Animal Health Foundation Blog

10 Signs That a “Service Dog” is Actually a Fake


You’re out shopping when you turn the corner to find a cute dog browsing the merchandise. Your first instinct tells you it’s someone’s service dog, but then something doesn’t seem right. People posing their pets as fake service dogs has become a widespread problem. Real service dogs can be any breed, their owners don’t always have visible disabilities, and they’re not required to carry any kind of identifying paperwork or distinguishing badge. This makes spotting the fakes exceptionally difficult, but if the dog is showing any of these behaviors, it’s most likely an impostor.

#1 – They’re Being Carried or Pushed in a Cart


Service dogs are trained in countless different kinds of jobs, but no matter what their specialty is, they always need to be alert and ready to work. If the dog is being toted around in a purse or getting a free ride in a shopping cart, they’re unable to perform their duty. There are exceptions, however, if a small dog is being held close to person’s chest. Some small dogs are trained to monitor certain bodily functions and need to be kept close to their owners.

#2 – They’re Not on a Leash

It seems ironic, but you’ll never see a highly trained service dog out in public and not on a leash. They’re more than capable of staying by their owner, but leashes are used to protect the dog. Always using a leash is a basic part of being a responsible dog owner.

#3 – They’re Pulling on the Leash

Because they’re always leashed while they’re working, service dogs have impeccable leash manners. They never pull and always stick close to their owner’s side. Dogs used for mobility and support assistance may lean into their harnesses as part of their job, but they don’t yank their person in different directions as they feel like it.

#4 – They’re Barking or Whining

Some dogs are trained to bark or whine as an alert to warn their owner of an impending medical emergency, like a stroke or panic attack. But besides these infrequent sounds, a service dog would never bark at another dog or whine out of impatience.

# 5 – They’re Sniffing Everything

All dogs rely on smell more than any other sense, and taking your pet on a walk usually involves a whole lot of sniffing. When a dog has a job to do, those scents are a distraction. Service dogs are trained to stay focused, and they won’t be careening down aisles sniffing everything on the lower shelves.

#6 – They Have Indoor “Accidents”

A dog that isn’t fully house trained should never be taken into an indoor public area. For male dogs especially, indoor accidents are not always accidental, and instead, it’s the dog’s way of marking a new territory. Whether they did it on purpose or not, urinating or defecating indoors is an unacceptable behavior for service dogs.

#7 – They Steal Food

Stealing food—whether it’s off a table, out of someone’s hand, or something they found on the ground—is a hard habit for pets to break, but resisting temptations is one of the first lessons a service dog learns.

#8 – They Look Nervous

Socialization is a major part of service dog training, and if the dog in question is the real deal, they’ll seem calm and confident no matter what’s going on around them. They won’t be spooked by loud noises or big crowds, and they won’t cower or tuck their tails between their legs.

#9 – They Seek Attention

Service dogs know they have a job to do, and they only have eyes for the person on the other end of their leash. They don’t put their noses into other people’s space seeking head pats or belly rubs.

# 10 – They’re Aggressive

Some service dogs are trained in protection, but that doesn’t mean they lash out at other people or animals without being explicitly told to. A dog that is growling, lunging, or showing other signs of unprovoked aggression is not a real service dog.

Fake service dogs put unfair scrutiny on the people who actually need their animals for medical or emotional purposes, and they’re an insult to the dogs that go through months of intense training to be good at their jobs. The service dog reputation is at stake, and it’s because some pet owners think “no pet” policies shouldn’t apply to them. If you decide to approach someone about their dog, remember to do so politely and realize they have no legal obligation to answer a long list of questions.

17 Responses to “10 Signs That a “Service Dog” is Actually a Fake”

  1. Veteran Traveler says:

    The only one that isn’t correct by ADA law is your number two. Dogs can be off leash if the owners disability requires it or it being on a leash would interfere with the dog performing its task. This area of the ADA is vague, but still applies in some cases. Again, you are absolutely right: the behavior of the dog will tell you whether or not it is a legitimate and trained service dog. If the service tech was off leash, it would clearly be attending only to the handler and under absolute control

  2. Val Oneill says:

    They need to make Service Dog Certifications available like you would a handicap licence, plate, tag thru the Department of Moter Vehicle.If you don’t have a legitimate tag thru the DMV then you would be fined just like if you utilized a handicap space without a legal tag. You would then have to make it legal for business owners to request a handicapped person for their Service Animal License or Service Animal Certification,but I’m sure after all the nuances & safety issues currently going on any person with a service animal would greatly welcome being able to produce paper work to the public showing that they need assistance from their precious pooch & that their rights are protected & backed by the law. Nip this issue in the bud!

    • SD Handler says:

      Service dog licensing would be a violation of the civil rights of disabled service dog handlers. Nondisabled people enter public accommodations without paperwork. Disabled service dog handlers have the same right. Service dogs are medical equipment under the law, and no one needs a license for a cane or wheelchair.

      I am a service dog handler. I would not welcome licensing. My rights are already protected and backed by federal law and many state laws.

      Enforce existing laws. Problem solved.

      • Liam Kroos says:

        Preach it.

