Service animals are more than just dogs, and there are many misunderstandings associated with them. The ADA or American with Disabilities Act has precise definitions about service dogs and animals. For example, they define them as "any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide 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."
That, as you can see, creates a wide range of potential service animals. Whether someone opts to have a dog or another animal as their trained service animal, the ADA also stipulates that all businesses must permit that animal to accompany the individual with the disability to all areas of the building. They also may not segregate them because of the animal. The ADA also says that service animals, including dogs, are not pets. That is why a business with a "no pets" policy must still allow someone with a service dog or other service animal access to the business.
While the dogs are highly trained to respond to their owner’s needs it is important for the public to know – they are WORKING dogs! They may look so fluffy, happy, etc. – but resist the urge to run up and pet the dog as their main responsibility is to assist their owner and petting the dog is a distraction from their job.
Other Lesser Known Facts
Though most of us are used to seeing a few particular breeds as service dogs (retrievers and labs are some of the most expected), the truth is that any breed can be trained for service work. That means a Chihuahua or Great Dane can be a service dog. Most are trained in very specialized tasks, with training that can last many months or even a year or more. Most also begin when very young, though some older dogs take quickly to service training and work.
The cost of training is substantial and can be upwards of $25k, depending upon the sort of tasks the dog might need to do. After all, they can be trained to work with people who struggle with mobility issues, but they can also be hearing service dogs that can distinguish between all kinds of bells or alarms and even be trained to know their human's name in the event someone is shouting to them!
Seizure assistant dogs are born to their work and can actually detect the chemical changes in their human's blood in the moments before most seizure activity begins; leading them to take a seated or prone position.
Naturally, there are also service dogs that work for the general population rather than a single person. Therapy dogs, as an example, can be trained to provide all kinds of comfort to those in hospital wards or special educational settings. There they can work to provide companionship or ease stress.
There are mental health service dogs, autism assistance dogs and other types of service and therapy dogs given specialized training. Naturally, it is also about the dog itself, and any dog that takes on such a role is often a kind, gentle, intelligent and dedicated part of their human's daily life and family.