Assistance Dog in Australia: Registration Guidelines and Benefits

Registering an Assistance Dog in Australia

For individuals trying to cope with physical or mental disabilities, conventional medical approaches are typically the first step in the road to improved health and well-being. However alternative options in the form of Assistance Dogs are becoming increasingly common in Australia. Diverging from the role of pets, Assistance Dogs showcase exceptional proficiency in carrying out specific tasks and providing comfort during challenging moments. This unique capability empowers individuals with disabilities to maintain their independence while actively working towards enhancing their overall quality of life. 

What is an Assistance Dog in Australia? 

Simply put, an Assistance Dog in Australia is a dog that helps a person with a disability and that meets the state’s standards for public access rights. It is important to clarify that an Assistance Dog in Australia differ significantly from emotional support animals and therapy dogs in that they are highly trained to perform specific tasks to increase one’s quality of life. Emotional support animals and therapy dogs are not required to undergo any training or public access tests, but more on that later. 

The legal definition of an Assistance Dog in Australia is set out in Section 9 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA). 

It states that an assistance animal is a dog or other animal that is: 

(a) Accredited under a State or Territory law to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effects of disability; or 

(b) Accredited by an animal training organization prescribed in the regulations; or 

(c) Trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effect of the disability and meets standards of hygiene and behaviour that are appropriate for an animal in a public place. 

What Can an Assistance Dog in Australia do for Me? 

Assistance dogs are eagerly able to help those suffering with a range of conditions. They help people with disabilities and limitations complete day to day tasks in their everyday lives. Conditions may range from mental conditions to physical conditions such as: 

  • PTSD 
  • Autism 
  • Sensory impairments 
  • Blindness 
  • Mobility issues 

Assistance Dogs perform specific tasks to assist each handler with their particular disability. 

What Rights do Owners of an Assistance Dog in Australia Have? 

The laws that protect the rights of a those with Assistance Dogs are federal and imposed under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA). It is federally recognized that a properly trained Assistance Dog is a critical tool for those suffering with disabilities, similar to the way that crutches are a tool for those with injured legs. Accordingly, Assistance Dogs are permitted with their owner in all public spaces, with the only exceptions being places where there are extreme sterility concerns such as surgical areas, highly specific clinical settings and quarantined areas.  

What Rights do Business Owners Have When Encountering Assistance Dogs in the Public? 

When confronted with an Assistance Animal in the public, you are permitted to ask for some form of documentation which shows that the Assistance Dog is valid. Despite this being allowed, it should always be done with a level of sensitivity and respect as to not make the handler uncomfortable. Remember, handlers of Assistance Dogs may be dealing with severe disabilities that may not be visible to you. You should except Assistance Dogs to be we behaved, extremely obedient and well-tempered. It is best practice to ignore assistance dogs to the extent possible and let them focus on their task at hand. Avoid petting, touching, staring or interacting with active Assistance Dogs. 

What Types of Tasks Might an Assistance Dog do for its Handler? 

Assistance Dogs are highly trained to perform various, yet specific tasks for their handlers. These may include: 

  • Opening and closing doors, drawers or cupboards 
  • Picking up and retrieving physical objects 
  • Alerting various conditions and situations 
  • “Blocking” in crowded spaces 
  • Walking handlers across the street 

They also assist with intangible tasks such as providing companionship, lowering stress and providing a general sense freedom. Most importantly, Assistance Dogs help their handlers function and live independently despite their disabilities. 

Who is eligible for an Assistance Dog in Australia?  

Anyone who suffers from a disability is eligible for an Assistance Dog in Australia. 

What is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and an Assistance Dog in Australia?  

As is made clear by the proceeding paragraphs, Assistance Dogs are highly trained aids designed to help handlers with specific conditions. While all pets may help improve our state of mind and provide comfort, only valid Assistance Dogs are protected under Australian law. Emotional Support Animals are simply considered pets.  

Emotional Support Animals still provide a critical role by making their handlers comfortable and giving unconditional love. However, they are not given the same public access rights as Assistance Dogs and accordingly, may not be permitted in public spaces like restaurants, malls and supermarkets. 

In Australia, Emotional Support Animals are not protected or recognized under law and there is no standardized accreditation process for owners of Emotional Support Animals to follow.   

How do I Register my Emotional Support Animal in Australia?  

So you may be wondering, “how do I register my dog as Emotional Support Animal in Australia?” 

This simple answer is that you are not required to do so and there are no legal rights associated with doing so. Essentially, Emotional Support Animals (also known as ESAs) are treated the same as any pet would be. However, just because the law does not provide protections and public access rights, it must not be diminished that Emotional Support Animals may be a key source of comfort and provide critical well-being to their owners.  

If you do require the use of an Emotional Support Animal, there are steps you can take to help ensure your pet is recognized as much as possible. Firstly, speak to a licensed health professional. Although Australia does not have protections in place, other countries like Canada and the US do have varying forms of recognition for Emotional Support Animals. If your doctor believes you may benefit from the use of an Emotional Support Animal, they can provide you with a letter that helps support the need for your emotional support animal while out in the public.  In addition, you may voluntarily register you Emotional Support Animal to receive a digital ID that can be stored in your Google or Apple Wallet. While neither the letter or ID provide legal protection, they may be used to help support your need and allow you and your pet discretionary public access. 

Additional Information About Assistance Animals in Australia 

If you require additional information regarding the rights of Assistance Dogs in Australia, either federally or in your specific state, please consult the below links for contact details on various human rights organizations. 

Federal 

Australia Human Rights Commission 

Attorney General’s Department  

New South Wales  
New South Wales Public Service Commission  

Australian Capital Territory  
Australian Capital Territory Human Rights Commission 

 Queensland 
Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland 

Northern Territory 
Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission  

Tasmania 
Equal Opportunity Tasmania  

Victoria 
Victorian Equal Opportunities & Human Rights Commission  

South Australia  
South Australia Equal Opportunity Commission 

 Western Australia 
Western Australia Equal Opportunities