Frequently asked questions – Service Dogs
General information about service dogs
What are service dogs?
Service dogs are specially trained to assist individuals with disabilities with everyday activities such as carrying or retrieving items, ringing doorbells, assisting with balance and stability, alerting or responding to seizures or diabetic episodes, and other tasks.
For over 75 years, guide dogs, a type of service dog for people with visual impairments, have worked successfully in public and won the public’s acceptance by achieving high behavioural and training standards. Today there are many types of service dogs trained to assist people with disabilities or medical issues.
A variety of breeds and sizes of dogs can be trained to become service dogs. The advanced training of a service dog starts when the animal is about 14 months old and takes between six and eight months. During this time they train daily and receive between 120 and 360 hours of training.
How can I distinguish service dogs from pets?
It can be difficult to identify a service dog as they may not wear a harness or a vest that identifies them and they can be of various breeds.
Identification cards are available to handlers of qualified service dogs. The identification cards display the Alberta Government logo and a picture of the handler and service dog. These cards are available from the Ministry at no charge,
If in doubt, you may ask the handler to show his/her Government of Alberta identification card. This card verifies that the individual and his/her service dog are qualified for the purposes of the Act.
Who uses service dogs?
There are many diagnosed disabilities that may be mitigated by the use of a qualified service dog. For example, an individual with a hearing impairment may have a service dog that is trained to alert its handler when the doorbell rings.
Some individuals have disabilities that are not readily apparent. Autism spectrum disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are examples of disabilities.
How many service dogs are in Alberta?
Although it is estimated there are between 80 and 100 service dogs in the province, the exact number assisting individuals with disabilities is not known. The identification card program will assist in creating a registry of service dog owners in Alberta.
Can I interact with service dogs?
Service dogs are highly trained and when they are working with their handlers, they are concentrating on their tasks. They should not be treated as pets by members of the public. Speaking to, distracting or petting service dogs without the permission of their handler can disrupt their concentration, potentially causing harm to them.
The Service Dogs Act
What is the Service Dogs Act?
The Service Dogs Act became law on January 1, 2009. It is legislation that complements the Blind Persons’ Rights Act (BPRA) by providing Albertans with disabilities, using qualified service dogs, the same right of access to public places.
What rights do individuals with disabilities accompanied by service dogs have?
Individuals with disabilities who are accompanied by qualified service dogs must be allowed access to restaurants, taxis, buses or any other location where the general public is allowed. It is an offence to deny access to any public place to individuals who use qualified service dogs.
What happens if an individual who uses a qualified service dog is denied access to a public place?
Denying an individual accompanied by a qualified service dog entry to a public place is considered an offence punishable by law. Those found in violation can be fined up to $3,000 under the provisions of the Service Dogs Act.
“Public places” for the purpose of the Service Dogs Act are:
Any location where the general public is allowed, including:
- places of lodging such as a hotel, apartment or rental accommodation
- places serving food or drink such as a restaurant, bar, or coffee shop
- places of entertainment such as a movie theater, golf course, park or zoo
- places of retail such as a shopping mall, bank, dry-cleaner or hairdresser
- public transit, taxis, airplanes, trains or ambulances
- hospitals, doctor’s offices, dentist’s office, schools or universities
What if someone claims their dog is a service dog but it is not?
It is against the law for someone to claim they have a disability when they do not in order to bring their pet dog, which is not a service dog, into a public place. A fine up to $300 can be issued to someone who commits this offence.
I understand the role of service dogs, but what about individuals who fear dogs, have allergies, or do not want to be near dogs due to cultural and/or religious beliefs?
The rights of all Albertans must be considered in a respectful and tolerant manner. Make your allergy, fear, or concern known to an appropriate authority responsible for the business facility or service (e.g. restaurant manager, supervisor, teacher or school principal) and ask that alternate arrangements be made.
Does the Act extend to other assistive animals?
No, the Service Dogs Act only applies to dogs.
Are service dog handlers responsible for how their dog behaves and appears in public?
