Service Dogs 101: What You Should Know and How to Apply for One2020-04-15
We all know that dogs are amazing creatures. Their friendliness and loyalty really do make them man’s best friend.
Service dogs are an even bigger blessing. These animals are super smart and are committed to learning important tasks. This allows them to help owners with disabilities overcome challenges and live a normal life.
Think that you could benefit from a service dog? The laws and other specifics surrounding this topic can get confusing. Plus, with all the information out there, you might not know where to start.
In this article, we provide you with a comprehensive guide. Here’s everything you need to know about these animals and how you can apply for one.
What is a Service Dog?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only classifies dogs (or miniature horses) as service animals.
This federal law protects these beings when it comes to public accommodations. All title II and title III entities must allow service dogs where members of the public are allowed to go.
The ADA is clear about service dogs being assistance dogs; they are not pets. They must be trained to assist a disabled person, and the tasks they perform must be directly related to the person’s disability.
For instance, blind individuals may use guide dogs to navigate day-to-day life. Those who use a wheelchair or walking devices, on the other hand, might have a mobility dog.
These are just a couple of examples of service dogs and the disabilities they help with. Others may alert their hearing-impaired human partner, remind owners to take medicine, etc.
In short, to be a service animal, a dog must:
● Assist a person with a disability/mental illness in their daily life
● Perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability
What’s the Difference Between a Service Dog and Emotional Support Animal?
Many people wonder if emotional support animals/therapy dogs and service dogs are the same. According to the ADA, they are not.
Emotional support animals aren’t necessarily dogs. Emotional support animals can be anything from cats to birds. Keep in mind that the ADA only recognizes dogs or miniature horses as service animals.
But what about dogs that provide emotional support?
Currently, the ADA does not recognize dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort as service dogs.
While the ADA doesn’t recognize these animals, emotional support dogs have protections under the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.
Psychiatric Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Animals
As we mentioned above, an emotional support animal is not a service dog. This leads some people to believe that a psychiatric service dog is not a legitimate service dog.
But, these animals perform tasks directly related to your disability.
For instance, let’s say you struggle with anxiety, and your boxer is trained to help you cope with panic attacks. They can sense when an anxiety attack is coming and respond appropriately. They may fetch medication or even lead someone to you for help. While they may provide comfort, they are also trained to respond to your disability. This would lead the ADA to consider the boxer a service animal.
Why Do You Need a Service Dog?
People use service dogs when they have a disability. They help individuals overcome day-to-day challenges they face and protect them.
Some tasks service dogs can perform for people with disabilities include:
● Guiding blind people through their environment
● Alerting deaf or hearing-impaired people of noises (doorbells, crying babies, etc.)
● Making those with PTSD feel safer (entering their owner’s home first and turning on the lights with a foot pedal, etc.)
● Preventing children with autism from running away
● Alerting and assisting someone suffering from seizures
● Alerting those with diabetes of high or low blood sugar levels
● Assisting those with mobility issues (pressing buttons on automatic doors, retrieving objects, helping an individual with their balance, etc.)
How to Qualify For a Service Dog
So, how do you qualify for a service dog?
If you are getting an animal from an organization, it will likely have certain requirements. Some standard eligibility requirements include:
● The individual must be at least 12 years old.
● They must live in a stable home environment.
● They should be able to properly take care of the animal or live with someone who can.
● They cannot have another dog in the home. In most cases, other pets are allowed.
● They must have a diagnosed disability. Some organizations require a letter from a physician. The letter should state that they have a disability and would benefit from an animal performing specific tasks.
● They must be capable of participating in any additional training the dog needs.
A note about the first criterium: if the individual is between 6 and 12 years old and has autism, they may be eligible. They must also:
● Have strong family support
● Have an adult sibling, parent, or guardian living in the home who is trained as a facilitator
● Be enrolled in an education program
● Be enrolled in a therapy program (occupational, speech, recreational, physical, etc.)
Can Any Dog Be a Service Dog?
Not all dogs can be service dogs.
For one, some breeds are just better equipped for the line of work. They may learn more efficiently or exhibit better behavior. They may also have an easier time completing specific tasks. Key characteristics to look for include:
● Gentle temperament
● Calm in public places
● Alert and attentive
● Ability to listen and respond to commands
● Willing to learn
● An innate desire to please service dog owners
● Ability to practice willful disobedience (disobeying commands when it’s in the owner’s best interests)
Popular service dog breeds include:
● Golden retrievers
● German shepherds
● Labrador retrievers
While these are among the most common, other breeds make great service animals.
