Service Animals and Your Retail Environment
Posted by Sarah B. on November 28, 2016 in Retail Focus

Many Americans require a service animal to get through their days independently. Service animals are used for disabilities and can be hard to tell apart from pets. Make sure you know the requirements when a customer comes into your business with an animal to keep yourself out of legal trouble.


  • You can only ask two very specific questions to determine if you have to allow a service animal into your business.
    • Is the animal required because of a disability?
    • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
    • That’s it. All the customer has to do is answer those questions and if the animal is indeed required because of a disability and the customer can tell you what task the animal has been trained to perform it must be allowed into the business.
  • Only a few types of animals can be service animals
    • Service animals used to have a broader definition under the American’s with Disabilities Act but in 2011 this definition was restricted to include only dogs and some miniature horses.
  • Emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals
    • While many people benefit from the support of an emotional support animal they do not have the same legal protection as a service animal. Emotional support animals often aid people suffering from panic or anxiety disorders but if they are not trained to perform any tasks they are not required admittance to your business. This can get a little tricky. For example, some dogs are trained to recognize the signs of a panic attack and aid their owner in getting out of the situation. That would be service animal and would need to be allowed into your business. However, emotional support animals provide support to their owner by being in their presence but do not perform any specific tasks.
  • Doesn’t have a harness, leash or vest? Doesn’t matter.
    • While it is common to see a service animal wearing a vest, bandana, or badge of some sort to signify its status as a service animal there is no legal requirement for service animals to be dressed a certain way. Additionally, dogs can be off leash if they are under control of their handler’s voice control or signal. Just because it doesn’t look like a service animal doesn’t mean it isn’t one so be careful to ask the right questions and listen for the answers.
  • There are no guide dog certifications
    • There is no official school a dog needs to attend and no certification a dog needs to earn to be considered a service dog. Dogs can be trained by their owners at home or by a school. As long as they learn their task and can perform it they are considered service animals.
  • You still have rights after animals are allowed to enter.
    • While animals must be permitted to enter your business they don’t need to be allowed to stay under all conditions. If the dog is out of control of the handler or is not housebroken you can ask that the animal be removed. In the case of an out of control animal be sure to draw a distinction between asking that the animal be removed and requiring the customer to leave. Make sure the customer knows they are welcome to return and that the animal is the only concern and must be removed.
    • The handler is responsible for the care of the animal. You and your employees are not required to care for, feed, or supervise the animal at any time.  
    • You do not need to allow service dogs into carts or onto chairs and tables in your establishment. 
  • Miscellaneous requirements
    • Guests with a service animal cannot be segregated from other guests.
    • If a municipality has a ban on a breed of dog that does not extend to service animals and those animals must be allowed. 


This post was written by Beth L. Beth L. is a Regulatory Affairs Analyst at Acuity where she specializes in researching regulations, understanding statutes, and working with compliance.. She studied regulation, policy, environmental studies, and business administration at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Beth has received degrees in in public administration and environmental policy and planning, and also has a certification in environmental sustainability in business. Outside of work Beth likes to run, cook, and play with her dog, Butter. 

Sarah B. is our Retail guru
Sarah B. came to Acuity this year with a background in retail. She studied Interior Architecture in college and completed an online business education program through Harvard Business School. She also has a wide range of commercial insurance experience and has earned her Associate in General Insurance (AINS), Associate in Insurance Services (AIS), and Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designations. This made her the perfect addition to the Acuity Mercantile team. If she could travel anywhere in the world, she would return to Italy. She spent three weeks there during college studying architecture and design and has wanted to go back ever since.

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