Shelter in place orders across much of the U.S. have provided many pet owners unlimited time with their dogs. People who ordinarily are away from home for hours each day have been largely restricted to their residences under COVID-19 safety protocols. This extra "people time" is a bonus for well-loved dogs.
Dogs that have become accustomed to 24-7 human companionship must adapt to new schedules when states and communities lift COVID-19 restrictions. For many dogs, this transition will be a simple return to normal. But for other dogs, and especially those that were acquired during stay-at-home orders, an owner's absence can be a significant and possibly stressful change.
As businesses reopen and restrictions are lifted on public gatherings, consider how a return to your regular schedule will affect your pets. Plan ahead to ease the transition and work with your dog to reduce possible separation anxiety.
If you’re facing a change of residence, know your rights and responsibilities when securing new housing for yourself and your dog. It might be tempting to try to call your pet dog an assistance animal in order to gain access to public areas or housing that do not allow dogs. That’s a bad idea—it’s wrong, and in most places, it’s now illegal. More than 31 states and numerous local governments have passed laws that prohibit assistance animal fraud. Additional states and communities have these laws pending.
The growing problem of fake assistance dogs
Unfortunately, in recent years irresponsible dog owners have fraudulently obtained access to housing, public transportation, and public spaces that do not allow dogs by falsely representing a pet as a service dog or emotional support animal. Misrepresentation of a pet as an assistance animal is not only a violation in most places, it harms the truly disabled who need the accommodations, confuses the public about the role of service animals, and undermines the credibility of highly trained working dogs.
A poorly trained or out of control dog in a fake vest is a danger to the public, a threat to real assistance animals, and creates havoc for venue gatekeepers and access providers.
While some people have knowingly and deliberately disobeyed laws that govern access for assistance animals, other dog owners are victims of bad advice or may have been misled by ads and websites that sell fake service dog vests and improper credentials. AKC is committed to helping educate the public about service dog laws to avoid these issues. However, lack of knowledge is not a defense when charged with a violation. Individuals who are considering acquiring or designating and training a dog as an assistance animal should remain current on existing and new laws that govern service animal access where they live or plan to live and travel.
The AKC strongly supports public accommodations that allow individuals with disabilities to use service dogs and condemns characterizing dogs as service animals when they are not, or attempting to benefit from a dog’s service dog status when the individual using the dog is not a person with a disability.
The AKC Government Relations team, in conjunction with the American Service Dog Access Coalition, is working with disability advocates; public access providers; retail, hospitality, and transportation industries; major service dog providers and trainers; policy makers; and other experts to improve access for true assistance dog users.
Information for qualified users of assistance animals
The American Kennel Club strongly supports the training and use of dogs by humans whose lives are enriched by dogs’ performing services, such as providing assistance to disabled individuals. The AKC supports the right of persons who require a dog to perform such services to be permitted to keep a dog without regard to the dog’s size, phenotype or breed.
Individuals with a disability-related need for an assistance animal are provided certain protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHAct). Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs that are individually trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a psychiatric disability, for example, post-traumatic stress disorder, are also included under the ADA.
Governmental facilities, businesses, housing providers, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all public areas.
Even though the use of service animals is federally protected, there are still responsibilities that must be met. A person with a disability can be asked to remove a service dog from the premises if it is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if the service dog is not housebroken.
A reminder: emotional support animals are not service animals
An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides a therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship, and is not specifically trained to perform tasks to mitigate a disability. An ESA is not considered a service animal under the federal ADA, and therefore access to places of public accommodation for ESAs varies by location.
Under the federal Fair Housing Act, an “assistance animal” is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or that provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified effects of a person’s disability. This covers both service animals and ESAs. Housing providers cannot refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, and services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.
Generally, housing accommodation with an ESA requires that an authorized physician or mental health professional licensed in your state must diagnose an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Laws and regulations enacted in several states set out requirements for the qualifications of mental health professionals who are authorized to write a letter that validates an individual’s need for an ESA. State law also may specify if face-to-face or online diagnostics are required. Under some recently enacted legislation, a letter or “prescription for an ESA” purchased online may no longer qualify as proof of need.
Until recently, ESAs were provided similar accommodations as service animals on airlines. This has changed, and new federal rules currently in development will no longer require airlines to provide accommodation to ESAs.
Public places such as restaurants, retail stores, businesses, entertainment venues, government facilities, and some very limited categories of housing providers are not required to accommodate ESAs. There may be additional provisions for ESA access under some state and local laws, but in most locations, persons with ESAs do not have the same rights of access as are provided to disabled individuals who utilize service animals.
Take your dog to work the RIGHT way
Increasingly, workplaces are offering employees the benefit of bringing their well-trained dogs to work, so if your company offers this privilege, now is the time to get your dog office-ready.
If your company is able to accommodate dogs in the workplace, but does not yet offer that benefit, plan to discuss the pros and cons of bringing dogs to work with your employer after you return to your job. Experienced trainers, exhibitors, breeders and owners can offer to help implement a dogs-at-work program.
Dog owners with travel assignments and owners who will finally get to take that long-awaited vacation should stay up to date on changes to rules for traveling with pets, which may include new restrictions on flying with dogs. The rules vary by airline and by country, so check with each specific airline for current requirements. Be sure to check again for additional updates prior to departing for the airport to board your flight.
Dog fun, fitness, and training ideas if you’re still confined to home
With gyms and fitness clubs still closed in many places, dogs and their owners can stay in shape and earn AKC FIT DOG magnets via socially distanced dog walking. Free online AKC training videos help owners teach their dogs tricks to qualify for AKC Trick Dog titles from home. The AKC Novice Rally Virtual pilot program provides new and experienced competitors the opportunity to earn legs toward a Rally Novice title without attending an AKC event.
Some owners have added new dogs to their families. This is great for the dogs, but may result in fewer options to socialize and expose a dog to new experiences while restrictions on public gatherings remain in effect. Learn how to socialize your puppy during this time of social distancing, get advice on potty training for puppies and older dogs, and view tips on grooming your dog at home.
Because both young puppies and older dogs may be uncomfortable around humans wearing COVID-19 masks, there are training techniques you can use to help desensitize your dog.
Dog owners can take steps to minimize potential separation anxiety and prepare their dogs for new routines. The AKC GoodDog! Helpline offers individualized training information by telephone. Many AKC clubs offer dog training classes that will resume after business and public gathering restrictions are lifted.
Stay safe, stay informed, and plan ahead
In a time of worldwide transitions, caring for family, friends and pets is front of mind. Even as COVID-19 orders expire, some dog owners may remain at home due to health concerns and other considerations. Whether sheltering in place, evacuating in a disaster situation, or while planning for these and other disruptions, remember to include your dog in your emergency preparations.
If it barks, it’s AKC! The American Kennel Club and its affiliated organizations are here to help with expert advice on dog care and training, a downloadable emergency planning guide for dog owners, information to help you stay current on canine legislation and regulations, and much more.