For instance, Saint Bernards help those with mobility issues. Their large size and powerful stature are great for assisting with balance and movement.
Not all service dogs have to be big. Smaller breeds such as the Papillon often act as hearing dogs. They use their acute senses to alert deaf or hearing-impaired owners of noises. The toy poodle, another smaller breed, uses its sense of smell to warn dog owners of abnormal blood sugar levels.
It’s true that some breeds tend to be more capable of service work than others. However, keep in mind that just because a dog is of a certain breed doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ready to help a disabled person. Factors such as its upbringing and natural temperament might make it a poor candidate.
Why Service Dog Registration of America?
The ADA does not require service dogs to be officially registered, certified, licensed, or trained.
The law says that all title II and title II entities permit service animals. This means that even establishments such as restaurants and hotels must allow your service animal to accompany you.
If it isn’t clear that your dog is a service dog, the owner of an establishment can only ask the following questions:
1. Is it a service animal required because of a disability?
2. What tasks is the animal trained to perform?
They cannot ask what your disability is or request documentation. So, why should you bother with official service dog registration?
In short, the registration process is easy and will provide you with helpful resources and keep you up to date on legal changes impacting your service dog.
Our services are very simple to sign up for. To create your account, we ask that you provide your email address and create a password. And that’s it!
To fill out the registration form on our website, all you need to share is:
● Your full name
● Your animal’s name
● The services the animal performs
● A picture of your animal
Registration is completely free. Through your account, you’ll have access to our vast resources. You can purchase ID cards and vests that will help better identify your service dog. Your account gives you access to coupons for products across our site.
Registration also helps you stay in-the-know. You’ll receive quarterly federal law updates that may impact your day-to-day life. We also send out emails regarding trainers and programs across the country.
Be sure to register your service dog today! It’s an easy process that will give you access to high-quality products and the best advice and information.
Where to Get a Service Dog
Many individuals choose to get their service dog from a professional organization. For-profit and nonprofit organizations train and provide service dogs, some of the most notable being:
● Canine Companions for Independence
● Guiding Eyes for the Blind
● Pets for Vets
● Paws with a Cause
One may also bring their own dog to a professional trainer. Or, they may choose to train their dog themselves.
How to Train Your Service Dog
As you can probably imagine, training a service dog is a long, complicated process. It takes many hours of dedication and hard work from both the trainer and the animal. They have to be able to properly perform tasks and be attentive to their owners’ needs.
Choosing a Professional Trainer
Most individuals decide to use a professional trainer. It’s important to find a reputable trainer that will properly teach your dog.
Keep in mind that there is no ADA certification for service dog trainers. This means the community is mostly self-regulated, so you should do your research before choosing a trainer.
When searching for a trainer, look for the following factors:
● Reviews. Do they have good reviews? What’s their Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating? Do you know people that have had good experiences with their program?
● Willingness to answer your questions. Call and speak directly with the trainer. They should be willing to answer all of your questions without hesitancy.
● Licensed/certifications. While there is no ADA certification, trainers may get licenses or certifications from other organizations. See what accreditations they have and if they come from reputable sources.
● Experience. How long have they been a professional trainer? Do they have experience teaching dogs to serve people with your disability?
If a trainer seems to be a good match, visit their facility first. Get a sense of what they are like and see if their facility is clean. The animals should appear happy, healthy, and well taken care of.
Training Your Service Dog Yourself
Most people don’t train their own service dogs. It’s a very taxing process that requires lots of dedication.
However, it can be done! Some people may choose to take on the role of trainer because
● They don’t have access to a good trainer nearby.
● They don’t trust that a stranger will properly train their animal for their needs.
● They see it as a great opportunity to bond with their animal.
To train your service dog, start with basic obedience. It should be potty-trained, respond to simple commands, and be generally well-behaved.
Then, you should ensure that it can handle being in different social situations. Get it accustomed to being exposed to different senses and unfamiliar people.
You also need to teach it to perform tasks specifically related to your disability. The American Kennel Club has resources that will help you successfully complete the training process.
How Long Does it Take to Train a Service Dog?
This depends on everything from the assistance dog you have to the services you need it to perform.
● For an animal that you don’t have to take in public places, it may be trained in as little as six months.
● For a public access animal, however, training may take anywhere from 18 to 24 months.
Use Service Dog Registration Services Today
Once you have your service dog trained, it should be able to accompany you out in public.
The epidemic of fake service dogs means that some establishments may give you a hard time. Our products (ID cards, vests, and certifications) will help others identify your animal. Plus, we provide helpful information and resources you can use to make your life easier.
To get access to these resources, register your service dog today!
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