Let’s start with the Basics – How to Define A Service Dog in Ontario?
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act defines a service dog as a dog that is either:
- Identifiable as a service animal; or
- An animal with documentation from a regulated health professional confirming you have a disability
Service dogs are dogs that have been trained to perform a specific task to help their handlers with a disability. Service dogs are intended to improve the quality of life of their handlers, and allow them to function independently.
What Types of Disabilities allow for the use of Service Dogs in Ontario
Disabilities can be visible, or non-visible. Visible disabilities include Hemiplegia, Paraplegia, Quadriplegia, MS, Cerebral Palsy. Non-visible disabilities include hearing impairment, stress, depression, intellectual impairments and neurological disease. Service dogs can be trained to help with many types of visible and non-visible disabilities. For example:
- Dogs can be trained to detect oncoming seizures in epileptic patients.
- Dogs can be trained to sense low blood sugar for diabetics.
- Dogs can be attuned to mental states and physically relieve stress for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, PTSD and ADHD.
Training a Service Dog in Ontario
There are multiple ways to get a trained service dog in Ontario.
Buy a trained service dog.
There are professional organizations that will sell you a fully trained service dog in Ontario. This is a great way to guarantee you will end up with a fully trained dog, but it will come at a high cost. Trained service dogs are extremely expensive and can go for tens of thousands of dollars.
Take your dog to training.
There are many training services and programs in Ontario that will work with you to train your service dog. They have experience and you can be confident you will end up with a high performing service dog.
There are no rules or regulations on who can train a service dog in Ontario and you are permitted to train your own service dog. While this will save you money, it will require dedication, patience and consistency.
The Legal Landscape in Ontario
In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act promotes standards that organizations, including government and private sectors are required to follow with the goal of creating a more accessible community. A requirement under the AODA is that service providers operating in the public must welcome service dogs that are trained to assist their handlers. There are very limited exceptions to this rule. For example, some food manufactures may be exempt from allowing service dogs into certain areas as there is a risk that the food production supply could be compromised.
So how do I register my service dog in Ontario?
Service dogs in Ontario are not required to be registered. However, the unfortunate truth is that many individuals and their service dogs are turned away from public establishments unless they have “proof” that their dog is in fact a service dog. This is particularly true for non-visible disabilities. Business emotional support dog certificate owners and service providers ARE PERMITTED to ask if your dog is a service dog and if they are trained to assist you with a disability, and they may want documentation which evidences that the dog is a service dog as well in accordance with AODA. Common documentation that can be provided includes:
- A doctor’s note or letter from another medical professional.
- A service dog certificate containing relevant information on the dog and handler. As there is no official department that records this information, we recommend you certify your trained service dog with a reputable and trustworthy organization that maintains their own internal and searchable registry, which provide a high level of accountability.
- A graduation certificate from a reputable trainer or training school.
Registering a service dog in Ontario is not legally required, but it is often necessary to be able to confirm to businesses and service providers that your dog is in fact a service dog.
Emotional Support Dogs in Ontario
If your disability does not rise to certain thresholds or if your dog is not specifically trained to perform a specific task, you may be eligible to register your dog as an ESA. ESAs are recognized as assistance animals in Ontario, however they do not get the same access of service dogs. That being said, there are many tangible benefits to registering an ESA, such as being able to travel to hotels without extra fees. ESAs are also permitted to live in buildings that do not otherwise allow pets.