In a recent post, I gave a brief overview of the differences among service (or assistance) dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals. In my most recent post, I discussed therapy dogs in more detail. In this post, I will talk more about service dogs.
Service dogs are trained to help mitigate the disability of a specific person and are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). These dogs must be well-behaved and responsive in public as well as be trained to perform specific tasks for the individual. These dogs ARE allowed access to public locations where other dogs are not allowed, as long as they are not disruptive to the environment. People are probably most familiar with guide dogs for the blind, but service dogs can also provide many other tasks such as helping deaf individuals. Service dogs can also provide diabetic alert or seizure alert services. Psychiatric service dogs can help individuals with psychiatric issues that prevent them from functioning in public places. There are many areas in which service dogs are helping individuals to lead more independent lives. However, these dogs must be trained to perform specific tasks to help mitigate the individuals' disabilities. Providing comfort is not enough to qualify as a service dog.
If you (or a loved one) qualifies for a service dog, then you might be looking for how to obtain or train a service dog. There are many organizations that train and place service dogs. You would need to research these organizations and find out if you (or your loved one) qualifies for their particular program. Most organizations train certain types of service dogs but typically not ALL types. Some organizations have strict guidelines as to who they serve – for example, military veterans or children. If you find an organization that fits your needs, contact them to find out the application process and how long the waiting list might be.
In some cases, it’s tough to find an organization that meets your particular needs. In other cases, you might find one but realize that the waiting list could be years to get a dog. In those cases, or for other reasons, some people decide to train a service dog on their own or with the help of a qualified professional trainer. If that is the case, you want to make sure you do your research into what is involved. The requirements a service dog must be able to meet. The training involved. How to determine whether a particular dog would be a good candidate for service work. If you want to do more research, the ada.gov site is a good place to start: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html
If you are looking for a qualified professional to help you, make sure the trainer is a good fit for you (or your loved one). Some trainers are highly qualified but not a good fit personally. Others might be a good fit personally but not qualified to help you with the level of training needed.
Unfortunately, as with any area of dog training, the service dog field is a “buyer beware” category. Some people will try to take advantage of a vulnerable population by exploiting their needs. You may have read about organizations who charge thousands of dollars for a “certified service dog” who provide a poorly trained dog and the client loses a lot of money or spends time trying to recoup their money when that time and money could have been spent on more important things. While some trainers or organizations are most definitely scam artists, I believe that others have good intentions but just really do not have the skills needed for this type of work. If you are looking for help in this area, do your research.
We receive inquiries from people wanting their dog to become a “service dog” but the people do not qualify under the ADA as a person with a disability. While there are some unscrupulous organization and individuals on the training side, there are also some unscrupulous people on the other side trying to find ways to take their dogs to public places without a legitimate need. Both sides do a great disservice to those who can truly benefit from a service dog.
Here at The Light of Dog, we offer private training services to help people in need of legitimate service dogs. We do not take and train service dogs in a Board & Train setting at this time. Our focus is on helping those individuals who want to train their own dog. Our services consist of private training to help with public access and basic obedience-type skills as well as training specific tasks for psychiatric service dogs. We do NOT train for guide dogs, diabetic alert or seizure alert dogs.