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Service dog – I want one / where do I get one / Can I train one myself?

Posted by on November 8, 2012

Service Dogs-let me share with you what I have learned over the past few months.

I won’t go too much into why I need a service dog in this post, for that look to my posts regarding hemophilia and being disabled. However, I hope to help you or someone you may know decide if they really would like to have a service dog, and how to go about getting one.

I am asked a lot about my service dog. And one thing I have found is that everyone seems to want a service dog. But then who wouldn’t want an animal that is attentive to your needs and is a constant companion? Well, you honestly might be surprised. So some of the questions that I hope to answer are:

Where or how can I get a service dog?
Can I train my own service dog?
What can a service dog do?
How would I qualify to have a service dog?

Let me start off by saying that I am in the process of training my own service dog and I take it very seriously. Because, honestly it is very tempting and fairly easy to fake a service dog. However, if you know what to look for you will soon be able to see right through that fake vest.

let me share with you a short video that kind of explains what I’m talking about:

Now that I’ve shown you that; I’m actually going to point out that the website that they mention in this video. On its homepage it has a suggested test for if you need a service dog. I will get more into how they fake service dog information later but for now I want to point out this test. Because, I feel it is a great place to start.

1) Do you have a physical or mental impairment?
2) Does this physical or mental impairment significantly limit one or more of your major life activities?

So this sounds like an easy test right? Heck, if I get a headache it is a physical impairment that limits my life Right? A:NO

so this verbiage comes directly from the ADA (American Disabilities Act). “The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.” Quoted from “Definition of Disability Under the ADA: A Practical Overview and Update

It goes on to say:

What is an ADA Impairment?
Generally, whether an individual has an ADA impairment is reasonably clear. It will not likely lead to litigation if the impairment is obvious or if there is a documented diagnosis combined with a substantial limitation of a major life activity. An “impairment” may be physiological, mental, or psychological. The ADA broadly defines the term “impairment” as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the body’s multiple systems, including the special sense organs, neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory,
cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin and endocrine systems. The ADA further defines “impairment” as any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities. Neither the statute nor regulations interpreting and implementing the ADA attempt to list all covered disorders or conditions. A comprehensive listing would be almost impossible, given the number and variety of possible impairments. The definition of impairment does not include
physical characteristics (e.g., left-handedness or normal height or weight deviations), common personality traits (e.g., a quick temper), pregnancy, and cultural or economic disadvantages. There are also certain statutory exclusions from the definition of disability, including individuals engaged in the current use of illegal drugs when the employer acts on
the basis of such use.

What is a Major Life Activity?
Once it is determined that an individual has an impairment as defined by the ADA, one must determine whether that impairment substantially limits a major life activity. As originally enacted in 1990, the ADA did not elaborate upon the meaning of the term “major life activity.” EEOC regulations implementing the ADA did state, however, that functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working are major life activities. Since the early 1990’s, federal courts have identified additional major life activities, such as sitting, standing, bending, communicating, lifting, reaching, sleeping, eating, reading and mental/emotional processes such as thinking, concentrating and interacting with others. All of the major life activities mentioned above are now specifically included in the ADA definition of major life activities due to the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). In addition, Congress broadened the definition of major life activities to include the operation of major bodily functions, such as: the functions of the immune system; normal cell growth; and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions.

I know that it’s a lot to include in this post but I think it’s important to know what the ADA views are.

So my recommendation is if you feel you have a significant impairment to a major life activity verify that with your doctor. If your doctor agrees, then continue down this path of owning a service dog.

So if you’ve gotten this far I will assume that all of the above is true. Now you need to make another decision.

Do you purchase a service dog or do you train your own dog?

It can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 to raise and train a service dog. and then there is the long-term cost of owning a service dog. Food, medical expenses, wellness are some examples and cost about $160 a month for the rest of the dogs life. (Source: Guardian Angels). Some services will donate or subsidize the cost for training the dog but others do not. However, most companies and organizations that train dogs only train ‘their’ dogs and do not rescue dogs to be trained. This way bad traits can be somewhat controlled through breeding. Here is a good list of companies that train service dogs. Keep in mind that when you get a service dog you will also need to be trained on how to get the dog to respond. Many training companies will require you to spend a significant amount of time at their location so you can be trained, and a dog can be trained with you. There are many great reasons why they do this. So, these companies know what it takes to have a successful service dog paired with the right owner.

Training your own dog
So with all of that said, it may seem like it’s much easier just to train your dog. WRONG! If anything it is much harder to train your own dog or rescue a dog to be trained. The problem with rescue dogs is that you never really know their background. To put it simply they come with baggage. At best they’ve been locked up in a shelter for days or weeks. So that’s really not starting out on the best paw.

If you’re thinking about training your own dog, the problem here, is that you probably were not thinking about training a service dog when you got your dog. Therefore, your dog has probably been spoiled by now and is not thinking about service.

