The Deal with Service Dogs in Hotels & Inns

    By Wallis Brozman

    Do You Know Your Rights?

    It has become all too common to see dogs in public places that are poorly mannered and untrained, including pet-free hotels. As frustrating as some of these scenarios can be, it’s important to remember that there are task-trained service dogs in all shapes and sizes that are providing a legitimate, life-changing service to their handlers with disabilities. The real challenge to hotels and business owners is knowing the rights and associated laws covering service dogs in public places where pets are not allowed.

    It gets a little sticky in the hotel and inn sector because many hotels do permit pet dogs in their establishments for a price—whether that’s a deposit, cleaning fee or restricted access to certain areas of the hotel. So, let’s start with the basics: What is a service dog, how can you tell if it’s a “real” one, and what are your rights?

    Hotels and lodging laws are covered under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Title III covers places of public accommodation, or places where the public is permitted and welcomed. Under the ADA Title III, a service dog is defined as “any dog that has individually trained in specific tasks to mitigate the effects of a handler’s disability.” This also covers miniature horses that are task-trained, but we’ll focus on dogs since the vast majority of service animals are dogs.

    As a business, only two questions are permitted to be asked of a patron with a dog:

    1. Is the dog a service dog required for a disability?
    2. What tasks or work is the dog trained to perform?

    Here’s the kicker—you can’t ask to see the dog perform its task or ask for information about a person’s disability. But you’re not without tools completely. A service dog must be leashed or tethered or under effective control of the handler and must behave in a safe manner. A dog that is aggressive, interfering with customers, having repeated toileting accidents or barking uncontrollably can be asked to leave if the handler can’t remedy the behavior. And aggressive dogs can be removed immediately.

    So where do hotels and lodging fit in to the ADA? There are specific rules for hotels outlined that prevent you from requesting pet forms or charging a pet deposit, since service dogs are working dogs, not pets. This is also true for cleaning fees. Unless a service dog has damaged the property, you can’t ask for fees associated with extra cleaning for something like dog hair or something similar. If the service dog breaks a lamp, it would be acceptable to charge for damages. Service dogs are permitted anywhere the guest is permitted—although the dog cannot go for a swim in the pool—including buffet lines. Finally, inns and bed & breakfasts have some unique stipulations if, and only if, the establishment has fewer than five guest rooms or the accommodation is within the owner’s primary residence.

    You might be wondering what the big deal is about dogs, but unfortunately untrained pet dogs whose owners masquerade them as service dogs have real consequences on the access and safety of legitimate service dogs. Aggressive pets can even end a service dog’s career with dramatic consequences on the independence of their handler.
    Service dog handlers and business owners have rights, and it’s helpful if you and your staff are trained in these policies. Learn more at canine.org/stopfraud. 

    About Canine Companions
    Canine Companions is the largest provider of service dogs for people with disabilities. Trained in over 40 commands to empower people with disabilities, each service dog and a lifetime of ongoing follow up services is provided entirely free of charge for clients. Visit canine.org to learn about Canine Companions service dogs and more.

    Author information
    Wallis Brozman is a three-time recipient of a Canine Companions service dogs. As a wheelchair user, she relies heavily on the tasks performed by her service dogs. Wallis’ second service dog, Mork, was retired prior to age five due to repeated attacks by untrained dogs in public places. Now partnered with Canine Companions Service Dog Renata, Wallis works in marketing and advocacy for Canine Companions at the national headquarters in Santa Rosa, California.