      • B. Scott says:

        I would like to know how we are supposed to tell the difference between real and fake service dogs. I am disabled and have no problem displaying my parking placard. I understand the ADA says you don’t need any corroborating evidence, but it really irritates me that some people are using the ADA guidelines to screw the system and, put others in danger with inappropriately trained pets for their own selfish wants.

  3. Freeda says:

    1. Dogs shouldn’t be in carts. Many are carried for tasking purposes.

    2. The law requires that the dog be “under the owner’s control”, which may or may not include leashing. Sometimes a leash interferes with tasking or mobility.

    3. These are leash manners issues, not legal requirements.

    4. These are manners issues, not legal requirements except that a dog may not be a nuisance while doing public access work.

    5. Manners issue, not a legal requirement.

    6. Hey, you got one right. A service dog can be removed from public access if they defecate or urinate in an inappropriate area.

    7. Again, a manners issue, not a legal requirement except for not feeding the dog from a restaurant table.

    8. Service dogs are constantly being exposed to new challenges. Sometimes you don’t know it will be a challenge until you are in it. You are never NOT training. They’re dogs, not robots, and sometimes something new will throw them off.

    9. Some dogs, particularly for autism, have tasking that includes interacting with other people in order to facilitate their handler’s interactions with those people. If you don’t know a dog’s tasking, you can’t assume that what you are observing isn’t task behavior.

    10. It is ILLEGAL for a service dog to be trained in protection work.

    It isn’t the public’s job to appoint themselves “service dog police”. No one except a “gatekeeper” for a business should be asking questions about the service animal, and they should only ask the two questions that are allowed by law. In fact, if the dog is clearly marked as a service animal, and with the tasking “ie Service Dog, Medical Alert” patch, there is no need to speak to the person at all. Many handlers suffer from conditions that make those interactions difficult – which is why their dogs are appropriately labeled.

    While your idea of the perfect service dog is a pretty picture, the reality is that the law only requires that
    1. the person has a disability
    2. the dog is trained in task(s) that mitigate that disability
    3. the dog is not a nuisance (barking, urinating, defecating, or obnoxiously smelly)

    The tendency for people to announce their PREFERENCES about service dogs as being RULES for service dogs only perpetuates stigma. Many owners are doing self training, often due to limited income. Program dogs cost tens of thousands of dollars, and programs tend to serve a very narrow scope of clientele – this program is only for autistic kids, that program is only for PTSD veterans, etc.

    So here’s a plan for a revised article:

    Title – How to know if a service dog is a fake

    Body – Don’t worry about it. It’s none of your business. Move on with your day.

    • Sharon says:

      Well said!

    • Marie says:

      Thank you so much, what I wanted to say exactly except I could not have said it as well! One comment to what you said though about a dog that defecates or throws up, if the dog has gotten sick but that is not their normal behavior and the handler promptly cleans it up then that does not indicate a lack of house training.

    • Will says:

      No. No to all of this. Stop defending fake service dogs. So sick of dog owners acting so high and mighty to impose being treated with extra favors.

      • Sean says:

        You are a very ignorant person to suggest that all poeple are sporting fake servive animals.
        The fakes need to be weeded out but not at the cost of ostracizng legitimate disabled persons.

      • alan says:

        If I wanted special privledges, the LAST way I’d go about it was through the physical pain, emotional isolation and suffering ,and the hostile judgement that comes with being disabled. You are sick? I’m sick of BEING sick! I’m sick of being judged for using a handicap spot because I ‘look too young’ to be disabled- must be a ‘fake wheel chair’ (yes, I’ve been told that, same ignorance the fake SD idea comes from). I’m sick of every time one of our 2 SDs performs a complicated, well trained out, well-executed task that has more than once SAVED MY LIFE, or my wife’s that someone questions if our SD’s are fake.

        • Renee Cooke says:

          well said. I was just confronted the other day by a security officer at a hospital while waiting to have a lovely test done. Just because my service dog’s vest reads Medical Alert she said she wasn’t a service dog. My anxiety level went out the roof. I showed her my service dog’s id and she looked it over and said “but this doesn’t say ‘service dog’ “. I had to try to explain that a medical alert dog is a service dog. She had to take my ID card to her supervisor. She came back to tell me that he said my dog was ok as long as she wasn’t causing any issues. I felt like I was on trial and everyone in that lobby was staring at me. And as you said I’m so sick of being sick. I’m still a young person and how I had rather still be out running my legs off working than being sick. Her seeing my dog’s vest that says Medical Alert Dog should have been enough.

    • alan says:

      Excellent reply Freeda!

      For example, I have PTSD and Autism and when senory overload or flashbacks are too mcuh, our SD will try everything else first to ground me- pressure, licling etc, but if that doesnt work, and nothing can get me out of a situation I am non-responsive in, he WILL, BY TRAINING pull the leash to makle me follow him out of the store/enviroment to a safe place where I can better recouperate. Additionally, due to mobility issues, both my wife and I have had times we have fallen and cant get up- especially being in a rather secluded area, our dogs MUST be able to leave to get medication or help from a neighbour- they cannot do that if teathered to us by a leash. This is part of their training to keep us safe.

