One of the things that I’m very passionate about as a dog trainer is service dogs. I became a dog trainer because I wanted to train guide dogs, someone very dear to me was losing his eyesight and I wanted to learn more about how to help him. I’ve always been the type of person that learns from doing rather than just from reading about, so I became a dog trainer. I’ve been in love with my profession ever since. I’m often asked about what makes a dog a service dog.
The best answer to that question is found in the law. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) states the following:
A service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:
_ Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
_ Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
_ Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.
A service animal is not a pet.
There are 2 main different ways that service dogs can be trained. They can be professionally trained or they can be owner trained. Some dogs are from professional breeding lines just for service dogs and some are owner picked. Temperament is the most important aspect of personality. You can train behavior; temperament is not trainable.
Service dogs need to be trained to perform at least 2 tasks that are directly related to their disability. While the ADA does state that no one is allowed to ask a person questions that would make them divulge their disability, your trainer will need to know some specifics to train the dog to help you. If your trainer doesn’t ask you questions don’t trust them.
There is no cookie-cutter standard of dog training, it must always be custom fit for every dog and handler team. Everyone has different needs, even if they have the same disability. Those tasks can be anything from opening doors to picking things up off the floor. Some service dogs are able to pick up the smallest change in the odor of their handler’s breath to know their blood sugar is dropping, others are trained to know when their handler is about to have a seizure. There are so many different tasks that our dogs are able to help us perform to help people that have had their lifestyle altered because of medical reasons. With the help of a service dog, some people are able to return to a level of independence that allows them to go out or even live on their own. Some studies have shown that just on a monetary level, service dogs save people as much as $13,000 a year in private healthcare costs.
There is still so much education that needs to be given to the general public in regard to service dogs. People are refused entry to restaurants and hotels because of their service dogs all the time even when the law states that they are allowed entry. Would a restaurant manager refuse entry to someone because of their wheelchair or their oxygen pump? The ADA law looks at a service dog as needed medical equipment. However, with that being said all dogs that are service dogs must be trained with the utmost manners and proper behavior in public places. Handlers of service dogs are responsible for ALL damages done by any dog in a public establishment. Dogs that are aggressive (temperament again and they should have never been trained as a service dog) or they have potty training issues inside a public place then yes they can be asked to leave, but they cannot be refused entry just because they are a dog.
There are collars and leashes, as well as vests and harnesses that will denote to anyone looking at your dog that they are a service dog, however they are not required to wear any of this. They are not required to have any licenses or certifications. The only thing you may be asked to provide is proof of your dog’s Rabies vaccinations. A few of my students have had problems with local area businesses which is a shame that education could have prevented this undue stress. Of course, anywhere you go local and state laws supersede federal laws. In Arkansas, our state laws say that any dog that is being trained as a service dog is not allowed to be refused entrance as long as they are with a trainer. Now since Federal law states that service dogs may in fact be owner trained, so what the two of those statements mean is that any service dog in training can enter a public place.
One of my students had a problem going to the hospital of all places.
He has a small dog as a service dog and had her on a leash with him in the lab. The friend that was with her had her dog's carrier with all of the identification for her dog and was sitting in the waiting room. She was approached by hospital security and questioned about her dog. All he was asking was if she was on a leash, but the friend didn’t know anything about her dog because he was not sitting in the lab with her. He instructed the security guard to go in the lab and talk to her, but he refused to do so.
Another student of mine had her dog with her when she was going into a major retail store and the greeter at the door stopped her from entering and gave her a hard time entering the store. She called me in tears, and I got off the phone with her and called their management Some people seem to think that this means that they can just say their dog is a service dog and walk in anywhere and take their dogs with them. People who do this are causing more problems for the people that actually have service dogs. It is because of this that, the state of Florida has put laws on its books to counteract this.
Federal law states that Business owners are only allowed to ask two questions of a handler
1. Is this a service dog?
2. What is he/she trained to do?
Now what this law also does is make it a second-degree misdemeanor for business owners to deny entry to a service dog, which I think is a wonderful addition to the law.
As I said before according to the ADA Laws a service dog only has to be trained to perform 2 duties specific to its handler’s disability. When talking to a potential student for service dog training I sadly do have to ask about their disability to know what tasks I can train their dog to do. I always try to do this in a way that is very gentle and doesn’t make them feel ashamed in any way, hopefully, I succeed in this.
For any questions regarding service dog training or ADA laws please feel free to email me at email@example.com if I don’t know the answer, I can always find someone who does.