Assistance dogs

Assistance dogs are trained and used for the purpose of assisting a person living with a disability and can enhance the lives of people living with a disability by providing guidance, confidence and independence to access fundamental community services.

Assistance dogs also have access rights prescribed under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the South Australian Equal Opportunities Act 1984.

Public access rights for assistance dogs

Accreditation as an assistance dog allows that dog, when accompanied by a disabled person, to access areas that a dog would not normally be allowed e.g. public transport, supermarkets, restaurants, etc. This right of access to public places is referred to as ‘public access rights’. There are places that assistance dogs may be refused entry to such as hospital intensive care units and food preparation areas.

Applying for assistance dog accreditation

Prescribed accreditation bodies who can accredit assistance dogs under the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995 include The Royal Society for the Blind of SA Inc, The Guide Dogs Association of South Australia and Northern Territory Inc, Lions Hearing Dogs Inc, Assistance Dogs Australia, Righteous Pups Australia Inc, Vision Australia, Guide Dogs WA, Guide Dogs Queensland, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Guide Dogs Victoria, Guide Dogs Tasmania, Australian Veterinary Behaviour Services and Integra Service Dogs Australia. These prescribed accreditation bodies issue their own accreditation identification to assistance dog handlers.

You can also apply for accreditation through the Dog and Cat Management Board. Before you apply, check you meet the criteria below then, follow the application process.

Application criteria

The applicant

  • must be the dog's handler
  • must be 18 years or over
  • must have a disability
  • must have a dog that alleviates the disability

The dog

  • must be registered with your local council
  • must be microchipped and desexed
  • must be trained to meet the requirements of the public access test
Application process

Once you have determined you meet the application criteria set out above, you should complete the application forms and forward them to the Dog and Cat Management Board via email or post them to GPO Box 1047, Adelaide 5001.

You will then need to pay a fee for your dog to attend a public access test with the board's approved assessor. Only dogs that pass the test will be accredited.

Identifying assistance dogs

Assistance dog owners accredited by the Dog and Cat Management Board carry an identification card with a photo of the dog and handler. Some assistance dogs trained by a prescribed accreditation organisation may wear a jacket or harness to identify them as an assistance dog. If you are unsure of an assistance dog’s identity, you can call the Dog and Cat Management Board on 08 8124 4962 or email dcmb@sa.gov.au for clarification.

Moving to South Australia with an assistance dog

The Dog and Cat Management Board can only accredit dogs for residents of South Australia so you can not apply until you have already moved.

To receive assistance dog accreditation from the board you and your dog must meet the criteria set by the board’s ‘Accreditation of Assistance Dogs Policy’ even if your dog has been accredited by another agency overseas or interstate.

If your dog has been accredited by an overseas or interstate agency, it may already have public access rights under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Contact the Australian Human Rights Commission on 1300 656 419 for advice on public access rights and 'assistance animals' under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

If you are moving from overseas to South Australia with an assistance dog you will need to contact the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture for information on importing a dog to Australia.

Travelling interstate or overseas with an assistance dog

The Board accredits assistance dogs under SA’s Dog and Cat Management Act 1995 which only provides access to public places within South Australia. Other states and territories will have their own legislation for assistance dogs. Before travelling interstate, contact the state government where you’re planning to travel for advice on local laws on assistance dog access.

Information about public access rights with an assistance animal is also outlined in the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 which is managed by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

If you’re planning to travel overseas, be aware your dog’s accreditation may not be recognised. You should contact the government for each country you plan to visit to enquire about local laws relating to assistance dog access before you travel.

You should also contact the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture to understand the quarantine rules for dogs returning to Australia.

Answers to frequently asked questions

Can I pat an assistance dog?

You should never pat a dog without permission from its owner first. This is particularly important for assistance dogs should not be distracted from the work they are untaking.

Can any dog be an assistance dog?

An assistance dog can be any shape, colour or size from a chihuahua to a great dane. Dogs that are not adequately trained, have been declared dangerous, menacing, a nuisance or declared by a veterinarian to be unfit, will not be accredited by the board.

Can other animals be accredited?

The Dog and Cat Management Board can only accredit dogs (canine familiaris).

Can companion dogs be assistance dogs?

Yes, you can have your companion accredited as an assistance dog if:

  • You have a disability
  • You require a dog to access the community
  • The dog is trained to meet the required standards
  • The dog is fit for service as decided by a veterinarian
  • The dog passes the public access test
What training does my dog need to be an assistance dog?

Your dog needs to be under effective control and hygienic at all times (well groomed, toileting on command etc). Your dog must not be aggressive, anxious or excitable and must have obtained a minimum of level 4 dog training with a qualified dog trainer.

Where can I get a trained assistance dog?

Assistance Dogs International has a list organisations on their website who can help you with a trained assistance dog.

Can accreditation be revoked?

Yes. If a dog is declared unsuitable as an assistance dog, its accreditation can be revoked at any time. If a council declares a dog dangerous, menacing or a nuisance, accreditation will be revoked.

How do I get information about my rights with a rental property when I have an assistance dog?

Information for renting with dogs can be found here.

Can my assistance dog travel on a plane?

Accredited assistance dogs do not automatically qualify for in-cabin travel on aircraft. The laws which govern assistance dogs travelling via aircraft is covered under the Civil Aviation Regulations 1988, 256A. Each airline has their own policies relating to the standards assistance dogs must meet and whether they will accept dogs for in-cabin travel. If you are planning to travel with an assistance dog, you need to make enquiries with your airline before booking.