      Your suggested revised article is spot on. This article is nothing but an ignorant opinion piece that never should have been printed and causes many handlers, especially those with invisibilie disablities more harm through misunderstanding

  4. Sean says:

    Sorry… “Service animals”

  5. Nick says:

    I believe in my opinion the laws need to be changed. There should be a real place set up to Prove a dog is a real service dog. A place available to get a Real Service dog registered. Such as a Real ID card a Real Certificate and a Real Vest and either get the dog trained or Prove the owner trained it or Prove a Professional trained the dog. This All needs to be made availble loccally in different in areas of your State. I know someone who is in fact been deemed disabed. She went online got her pet dog registered got an ID card a certificate and a vest paid like $50 and now her dog is seen in the public eye as a service dog and she calls him one and tells people he is one. This is Wrong! Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong. Her dog is NOT a trained service dog. He does Not always respond to his name, he is Not completely potty trained in doors and he is Not trained to do anything to help her in anyway. He does Not even sit when she tells him too. I think the laws need to be stricter. I dont think just because your disabled you should be able fake your dog and as service dog. Buying fake things online to make your dog look like its a service dog?? WRONG! It puts others in possible danger since the dog is Not trained and it hurts those who really need and have a trained service dog. Just because someone is disabled should Not mean they should be able to buy fake things to show their regular pet is a service dog. She took the dog to school she volunteers there. The teacher made her take the dog home. The teacher knows from being on her profile online that she ordered the stuff online she posted it thst she ordered it. She asked around online on her profile who can help potty train her dog he still has accidents because he is not a fully inside dog. He will be a year old in September. He has fleas and a big hole in his face from flea bites. This is why the teacher said the dog had to leave and for her to take it home because the dog was covered in fleas. She told the teacher he had fleas and showed the teacher the hole smd said its from him digging at the fleas. My point is that in My Opinion its still a Fake Service dog. I dont care if shes disabled or not just because she is it should Not give her the right to take her Pet everywhere when its Not trained to help her in sny way like real ones. She cant be to bad off off to need one at this point in time if her hair is blowing in the wind driving her golf cart all through town at 30MPH instead of using transportation services. By the way I am Not jealous either! Who wants to be disabled? Not this guy! I love my dog I am Not disabled either and if I were unless I needed a dogs services to actual service he belongs at home. The whole point of this is the law states if your disabled your entitled to a service dog but it needs to be trained to help you in some way. But the laws need changed to Require a dog be Proved it is in fact a Real Service dog. This would eliminate the All of Fakers. The people claiming to be disabled and really are not and those that are disabled but have a fake service dog (dogs that are not trained to do anything to help the disabled owner and its still just a pet like mine). Then the real vests and certificates and worn or shown issued can be visible that it is a FAKER whether it be the dog, owner or both. Im all for service dogs that are trained and really needed but I see and know Too many fakers/copycats. Rant over!

  6. Noelle says:

    I have been training my own serive dog and a lot of this is just bull. My dog is small, he does his job and has been basically perfect. Depending on what I need, I may carry him cause I need him closer to me than normal. He’s still considered a puppy and has only been working for 3 months, but he knows what to do and how to do his job. Sometimes he has days where he isn’t perfect, and I have to reiterate his training to him. As part of his job, he has to sniff around. Anything could cause me issues and he makes sure I’m ok and in a safe environment. If he smells something he thinks may cause me issues, he comes over to me and makes sure I’m ok by jumping up and licking me and waiting for me to pet his head and tell him “thank you, I’m ok” normally he will stop and go back to his job. There are times he doesn’t and continues licking me and it isn’t until a few seconds later that I realize he sensed something in the environment and in me that I didn’t even know was happening. Saying that a “real” service dog doesn’t sniff is wrong. I’m working so hard to make sure that my SD is well behaved and doesn’t give anyone any issues to doubt him and then being told this stuff really gets on my nerves.

    • Coach James says:

      Look! If your training your own service dog via internet certification then your are breaking the law. Sentencing can include 1 year in jail and $1,000 in fines for Service Dog Fraud…

      There are a lot of websites suggesting “turn your pet into a service animal”; which is actually classified as “Emotional Support Animal” and not to be confused with “Service Dog” who have years of professional training. “Don’t be a fool”, persons are getting caught and serving time more regularly then ever.

      Bottom line “A pet cannot go into restaurants, grocery stores and fast food places period!” and there is no legal way around this being Handicap or not do not try and pass your pet or emotional support animal as a “Service Dog”, cause a lot time and money go into training these wonderful life saving dogs”

      Legal Questions which can asked by anyone seeing a questionable “Service Animal”:
      1. Ask is your Dog a trained “Service Dog” yes or no?
      2. If yes, then what has your “Service Dog” been trained to do?

      Answers like these (consist of Service Dog Fraud) and pet can be removed from location or police can be called:
      My dog is trained to support me emotionally
      My dog is trained to protect me
      My dog is trained to comfort me
      My dog is trained to alert me when I have fallen down
      others may be of similar content were Dog is not actually trained in an actual Service Dog Task…

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