What is an Assistance Dog?

We cover a range of basic information regarding Assistance Dogs below. We also have an Assistance Dog Awareness campaign which provides more in depth information regarding Assistance Dogs.

What is the difference between a Guide dog, Assistance dog, Service dog and Emotional Support Animal?

An Assistance Dog is the legal term protecting dogs which assist people with disabilities in the UK. A guide dog is one type of assistance dog. These dogs have access rights in public regardless of the type of task they perform.

In the UK, a Service Dog is a dog who has been trained to work for the police or military. These dogs do not have access rights. In other countries, they may use the term Service Dog to refer to a dog who assists a person with a disability.

An ESA (Emotional Support Animal) is a term used mainly in America to refer to an animal whose presence provides comfort. These animals have no more rights than pet animals in the UK.

What can Assistance Dogs help with?

Assistance Dogs can help with a large range of disabilities, including invisible disabilities. We refer to the help that the Assistance Dog provides as tasks. These are things that the dog does to mitigate a disability. These can be broken down as follows:

Guide – e.g. around obstructions in the path

Hearing Alert and Response – e.g. to someone knocking on the door

Mobility – e.g. supporting balance whilst walking

Medical Alert – e.g. alerting handler to an oncoming seizure

Medical Response – e.g. fetching emergency medication

Psychiatric – e.g. deep pressure therapy

Autism – e.g. crowd control

Allergy Detection – e.g. alerting when an allergen is detected

PTSD – e.g. room searching

Retrieval – e.g. bringing the post


There are thousands of tasks which dogs can perform, and it depends on the handlers needs.

How are Assistance Dogs trained?

There are not currently any legal requirements regarding training. Training for Assistance Dogs can be done in a variety of ways. Here are the 3 most common options:

Program trained dogs are fully trained away from the handler. This can be a great option for anyone with complex disabilities. This service often has long waiting lists, can cost a lot of money and some disabilities are not catered for.

Organisation trained dogs are usually trained by the handler with the support of an organisation or trainer. This can be a good option for anyone who would like an assistance dog faster, would like to own and work more closely with their dog or does not qualify for a program trained dog. More information.

Owner trained dogs are trained independently by the handler. This option is often favoured by competent dog owners and trainers.

Regardless of the method of training, Assistance Dogs all have equal access in public. More information.

How do I identify an Assistance Dog?

Some, but not all, Assistance Dogs will wear a coat to identify them. Organisation and program trained dogs will often wear a logo. There is no legal requirement for a dog to have any form of identification. While some organisations specify a certain colour for their dogs, gear colour should not influence the team’s ability to access the service.

Assistance dogs come in a range of shapes, sizes and colours. They should be unobtrusive and work hard to support their handler. Remember, not all disabilities are visible and so you may not be able to identify an Assistance Dog by looks alone.

How should I act around an Assistance Dog team?

Act as you would around any other person. If you wouldn’t normally talk to them, do not feel that you need to. If a dog is wearing wording like “we need space” or “if handler is down, check pocket” please ensure that you respect and follow the requests. It is not appropriate to touch, talk to, feed, stare at or photograph Assistance Dog teams. Please remember that the dog will be assisting the handler with their disability and this is private medical information which the handler may not wish to share with you.

What rights does an Assistance Dog team have?

An Assistance Dog is an auxiliary aid in the eyes of the law. Anyone who provides a service to the public is responsible for ensuring that they make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. This is in line with the Equality Act 2010. A disabled handler has the right to be accompanied by their Assistance Dog into locations where the public is normally allowed as a reasonable adjustment. This includes shops, hospitals and public transport. Only in some very exceptional circumstances is it not considered reasonable to allow access to an Assistance Dog. More information.

What difficulties do Assistance Dog handlers face?

Assistance dog handlers face discrimination on a regular basis whilst out in public. Refusing to allow reasonable adjustments is discrimination and most Assistance Dog handlers have been unlawfully refused access based on their need to be accompanied by their Assistance Dog.

Distraction is another struggle which teams face. Assistance Dogs need to focus whilst working to ensure their handler is protected. By distracting an Assistance Dog, you could be putting the handler’s life in danger.

Most teams have heard “only yellow labs can be guide dogs” whilst working. This is not true. Any legal breed of dog can be trained as an assistance dog. Guide dogs are also not the only type of Assistance Dog as Assistance Dogs are able to mitigate more disabilities than visual impairments.

A common misconception is that Assistance Dogs need to be affiliated with ADUK (Assistance Dogs UK) to have access rights in the UK. This is again not true, as detailed in this document, Assistance Dogs can be trained in a wide variety of ways. There is no registration in the UK for assistance dogs.

Many members of the public feel that it is appropriate to ask an Assistance Dog team why they have their dog. This is a very personal question about the individual’s medical history and is not appropriate.

Having a disability makes everyday tasks more challenging. Assistance Dogs do amazing work, however, life can still be difficult. Please respect that the handler may not wish to stop and talk to you, and they may have been approached by a large number of other people previously.

Dogs are not robots. There are certain instances when the individual may not be accompanied by their Assistance Dog, for example, if the dog is sick. This does not mean that they do not need them. Occasionally dogs may also make mistakes whilst working or have an off day.

An ESA (Emotional Support Animal) is a term used mainly in America to refer to an animal whose presence provides comfort. These animals do not have any more rights than a pet in the UK.

Where can I gain more information about Assistance Dogs?

The EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) have a document regarding Assistance Dogs which provides the basics of legal information. There is also a large amount of support available on the internet and social media.

Anyone wishing to obtain more information regarding Assistance Dogs is welcome to contact PAWtected. Click here.

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