A service dog or assistance dog is specially trained to help people who have disabilities. These disabilities may include visual impairment, hearing impairments, mental illnesses including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seizure disorder, mobility impairment, or diabetes.
For a dog to be a service dog it generally requires a good temperament and health. Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are the most common breeds used as service dogs, but any breed or mix of breeds is capable of being a service dog.
What are the laws surrounding service and assistance dogs?
In the United States, the applicable law covering places of public accommodation is Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. On September 15, 2010, the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, issued "ADA 2010 Revised Requirements; Service Animals." It states that:
"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."
Unlike a service animal, a comfort animal is one that has not been trained to perform specific tasks directly related to the person's disability. A service dog may still provide help for people with emotions related to psychiatric disabilities, but the dog must be trained to perform specific actions, such as distracting the person when he or she becomes anxious or engages in behaviors related to the disability.
Assistance Dogs International provides more information on laws surrounding service or assistance dog.
Assistance not protection!
A very important point is made by ADI; A Service or Assistance Dogs job is to make a disabled individual more able, not to protect them. The dog’s presence is a natural deterrent. Because disabled people take their Service Dogs into public places and many are not able to physically restrain their dogs, the Assistance Dog must be safe for the public. Many dogs, especially working breeds, will sense their owner’s disability and their vulnerability. These dogs can learn on their own to protect at inappropriate times.
Where are service dogs allowed to go?
Public access rights of owners of service dogs vary according to country.
Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment."
Under the ADA, businesses are permitted to deny access to service dogs that are not behaving properly. They may also be excluded if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration of the business or poses a direct threat. Persons with service dogs are not required to pay any additional fees on account of the service dog, though the owner is responsible for any damages caused by the dog.
How to training a service dog?
By definition, a Service Dog is a dog that performs a task that mitigates a disability of the dog's owner. Since each person experiences a disability differently and therefore has different needs for assistance, each dog is to some extent custom-trained for the individual it will help.
Assistance Dogs International (ADI) is an internationally recognized accreditor of legitimate service dog organizations. Assistance dog organisations that pass ADI’s comprehensive accreditation become ADI members and are regularly assessed to ensure they meet the high standards expected. You can go to their web site to find recognised training organisations.
The purpose of ADI is to:
improve the training, placement, and utilization of assistance dogs
improve staff and volunteer education
educate the public about assistance dogs,
advocate for the legal rights of people with disabilities partnered with assistance dogs.
Currently, ADI only recognizes and accredits non-profit organizations. Some government agencies require that service dogs on premises maintain a certification through an ADI-accredited organization (i.e., military bases, flying internationally, etc.). Currently the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require certification by any organization to have your dog with you in public environments.
There are many legitimate for-profit training organisations that train service dogs and you may wish to use this option with training your service dog. PAWS is a private service dog training centre. PAWS Training Centers provides service dog training to help with the specific needs of his or her handler.
What does a service dog learn in training?
The dog, the handler, and often the handler’s family or support group are trained to work together to help overcome the specific day-to-day challenges faced by the handler. Service dog training includes teaching the dog how to behave appropriately in every type of public setting they may encounter, including cars, elevators, public transportation, restaurants, churches, wheelchairs, crowds, other dogs, and noises and distractions. Their training provides concrete and proven methods to prepare the service dog and the handler to pass a public access test.
A service dog can learn many tasks to assist an owner who might be experiencing sudden flare-up symptoms, side effects of medications, or other conditions in which outside help is needed. Other tasks include:
Bring medication to alleviate symptoms
Remind the owner to take medication at certain times of day
Bring a beverage so the owner can swallow the medication
Bring the emergency phone during a crisis
Provide balance assistance on stairs
Assist the owner in rising and steadying himself or herself
Respond to smoke alarm if owner is unresponsive
Carry medical related supplies or information
Provide tactile stimulation to disrupt emotional overloads
Give exterior stimulation to combat neurological damages
Wake up the owner for work or school
Light up dark rooms
Keep suspicious strangers away
How long does it take to train a service dog?
The length of training is different for every dog and there are many factors that need to be taken into account i.e. age of dog, trainability, skill sets they need to acquire, and level of involvement of the owner/handler. Sometimes training can take in excess of 1 year to complete depending on these factors.
Training begins with the all important evaluation. This includes understanding your needs and what you need from your service dog. After evaluation, the dog moves onto basic obedience through to more advanced obedience classes. After those important skills are mastered, dogs then learns special disability skills. Time and cost will vary on this one depending on how many skills the dog is required to learn and how difficult those skills are. The dog is then taken into public to use the learned skills while interacting with people, traffic and society in general.
What is the cost of training a service dog?
Training a service dog can be quite expensive. This, however, all depends on your dog and your dogs skills, obedience and the disability skills that your dog needs to learn. Overall, the cost may vary anything from $5,000 - $20,000 (and up).
Many people fundraise to help with the cost of training a service dog. You may be able to start an online fundraiser like gofundme or ask businesses or the community to help with the cost. The other option is to seek out not-for-profit organisations that are able to help.
Can I claim a tax deduction for my service dog?
Costs associated with purchasing a service dog, training costs, veterinarian bills, food if prescribed by the veterinarian, and other expenses may all be tax deductible!
In the united states, people who have service animals are permitted claim the expenses related to buying, training, and maintaining the service dog or other animal. This includes expenses for food, grooming, and veterinary care.
It is essential that you consult your tax preparer for correct and additional information.
How to identify a service dog?
Service dogs may wear specialists, badges, or ID tags, but these are not a requirement of the ADA. By wearing special vests or badges, however, the public are quickly made aware that your dog is working and has had significant training to provide you with special assistance when required.
If your dog wearing an identification vest, a potential conflict can be avoided by alerting people prior to them becoming frustrated or angry that you are taking your dog to places that dogs are not normally allowed to go.
If you are looking to buy a service dog vest, here are some great solutions to alert the public that your dog is special.
1. BarkOutfitters Service Dog Vest
This high quality authentic Service Dog Harness Vest has adjustable chest plate to maintain a sturdy fit. All straps are also adjustable and have reflective strips for safety. Includes 50 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) business cards that states your rights. Built in top handle for extra control and Stainless Steel D rings and a neoprene liner for your dog's comfort.
For the right fit and comfort for your dog following the sizing guide below:
2. Wiredog Service Dog Vest
This smaller wrap around style Wiredog Service Dog Vest is made in the USA and backed by Wiredog's industry-leading lifetime guarantee. Available in 3 colors and a wide range of sizes that will fit dogs from as little as 8 pounds up to 115 pounds. It comes with clear pocket comes with 5 of our service dog information cards to hand out to those who need help understanding the laws and questions surrounding service dogs. It is easy to put on and off thanks to fully adjustable chest and girth straps with quick release buckles.
Service dogs really are amazing dogs. If you come across a service dog, understand that they are working and it is best that we don't distract them. Read all about the do's and don'ts when you are around service dogs.