However, if you really put aside the time and the dedication and the determination to train your own dog; you will have a service dog specifically for your needs. Furthermore this dog will be even more attached to you and dependent on you.

My decision
If you were unable to tell by now I decided to train my own dog. But, that decision was made very shortly after I acquired my dog.  you can read more about the story on how I got my dog here. I have a friend that I met a few years back that has the very same medical conditions that I have and even the same doctor. He purchased a service dog. I was amazed at how much Vladimir increased my friends quality of life. But at that time I still had Nanuk (my prior Siberian Husky). I decided that my next dog should be a service dog, however, another Siberian Husky adopted us. Siberian Huskies are working dogs but I had never heard of one being a service dog before. Arya changed my mind when she began to actively help me up from my chair, something that is no longer easy for me to do on my own. That’s when I decided to do some research on how to train her myself.

What can a service dog do?
The answer to that really seems to be the sky’s the limit. I did come across this list of commands for service dogs and I’ve been using it as a partial training guide. It is a great example of many of the things a service dog can do. Another great resource that I use as a training guide is the Delta Societies: minimum standards for a service dog.

Also, there are many thinks a service dog can go to help people medically. For Diabetics, dogs can be trained to alert for High or Low blood sugar. For Epiletics dogs can sense when a seizure is comming on. Some dogs can also sence High Blood Presure. Sometimes dogs can be trained for this. But it seems quite often dogs teach themselves what their owner needs. The key here is to noice that trait and then cultivte it so that you can rely on the animal to alert you.

Mentality of Training
I think this is very important. Training a service dog is very different than training a family pet. When you’re training your pet your thinking more along the lines of how it will respond in your house and in your neighborhood. With the service dog you have to keep in mind that this dog will be interacting with people and animals and locations that will be very foreign to it most of the time. Therefore your mentality when you’re training the dog needs to be very different. Many trainers will tell you to be the pack leader and this is very important with training a service dog. You also have to be thinking at all times that this dog is not a pet it is more like a tool. I’m not saying that you don’t want to show the dog love and affection because that is very important. What I am saying is that you have to give that love and affection and also have a minimum standard of how you want or need this animal to act at all times. A good example is my last dog we trained not to beg. By being a pet sometimes we would let them get away with it. With my service dog there are very clear rules on how she is to act that I have set forward, and it is important that everyone in the house that is training her follows those rules. Also, sometimes there is a happy medium that you have to find. In my house we do like to spoil our dog, and this is a good example of that happy medium. We do allow my service dog some leeway when it comes to begging at home with family. However, she is never hand fed and always has to earn the command to eat. So even begging becomes part of her training.

Training a Service Dog; Where to Start?
Honestly, you need to start with basic obedience training. The biggest indicator on if a dog is a service dog is how obedient it is and how it handles itself in public. So obedience training is critical. Even though I have trained dogs before I feel it’s important to have someone to work with you. So find a trainer. Preferably a trainer who is certified by the American Kennel Association. Because one of the minimum guidelines that you should be working towards is the Canine Good Citizen Certification (CGC) from the American kennel Association. As you’re going through this process, you can add in the commands and the jobs that you will need your dog to do or you can wait till after their a certified CGC. In my case I worked with a local pet store (PetsMart) and went through their basic, intermediate and advanced training and are now working through our CGC training. to give you a reference point each of these classes is roughly $120 each for six weeks of training. That would be four classes, roughly 24 weeks of sessions, nearly $500 and two hours of training a day. So this is quite a commitment.

What to Expect
OK time for another dose of reality. Having a service dog you have to be ready for:

  • the fur
  • feeding
  • grooming
  • cleaning up after
  • emotional challenges
  • being the pack leader
  • medical needs

Somewhere I saw a website compared a service dog to having a perpetual toddler. I find this to be very true in so many ways.

Service Vest
When and where to get a service vest and do I even need a service vest? Wow so many questions. The way that the law is written you don’t need a service vest. However, there are a few good reasons to get one. My main reason is that the dog learns that they are “working” when they are wearing the vest. My dog actually ask different when she has the vest on. Another reason to have the vest is that it answers many questions for you. People will see the vest see the words service dog and will not ask, ” Is that a service dog?”. However, this is where we get into that gray area of fraud. This is where people will buy a vest for a dog that is not trained. And now that you kind of see how much training goes into training a service dog, hopefully, now you understand why the vest is such a covenanted item. But, since there is no official government regulation on training there are no rules on who can and cannot buy a service vest for their dog. There are laws against fraud with a service dog. But not in the purchase of their equipment. So after doing some Internet searches I found quite a few websites that sell service vests. I finally settled on this one from pet joy because it feels quite a few of my needs. Some of the things that I do like about this vest are that it has many rings to attach things to it, it has two detachable saddlebags, I was able to have her name embroidered in, and many of the patches are Velcro’ed on so that I can change them out as needed, and I purchased multiple different patches. I got patches that say “service dog”, “ask the pet” and “in training”.

