Basically, a service dog or animal is the same as an assistance dog that undergoes a lot of training to assist people suffering from disabilities – mental and physical. They can also be a best friend for people with severe depression. Service dogs can be specifically trained by service dog organization to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. However, the owner can also train the animal. Some dogs are donated from different breeders and some are abandoned dogs donated from local shelters. However, not all dogs can be a service dogs. Things like temperament, the ability to learn complex tasks, etc. Come into play within the dogs training. But any breed or mixture of breeds of dog might produce a representative capable of service work. In short, depending on breeds, your dog can have all of the qualities in terms of health, temperament, trainability and physical ability. These characteristics can lead them to be more than just your pet but a service dog/pet instead.
So, what’s to expect after your dog has been certified? Honestly, for most, owners expect service dogs to be treated as animal on shift or working animal in public. Why? Simply because every owner’s safety purely depends on dogs ability to handle distractions. During the training, your dog is prepared to avoid distraction as much as they can especially when wearing their gear and at the same time they are trained to be relax and friendly when the gear is removed. An owner’s permission is a must before other people interacts with the dog while in public places.
What you might not know is that you can actually train your own service dogs. Nowadays, more people are choosing to train their own dog because there are times that training programs just aren’t able to train the dog to the owner’s individual needs. However, not all countries allow that type of training. Luckily, this is permitted to some countries including US but there are certain criteria to be considered. Trainers have to have skills which allows them to understand that their experience in training advanced service dogs are different from training the average dog simple obedience skills. Owners may need to hire a professional trainer or organization that is willing to train owner’s dog. Owner-trainers usually start training their dog when they are still a puppy until they reach the right age to be evaluated. The only downfall is that some find it difficult to deal with emotional conflict in rare cases when a dog failed the evaluations and decide whether to re-home the dog and start again or to just keep it as a pet.
On the other hand, professionally trained puppies were raised accordingly via very careful research and also had to undergo a regime that has a lot of strict guidelines and mostly given a success rate of 85 % and above after evaluation which is way higher than owner-trained puppies/dogs. Why is that so? This is because program trainers are expert in manipulating the genetics or say early stimulation of puppies until the event that they become service dogs.
If you are planning to get a service dog, you don’t have to worry about bringing them to where you are. In fact, as soon as your dog got registered, they are allowed to go anywhere you go. You can feel free to bring them to any restaurants, buses, schools, ride taxis, take airplanes, stores, movie theatres, sporting events, watch concerts with you, visit doctor’s offices, and any other public place. Legally speaking, it is a requirement of federal and state laws to always have your dog with you. What makes it more exciting is that they do not have to wear any identifying gear, no need to wear their vest as well. So everything could actually be owner’s discretion. The truth is that a lot of service dog owners choose to dress their dogs in vest and identifying apparels to avoid questions and confrontations in public. So by doing so, it makes their life easier and at the same time it helps keep the dogs away from distractions as much as possible. If you bring your dog elsewhere, keep in mind that it is illegal to ask for specific identification from service dogs partners. If somebody did, tell them it is not allowed by law. You can bring ID cards with you, but take note that it should be done voluntarily, again, this is NOT required and should never be expected.
So far, the most popular assistance animals are dogs. This is because dogs are man’s best friend – wonderful pet, provides companionship, and protects their owner. Dogs are sociable by nature and as a matter of fact, they work closely with people such as law enforcement, search and rescue and even farming. These characteristics made it possible for dogs to be service animals.
What if you don’t have a dog? In some cases, other animals can be trained to perform task to help disabled individuals to live independent life. The truth is that any trainable animal could be your service animal. The most common of course are dogs, cats, primates and birds but in reality any animal that is capable for training to perform the tasks required to benefit a qualified disabled owner/individual could be considered to be a service animal. So that means you can also have others like capuchin monkeys, which can be trained to do other task like operating knobs and switches, grasping fallen items and turn pages of your books. You can also consider training miniature horses, it’s proven that after serious trainings, they can actually guide the blind; they can pull wheelchairs and even assist individuals with Parkinson’s disease. As a matter of fact even before the evolution of service dogs, animal interactions already plays a big role in helping human with health issues. One example is horseback riding which is actually mentioned throughout history as cure for some sickness including gout, neurological disorders and depression. Up until now, animals still assist us in terms of physical and mental illness and still assist people with disabilities. Any species or breed of service animal may used by a disabled handler.
