Service Animal Tips

Service Animal Tips

Have you recently hired an individual that uses a service animal in your workplace?  Do you have questions about how to respectfully interact with the service animal team or maybe you’re curious about how you can make sure that your employee feels comfortable and most importantly, safe in your office?  Read on to learn a little about service animals and get some useful service animal tips for welcoming a service animal team into your workplace.

What is a service animal?

In recent years, it is almost impossible to go to a public setting without encountering animals alongside their humans.  A large percentage of the animals that you may encounter are likely service animals; however, there is an increasing trend of individuals bringing their Emotional Support Animals along for a public outing.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is a very large distinction between a service animal and an Emotional Support Animal, the largest of which being that a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.  These tasks include a variety of things from guiding an individual with a vision impairment to alerting an individual with diabetes of dangerous blood sugar levels.  It is important to note that dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA and they are not entitled to the same access as a service animal.  Service animals are generally allowed to accompany their handler anywhere that he/she would normally be allowed including public places and places of employment.  

Service animals are working dogs and take their job very seriously, but  they still get plenty of play time when they are off duty and the animal’s handlers are constantly positively reinforcing them even during the workday.

Service Animal Tips 

How do I know that an animal is a service animal?

Service animal handlers are not required to register their service animal and contrary to popular belief, there is not a national service dog registry for trained service animals.  

To determine if an animal is a service animal and if  the individual’s disability is not evident employers may ask the following two questions:

  1.  Is the animal a service animal that is required because of a disability?

  2.   What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

Service animals will almost always be a dog, in a variety of breeds and sizes, however in rare cases a service animal can be a miniature horse.  A service animal can not be any other type of animal.

Can I interact with a service animal?

Every service animal team is different and each individual handler will have different rules and expectations of when or if they are comfortable with their dog receiving attention.  Generally, it is very important that you refrain from using the service animal’s name while he/she is working. Additionally, some handlers will not mind if you pet their service animal, however you must ask prior to petting any service animal.  

Using a service animal’s name or petting him/her while they are working can lead to distractions.  These distractions may affect the handler’s safety and negatively impact the service animal’s ability to effectively work.

Can I bring in special treats or toys for the service animal?

Many service animals are on a controlled diet and feeding schedule.  Service animals are typically only allowed to play with certain approved toys to ensure that their training remains intact.  Occasionally a service animal handler may provide his/her animal with special treats or chew toys, however, it is always best to ask the handler if it is okay to bring something special for the animal.

What accommodations are helpful for service animal handlers?

Every service animal team is unique and may require individualized accommodations, however the following service animal tips may generally be helpful:

  1.  Provision of a safe space for the service animal to rest during the workday.

  2.  An accessible space for the service animal to relieve.

  3.  Periodic breaks to take care of the service animal’s needs.

  4.  Provision of disability etiquette training to staff.

Conclusion

Workplaces are becoming more and more diverse and you will likely encounter an individual that uses a service animal.  Service animals are definitely cute and snuggly, but they first and foremost have a very important job to do. Keeping your workplace service animal friendly will go a long way towards attracting and keeping long term, high-quality employees!