I started using the vest when we finished intermediate training. At that point I put the “in training” patches on the vest and began taking her with me everywhere. My work was very accommodating after I spoke to my manager. And most stores were very kind as well. Since finishing advanced training I replaced the patches with “asked to pet”. Now when asked I tell people that she is in the final stages of her training. When she completes the canine good Citizen I may swap out the patches to all say “service dog”. However, with my dog’s temperament and comfort level in public I very rarely get questions of if she’s in training unless it is a good day and I don’t appear to be handicapped.

Does My Dog Need to Be Certified?
The answer here is maybe. Federal law does not require any kind of certification and there is no basic requirements or standards on the federal level for certification. But, do check with your state. Do your research. I live in California, and it took me a while to find that there is a service dog tag for California. However, many dogs I have met that are trained service dogs do not have this tag. So do your research. This website is a good place to start your search. If you live in California with me you will want to look here.

Important Laws

ADA/U.S. Department of Justice

  • Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person’s disability.
  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be charged extra fees, isolated from other patrons, or treated less favorably than other patrons. However, if a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal.
  • A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
  • In these cases, the business should give the person with the disability the option to obtain goods and services without having the animal on the premises.
  • Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
  • A business is not required to provide care or food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself.
  • Allergies and fear of animals are generally not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals.
  • Violators of the ADA can be required to pay money damages and penalties

  • Allowing dog to injure a guide, signal or service dog is an infraction punishable by a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty dollars ($250)
  • Allowing dog to kill a guide, signal or service dog shall be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine of not less than two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) nor more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both.
  • Intentional injury to, or death of, guide, signal or service dog while the dog is in discharge of its duties, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both a fine and imprisonment. The defendant shall be ordered to make restitution to the person with a disability who has custody or ownership of the dog for any veterinary bills and replacement costs of the dog if it is disabled or killed, or other reasonable costs deemed appropriate by the court.
  • Every individual with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog, especially trained for the purpose, in any of the places specified in Section 54.1 [places to which the general public is invited] without being required to pay an extra charge or security deposit for the guide dog, signal dog, or service dog. However, the individual shall be liable for any damage done to the premises or facilities by his or her dog.
  • Any person or persons, firm or corporation who denies or interferes with admittance to or enjoyment of the public facilities … is liable for each offense for the actual damages and any amount as may be determined by a jury, or the court sitting without a jury, up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damages but in no case less than one thousand dollars ($1,000), and attorney’s fees as may be determined by the court in addition thereto, suffered by any person denied any of the rights…”Interfere,” for purposes of this section, includes, but is not limited to, preventing or causing the prevention of a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog from carrying out its functions in assisting a disabled person.
  • The animal control department shall endorse upon the application for an assistance dog identification tag the number of the identification tag issued. As used in this chapter, “assistance dogs” are dogs specially trained as guide dogs, signal dogs, or service dogs.
  • Whenever a person applies for an assistance dog identification tag, the person shall sign an affidavit stating as follows:”By affixing my signature to this affidavit, I hereby declare I fully understand that Section 365.7 of the Penal Code prohibits any person to knowingly and fraudulently represent himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog, as defined in subdivisions (d), (e), and (f), respectively, of Section 365.5 of the Penal Code and paragraph (6) of subdivision (b) of Section 54.1 of the Civil Code, and that a violation of Section 365.7 of the Penal Code is a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.”
  • Upon the death or retirement of an assistance dog, the owner or person in possession of the assistance dog identification tag shall immediately return the tag to the animal control department that issued the tag.

Oh there are so many more…

ASK TO PET… please spread the word about working service dogs. Many of them when they are working should not be pet at all. They are working, and any distraction while working takes them away from their purpose. However, not all service dogs are always working. Mine for example, only works on command when I need her to. In her case she is okay to beat pet most of the time. But it is very important to always ask before approaching a service dog. Even though my service dog has patches that say “asked pet” she, and I, are constantly challenged with people just walking up and petting her. In my case, I know she is a beautiful dog, and it is hard to to resist the urge to touch her, so I almost always allow people to pet her. But I’m constantly teaching people how important it is to ask first.

In Closing
A service dog is not a pet. It does not need to be identified by a vest or certification. How it handles itself is more identification than anything that can be put on the dog. remember there are only two things that you can ask of a service dog owner:
1) Are you disabled? (yes or no; you cannot ask for details about the disability)
2) Is that a service dog?
3) You can also ask what tasks the service dog can do, however you cannot ask for those tasks to be performed.

Having a service dog has changed my life in many ways, and training my own service dog, has challenged me in many more ways.

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