Visiting Restaurants with Your Psychiatric Service Animal - Your Guide to Federal and State Regulations

Written by: Loren Seldner



Time to read 4 min

In this article, we cover everything you need to know in order to access restaurants with your service dog. We will provide valuable information about federal and state regulations and answer common questions PSA owners may have.

What is a Service Animal?

For individuals living with psychological or mental disabilities or conditions, Psychiatric Service Animals (PSAs) can be life-changing companions. These highly trained dogs offer emotional support and perform specific tasks to help their owners navigate the challenges of daily life more easily and successfully.

Definition. A service animal is a specially trained animal to assist individuals with disabilities in their day-to-day lives. The ADA only recognizes two types of service animals - dogs and miniature horses. In this article, we'll be discussing dogs.

Tasks. They are trained to perform specific tasks that directly assist their owner in managing and overcoming challenges related to their disability. These tasks go beyond basic emotional support and are tailored to the individual's unique needs.

The tasks performed by service dogs can vary widely depending on the type of disability they are trained to assist with. For example, a service dog for someone with a visual impairment may guide them safely through obstacles and traffic, while a service dog for someone with a mobility impairment may retrieve items, open doors, or provide balance support.

For individuals with psychiatric or mental health conditions, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are trained to perform tasks that help alleviate symptoms and provide emotional grounding. They may perform deep pressure therapy during anxiety attacks, interrupt repetitive behaviors in individuals with OCD, or provide comfort and support during episodes of PTSD.

Exclusion. Emotional support alone does not qualify a dog as a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Psychiatric Service Animals in Restaurants

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Public Access Rights. Service dog owners have the right to bring their dogs to restaurants, regardless of whether the establishment allows pets.

For example, if a restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant cannot require a customer to dine outside because of their service dog.

Behavioral Requirements. Service dogs must be well-behaved. For more details about what exactly ‘well-behaved’ means, the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship test offers a list of ten essential behaviors your pet must exhibit when they’re with you in public.

If your dog is out of control or not properly housebroken,  the establishment may deny service or request them to leave, and charge you for any damage they cause.

Staff Inquiries. To comply with the ADA, you can only be asked two specific questions about your service animal:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Employees cannot request documentation, demonstration of tasks, or details about the owner's disability.

Service Dog Attire. Although not mandatory, a vest can be helpful in visually signaling that the dog is an official service dog, potentially preventing unnecessary issues. However, just putting a vest on a regular pet does not mean they are qualified as a PSA.

Many states have implemented penalties for owners who falsely claim their dog is a PSA in order to gain special access rights (eg, so their dog can fly in an airplane cabin), or financial advantages (eg exemption from pet fees).

Avoid potential issues by ensuring your dog has been correctly certified by a qualified trainer, and that they have been prescribed by a mental health professional as part of the treatment plan for your condition.

Laws Relating to Psychiatric Service Animals

Federal Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides extensive protections for individuals with disabilities and their service dogs, allowing them access to public accommodations, including restaurants and air travel.

Other federal laws, such as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), protect against discrimination in living situations. Note: the FHA uses the term ‘assistance animals’.

State Laws

While state laws across the United States typically offer similar protections, variations may exist. Some states provide additional exemptions or considerations, such as waivers for licensing fees. Many states have laws criminalizing the fraudulent representation of a service dog.

Protections for Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs):

The key difference is that PSAs are trained to perform specific tasks related to their owners' disabilities, while ESAs primarily provide companionship and emotional support.

Legal Protections. Only service dogs are protected by federal laws like the ADA and FHA, allowing them access to restaurants and public spaces.

Service Animal Training Requirements

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Task Performance. The essential requirement for a service dog is that they have been trained and can perform tasks directly related to the owner's disability.

Obedience Training. While not mandated by federal laws, enrolling in obedience training can enhance your service dog's skills and improve your daily life.  For example, it can ensure your dog behaves appropriately in restaurants and cafes, and will not breach any safety regulations the establishment has in place, or disturb other customers.

Training Your Service Animal

Enroll your service dog in an in-person training program or consider online courses, such as the one offered by Felicitails Training Academy.

Our online Psychiatric Service Animal training program provides comprehensive and affordable training, to complete at your own pace.

Led by a certified master trainer, you can train your dog for specific tasks related to your mental disorder at your own pace. When you and your dog are ready, submit a video demonstrating your dog in action, and you’ll be able to confirm that they are, indeed, a qualified PSA!

Learn More about Felicitails Training Academy Today!

Psychiatric Service Animals, typically dogs, offer invaluable support to individuals with mental and emotional disabilities, including assisting in accessing restaurants and other public accommodations.

Understanding federal and state regulations is crucial for owners of these fantastic dogs. By following the guidelines and ensuring proper training, you can experience the life-changing benefits of having a service dog by your side as you navigate the world with confidence and independence.

Whether you're a new puppy owner looking to instill good habits, or struggling to manage your pet’s anxious, impulsive, or even aggressive antics, at Free My Paws we're here to help you unlock the joy of living with a confident, well-mannered canine companion. Including, of course, your dining experiences!

From basic obedience to more complex service dog tasks, our Free My Paws Training Academy, led by world-renowned canine behaviorist and master trainer Toriano Sanzone, will help you develop the skills that you and your PSA need. Interested in learning more? Click HERE.

Stay Pawsitive!