Handlers of service dogs are responsible for the behaviour of their dog when they are out in public.
Handlers are required to have their dogs under control. This means their dogs should not growl, bark aggressively, snap, bite, or lunge. Protection under the Act does not apply if the handler does not control the behaviour of their service dog. In this case the handler can be denied access or asked to leave a public place.
Handlers are required to clean up or make arrangements to clean up if their service dog voids in a public place.
Who is responsible for any potential damages and/or injury that may be caused by a qualified service dog?
The handler is responsible to address any damages caused by their service dog.
Qualification of service dogs
How is a service dog qualified?
A service dog may be qualified in one of three ways:
- It has successfully completed a training program delivered by a school or institution accredited by Assistance Dogs International, Inc. Assistance Dogs International, Inc. (ADI) was created in 1987, and has established training and industry standards for service dog teams. For more information about ADI or for a listing of ADI accredited schools please go to www.assistancedogsinternational.org.
- It has successfully completed a training program delivered by a school or institution identified on the Minister’s Qualified List.
- It has successfully passed a test administered by a school or institution identified on the Minister’s Qualified List.
What if my service dog is not trained by an ADI accredited school or a Qualified List School
If your service dog is not qualified in one of the three identified methods, you are not eligible to apply for a Service Dog Team Identification Card under the Service Dogs Act.
However, the Alberta Human Rights Act protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
For more information about other human rights legislation for Alberta, please go to www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca.
Service Dogs Act in practice
Under the Public Health Act animals cannot be present in areas where food is being prepared or served. How does this affect handlers with service dogs?
Although the Public Health Act stipulates that animals cannot be present in areas where food is being prepared or served, the Public Health Act makes an exception for both service and guide dogs. Persons with disabilities accompanied by a qualified service dog will be permitted entry to any establishment where the general public is customarily admitted. Some areas may be excluded such as kitchens in restaurants or intensive care units in hospitals.
I run an eating establishment. Can I require service dogs to only be allowed in the outside seating area?
Individuals with qualified service dogs are allowed entry into all places where the public is customarily admitted. Designating specific areas for individuals with qualified service dogs is not appropriate.
I am a taxi driver and I have an allergy to dogs. Can I be forced to transport an individual with their service dog?
The Service Dogs Act states that it is unlawful to discriminate against an individual with a disability based on the fact that they are accompanied by a service dog. While the company you are driving for may have a policy that allows drivers discretion when transporting passengers with pets, this same discretion cannot be used when you are transporting individuals with qualified service dogs.
It is against the law to deny access to services to persons with disabilities who use qualified service dogs. It could result in you receiving a fine up to but not exceeding $3000.
If you are called to a location and are unable to transport the person and the service dog, it is important that you provide the allergy information to the individual who ordered the taxi, and order another taxi from your company requesting that a priority response be provided.
Some service dog handlers may communicate to dispatch that they are traveling with a service dog. Alerting your company dispatch of your health needs may minimize the times when you are called upon to transport an individual and their service dog.
Applying for an identification card
How do I apply for a Government of Alberta Service Dog Team identification card?
Alberta Community and Social Services manages the application process. To begin the process, you can:
- Print an application form;
- Call Alberta Community and Social Services directly at 780-427-9136 and ask to speak to the Service Dogs Act administrator. To call toll-free, first dial 310-0000;
- Request an application by emailing email@example.com
Applications are available in alternative formats upon request.
To get help with the application form:
- Call Alberta Community and Social Services at 780-427-9136 and ask to speak to the Service Dogs Act administrator. To call toll-free, first dial 310-0000.
- Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
What is the cost?
There are no application fees associated with applying for an identification card.
What is the deadline to apply for an identification card?
There is no deadline to apply for an identification card.
Identification cards expire 10 years from the date they are issued or when the service dog retires, whichever comes first. After the card expires or after the service dog retires, the identification card must be returned to Alberta Community and Social Services. This will ensure that provincial records are current and new teams are trained according to the standards.