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How Do You Know if it is a “Real” Service Dog?

Over the last year, the center for Independent Living Gulf Coast has received numerous inquiries from businesses, agencies, and individuals requesting information on how to know if a dog is a “real” service dog? So in an effort to clarify this complex question, the entire staff at RPM Rental Direction attended a seminar held by NARPM to get all the facts straight about the new law (HB 71) that was recently passed by the Florida Senate. service dog

With one in 14 people living with disabilities in Lee County, it is not unusual to come across a service dog. With the new update in the law, there are three types of dogs that are commonly used to aid consumers:

  1. Trained ADA Service Dogs
  2. Comfort or Emotional Support Dogs
  3. Hospitality or Therapy Dogs

While you may not ask a dog handler or owner what their disability is under our current federal privacy laws (HIPAA), it is completely permissible to ask questions concerning the dog’s qualifications and training as the dog is not covered under privacy laws.


  • “Has this dog been trained to provide a service for your disability?”
  • “What specific task or service has this dog been trained to do to aid or help you with your disability?” Some of these specific services include guiding for the blind, seizure alert dogs, PTSS dogs for veterans and many others.

*You could also ask this, but their answer is optional…”What accredited school or facility was your dog trained at and was it trained by a licensed and qualified professional trainer?” 

Fair Housing Laws do allow comfort or emotional support dogs, HOWEVER; this only applies to pets kept in the home environment and these pets cannot be taken into businesses or agencies outside the home and are NOT to be confused with service dogs. Hospitality or Therapy dogs are, however; admitted into schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities with the permission of the individual agency or business, but they also do not qualify as a trained service dog under ADA guidelines. 


  • THE NUISANCE RULE: Any dog, including even trained service dogs, can be asked to leave a business, facility, or rental unit if it is being a nuisance, constantly barking, growling, or not being controlled or behaving threateningly, which is extremely rare for a well trained service dog. 
  • Most trained ADA service dogs are over 60 pounds in weight because of the types of tasks they must perform, but here are rare exceptions when smaller breeds are trained for tasks like seizure alert dogs. 

There are many online sources for “Registered Emotional Support Animal” certification that cost as little as $59.00.  These certificates do not meet the ADA guidelines.  Your Real Property Management office knows the difference between these bogus forms and real documentation from a health professional.

Expect more tenants to claim a need for an emotional support animal.  By law, you are required to make reasonable accommodations to them, and you cannot charge tenants extra for having an emotional support animal.


service dog

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.

  1. David Levy says:

    This article is misleading regarding assistance animals that might be considered service animals in the context of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). It basically states the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for service dogs. The ADA does not apply to housing, where the FHA is the governing law. The FHA does limit service animals to dogs. Assistance animals that may perform a service, work or a task do not have to be “specifically trained” or in anyway certified. For the fair housing perspective SEE:

    1. peter says:

      I see where you are coming from, however, this article was written to help landlords fight the growing battle of “fake” service dogs. Many tenants are going online and buying fake service dogs vests and papers so they can move into complexes that do not allow pets, letting these tenants bypass the laws.

  2. David Levy says:

    Correction: The FHA doesn’t limit service animals to dogs. Apologies for the typo in the 4th sentence.

  3. David Levy says:


    The best way to help landlords is to make sure they have a clear understanding of the law as it applies to housing. Conflating the standards under the ADA (not housing) with those of the Fair Housing Act might confuse them into doing the wrong thing and wind up with them being named in a complaint.

    Fair housing advocates do recognize the problem created by the web sites you mention. They undermine the exercise of rights by disabled people who need assistance animals. The solution is proper landlord education. Providing that education is why I wrote the linked article. Landlords can still reasonably seek verification of both non-apparent disability and the disability-related need for the animal from credible sources. They do not have to accept a so-called ‘certificate’ from one of these sites.