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It’s hard to resist going up to an adorable dog you meet out in public. Animal lovers have a natural magnetic draw to canines and felines we encounter in our daily lives. Unhappily, working dogs can’t interact with us, and it’s embarrassing to slip up and find out we approached a dog on duty. This is where service dog vests come in handy, providing an immediately recognizable notice.
Reviewing the Rules
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who utilize service dogs. They’re allowed to bring their dogs with them everywhere they go, including restaurants, shopping centers, and aboard airline flights in the cabin.
The ADA doesn’t protect Emotional support animals (ESAs). They can’t enter public establishments. Instead, they’re allowed to accompany their owners onto airline flights within the cabin, and they can stay with their owners in housing.
There’s no legal requirement for either service dogs or ESAs to wear service dog vests. If you’d rather skip the vest, you have that right. However, service dog vests provide enough benefits that most people opt to keep them handy:
- Instant communication of the presence of a service dog to managers
- Letting people know your dog is working and shouldn’t get approached
- Telling your dog it’s “time to work”
In-Line with the Law
By law, there are only two questions employees are allowed to ask regarding your service dog when out in public:
- Is your dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What task have they been trained to perform?
NO ONE can ask what your disability may be. Nor are they allowed to ask your service dog to perform their task in a demonstration. However, this questioning can often feel intrusive to sensitive people.
Service dog vests provide an immediate flag that you have a need, and your canine companion is your service dog. The bright color and label announces and answers the questions with no need for anyone to speak. It takes the pressure off everyone involved.
While many service dog vests come with patches for ESAs, please keep in mind: ESAs are NOT permitted in public. So while the vest works well when flying, you should NOT take your ESA to the store or restaurant.
It’s tempting to blame kids, but we’re all guilty of going up to dogs we encounter in our daily lives. Service dogs, by regulation, need to have calm and sweet natures. This makes holding back the impulse even harder. But these are WORKING dogs, and they need to devote their full attention to their partner. People crowding close makes both the dog and their person uncomfortable. (Remember, not all disabilities are visible!)
Brightly-colored service dog vests announce, “I’m working.” Most of us know, as soon as we see that “Service Dog” patch, we need to step back and restrain our cuddle impulse. For people that overlook the words, the vest gives the owner a clear sign to point to. They can then politely and firmly say, “I’m sorry, but please don’t pet my dog. They’re working.”
If you have an ESA, you don’t have rules. You can make the call on whether you’d like people to interact with your pet or not. ESAs are NOT working animals, so you’ll have to draw the line on what you’re comfortable with. Ideally, your ESA needs to have impeccable manners, though.
Service Dog vs. Normal Dog
Service dogs don’t work 24/7. They get a chance to relax, play, and be ordinary dogs. Service dog vests help them realize when it’s time to work and when it’s okay to be a goofy dog. They receive training with such vests. When the vest goes on, you’ll see a change in their demeanor. They zero in on their person and grow serious. (No more tail wags or bouncing)
But when the service dog vest slips off, they revert to silly doggie. They know it’s time to play fetch, roll around in the grass, and relax. They WON’T lose focus on their person, but it softens.
You have work clothes and play clothes. Service dog vests work the same way for these special working dogs. The same goes for ESAs, heightening their awareness of what’s going on with your mental state. You’re drawing a line between “normal day” and “working day.”
Choosing a Service Dog Vest
Most service dog vests have the same design. They feature bright colors that stand out and are readily visible. Remember, you want people to notice the vest right away. It’s no good if they have to stumble over your dog to see it. Your particular needs will dictate any specific features you may need (i.e., a handle, added pockets, etc.). However, every service dog vest should consider the following:
- Fit: Service dogs wear their vests throughout the day. Ensure the service dog vest fits comfortably, whether they’re walking, trotting, lying down, or sitting. It should be loose enough to move but not so loose it slides off.
- Comfort: Your dog works long hours. Service dog vests need padded straps and breathable mesh, especially if your service dog has longer hair.
- Ease of Use: You don’t want to fight with too many straps. Try to look for service dog vests that buckle on and off without too much trouble.
- Attachment: You may need a handle built into the harness to help guide you or pull you to your feet. Or you might want a D-ring for the leash to attach to. You want a secure connection between you and your dog.
Best Service Dog Vests
There’s no legal requirement for you to use a service dog vest. However, the advantages presented drive most people to opt for their convenience. If you see a service dog vest out in your travels, kindly respect the dog’s working space. (Think how you’d feel if someone hovered over your shoulder while you worked) These special dogs ARE carrying out specific tasks, and that vest is their chosen work outfit for the day.
