Service dogs aren't pets -- they are heavily trained and disciplined animals that provide invaluable, sometimes life-saving assistance to the disabled. Whether a service dog aids someone who's emotionally or physically handicapped, there are strict rules in place regarding whether or not they can bark.
Reasons for Barking
Depending on the type of service a person requires, his dog may or may not be trained to bark in response to certain situations. For example, some service dogs are trained to bark as a way of calling for assistance when their masters are in trouble -- they may even be trained to operate a phone and bark into the receiver as a way of calling for help. Other service dogs are trained to bark as a way of reminding their masters to take medications on time.
Service dogs undergo rigorous training to make sure that they are suitable for the job. Because they generally must be prepared for a wide variety of social situations and environments, they are trained specifically to remain calm and non-aggressive. A dog who can't control his own barking, then, is almost guaranteed to be deemed unsuitable for service.
Noise Disturbance Laws
The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it very clear that no business may discriminate against a person utilizing a service dog. That is not, however, without its own exceptions -- specifically, in the case of barking and other disruptive behavior. A common example used by the ADA is the service dog in the movie theater: Like any other patron that is audibly disruptive, a service dog who barks in a movie theater may be asked to leave.
No Aggression Allowed
In essence, service dogs are indeed allowed to bark, and may even be trained to do so under specific circumstances. They are only allowed to bark non-aggressively, though, in a manner in line with their training. Aggressive barking, which is relatively common in non-service animals or dogs with minimal domestic training, is generally forbidden -- when a service dog barks, it is with a purpose, and not as a sign of aggression.
By Tom Ryan
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners: Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disabilities
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners: IAADP Minimum Training Standards for Public Access
Americans with Disabilities Act: Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business
The Bark: The Making of a Guide Dog
About the Author
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.