There is always some (a lot of) confusion about what a service dog is, who needs one, what they do, how they are defined, and what public access rights they have. This blog post was created as a guide to help dog owners understand the definition of a service dog, what they do, and help determine if your dog is a service dog or is potentially eligible to become a service dog.
What is a Service Dog?
The official definition of a service dog, as defined by ADA law is “a dog that is individually trained to work or perform taste for people with disabilities.”
This means that to have a service dog a person must have a disability. And two, their dog must be trained to perform specific tasks that assist with symptoms or behaviors related to that disability. In an everyday context this looks like a dog who is highly trained and responds to their handler with a specific, clear, and defined behavior, that it is able to perform reliability everywhere, anywhere, and every time.
Service dogs are supposed to be treated as a piece of medical equipment. They are allowed in almost all public spaces if they are under the control of the handler and are housebroken. If a service dog is clearly not under control of their handler, or soils a space, they can be asked to leave. They can also be excluded from certain settings where their presence may break the sterile barrier, like an operating room or tattoo studio.
If a staff member is unsure of a dog’s status as a service animal they are allowed to ask the handler two very specific questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
They cannot ask what a person’s disability is, ask for medical documentation, or ask for a special identification card.
Can my dog be a service dog?
So, how exactly can you train your dog to be a service dog? Well, first you need to be disabled and a dog must be able to perform tasks to mitigate this disability.
If you do have a disability, and a dog can perform tasks to mitigate it, congratulations, you might qualify for a service dog!
The next step is incredibly tricky, you need to find the right dog. It must have an absolute bombproof temperament and can literally go anywhere and everywhere without any type of hesitation. The dog needs to be in perfect health, no physical, orthopedic or any other medical conditions.
Another option is finding a service dog through a program. Legitimate programs have long wait lists. Like self-training a service dog, a dog purchased through a program will be very expensive, up to $20,000.
The third step is training your dog. This is an incredibly labor, time, and money intensive process. It can cost as much or more than a program dog ($20,000) and will take about two years. And even with all this, there is a chance that the dog will wash out and not be eligible to work for a variety of reasons including temperament, or health issues.
To help you determine if your dog is a service dog or not, I have created a quick quiz.
Is my dog a service dog quiz? Can he become my service dog?
- Are you disabled?
- Are there tasks your dog can do to aid your disability?
- Does your dog have a bombproof temperament? Literally never getting upset about anything?
- Is your dog physically healthy? No luxating patellas, no hip dysplasia, etc?
- Have you invested years of training into teaching your dog how to perform their tasks, behave in public and develop your skills as a handler?
If you answered no to any of the questions above, then your dog is not currently a working service dog. If you only answered no to number 5, you could potentially work with your dog until they become a service dog. But it is likely a couple years before they will be fully trained and ready for public access.
© Leash and Learn 2022