Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

The Professional’s Guide to Service Dogs

A service dog, also known as an assistance dog, is trained to provide a service to an individual with a disability, that enables the individual to participate fully in personal, academic and professional life. The specific definition varies depending on whether you are in the United States, the European Union or another part of the world. There are three important aspects to keep in mind as you advise a participant with a service dog:

  • Importation
  • Flights
  • Daily life


Only a Dog

Other animals can provide services. For example miniature horses have been used to guide blind people. Nevertheless, we focus on dogs, because of the complexity involved with traveling with other types of animals. Many countries require horses to be quarantined, something which service animal handlers would not prefer.



Most countries, if they do acknowledge service dogs, have a very different set of requirements around documentation than the United States. U.S. places of public accommodation cannot request a letter or other formal document. Instead they may only ask two questions.

  • Is that a service dog trained to provide a service related to a disability?
  • What service is it trained to provide?

If the handler can answer those two questions, it is a service dog. The U.S. system particularly stands out in the way that it allows handlers to train their own service dogs. Since they can ask for a letter from a school in other parts of the world, self trained animals do not unfortunately qualify in other places like they do in the United States.


Assistance Dogs International (ADI)

Most countries recognize service dogs trained by schools that are certified by Assistance Dogs International (ADI). ADI is particularly well regarded in the European Union. ADI offers an online resource where you can look up all of the member schools in a given country, and it can be a great place to figure out if a service dog could be treated as such outside of the United States.



The Air Carrier Access Act is the most relevant disability U.S. law about the rights of passengers with disabilities on flights, and the FAA is in charge of issuing regulations related to the AAC. This legal regime covers:

  • Flights within the United States
  • Flights between the United States and other countries

Exchange participants should keep in mind the following:

  • Check the airline’s website for their policy on service dogs.
  • If possible, travel with documentation from the school that trained the service dog.
  • It should preferably be a school certified by ADI.
  • ADI has an online resource, where you can search from a list of certified schools.
  • Exchange participants with self trained service dogs may avoid issues by traveling on flights that include the United States as an origin or the destination.



  • Regardless of the Documentation Regime of the Country, service dogs will travel like pets through customs.
  • The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department Of Agriculture Outlines the Steps for Bringing a Dog between a Wide Range of Countries and the United States on a helpful online resource.
  • Most of the time, travelers must obtain documentation showing that the animal is free of conditions such as rabies or ringworm.
  • A common importation scheme is the EU Pet Passport.
  • Island countries will tend to favor quarantine requirements for animals being imported. In cases like New Zealand, a service animal handler may provide an extra document identifying the purpose of their service animal and agree to quarantine the animal at home for nine days. In other cases, no exceptions may be made, and exchange participants may prefer a country with less strict importation requirements.
This article is part of the International Education Professional Pathway.

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Next: International Education Professional Pathway Reasonable Accommodations Module

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