These staff training pointers can combine with the resources on our main business page to make it easy (and even fun!) to meet your business’s compliance burden.
• One of the basic concepts of service dog access is captured by the slogan behavior, not belongings. This phrase can help your employees focus on the behavior of the animal (the legal standard), rather than whether it has any gear that says it’s a service dog. Identifying gear—such as a labeled vest—may be helpful, but it can’t be required and is not legally meaningful under federal law.
• The laws may be a little complicated, but if you take the time to review them and especially encourage a culture of respect beyond the laws, you’re not likely to run into problems. We find that when it’s not obvious whether a dog is trained to assist with a person’s disability, a standardized one or two-question access challenge goes a lot more smoothly when at least one party is committed to respecting the other and avoiding any emotional escalation.
• Just as service dog users should try to empathize with business owners, employees, and the general public, businesses would do well to imagine what it’s like for a person with a disability who is trying to cope with and engage in the world through the use of a service animal. Individuals with invisible disabilities can be particularly susceptible to negatively reacting to an aggressive access challenge, since a lack of awareness makes these challenges more frequent and often frustrating for them. Starting off with a simple, friendly “Hi!” and a smile can go a long way toward diffusing potential issues when an employee initiates an access challenge.
• We believe businesses have not only a legal obligation, but a moral obligation to do what’s reasonable to keep their patrons safe. This includes an employee following the allowed steps in our guide when faced with an animal that is either not clearly a service dog, or may be a service dog but is unruly. The law doesn’t allow just anyone to bring in any misbehaving animal, and the buck stops with you as to whether people are allowed to get away with illegal and improper activity. Responsible service dog users want you to do something when you have good reason to suspect an animal doesn’t belong in the store—unruly animals make it unsafe for them, too.
• Many experienced service dog handlers have had a great deal of access challenges. An access challenge doesn’t have to be negative, but even if they’re all neutral, multiple access challenges during the same visit from various employees can become aggravating. A little coordination goes a long way in preventing this, so have a plan that ensures no more than one access challenge per customer visit, whenever possible.
• Having your employees role play and talk about situations where an access challenge may or may not be warranted (it’s not always clear) can be an invaluable tool. Acting this out brings new insight in a fun and engaging way, bringing the training to life. This also affords supervisors opportunities to observe and positively shape the employee culture around customer treatment. Supervisor/training leader feedback goes a long way toward molding company culture, so don’t stay silent or encourage negativity!
• Encourage employees to consult with a supervisor if they ever want advice or help with a situation. You can’t cover all possibilities during one training situation! Make a brief service dog access training segment part of your new-employee orientation program, and plan regular re-trainings every six months to a year, depending on turnover and your business’s needs. Check back with Psychiatric Service Dog Partners for any updates to training materials and federal service dog laws.
• States cannot take away access rights provided by federal law, but some states have service animal laws that can guarantee additional protections and impact how your gatekeepers should interact with customers with animals. We encourage you to learn about your state’s service animal/assistance animal laws by finding them through Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center:
Did you try out these pointers in your business? We’d love to hear any feedback, positive or negative, so we can improve our outreach efforts to our business community friends. Contact Us either to provide feedback or solicit advice!*
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