If you’re concerned about the weight of your service dog vest, consider this option from ALBCORP. Their lightweight vest features nylon and polyester. A non-chafe cushion keeps your dog comfortable. You have a sturdy handle, D-ring, and a single buckle under the belly for attachment and removal. The patches and ID card Velcro on and off as you wish.
Downsides? This service dog vest only comes in two sizes that best fit medium dogs. You also only get the traditional red (up to you whether that’s a downside or not).
If you want a sturdy service dog harness, Bolux features heavy-duty straps. The back contains sponge-like padding to keep your dog as comfortable as possible. Reflective stitching allows for low-light visibility, keeping both of you safe in all weather conditions. You can choose from six different sizes in seven colors, accommodating a range of dogs.
The downsides? The style of the harness doesn’t work as well for large dogs. They can back out of the dog service vest without a problem. Also, making adjustments when the vest is ON is difficult. You’ll need to remove it, then tighten or loosen the straps.
Is your dog’s comfort your top priority? Then Chai’s Choice is the service dog vest for you. The entire polyester harness features sponge-like padding, including the chest strap. Reflective piping keeps your dog visible in low-light conditions (which helps you stay safe, too). The nylon handle stays lightweight, with a D-ring for leash attachment. Feel like it’s too warm? You can detach the padding as easily as the patches.
So what are the downsides? There’s a front leash loop on this service dog vest, but it’s only Velcro, which isn’t a safe connection (best to skip it). Also, some people noted the straps rubbing against their dog’s legs, so make sure you have a proper fit.
Not every service dog requires the necessity of a handle. If you want a simple option to announce your service dog or ESA, Dexil Limited provides a comfortable option. The padded vest comes with the embroidered notice in three places, promising immediate visibility. You have two D-rings: one on the back and one at the front to prevent pulling. The lightweight material is comfortable and breathable all at once.
Downsides? The neck opening isn’t adjustable on this service dog vest, and some people had trouble getting it over their dog’s head. Others had their dog back out of the vest entirely. Be careful when you order your size.
Fairwin’s service dog vest has nylon construction, but the back is padded in addition to the mesh lining, giving your dog more comfort. You still get a sturdy handle, with an additional heavy D-ring along the back for leash attachment. You can remove the patches, and you can even add an ID tag for added protection. The vest attaches with Velcro around the chest and a heavy buckle around the stomach, both easy to manage.
The downsides? Some people struggled with finding the proper size for their dogs. Take your measurements carefully based on their sizing chart. This is also a bulkier service dog vest than others, though there IS a lot of padding.
FAYOGO provides another low-cost option if you’re watching your pennies. The bright nylon shell dries quickly, while the breathable padding keeps your dog comfortable through long working hours. The buckles are easy to manage, and they come with a backup locking mechanism for extra safety.
So what are the downsides? The smallest size requires your dog to weigh at least eight pounds, leaving out the tiniest dogs. And, again, their sizing tends to run large, so keep that in mind when you’re ordering.
Industrial Puppy provides a nylon service dog vest with breathable mesh lining. You have your choice of removable patches, whether you have a service dog or ESA. If you wish, you can purchase a separate backpack to carry extra supplies with you. There’s a handle in the top, allowing for an easy pull-up or extra control. One simple buckle attaches under the stomach, making it easy to get on and off. As a bonus, they even include 50 cards with the ADA’s regulations, which you can hand out to anyone with questions.
Downsides? This particular service dog vest doesn’t fit as well on smaller or slender dogs. In general, it runs larger than expected. There’s also no separate leash attachment if you need another way to secure your dog.
If you have a particularly small service dog or ESA, PawShoppie may be the best choice for you. Their lightweight nylon service dog vest includes reflective piping along the entire harness to guarantee visibility in all light conditions. You can adjust the fit around the neck and chest to keep your dog as comfortable as possible. You also have the option of multiple colors, including a camo, if you want to reflect your personality.
The downsides? While lightweight, this dog service vest is on the bulky side. Be careful with those smaller dogs. There also isn’t much padding to this harness.
voopet’s service dog vest provides the same features as others but at a lower cost. You still get padding along the inside, with a handle and a rust-proof D-ring for leash attachment. Two buckles make sliding the vest on and off a cinch. You can even adjust the harness around the neck and chest to get a perfect fit. There are also ten different colors to choose from.
So what are the downsides? The buckles are on the large side, making this a bulky option for smaller dogs. And the sizing runs large, so aim lower than you anticipate needing.
Animals at Work
We don’t want to interfere with working dogs. Some working dogs are easy to spot, such as police dogs. However, service dogs aren’t always as simple to pick out. Service dog vests help us from accidentally disturbing the dog’s focus. We can then admire them from afar, appreciating the great work they do every day.
No, there’s NO legal requirement for service dog vests. They help everyone from making embarrassing mistakes, though. So keep your eyes open and respect the service dog or ESAs space.