What is a Service Animal

There is an epidemic in this country and that epidemic is called “Service Dogs”. It’s become fashionable to have one and there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there about Service Dogs. So what is a Service Dog?

Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

A pet dog should not be “turned into a Service Dog” just because you want to make a fashion statement. There is real work involved with building a Service Dog. If I could choose whether or not I truly need a Service Dog, I’d go without one. I wish I could walk without crutches for even 1/4 of a mile, walk down stairs by myself and pick up things that I have dropped. It took years of hard work to get my dog where he is today and it never stops. His training has to be maintained regularly.

What tasks does my Service Dog provide:

    • Blocking
    • Counter Balance
    • Momentum Pull
    • Opening Drawers and getting Medication
    • Opening Doors
    • Retrieval of any dropped item or directed retrieves

The following video shows my Service Dogs behavior, public access obedience and task training:

Service Dog Work from Sandra King on Vimeo.

In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (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? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

While there is no official certification or registration, businesses are absolutely allowed to ask questions. They can ask you whether or not your dog is a Service Animal and what the dog does to mitigate your disability. That being said, the law does invite people to commit Service Dog Fraud. In case your dog is unruly, a nuisance or not housebroken, the business is within it’s right to remove your dog.

A service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave. However, if a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler, that animal may be excluded. If an animal is excluded for such reasons, staff must still offer their goods or services to the person without the animal present.

Furthermore, emotional support and comforting is not considered a task. If all your dog does is to comfort you, that’s what an Emotional Support Dog is for. Service Dogs are specifically task trained to mitigate ones disability.

The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

Last but not least, the difference between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs and Therapy Dogs. There is a lot of confusion between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs specifically. Often times people say “I want him to be my Therapy Animal.” or “How do I train him to be my Therapy Service Dog?”

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Graphic made by “Project Canine”