Service Dogs & CGC: The Importance of Respecting the Rights of Disabled People

By Guest Author, Barbara Handelman, M.Ed., CDBC

Passing the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test is a worthy goal and a significant accomplishment for pet owners.  Well-socialized dogs with basic obedience training are more apt to live out their lives in loving homes, and are less likely to be rehomed or surrendered to shelters.

Guide dogPassing the CGC test does not give dogs the right to go into places of public accommodation (restaurants, public transportation, stores, hospitals, etc.) where pets are not allowed. Having an AKC (American Kennel Club) Canine Good Citizen Title does not qualify a pet to be a service dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as a dog that has been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities”.  In the “The ADA Glossary of Terms” ( disability is defined as: a condition that causes “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities” of a disabled person. To be a service dog, the animal must perform skills or assist with tasks that mitigate some aspect of the person’s disability. A complete guide to federal regulations applying to service dogs can be found at: http://www.

It is imperative to understand that the ADA only grants rights to disabled people, not to dogs. The law addresses the rights of disabled people who might be blind, deaf/hard of hearing, or mobility challenged, and those who are diabetic, have seizures, a traumatic brain injury or have other disabling physical conditions. The ADA also recognizes service dogs who assist people with psychiatric diagnoses such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), autism spectrum disorders, clinical depression, and pervasive anxiety disorder, among others.

A person who pretends to be disabled or represents her pet dog as a service dog flouts the law. Many of us would like to have our pets with us as much as possible.  The vast majority of pet owners find the presence of their beloved pet to be soothing. Yet, dogs whose sole purpose is to provide emotional support are not service dogs as defined by the ADA regulations. They lack the task based specialized training the law requires. Taking pets into off-limits places of public accommodation jeopardizes the rights of disabled people who actually need the help of a fully trained service dog.

How do dogs become service dogs? Becoming a service dog is an on-going and highly selective process. Approximately fifty percent of all dogs bred, socialized, selected and trained by owners or agencies to become service dogs either fail to complete training or must retire after a short career. Physical and behavioral reactions to cumulative stress are the most common reasons why dogs fail to become service dogs or must retire prematurely. Minimum standards of training and behavior expected of a service dog can be found at:

Selecting an appropriate candidate for service dog training is the single most important element of preparing a dog for a working career. Temperament evaluations are essential but offer no guarantees. They help weed out the obviously inappropriate candidates.  Some dogs only demonstrate their unsuitability later in the process after much time, money and love has been invested in their apparent promise. For more information about Temperament Evaluations for Working Dog Candidates go to:

Training for a service dog is highly specialized. Dogs must learn myriad skills to meet the specific needs of people with a wide range of disabilities. Training a service dog generally takes a minimum of two years. The average cost of breeding, raising and training a service dog is $20,000 to $30,000.  Such rigorous preparations go far beyond the requirements for a CGC test.

The majority of dogs are not cut out to be service dogs. Yet, some people have decided to pretend that their pets are qualified service animals. The actions of these imposters benefit no one.  Hopefully this article will help educate dog lovers – perhaps knowing what it takes to become a service dog will stop some people from turning themselves and their dogs into imposters.

Why are imposter dogs a problem? A rising tide of imposters is making the lives of disabled people more difficult.  There are no statistics about how many imposter dogs are out in public.  CGC and pet dog trainers frequently get asked: “Where can I get a vest so I can take my pet everywhere with me?” Putting service dog identification on a pet dog does not make it a service dog – it makes the dog an imposter.  Posing as a disabled person for the purpose of representing a pet as a service dog eligible for public access is unethical. In sixteen states it is even illegal. For more information about state laws pertaining to service dogs go to:

Shop owners, restaurant staff, bus drivers, hospital personnel, etc. are allowed – according to the ADA regulations – to stop a person accompanied by a dog purported to be a service dog.   They may ask what specific tasks the service dog has been trained to do to respond to the handler’s disability.  These provisions were part of the restrictive revisions to the ADA regulations published in 2010.

Many imposters continue to take advantage of laws designed to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Where imposter dogs are brought into places pet dogs are not allowed, they increase the likelihood that disabled individuals will be questioned.

