How to Spot a Fake Service Dog

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog

While it’s important to have honest conversations about the harmful ramifications of faking Service Dogs, it’s equally important not to rush to judgment. Service Dog owners are used to being watched while they are in public. They live with an understanding that people are intrigued by their animals and are curious about them. However, because of misconceptions about Service Dogs, owners can often be on the receiving end of inappropriate questions and discrimination. 

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Before we detail how to spot a fake, it’s important to know a little bit more about Service Dogs and the guidelines surrounding their access to public places.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) acts as a shield to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. The ADA website states that “Disability rights are civil rights. From voting to parking, the ADA is a law that protects people with disabilities in many areas of public life.”

Businesses and state/local governments must take precautions to not discriminate against a member of the public with a disability who uses a Service Animal. Service Dogs are generally allowed to go anywhere that their handler can go, even if the establishment typically doesn’t allow pets. (You can read more about where Service Dogs can and cannot go, here.)

When an individual has a visible disability and they are in public with a Service Dog, it’s easy to know the animal is a legitimate Service Animal. There are, however, some mental health challenges and medical conditions that require the use of a Service Dog even though the person’s disability may not be a visible one.

In these cases, it’s a good idea to refrain from judging because you don’t know all of the details of someone’s situation or struggle. It’s best to always give the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Service Dogs. Unfortunately, for legitimate Service Dog owners, this fact can create loopholes that some use to exploit the protections that the ADA offers to Service Animal owners.

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog

Get Your ESA Today


Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a Service Dog as the following:

“A Service Dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. They are working animals, not pets. Animals whose sole purpose is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as a Service Animal.”

Service Dogs assist their owners in a variety of ways. A Service Dog may guide their blind owner safely across a street, bring its owner lifesaving medication, or fetch items for its owner in a wheelchair. A hearing dog may help a deaf owner by alerting them to a fire alarm that they cannot hear. A Psychiatric Service Dog may calm its owner who is having a panic attack.

Service Dog Guidelines

Service Dogs will often wear a vest or harness in public indicating that they are on the job. It’s important to note that Service Dogs are not required to wear vests or indicators that they are working.

As a business owner, if you are trying to determine if an individual has a legitimate Service Dog, there are only 2 questions that may be asked:

1. Is the dog a Service Animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Handlers do not need to provide certification of their Service Dog. These limitations help to protect the handlers from discrimination and intrusive or embarrassing questions.

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog


Service Dogs are effective companions serving to mitigate the life-altering impacts of disabilities. They are becoming a more accepted means of treatment for a variety of disabilities. Procuring a Service Dog can be costly. If the handler decides not to self-train, professional training can cost $20,000 (or more) per dog. The training fees can be cost-prohibitive for many, which limits the accessibility of this as a treatment option.

Due to the high cost, some less than honest individuals have resorted to trying to fake a Service Animal. Other times, someone may just not want to leave their pet at home. Either way, it’s a bad idea to fake a Service Dog. Besides the fact that it is illegal and has serious consequences including steep fines and jail time, it can cause problems for Service Dog owners and businesses alike. It can be both damaging and dangerous and you should never fake a Service Dog


1. Being carried or pushed

When out with its owner, a Service Dog is working. The dog won’t be dressed up in an outfit or carried in someone’s purse and certainly will not be pushed in a dog carrier or stroller.

In most instances, the dog will be walking with or in front of the owner on its leash. A diabetic medical alert dog may be carried close to the chest, but in general, if you’re in a store and see a dog being carried, it’s most likely a pet.

2. Not leashed

Unless the owner’s disability requires it, a Service Dog will typically be leashed. The dog must be under the control of its owner. The ADA states that it must be tethered, harnessed, or leashed unless the disability prevents it from doing so, or the devices prevent the dog from safely performing its tasks, in which case the dog must be under the handler’s voice or signal command.

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog

3. Leash problems

An untrained dog will yank at the leash or pull the owner. Service Dogs are well trained on a leash and will have a good “heel”, meaning they will stand to the right or left of their owner. Unless Service Dogs are pulling their owner to safety, they will not pull at the leash or drag their owner.

4. Barking or whining

When Service Dogs are working, their sole focus is on their owner. Unless there is a need to get help and they are trying to alert their owner or get assistance, they won’t be barking or whining. Even if you’re eating near a service dog, they will not whine to try to get food from you.

5. Sniffing everything

Service Dogs knows that when it’s on the clock, it is not the time to explore. Their main focus is the safety of their owner. They will not be sniffing everything in sight. The dog will be looking ahead and scanning the environment for obstacles. It will also consistently look up at its owner to check in on them.

6. Potty accidents

A Service Dog that is in training may still have accidents, but a fully trained Service Dog will not have accidents in public. A Service Dog will not mark its territory, even when encountering new spaces.

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog

7. Beg for or steal food

Service Dogs are not given table food so that they don’t develop a habit of begging. Even if food is present, like in the case of a restaurant or if the dog comes across food that has been spilled, a trained Service Dog will not be distracted by the food. It will leave it alone and continue its task.

8. Appear nervous

Loud noises, crowds, and new situations will not cause a Service Dog to be anxious, nervous, or scared.

9. Seek attention

A working dog will not ask for pats and belly rubs. They are on a mission and are trained not to be distracted. When they’re off duty, they will act like any other dog and of course deserve all the belly rubs. If a dog is jumping on someone, licking or rubbing up against them it either needs more training or might be a fake.

10. Act aggressively

Service Dogs will not bark or growl at people or other dogs. They may alert their owner when someone is nearby, but they will not attack someone.

My mom has a serious fear of dogs that stems from my brother being attacked by a dog when he was a toddler. However, as you can see, even for someone with a fear of dogs, a Service Dog poses no threat to you. 


Most people don’t know that by law, you are allowed to train your own Service Dog. Service Dogs can be specially trained by their owner and do not require expensive professional training. With our packages, we offer training information and resources to help you navigate training like a pro.

How to Spot a Fake Service Dog


American Service Pets firmly believes in the benefits and even the necessity of Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs. We also believe in following the rules which benefit the disabled. We make it easy to complete the process to get your official approval letter so you can have the important support of your pet. We work closely with a network of legitimate, licensed healthcare professionals across the nation to ensure that the proper qualifications are met. You can take our free quiz to see if you qualify for assistance from an Emotional Support Animals (ESA) or Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD).

After reading this you should be able to recognize ways to distinguish a real Service Dog from a fake. Just keep in mind that for someone with a disability, their Service Dog operates in their life as a medical device. Give the Service Dog owner the same consideration and accommodation that you would for someone with an oxygen tank or other medical support device. Their Service Dog is a medical necessity that they should not, for any reason, be asked to separate from.

ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!


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Attention: Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible. Click here to see if you qualify.