So you want a service dog? Well I know I do… why wouldn’t you want one? But before we get to that lets talk about what types of dogs are there. Not breeds but types, or classifications…. And then what makes a Service Dog so special?
There are many ways to classify dogs but let’s go like this:
Let’s look at each category a little more.
So this covers those “members of the family” who may or may not be trained. Who could be indoors or outdoors. Who could be an accessory (vanity pets as I call them). In any case we ‘love’ them. Don’t get me wrong I have had many dogs that were pets. But as a dog owner who is working to have a service dog these are in many ways the most dangerous category. Many service dogs are being attacked by ‘pet’ dogs. So many people do not train themselves and their dog. And therefore become an unwilling danger to other dog owners. Oh I have so much to say on this I will stop here and post more on it later. But let’s use this definition: a dog with varying levels of training if any, that fills a need as a family member or family companion.
Most working dogs are trained for their job. Training varies per job. However the dog is viewed as an asset to the job first and friend/companion second. Examples would be sled dogs, search and rescue, detection of drugs or bombs, police dogs. Some jobs may require socialization with other dogs or people but is specific to each situation. Also, when not working they can be family pets also specific to each situation.
Usually a family pet. But with specific training to assist in finding and or retrieving. Could be for sport or survival. Dog or people socialization is not required.
Companion dogs are wonderful help. Similar to the pet above, these dogs are for their companionship. They do not ‘work’. They are simply provide joy to their owner. The American Kennel Club does provide the Companion title however it is judged in a trial where points are awarded and is judged three judges. Wikipedia does point out: “Pet dogs” are never “Companion Dogs” without entering a competition ring and creating a document trail. This is a confusing classification because people have taken the title and twisted it to their liking. But unless judged a your dog is just a pet.
Therapy Dogs are trained to provide comfort and or affection to specific people. These could be in a hospital, nursing home, school or any other place where people need comfort in a stressful or difficult situation. They are trained to be comfortable around all people. It is preferred to also be socialized with other animals. Aggression in any form is almost always grounds to loose Therapy status. Most US locations require at a minimum that the animal pass the American Kennel Club‘s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. Many locations that Therapy dog work also want to certify the dog or test the dog. A therapy dog is not a service dog. A therapy dog is a well trained pet that some locations will allow them into once certified by that location.
So this is where we want to go…
A service dog is trained to assist a person with a disability. This could be a range of things. We all may have seen a dog that assists with sight (guide dog) or hearing (signal dog), but there are many things that a dog can do to help someone with disabilities including severe depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The big thing is that the owner is disabled in accordance with ADA guidelines AND is able to perform duties for the disabled person. Each state can have more strict rules. The way that the ADA law is written says that only two questions can be asked; “(1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.” it continues, “…cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.” The law requires that any location that the public is allowed Service Dogs are also allowed. However, “A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.” In California there is a tag that animal control issues to guide, signal, and service dogs, but there is an affidavit that has to be submitted.
Therefore training is very important. A good place to start is your local AKA certified trainer so you can work to complete Canine Good Citizen Certification from there you need to look at making sure that the dog is trained to serve you and your disability. Some companies train dogs for you, but it is possible to train your own dog. However, this is not an easy thing to do. Look over the CGC certification, do you think you will have the patience, time and money to work with your dog to get them to this standard? Trust me. I love dogs and have trained my prior pets to a standard that I was comfortable with, but this is a significant commitment.
Keep in mind that many states have specific laws for fraudulently representing your dog as a Service dog. In California if you are not disabled according to the ADA then you could be fined up to $1000 AND imprisoned for up to six months and charged with a misdemeanor.
Also, there are laws for denying access to a Service Dog. In California it is a misdemeanor and the fine could be up to $2,500. And if the dog is injured or killed intentionally California can charge the person with a misdemeanor, jail them for one year and fine them $5,000.
So there are many types of dogs but Service Dogs are very special.
As of this week my dog Arya has completed two six week training courses and we are now preparing for her CGC test with another six weeks of training. I do have a Service vest for her with patches that state “In Training”. She currently helps me when I get up from a chair or the floor also occasionally I have lost my balance and have been able to use her to stable myself. We will soon start working on having her pull harder when we go up stairs or an incline (on command) and picking up things off the floor and giving them to me.
Some helpful Links: