referred to as a partnership or a team.  The two work together to achieve what, in many cases, was previously impossible for the handler to do independently.

There are many terms used to refer to these dogs, including generic terminology like  “assistance”, “working,” and “helper” dogs; and titles that are specific to the types of jobs these dogs perform, like “guide,” “signal,” “medical alert,”  “psychiatric service” dogs, etc.  While the wording may vary from one team to the next, they are all service dogs.

Many individuals associate the term, “service dog,” with guide dogs that assist the visually impaired, and sometimes with assistance dogs that help physically disabled people in wheelchairs.  While these are among the most identifiable types of service dogs, there are several other jobs that service dogs perform that are just as important and just as life-changing to their handlers.  

Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes, colors and breeds.  Some of the most common breeds associated with service work are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs.  However, other breeds like Standard Poodles, Papillons, Doberman Pinschers, Australian Shepherds, Boxers, Australian Cattle Dogs and Border Collies are gaining in popularity as service dogs.  Each breed has its own unique characteristics that make a dog more likely to meet the needs of a handler with a particular disability.

Peek, the papillon service dog, holds a red shirt as he helps with the laundry.

Service dog Peek helps with the laundry and shows that small dogs can do big jobs too.

Just as there is a wide variety of service dogs, there is a far wider variety of disabilities.  Not all disabilities are immediately apparent to others.  Such conditions are commonly referred to as invisible disabilities.  Service dogs assist people with invisible disabilities just as much as they do for those with more recognizable disabilities.  Whether the dog is guiding a visually impaired person, picking up a dropped item, alerting to an impending panic attack or doing any other work, the service dog has a very important job and is improving the quality of his or her handler’s life.

General Service Dog Information

What to do if you encounter a service dog team

Types of Service Dogs

Owner Trained Teams

Frequently Asked Questions (Coming soon!)

Service Dog Myths

The Differences Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Miscellaneous Service Dog Information

Understanding The Differences Between Tasks and Work

Service Dog Registries, Certification, and ID

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

It's Not a Muzzle!

Misrepresenting Pets as Service Dogs


Articles About Service Dogs

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

The Please Don't Pet Me footer, multiple service dogs .