People with invisible disabilities (for example veterans and non veterans with traumatic brain injury or PTSD) are especially vulnerable. They are most likely to be questioned about their service dogs. They may even have their symptoms triggered or worsened by such questioning. The questioning can also cause un-due attention and humiliation.

Not only do imposters with their pet dogs increase suspicion from businesses, but also pet dogs are less likely to behave well in public.  Unruly dogs, even those whose handlers are disabled – may be asked to leave a place of public accommodation.  A dog causing a disturbance such as barking, relieving himself, threatening staff or patrons, or disrupting the flow of business should be asked to leave.

Pet dogs who bark at service dogs, charge toward them, or worst – attack them – may cause a disabled person with a service dog to fall, feel personally threatened, or need to protect her service dog – possibly incurring injury to herself or her dog in the melee. As a result of an attack, a service dog may become too fearful to continue working and have to be retired.

Canine Good Citizen training might prepare pets for higher levels of accomplishment. Nevertheless, CGC training alone does not qualify a dog to assist a person with a disability.

Whatever their intentions, people who wish to take their pets into places of public accommodation under the guise of service dog status must consider the legal and social consequences. Hopefully they will choose instead to respect the rights of people with disabilities.

Note: A complete guide to laws applying to service dogs can be found at:

In 2006 Barbara Handelman published the four DVD series “Clicker Train Your Own Assistance Dog”. The set introduces methods for training many of the complex tasks an assistance dog needs to perform to help a disabled person function both at home and in the world at large. The terms Assistance Dog and Service dog are interchangeable in common parlance. Legal language only refers to these working dogs as Service Dogs. 

Today, Barbara’s clicker training energies are divided between her horse EZ and her service dog, Nate.

Check out Barbara’s website at where you will find free resources for clicker training service dogs.  There are many resources including a video journal of the first two-years of training with her service dog, Pan.  On the website you will also find the complete video on “Selecting Candidates for Working Dog Careers”.

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About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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14 Responses to Service Dogs & CGC: The Importance of Respecting the Rights of Disabled People

  1. Thank you for posting this. I have a seizure alert dog that has been questioned many times. Seems people have difficulties wrapping their heads around the concept of a toy poodle as a service dog. It took me nearly a year to train her — and part of the training was getting a CGC. That was the only way I was comfortable with having her out in public!

  2. Stephanie Crawford says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue and explaining so many of the details in easy to understand language.

  3. Brooke says:

    Though I believe this article was well-intentioned and largely contains good information, it is necessary to mention that “Minimum standards of training and behavior expected of a service dog can be found at:” should be changed to “Minimum standards of training and behavior expected of a service dog TRAINED BY ADI..” These standards of minimum training are those reflective of the opinions of Assistance Dogs International and ARE NOT the necessary criteria for a service dog as defined by the ADA. Though they may be a good place to start, there are many other service dog organizations, none of which are required, and all of which have their own minimum training standards.

    • Brooke, thank you for your comments. You are correct that there are many service dog training organizations. There are also many disabled individuals who train their own service dogs. I am someone who has trained my own assistance dogs for over twenty years. As a professional trainer I have also helped many other disabled individuals train their own service dogs. There are no standardized certification requirements for service dogs, in large part because disabilities span a broad and varied spectrum. The ADI guidelines for minimum standards are, as you said, a good baseline for people who are training on their own, or with the guidance of a professional trainer. ADI does not train service dogs. it is a coalition of training organizations. “The purpose of ADI is to improve the areas of training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs, staff and volunteer education, as well as educating the public about assistance dogs, and advocating for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.”

      • Brooke says:

        Sorry, “trained by a member of the ADI” then. Just wanted to point out that this may be misleading to some.

  4. Christen Parkinson says:

    I have this conversation multiple times a week with people & actually just today had a customer tell me about these imposter service dogs and the site where he had gotten his certifications….. I came home and googled it and sure enough, it was there. A website where you just type in your info and they send you vests and ID badges, certificates, etc! I was really surprised to see this and equally surprised it has yet to be shut down! I also hearing a lot of people claiming their dog under a year have their CGC ‘s ( not star puppy but their CGC) . I don’t know how or why but somehow people certainly are abusing privileges .

    • Angel says:

      As puppy raiser for a guide dog organisation we take our puppies-in-training to obedience class at about 6 months of age, and they can easily have their CGC’s at 9 months old. Of course these dogs are bred for this purpose, and we’ve been working with them (training and socialization) from 8 weeks old.

