Federal law states that Service Dogs do not need to wear any special gear (tags, vests, etc.), nor does the handler need to provide any kind of certification stating that their animal is a Service Dog. However, we provide these things because it makes life a lot easier for the handler.
A - Service Dog Registration Tag
Technically, a Service Dog does not have to be registered anywhere, but it can be nice for the handler and thus we take this step anyway. We provide a metal registration tag to attach to the dog’s collar along with its rabies and address tags. There are several private companies that register individual Service Dogs; these companies don’t have any standing with the government, but it can provide some peace of mind for the handler if their dog is registered with a reputable organization. We use usservicedogregistry.org because they are free and easy to use. They require the contact information of the handler, information about the handler's disability, and how and where the dog was trained. After registering, we receive a Registry Number and then have the dog’s registration tag made. We use this wording on the tag: “US Service Dog, Registry No.____.”
B - Identification Card
Another thing we do for each handler is to create an identification card. The ID card usually has the dog’s name, picture, registration number, and microchip number; the handler’s name and their disability; the date that the dog and handler graduated (at this point, at least, we don't list a recertification date); and our organization’s name, logo, and contact information. Again, this is not required, and by law business owners cannot ask to see such an ID. But it can provide peace of mind for the handler, in case they ever get into a situation where they feel like having it might help them.
C - Graduation Certificate/Certificate of Qualification
We provide a graduation certificate, much like the kind you get when graduating from high school or college. This can be helpful for the handler if they are applying for something (such as a special Service Dog city dog license) where they need to show proof that their dog is a Service Dog. On the certificate, we list the dog’s task(s) and the number of hours of training they’ve received, the handler’s disability, the fact that that the dog has been trained for public access and is comfortable in various situations, and a place for our Executive Director to sign and date it. At this point, we don't include a recertification date (although we may, in the future, to help ensure that the handler keeps up the training). Note: We usually include the handler's disability on their graduation certificate and identification card because the purpose of these items is to reduce conflict and confusion. An exception is made for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, though, and if the handler feels stigmatized by this diagnosis, we just list the task and not the disability.
This Pawsitivity service dog (visiting his man in the hospital) has a patch on his vest saying "Stop, do not pet" because the dog is so cute that many of the public wanted to pet him. Rather than having his handler constantly telling people, "Sorry, the dog is supposed to focus on me because he's working", this patch preempts a lot of problems.
Here you can see the vest that we provide with each service dog. In this picture, the dog is helping calm his boy, who is in the hospital getting an hours-long EEG to help with the seizures he gets (the weighted blankets on top of him help the boy stay calm).
D - Vest
We give the dog a vest to be worn when the handler brings the dog to public places. This vest clearly shows that the animal is a Service Dog, and it can also be a nice indicator for the dog that “vest time = work time.” We modify the vest in the following ways:
Often we add a pouch to the dog’s vest so they can carry a cell phone or medication. If the handler has epilepsy, we include written directions for passersby or medical technicians about how to assist the handler if they have a seizure. If the handler has diabetes, we might want to keep an extra snack in the pouch.
- No Metal Parts – We often remove any metal parts from the vest and replace them with plastic. With only plastic parts, the vest can then go through a standard airport metal detector, causing less headache and hassle for the handler.
- Organization Patch – We use a Pawsitivity patch, which has our logo and name on it.
The boy in the penguin-hat above loves penguins, so we had his serve dog's autism patch made into a penguin. The boy doesn't like wearing the traditional treat-bag, so we got him a shoulder bag that also looks like a penguin.
Patch Stating Service Dog Type – We sew on a patch that says what kind of Service Dog it is (Autism Service Dog, Diabetes Service Dog, etc.). An exception is sometimes made for PTSD Service Dogs because many people feel stigmatized by such a designation; in that case, our organization’s patch alone is enough. We always check with the handler to see which kind of patch(es) they would prefer. We sometimes include a special patch that has to do with the handler’s disability, such as bright, fun puzzle-piece patch that works well for Autism Service Dogs.
We like to make it easy for the general public to see that this dog, Bear, is in training, and thus we always use this overly-large black and white patch during the six to twelve months of training. Minnesota law states that only "recognized service dog schools" can take a service dog in training into restaurants and other areas where dogs are not usually allowed. Once the training is done, we remove the “In Training” patches (which can be an emotional part of the dog’s hand-off to the handler).
E - Head Collar
We provide the dog with a head collar whenever it’s taking a walk or doing public access work. Not only does this device allow the handler to give more precise cues to the dog, it helps them to control the dog if an extreme situation occurs.
a - Brand – Of the two main brands, Gentle Leader and Head Halti, we use the Head Halti. It’s got much better padding for the dog’s nose, which is needed for the long hours of work the dog will be doing.
In this picture, you can see how the black nose collar sort of looks like a muzzle, which is why we have switched to pink. This dog, Doby, helps his handler who has an artificial leg.
Pink may be a feminine color, but we think it's better for the general public to think that this Service Dog (Xander) is female rather than worry that he's wearing a muzzle. We use this pink color for the nose collar because if the dog is wearing a more standard black one, many people ask, “Why is the dog is wearing a muzzle?” I realize that a pink nose collar looks a little silly on a male dog, but the benefits of that more “friendly” color are well worth it. People might not know what that pink piece of fabric is, but at least they won’t automatically assume it’s a muzzle for a mean dog.
F - Belt Leash - The Americans with Disabilities Act requires Service Dogs to be on a leash whenever they’re in public. We use a belt leash, which allows the handler to use both of their hands even when they have the dog with them. We attach a poop bag dispenser onto the belt leash (as well as a treat pouch so the handler will always have food reinforcers readily available).
For a parent of a child with autism who tends to “bolt,” belt leashes serve an extra purpose. Many children with autism don’t want to hold their parents’ hands, which is dangerous because the child can easily run out into traffic. But with a Service Dog, the parent can use a regular leash, which is attached to the dog’s nose collar, and the child can wear a belt leash with the clip attached to the dog’s vest. Thus, the mom or dad is controlling the dog with the regular leash, while the child is simply tethered to the dog’s vest (and thus the child has to stay close to the dog). This leashing combination is an effective technique that keeps the child from bolting, and the set-up pleases the child because they enjoy being near the dog. This way of working also gets the child into the habit of staying near their parent—in some cases, they will eventually do so even without being tethered to the dog!