Simple – you don’t. And you probably never will.

Lotta things I could show you, but here’s a direct quote from the Department of Justice’s proposed changes to 28 CFR 36, “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities”, the part of the ADA that addresses service animals:

Proposed training standards.

The Department has always required that service animals be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, but has never imposed any type of formal training requirements or certification process. While some groups have urged the Department to modify this position, the Department does not believe such a modification would serve the array of individuals with disabilities who use service animals.

http://www.ada.gov/NPRM2008/titleiii.htm#toc_11f

Standard disclaimer applies – I’m not an attorney, don’t play one on TV, didn’t sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night (or ever that I can remember).  But I don’t think I need to be a lawyer to understand what that paragraph means – regardless of whatever else the law says about what a service dog is or isn’t (and, trust me, it does, but I’ll save that for another time), there is not now, nor are there any plans for, a specific certification that says a dog has met those requirements. Which also means there’s really no way for you or me to know if a dog is a service dog or not.

So where’s that leave us? Well, I’m not the kind of person who believes laws fix things in general, so I don’t have confidence that they will here, either. Plus, ultimately, you and I aren’t the “service dog police”, anyway.  And I don’t know that there’s much I can offer that’ll truly help you when you’re in the grocery store, or on the bus, or at a restaurant, and you’re really wondering about that dog you’re seeing in there.

But there is one area where you can have a HUGE impact in determining the overall quality of service dog placements, and it’s absolutely critical that you do. I’ll explain both those things in the next post – you can get a little head start by reviewing “How to Find the Best Service Dogs for Disabled Veterans.