Service dogs are dogs that are trained to perform a specific task for people who have disabilities. A person can get a service dog for various tasks depending on the disability. Service dogs can help in navigating people who are hearing and visually impaired, they can assist someone who is having a seizure, they can calm people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some dogs can even call 911 in an emergency. Many people depend on service dogs to help them in their everyday lives.
Service Dogs Under Federal Law
Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law states that an individual with a disability is entitled to a service dog to help them live their lives normally. The ADA allows people to bring their service dogs in most public places, like restaurants, hotels, housing complexes, and air travel. One of the most important parts of this law is that the dog is trained to be a working animal, not a pet. Service dogs go through a long training process and are specifically trained to help those who need it. The ADA has a specific definition of a disability that states that a disability is a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities of such individual.
Identifying Service Dogs
Service dogs are usually wearing some type of vest and a tag to identify that they are a service dog and is helping another person. Many businesses and airlines also require an identification card or vest that specifically indicates that the dog is a service dog and not just a pet.
Disabilities that May Require a Service Dog
A disability can be physical, neurological, respiratory, digestive, circulatory, or reproductive. Not every disability requires a service dog but here are some that allow for one:
- Mobility Issues (Including Paralysis)
- Sensory Issues (Blindness, Hearing Loss, etc.)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Bone and Skeletal (Such as Osteoporosis, Scoliosis, etc.)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
There are three types of service dogs: hearing, guide, and service dogs. Guide dogs help those who are blind or visually impaired. Hearing dogs help those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Service dogs assist those with a disability, like those who use wheelchairs, have balance issues, or other medical issues.
Training of Service Dogs
Making a dog a service dog is a very long and arduous process. Dogs must be able to perform their tasks on command and perform the skills that are required for the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test which is a series of objectives designed to evaluate the dog’s behavior in distracting environments. Organizations who train these dogs have very high standards and many dogs do not actually pass the final requirements to be placed with an owner. The dropout rate for organization-trained service dogs can be as high as 50 to 70 percent. This is important because the ADA regulations state that service dogs must be under control and house-trained at all times in a public setting. Dogs training to be service dogs usually take two years of training from organizations. It is very serious and very difficult for a dog to get through.
Here are some things to know if you see a service dog in public:
- A service dog in public is always working.
- a service dog is doing vital work for their owner so it is important to not distract the dog. This includes petting, using baby talk, crowding the dog, or touching the dog at all unless the owner says that it is ok.
- Not all service dogs are the same.
- they do not all look alike or are they the same breed.
- A service dog is considered medical equipment.
- a person would never walk up to someone that they didn’t know and start pushing their wheelchair, their heart monitor, or their cane, so it is important to not touch, talk to, or pet a service dog that you do not know.
- A service dog is protected under the law.
- the ADA states that a service dog can go anywhere in public places.
- Never ask a person why they need a service dog.
- Although you might be curious, it can offend people if you ask and it can be considered rude. A person does not have to explain why they need a service dog to anyone that is not an official who needs the information to make sure that the dog is a legitimate service dog.
Service dogs are truly remarkable animals so be sure that if you see a service dog in public to not pet the dog or distract the dog from its work. Always treat service dogs as well as their owners with the respect and privacy that they deserve. If you would like to learn how to train your dog to be a training dog, you totally can but it will take a very long time.