Is this a Service or an Emotional Support Animal

So you’ve received a request to permit an animal on campus. Now what? The answer is not always straightforward and it is always determined on a case-by-case basis.  But, the steps below can help guide your analysis.

Institutions may ask two questions about dogs identified as service animals.

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

The student or staffers answers will guide how you proceed.

The critical  issue is one of task-training, NOT the nature of the disability.  What is the TASK the dog has been trained to perform?

  • If the dog has been trained to perform tasks related to the disability, then it’s a service dog, regardless of what type of disability it is.
  • Conversely, if the dog has not been task trained, then it is NOT a service dog regardless of  the type of disability the handler has.

Example: Just because a person is blind, deaf, or a wheelchair user, does not entitle that person to have access with an untrained pet dog just for emotional support. Conversely, because a person’s disability is psychiatric or balance related, does not entitle you to deny access for a dog who IS task-trained for that person’s disability.

Terminology used is meant to be descriptive of what the dog DOES for his/her handler: “Psychiatric service dog,” like “mobility dog,” “guide dog,” or “hearing dog,” is a term that merely identifies a particular type of service dog.   They are ALL service dogs. They are ALL covered by the ADA.

If the handler is a person with a disability, and if the dog is trained to perform assistance tasks related to the disability, then it is a service dog.



WINAHEAD is made up of representatives from thirty institutions. Our members are professionals employed by two- and four-year colleges and universities who work directly with students with disabilities to ensure equal access to higher education. WIN indicates the geographic area we represent: Western Iowa and Nebraska. AHEAD is our national parent organization, the Association on Higher Education and Disability.
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