Service dogs provide an invaluable service for people with disabilities. They help blind people navigate, aid with mobility issues, and alert others when a medical emergency occurs. 

Unfortunately, not everyone understands service dogs and their status. Due to their important roles in their handler’s life, they are legally allowed to go wherever their owners go. However, individuals unaware of the laws may deny access to handlers and animals. 

Read on to learn what you can do if you and your service dog are denied access in a public place.  

Understanding Service Dog Rights and Laws

Can assistance animals be denied access in public places? Legally they can not. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that service animals may accompany their owners in almost all public spaces, including restaurants, stores, hotels, and public transportation. They are even allowed in places with a ‘no pets’ policy. 

Handlers do not have to carry paperwork to prove their pet is a service dog. However, documents like the ADA Requirements for Service Animals can come in handy to educate people who deny service. 

The few places that have a right to denial of service dogs include:

  • Restaurant Kitchens: Service animals may contaminate the environment of a restaurant kitchen. 
  • Operating rooms: Dogs should stay out of operating rooms for contamination reasons. 
  • Churches: Churches can deny service to dogs and their handlers, but many religious institutions want their congregants to worship comfortably. 
  • Mosques: Mosques do not allow service dogs because the Islamic religion sees dog saliva as impure. 
  • Private Properties: A private property owner may refuse to let a person with a service dog on their property. 

Common Reasons for Service Dog Denials

There are many reasons for rejected service dogs in establishments. Here are some to be aware of. 

  • Lack of Awareness: Some people don’t recognize service dogs and the purpose they serve. They may think the handler is trying to take their pet into a ‘no pets zone’ and ask them to leave. 
  • Misconceptions About Breeds and Sizes: Some individuals think only certain types of dogs can be service dogs. They may see a handler with their dog and think it’s not a service dog, and they may try to remove it from their establishment. 
  • Allergies or Fear of Dogs: Some people are scared of or allergic to dogs. They may not want dogs in their space regardless of their purpose.

Responding to Service Dog Denials

Handlers should follow specific guidelines when responding to service dog denials. Doing so will ensure the best resolution without unpleasantries. 

Be Polite and Remain Calm

Handlers must realize that people who deny access aren’t necessarily trying to be malicious. They may not understand a service dog’s duties or feel threatened by the dog. In any case, losing your temper will not get you far. 

Taking an educational approach will allow you to explain the purpose of your service dog and your rights as a handler. 

You may not have the time or communication abilities to educate everyone who denies service—nor should it be your responsibility. However, it may benefit you to carry a copy of the ADA Requirements for Service Dogs and leave it with the questioning party so they can learn more about service dogs and handler rights. 

Ask to Speak to Someone Else

If you are getting nowhere talking to someone about service dog/handler rights, you may ask to speak to someone else at the company, such as a supervisor or manager. The company may know service dog rights, even if the person you’re talking to doesn’t grasp the concept. 

Additionally, you should not blame the company for an incident at one of their locations. Refrain from putting the company down on social media or a public forum until you know the whole story. The company may have ADA laws in place but needs to raise awareness company-wide. 

Document the Issue

Incidents of denied service should be recorded. They may be useful if you formally complain to company supervisors or legal entities. If possible, use your phone’s camera to record the incident to avoid a “he said, she said” situation.

If you are not getting anywhere resolving your issue, you may file a complaint with the ADA Information Line. The service takes complaints against government entities and private businesses. They will review your complaint and come up with mediation strategies. 

Call the Police

In rare instances, the police may be called to provide guidance on a service denial and de-escalate emotionally charged situations. 

Take Legal Action

If nothing else can be done, legal action may be necessary. The Title II Technical Assistance Manual provides guidelines on the steps you need to take to file a lawsuit. 


Service dog handlers must know their rights, know what to do when service is denied, and handle matters confidently and assertively to protect them. 

Justice Speaks helps raise awareness by educating society on the appropriate response to service dogs and their handlers. We provide training and workplace compliance to ensure handlers are treated respectfully. We want to prevent access issues across the board. 

Contact us to learn how we are doing our part to advocate for dog and handler rights. 

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