  5. As a Service Dog Trainer and Handler, I appreciate this article. I am also a Therapy Dog Tester, and a CGC Evaluator.
    I DO use the CGC test as a starting standard for the Service Dogs I train, and I strongly feel that every pet dog in the US should master the CGC test.

    • Hi Patti, I think attaining and maintaining the standards of the CGC test is an excellent way to prepare a dog to begin service dog training. If a dog cannot pass a CGC it is highly unlikely that it will succeed in career as a service dog.

      • Gail Brookhart says:

        My own rule of thumb is that a service dog candidate should be able to pass a CGC as evidence that he has advanced in his training to the point where he can enter public accommodations as a service dog in training.

  6. Angel says:

    Finally a well-written article about this issue, thank you. Something I would like to add about the dangers of imposters is public access for puppies in training. My husband and I are puppy raisers for a large organisation that trains guide dogs for the blind. The dogs are bred for this purpose and provided by the organisation. We get a puppy when it’s about 8 weeks old, we socialize it and train it (including CGC) and when the dog is about a year and a half, it will go in for formal training at the organisation’s campus, where it will be trained to be a guide dog. While service dogs’ access rights are protected under the ADA, puppies in training do not fall under the ADA, so it is by the grace of the community that we are able to raise the puppies to eventually become service dogs. Most organisations can not do their service dog training work without puppy raisers laying the basis. We take puppies shopping and dining, we expose them to people, other animals, cars, trains, buses, movies, plays – you name it, we’ve probably done it. Businesses are not required to let our puppies in, but luckily most people and businesses are supportive of our work and eager to help. Can you imagine the organisation trying to teach guide dog duties to a dog that has not had to stay calmly under the table in a restaurant yet, has not been in a theater where all of a sudden everybody starts applauding, has not encountered elevators, wheelchairs, little children and anything else it may not encounter if it were not allowed in public? Puppy raisers can’t do their work without the support of the community, and I realize fully well that it is only given to us, it is not a right. I am so thankful for everybody in our community that helps us, by actively engaging the pup in its training, or simply allowing us access.

    We are fortunate to live in a town where the many puppies in training are welcomed and there is large community support. Often people talk to us about how well behaved our puppy is, and occasionally we meet imposter service dogs that supposedly are working dogs but they aren’t nearly as well-behaved or under control as our much younger puppy-in-training is. Our current puppy-in-training has had an accident at the post office, and I was so embarrassed that apparently I had not given him enough opportunity to relieve himself, but the post office personnel and other customers made me feel okay about it: accidents happen. I got out my cleaning supplies (that I always carry with me, just in case) and cleaned it all up, getting people to joke that that part of the floor now was much cleaner than the rest. It would be so much easier (and totally legal) for businesses to deny us access, but luckily most people are able to look at the big picture and help us turn an adorable puppy into a partner for a blind person, a service dog that can give back independence and much more. If a business encounters many badly behaved imposter service dogs, it may not so graciously allow us in next time.

  7. Victoria says:

    What a wonderful blog Mary and Barbara. CCI is attempting to get legislation to stop the sale of fake SD vests and ID’s. I’m not sure if they are getting any traction but they had a petition going around last summer.

    I was in a national chain grocery store recently. I saw a man with a filthy mixed breed dog wearing a service dog vest. The dog was off leash, walking far from the man, and was smelling the unpackaged bakery items. This huge, able-bodied man walked around the store with kind of a smirk on his face as if he was just waiting for the manager to challenge him probably so he could file a complaint with ADA against the store.

    As pro trainers we can spot fakers… dogs that are pulling, never checking in with their person, marking every 20 feet, won’t settle, barking at strangers and other dogs.

    What I do now is give the obvious faker a disgusted look and will even roll my eyes. One obvious faker I saw with a yapping, spinning, Shih tzu at a grocery store was so intimidated by my Border Collie hard stare and eye roll she ran out of the store with her “service” purse dog.

  8. Pingback: CGC is not "Service Dog" | Applied Behavior Anlaysis Services, Pet Sitting

  9. This is one of the best written articles I’ve seen on this topic. My dog is a therapy dog and people are always asking if I can take him on airplanes and where they can get a vest like his, so I often have to explain the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs.

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