Animals That Can Be Trained as Service Animals

While most are dogs, other animals can fill the role

What types of animals can be service animals? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a specific definition for them, but the variety of animals that can be trained to assist those with disabilities can include a broader range of animals.

Man in wheelchair with a service dog in the park
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ADA's Definition of Service Animal

The Americans with Disabilities Act's final regulations for title II (state and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) implemented new and updated federal rules and requirements regarding service animals.

The rule defines "service animal" as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks to benefit an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals.

Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that help those with a disability, including dogs used purely for emotional support, are not classified as service animals.

The rule also allows trained miniature horses as alternatives to dogs, but only if they:

  1. Are housebroken
  2. Are under the owner's control
  3. Have an appropriate height, size, and weight that is accommodable in a facility
  4. Are not compromising the safety requirements for the safe operation of a facility

The Difference Between Service and Emotional Support Animals

Under Title II and Title III of the ADA, there is a distinct difference between service animals and emotional support animals.

Service Animals

Service animals, otherwise known as dogs under the rule of the ADA, are trained to perform tasks that directly assist with their handler's disability, such as pulling a wheelchair or reminding their handler to take their medication. Service animals are covered by the ADA and are afforded special consideration along with their handlers with regard to access and accommodation.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are often therapy dogs but can be any other animal. These animals provide emotional support to individuals by helping relieve emotions such as anxiety and loneliness but are not specially trained to do tasks that help a handler's disability.

Emotional support animals and their owners are not granted the same rights as service animals and their owners but have certain housing restrictions and fees that are waived for them under the Fair Housing Act.

Other Animals Trained as Service Animals

There are many types of animals that are trained to assist those with disabilities. Although they may not be defined as service animals under the rule of the ADA, they oftentimes are trained to help handlers with their disabilities.

For example, capuchin monkeys have been routinely trained to help paralyzed individuals perform daily tasks and to be companions for their handlers. Helping Hands Monkey Helpers is a non-profit organization that has paired capuchin monkeys with those who have mobility impairments since 1979.

Other animals that have been trained to help those with disabilities include pigs, parrots, ferrets, and even ducks.

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  1. U.S. Department of Justice. Service animals. Updated February 24, 2020.