Assistance Dog FAQ
Are you thinking about getting an Assistance Dog or want to understand disability rights better? This page answers your frequently asked questions about Assistance Dogs and the law in the UK.

General Assistance Dog Information

What is an Assistance Dog?

Assistance dogs are trained to mitigate their handler's disability and are protected under the Equality Act 2010. Assistance dogs can help their handler by performing practical tasks as well as supporting their independence, confidence and emotional wellbeing. 

What is the legal definition of a disability?

The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. 'Substantial’ means more than minor or trivial, for example it takes much longer than usual to complete a daily task such as getting dressed. 'Long-term’ usually refers to 12 months or more.

What types of assistance dogs are there?

Most people have heard of Guide Dogs, but this is just one type of assistance dog. Other types of assistance dogs include:

- Mobility assistance dogs
- Hearing dogs
- Medical alert and response dogs
- Allergy detection dogs
- Autism assistance dogs
- Psychiatric assistance dogs

When an individual has multiple disabilities, and their assistance dog is trained to mitigate these, their dog is often referred to as a multipurpose assistance dog. All assistance dogs have equal validity and the same public access rights. 

Owner Trained Assistance Dogs

Can I train my pet dog to be an assistance dog? 

Yes! Many people choose to train their own pet dog to be an assistance dog, for example because organisation waiting lists for a fully trained dog are too long or full. Owner training gives owners more freedom to select their own dog to fit their own requirements.

Five Senses Dog Training helps owners train their own pet dogs to be assistance dogs, find out more here.

What breeds of dog can be an assistance dog?

Any breed of dog can be an assistance dog, provided it has the right temperament and ability. Assistance dogs can be Spaniels, Labradors, Boxers, German Shepherds, Corgis, Cockapoos and more.


The Law

People with disabilities have important rights under the Equality Act 2010 in Great Britain, and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 in Northern Ireland.

It is unlawful for service providers, including landlords, rental agencies and other housing providers to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in exceptional cases (for example, in certain hospital wards). This is because service providers have to make 'reasonable adjustments' for disabled people, including allowing them to have their assistance dog accompany them.


Are Assistance Dogs Classified As 'Pets'?

Do pet policies apply to assistance dogs?

No. Assistance dogs are not pets; they are classified as auxiliary aids. Other auxiliary aids include wheelchairs, walking sticks and hearing aids. 

How can I tell if a dog is an assistance dog and not just a pet?

Assistance Dogs are highly trained to ensure they are always under the full control of their handler. They should not wander freely around public areas. When their handler is seated/stationary, they should sit or lie quietly on the floor next to them. Assistance dogs are toilet trained and therefore are unlikely to foul in public places. They should not cause unnecessary disturbance nor sniff food items in stores. For a full list of expected public access behaviours, please refer to the IAADP minimum standards for public access. 


Registering Your Assistance Dog

How do I register/certify my dog as an assistance dog?

There is no official registration or certification for assistance dogs in the UK. Some assistance dog handlers carry an ID book containing information about their assistance dog and the organisation they are a member of. However, this is not required by law and not all assistance dog handlers possess an ID book. 

Does my assistance dog have to be registered with/a member of an organisation?

Disabled people who have an assistance dog are protected under the Equality Act 2010, regardless of who trained their assistance dog. Assistance dogs can be trained by an organisation, a private trainer or their owner. 

Does my assistance dog have to be registered with ADUK?

No, not all assistance dogs will be trained with an ADUK member. All Assistance dogs have the same public access rights (including access to universities, shops and other public spaces).


Service Dogs, ESAs and Therapy Dogs

Are assistance dogs the same as service dogs?

'Service Dog' is an American term which refers to a dog which is task trained to mitigate its handlers disability. In the UK, however, service dogs are trained to protect the public and/or perform duties to maintain public safety. Service dogs include police dogs, drug detection dogs and body detection dogs. The laws pertaining to service dogs are separate from assistance dogs. Therefore, please refrain from labelling your assistance dog as a service dog when in the UK. 

Are assistance dogs the same as therapy dogs? 

There is a clear difference between assistance dogs and therapy dogs. While assistance dogs are trained to mitigate a particular persons disability, therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and support to a wide range of people, for example by going into schools or hospitals. Therapy dogs do not have the same public access rights as assistance dogs. 

Are Assistance Dogs the same as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)?

