Texas Laws on Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Texas law and federal law protect your right to have service dogs in public places and service dogs or emotional support animals in housing.

By , J.D. UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 3/27/2023

Under Texas law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities can bring their service animals to public accommodations like:

  • government buildings
  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • stadiums, and
  • stores.

These laws also require anyone who operates transportation services (like buses and taxis) to allow service animals.

Both federal and state laws protect people in Texas who use service animals, and you're entitled to rely on whichever law gives you the most protections. Read on to learn which animals qualify as service animals in Texas and which protections apply to emotional support animals (ESAs).

What Does Texas Law Consider a Service Animal?

Under Texas's Human Resources Code, a service animal or an assistance animal is a dog that's specially trained to assist someone with a disability and is used by a person with a disability. These conditions count as a disability:

  • deafness or another hearing impairment
  • a visual impairment
  • a speech impairment
  • a mental disability
  • a physical disability
  • an intellectual or developmental disability
  • post-traumatic stress disorder, or
  • any health impairment for which the person needs special ambulatory services or devices.

Under the ADA, a service animal is a dog (or, in some cases, a miniature horse) that's individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of a person with a disability. The tasks or work your service animal does must be directly related to your disability.

Neither law covers pets or emotional support animals (ESAs)—animals that provide a sense of safety, companionship, and comfort to those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities or conditions. Although ESAs often have therapeutic benefits, they're not specially trained to do particular types of work for their owners, so they aren't considered service animals under Texas law or the ADA.

But psychiatric service dogs are covered by both Texas law and the ADA. Unlike ESAs, these dogs are trained to provide services that allow people with mental impairments to go places and face situations they wouldn't otherwise be able to do. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform tasks like:

  • initiating contact to disrupt a panic attack
  • serving as a buffer to help the person cope with being in a crowd
  • alerting an owner who's exercising poor judgment
  • interrupting risky behaviors
  • getting medication and water when the person is unable to do it, and
  • getting outside help when needed.

Under the ADA and Texas law, owners of public accommodations must allow service dogs—including psychiatric service dogs. But they aren't required to admit emotional support animals or pets.

What Counts as a Public Accommodation in Texas?

Texas law has a very broad definition of public accommodations. It includes everything from government buildings and public streets and sidewalks to:

  • transportation
  • restaurants
  • hotels
  • stores
  • offices
  • places for recreation and amusement, and
  • any other place where members of the public are customarily invited.

In Texas, you can bring your service animal to any place that appears on this list, but it doesn't include private workplaces. (Learn how the ADA protects your right to have a service animal in the workplace.)

Rules for Your Service Animal in Texas

Under Texas law, no public accommodation can make demands or ask questions about your service animal's certification or qualification, but they can ask what type of assistance the animal provides. If your disability isn't apparent, the establishment can ask either or both of the following:

  • whether your animal is a service animal, and
  • what work the animal is trained to do for you.

The ADA allows public accommodations to exclude a service animal that poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. For example, if your dog is dangerously aggressive toward other patrons, it can be kicked out.

You can't be charged extra to bring your service animal on public transportation. But you can be required to pay for any damage your animal causes. And if you use a service animal to assist you with travel or auditory awareness, the animal must be in a harness and leash.

There are penalties for refusing to allow a service animal in public accommodations—it's a class C misdemeanor. Texas law also imposes penalties on those who falsely claim or imply (for example, by using a service dog harness) that their animal is a service animal when it isn't. Service dog fraud is a class B misdemeanor in Texas.

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals in Texas Housing

Texas law protects your right to have a service dog in your home, even if you rent it. And federal law—the Fair Housing Act (FHA)—extends that right to have any "assistance animal," including an emotional support animal in rental property. Texas landlords must allow you to have your service dog or ESA as a reasonable accommodation as long as:

  • you're disabled and a medical professional says you need the assistance animal, and
  • the request doesn't create a hardship for the landlord or other tenants.

If you have a service dog or ESA in Texas and you fit the above criteria, a property owner can't:

  • refuse to rent to you because of a "no pets" policy
  • turn you away because your service dog or ESA is outside the housing policy's breed and/or weight restrictions
  • require you to pay extra to have an assistance animal live with you, or
  • require a special deposit for your service dog or emotional support animal—even if there's a special deposit required for renters with pets.

But you can be required to pay if your assistance animal causes damage to the property (other than normal wear and tear) or injures another person.

Both Texas and federal fair housing laws apply to most housing situations, with a few exceptions. The laws exempt the following:

  • owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, and
  • single-family homes sold or rented without the use of a broker (unless the owner/seller owns more than three homes).

If you think you've been discriminated against in housing because of your service dog or emotional support animal, you have the right to file a complaint through the Texas Workforce Commission's (TWC's) Civil Rights Division or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).

Learn more about how to fight housing discrimination.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you