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Assistance Dogs & Sport: Where Can You Take Your Dog?

For visually impaired people, assistant dogs can be a genuine lifeline. They allow people to have freedom that they might not otherwise be able to enjoy. The same is true of the likes of emotional support animals or hearing dogs, who can take people to places that they might not otherwise be able to go.

Of course, there will always be some sports that are better than others when it comes to dogs being able to attend. The likes of football will be much more accepting and welcoming of dogs than horse racing, for example, given the live animals that are there. In general, though, how do sports and assistance dogs mix?

What the Law Says

The Equalities Act 201 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 work together when it comes to the legal requirements of companies and places around disabled people. Firstly, they say that disabled people have the same rights to services as non-disabled people. Secondly, they say that a venue needs to make a ‘reasonable adjustment’ so as to avoid discriminating against a disabled person.

A ‘no dog’s policy’ should, for example, be modified in order to allow people to be accompanied by their assistant dog. Service providers should allow owners to be accompanied by their service animal into the majority of situations.

What Classes as an Assistance Dog?

It is not unreasonable to ask what, exactly, classes as an assistance dog. After all, most dog owners would say that they feel happier when their dog is with them, but that isn’t the same thing as a dog that has been specifically trained for the purpose.

The Equalities Act says that an assistance dog will fit into one of the following categories:

  • Trained to guide a blind person
  • Trained to assist a deaf person
  • Trained by a charity to assist a disabled person with the likes of epilepsy or another condition that affects their mobility
  • Trained to assist someone with a disabled not otherwise prescribed above

The key point about assistant dogs is that they are highly trained and carry out specific tasks. They won’t wander around the place freely and a trained so as not to foul in a public place. Such dogs are not legally required to have ID, but a lot of them will depending on the company that they were trained by in the first place.

Assistant Dogs & Sporting Venues

assistance dog in crowded place with disabled owner

One of the most important things when it comes to someone with an assistance dog and the venue that they’re attending where they are going to watch a sport is that they should not be placed in a lower class of place than anyone else. The fact that someone has a guide dog for a visual impairment, for example, does not mean that they can be placed out of view of the pitch.

Similarly, staff should be trained not to touch the dogs without their owners permission, nor should then be fed any food. This is true of any sport, irrespective of what it is or what the venue that hosts said sport is typically like.

The Sports

One of the sports where it is, in essence at least, easiest for a assistance dog to be used is football. There are often people with assistance dogs attending football matches at stadia up and down the country. It is worth bearing in mind that this can still be an overwhelming experience for both the assistance dog and the person that they are assisting, so any and all help that can be given to make their experience as easy as possible will always be appreciate.

In spite of how often it is that you might see assistance dogs at football matches, some clubs have been quicker to cotton on to this than others. Aston Villa, for example, took until 2024 to have a fan attend with their dog in the home end.

When Luton Town made it into the Premier League for the 2023-2024 season, that saw Jeffrey thrown into the spotlight. The Labrador had been accompanying Matt Claridge to Luton’s games for six years before he hit the big time, becoming a viral sensation when he appeared on the TNT Sports coverage of the game between the Hatters and Tottenham Hotspur at Kenilworth Road.

News of his work even appeared in the New York Times owned Athletic, helping video of him to be viewed over a million times. It is the sort of thing that allows other people with sight issues to know that they too can attend football matches relatively easily.

Things aren’t as easy at the likes of horse racing. Generally speaking, most racecourses will only allow dogs to be brought onto them on non-race days. The exception to this is assistance dogs, who tend to be better trained in terms of not reacting to the noises and smells that you’ll commonly find on a racecourse. They are a lot less likely to be spooked by the sound of hooves smashing against the turf or bark without any sort of warning, which might cause the horses alarm.

In fact, the same is true of virtually any sport that you care to think of, from cricket to tennis via motorsports and American football. If the dog can be trusted not to react thanks to their training, they’ll be fine.

Ultimately, that is the key issue at hand. A dog has to be able to not react to what is happening on the sport that their owner is their to observe. Imagine a dog being spooked at the Formula One and running out onto the track, for example. Dogs in sports venues have to be able to be trusted so they don’t run out at Wimbledon and grab the ball that is being played with in the decided set.

It is why the vast majority of sporting venues will allow dogs, but they will require that the dog has had some official training in order to learn the discipline that is attached to being an assistance dog in the first place.