Unlike assistance dogs, ESAs are not specifically trained and they do not have the same public access rights as assistance dogs. However, in situations where an ESA or 'support dog' mitigates their handlers disability, they may have some rights in terms of housing. Refusing to allow a tenant to have an ESA - where that animal mitigates their handlers disability - might count as discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.


Training and Assessments

What does it mean if an assistance dog is 'In Training'

While a dog is still learning how to behave in public, it may be labelled as 'in training'. Assistance dogs in training which are accompanied by their disabled handler have full access rights.

Some assistance dogs are trained by an organisation before they are paired with a disabled handler. When these dogs are accompanied by a trainer (who is not their disabled handler), they do not have full public access rights and can be asked to leave. This is because it is the disabled person (not the assistance dog) which enacts the Equality Act 2010. 

Does my assistance dog have to sit assessments?

Assessments are not a legal requirement and assistance dogs should not be refused access if they have not sat any. However, some organisations, such as airlines and universities, may request evidence of training to ensure the safety of the public and staff. Therefore, it is a good idea to build up a portfolio of evidence as this can help with access refusals. Sitting assessments can also be hugely beneficial as it gives owners goals to work towards with their assistance dog. 

Does my assistance dog need to be task trained?

While task training is not specifically mentioned in UK law, it is highly recommended as it can be hugely beneficial for the handler. Five Senses Dog Training provide task training support and advice to anyone looking to train their dog as an assistance dog. Read more about Assistance Dog Membership.


Access Refusals

Can shops refuse access to my assistance dog?

People with an assistance dog should be granted full access to restaurants, cafes, hotels, food shops and other premises. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has determined that assistance dogs do not pose a risk to hygiene. 

Can my landlord refuse my assistance dog access?

Under the Equality Act 2010 and DDA 1995, landlords, letting agencies and other housing providers must make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. Making a reasonable adjustment includes amending a no pet policy to include assistance dogs. 

Can my assistance dog be refused access because I do not have 'proof'? 

Certification, registration and/or ID are not required for assistance dogs in the UK, therefore there is no 'proof' that you can ask for. 

It is important to remember that not every disability is visible. Employees should refrain from asking personal details regarding a persons disability. It is only appropriate to ask for disability evidence when it is needed in order to make reasonable adjustments.

Can taxis refuse access to my assistance dog?

For the laws regarding assistance dogs in taxis, please refer to Equality Act 2010, Chapter 1, Part 12, 173

Can my assistance dog be refused access if they are not in uniform?

Assistance Dogs are not required by law to wear an identifying harness or jacket. Assistance dogs may not wear uniform for several reasons, for example due to hot or humid weather. An organisation cannot deny access to an assistance dog on the grounds that it is not wearing uniform. However, where it is safe to do so, it is good practice for assistance dogs to be labelled as this is beneficial to the general public and service providers.

Can my assistance dog be refused access because 'no pets are allowed'?

Assistance dogs are not pets; they are classified as auxiliary aids. Companies should amend their no pet policies to include assistance dogs.

Can my assistance dog be refused access due to 'allergies'? 

Refusing an assistance dog handler access on the basis that someone 'might' be allergic to dogs is likely to be considered unlawful disability discrimination. Where a clear allergy risk has been identified (for example a member of staff is allergic to dogs), employers and service providers should take reasonable steps to ensure the risk is minimised. However, banning assistance dogs entirely is unlikely to be a reasonable step. 

Can my assistance dog be refused access for religious reasons? 

Service providers should permit assistance dogs access regardless of religious beliefs. However, decisions should be made carefully and sensitively. The Muslim Shariat Council have clarified that assistance dogs can accompany their disabled handlers in their business.

Can my assistance dog be refused access on the basis that someone is scared of dogs? 

Assistance dogs are chosen for their calm and gentle nature. It is unlikely to be considered reasonable to refuse access to an assistance dog user because someone is afraid of dogs.

My landlord has refused my assistance dog because they have a 'no pet policy' in place.

Under the Equality Act 2010 and DDA 1995, landlords, letting agencies and other housing providers must make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities who use assistance dogs. Assistance dogs are not pets, they are auxiliary aids (like a wheelchair or a walking stick). Therefore, landlords who refuse a prospective tenant with an assistance dog on the basis that ‘no pets are allowed’ are likely to be acting unlawfully.

Can my landlord charge extra because I have an assistance dog?

Increasing the rent, charging extra fees or a higher deposit because someone has an assistance dog is likely to be considered unlawful. Landlords, letting agents and hosing providers can charge for actual damage caused by an assistance dog to the property, but not if damage has not been caused beyond reasonable wear and tear.


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