How To Make Your Dog A Service Dog: A Step-By-Step Guide2021-06-17
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, people across the country living with a disability have been guaranteed the right to keep a service animal to protect and assist them. These canines are defined by the ADA as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”
If you or a loved one lives with a disability such as blindness, full or partial paralysis, seizures, or even cancer, you may qualify for a service dog. The following step-by-step guide walks you through the full process of making your dog a service dog, from verifying whether your animal qualifies and the minimum requirements you must meet to qualify to own one, to what life activities a service animal can assist you with.
1. Be Clear On the Service Dog’s Purpose
There are many types of service/support animals, from Emotional Support Animals, to Work Dogs and Therapy Dogs, to Service Dogs. A service dog is trained to perform work specifically related to their owner’s disability.
For instance, service dogs with owners on the autism spectrum learn to interpret their owners’ unique, sometimes nonverbal, communication styles and help them express their needs to the outside world. They can read signs from stoplights to smoke alarms, act as emotional anchors for autistic children, and can be trained to encourage the development of language.
Service dogs are granted “full public access rights” by the ADA, meaning they can accompany their owners to school, work, and on transportation, even planes (though regulations differ across airlines). While service dogs, like emotional support animals, can provide enormous emotional comfort and greatly improve mental quality of life, their primary purpose is to accomplish tasks that their owners are physically incapable of performing for themselves.
To make your dog a service dog, you have the option of either self-training or enrolling them in a dedicated service dog training program.
2. Check That You Qualify for a Service Dog
Any individual living with a “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability” who has the means to acquire one, or who can provide for their pets’ specialized training, can qualify to keep a service dog.
There is no official government list of qualifying disabilities, but mental disabilities such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autism, and physical disabilities such as blindness, ALS, paralysis, stroke, and chronic pain commonly qualify.
In each of those cases, the ability to complete tasks that are essential for survival are impeded in at least one crucial way, from acquiring food and reading safety signage to breathing and sleeping.
3. Adequately Train Your Service Dog
While not all animals can be service animals (in contrast to the rules for emotional support animals, which are wide open to most pets), just about any dog can qualify as a service dog, but keep these considerations in mind.
Service dogs do not have to be enrolled in special training classes or be seen by a licensed handler, but for the good of the owner, it’s best to be certain of your dog’s temperament and training before putting them to the test (and putting yourself on the spot) in the real world.
Your pet must be able to prove it can accomplish whatever task your disability prevents you from accomplishing. So, if you are physically incapacitated and need help opening doors, fetching objects off tables, and carrying certain items around, your Chihuahua might not be the best candidate for the job.
Health and temperament are also key factors to be considered. Your dog must not be ailing or themselves disabled, as to interfere in any way with their duties.
Some owners subject their pets to “public access tests” before pursuing training, which ensures the animal will not be aggressive, distracted, overly excited, or too fearful when comporting itself in public places. One of the ADA’s few mandates when it comes to keeping a specially-trained animal is that it be strictly well-mannered and obey orders under any and all conditions.
4. Consider Service Dog Registration
If you’ve ever seen an animal escorting their owner around in public, you’ve probably glimpsed the dog wearing a vest, or the owner bearing an identification card that contains a registration number.
The ADA does not require specific licensing or service dog registration, but many owners opt to acquire an ID that can be worn on a vest around the dog’s body, on a lanyard around the owner’s neck, or elsewhere. Why? Being able to flash a ID reduces the conversation of why you’re bringing a dog into this or that establishment which probably doesn’t permit dogs into a single gesture.
Not everyone is knowledgeable about the entitlements granted to the disabled person that are enshrined in the ADA, including the language around service dogs. Sadly, some people can even be brusque or impatient with owners who might struggle to explain their rights or the purpose of their service dog if they live with, for example, a speech disorder.
Certifying your dog with an organization like Service Dog Registration of America and obtaining an ID card cuts back on potential stress, conflict, and instances of discrimination.
Life as you know it doesn’t have to grind to a halt when you become disabled. Everything can be reworked, and keeping a service animal is a great way to start.
Service dogs can be trained to help their owners by filling in the gaps that physical, mental, and emotional disabilities leave behind. From closing doors behind their owners to alerting them to emergency circumstances, these animals not only improve lives but can also save them.
Service Dog Registration of America can provide you with all the resources and materials needed to get your dog trained, seek out obtaining a pre-trained service dog if you don’t have one, outfit your dog with all the necessary gear, and more. To find out more, visit our FAQ page.