Keep in mind that service animals are classified based on task they can do but have you ever wonder about the difference between service animal, dog guide and therapy animal, companion/emotional support animals and pets? This question oftentimes brings confusions to people who need help.
To make it all clear, the term Service Animal is the federal legal term for animals that are individually trained to do task for individual with disability. It may not always be a dog, does not always wear equipments identifying them as service animals, is not a pet, is protected by law, guide the blind, alert people who are deaf, carry or pick up items, close and open doors, assist disabled who have limited use of arms and legs, pull wheelchairs, assist individual with seizures and assist people who have problems in balancing.
A guide dog / animal is trained to provide guidance for sight impaired individual. Guide dogs had their trainings from certified licensed school for guide dogs. The most important thing is that guide dogs are protected under state and federal law.
Some people referred to their animals as therapy animal however it is not legally defined under federal law. Most therapy animals can be seen in nursing homes, orphanages, hospitals, etc. while others reside in doctor/dentist offices, rehabilitations establishments, and even in private homes of people or individual that benefits a lot for keeping animals because of the therapeutic companionship it has to offer. For some states, it is defined as personal pet for therapist, physicians so in short, a therapy animal is not a service animal. The hint is that when an animal is trained to provide continuous assistance (help, aid, support) to a qualified disabled individual because of his / her disability, then that means that the animal is considered as service animal rather than a therapy animal.
In rare cases, people term their animals as companion or emotional support animals. It’s often given the role of specifically assisting people with either emotional or mental disabilities and need constant companionship because they are unable to function independently. This type of animals are almost same as pets because it’s not legally defined but accepted as another form of pet and protected under Fair Housing Act.
The most common confusion is how the pet is different from any other service animals. The answer is just simple. A pet is not a service animal because it’s not trained to provide specific service or task to person with disability and it’s not protected under laws that give equal access to disable individuals.
With all the types of service animals, people sometimes failed to identify if an animal is service animal or not. To tell you honestly, it’s easier to tell which is not. How? You can tell by looking. It’s important that you don’t make the person with disability feel uncomfortable when you ask. However, if you are still confused if the animal meets the criteria to be called as service animal, you can ask question in a discreet way. You can ask if animal is required due to disability or maybe ask for task and services the animal was trained for. Remember that it’s a big NO to ask the person about their disability. Never ever ask a guest for proof. In short, you cannot discriminate people with service animals because of their disability. You should not ask people with disabilities and their service animals to stay away or required to sit in certain locations, but instead, the individual with the animal may choose freely to sit in a location where the animal will be less distracted. Besides, with all the proper trainings given to both the owner and the animal, you may expect the service animal to behave the right way and be under control of their owner.
If you don’t have disability, it’s recommended for you to learn how to act the right way in cases that you see service animals in public. Keep in mind that you should never distract the dog on shift by calling, clapping, and even by offering food. You should never attempt to touch the service dog. You can speak to the dog owner but not to the service dog. Since we’re avoiding distractions here, you should not get offended if your request to pet the assistance dog is not granted. You need to understand that if the owner lets the dog to greet you, you are distracting the dog’s ability to stay alert on their owners. Don’t be rude by telling the person that dogs are not allowed but instead ask if the dog is assistant dog. If the answer is yes, then stop questioning. If the person doesn’t look disabled, never assume that the dog is not a service dog. Remember, it’s wiser to observe first. If the dog pays too much attention and conduct close interaction to owner, chances are you are looking to a service dog.
On the other hand, if you are a service dog owner, you still need to pay attention on your dog’s behavior and standards in public. People without disability will expect appropriate behavior from your dog. When going out, make sure your service animal is clean and doesn’t have bad odor and most importantly, the service dog should not defecate or urinate in inappropriate places. Registered service animals should never make unsolicited contact with members of the general public and the animal’s conduct should not disrupt the normal businesses no matter what. As an owner, it’s a must for you to have the animal trained not to show aggression towards other people and animals at all. Service dog should obey all the commands of their owner. It is always important to have the animal work quietly and calmly as possible especially when wearing gears, and as a service animal, they are specifically trained to work out in public. Lastly, assistant animals should stay at least within 24 inches of its owner unless required to work in a greater distance. People with allergies are not protected under the law unless the allergy is really disabling. The person with a disability who is using a service animal is protected. One good place on the internet to get a proper registration for the dog and or animal is at http://www.registeredservicedogs.com.
by Jasmin Espinoza
Registered Service Dogs / Staff