Psychiatric Service Dogs in California

Sep 27,2022

Over one million residents in California are affected by serious mental health conditions. Almost 400 000 adolescents in California between the age of 12-17 years suffer from depression and more than 5.5 million adults deal with a mental illness.

Many people suffering from a mental health condition, decide to use supplementary aids along the regular treatment to deal with their daily challenges. Psychiatric Service Dogs are such type of “aids”, that are of great help to people with mental impairments.

What Are Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs)?

PSDs are a type of service animal, who are individually trained to perform tasks directly related to a person’s mental disability. According to the regulations in the US, service animals can be only dogs (some states accept miniature horses as well). The laws in California do not specifically define “Psychiatric Service Dog”, however, they state that a service dog is: “...a dog individually trained to the requirements of the individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, minimal protection work, rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items”.

California Laws that Protect People with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the most comprehensive federal law in the United States, that protects people with disabilities and ensures that their rights will be granted.
California's Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civil Code Section 51), and the Disabled Persons Act (Civil Code Sections 54 – 55.32) prohibit business establishments from discriminating people based on a disability. Government Code Section 11135 prohibits businesses that receive state funds from discriminating against people with disabilities.

The California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, Disabled Persons Act, and Government Code Section 11135 are enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). People with disabilities have equal rights with those without disabilities and can access public places without paying extra fees.

How Do California Laws Define a “Disability”?

Unlike the ADA that states, a person must have a physical or a mental disability that “substantially” limits a major life activity, the laws in California exclude the word “substantially”, which broadens the range of the term. Both physical and mental disabilities give a person the right to use a service animal.

Types of a physical disability can be:

-Mobility impairments;

-Visual impairments;

-Hearing impairments;


-Multiple Sclerosis;

Types of a mental disability can be:




-Bipolar disorder.

It is important to note that there is no list including all the disabilities that qualify a person for a Psychiatric Service Dog. The ADA takes into account the fact, that people may have different types of impairments, hence different needs, and may need to deal with different challenges in their daily lives. The regulations are flexible so that many people can benefit from having a service animal.

Do California Laws Distinguish Between Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals?

Yes, ESAs are not considered service animals, hence they are not PSDs. Emotional Support Animals provide comfort and companionship to individuals with mental disabilities, however, they are not individually trained to perform specific tasks, directly related to the disability. They do not have the same access rights and can be excluded from public places.

However, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which is California’s civil rights agency states that an ESA is not a pet, but “an animal that provides emotional, cognitive, or other similar support to a person with a disability to assist them in managing the symptoms of their disability. ESAs are also referred to as comfort animals or support animals”. Emotional Support Animals must be provided with reasonable accommodation, which means that housing providers must allow the tenant to live with their ESA “as reasonable accommodation unless the housing provider can show that an exception applies”. If you would like to read more about the Emotional Support Animals in California, click here.

In What Cases Can a Landlord or a Business Owner Ask a Service Animal to Leave the Premise?

A service animal, whether due to physical or mental impairments, must be under control at all times. If the service animal misbehaves, is not housebroken, or causes any damage, he/she may be excluded.

The ADA also specifies that covered entities are not required to: “modify policies, practices, or procedures if it would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the goods, services, programs, or activities provided to the public. Nor does it overrule legitimate safety requirements. If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited. In addition, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if it is not housebroken, that animal may be excluded”.

Psychiatric Service Dogs in Public Places in California

According to the laws in California, a service animal must be granted access to any places that are open for use by the general public, such as hotels, restaurants, shops, government buildings, concert halls, theaters, hospitals, and clinics. Also, the access rights of service animals extend to public transportation such as buses, streetcars, trains, boats, and motor vehicles. Public places are required to modify their practices to accommodate service animals. The access rights of the service dog user are also valid for the service dog trainer (if the user and the trainer/handler are different people). This means that the trainer (the person who trains the dog) can also bring a service animal to a public place if they do not have a disability themselves.

How Can Employees in California Verify that a Dog is a Service Dog?

Just like the ADA states, employees are allowed to ask two questions to verify the status of a service dog:

1. Is this a service dog due to a disability;

2. What tasks he/she has been trained to perform.

Any documentation as proof may not be required by employees.

Does a Service Dog Handler in California Have to Register or Certify their Service Animal?

No. There is no official service dog registry in the US, nor are service animals required to be certified. However, a certificate can be used in situations when the handler/user needs to verify that the service dog has actually gone through service dog training and is legitimate. Also, a certificate can be used as a kind of notification to the general public that the dog is well-behaved and is a working dog and not a pet.

Do Service Animals Have to Wear Any Identification?

No, identification gear is not required by law. However, just like having a certificate, putting a harness/vest/bandana/tag on your service dog, or having an ID card for him/her, can be very helpful while in public. That way handlers can indicate that their dog is currently working and he/she should not be distracted.

Wild Animal Parks & Zoos in California

Zoos and wild animal parks in California may prohibit the presence of service animals in areas where there are no physical barriers, that separate animals from the general public. If this is the case, the park/zoo is required to provide kennel facilities, that are clean, free, and safe to use. Based on the case, additional accommodations may also be provided, such as transportation of the animal free of charge, if he/she supports a person with visual or mobility impairments.