Studies have shown that dogs provide health benefits, and can increase fitness, lower stress and improve mood. Service dogs encompass all of these abilities, combined with training to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. In addition to socialization and basic obedience training, a service dog must be trained to perform work or specific tasks to assist with a disability. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals. For example, if the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.
Under ADA rules, in situations where it is not obvious that a dog is a service animal, two questions may be asked: (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? The reply to question (2) must affirm that the service dog has been trained to take specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability.
“Disability” is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including people with history of such an impairment, and people perceived by others as having such an impairment.
A service dog is trained to take a specific action whenever required, to assist a person with their disability. The task the dog performs is directly related to their person’s disability. For example, guide dogs help blind and visually impaired individuals navigate their environments. Hearing dogs help alert deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to important sounds. Mobility dogs assist individuals who use wheelchairs, walking devices, and who have balance issues. Medical alert dogs might also signal the onset of a medical issue such as a seizure or low blood sugar, alert the user to the presence of allergens, and myriad other functions. Psychiatric service dogs assist individuals with disabilities such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions. Examples of work performed by psychiatric service dogs could include entering a dark room and turning on a light to mitigate stress-inducing condition, interrupting repetitive behaviors, and reminding a person to take medication.
A service dog candidate should:
- Be calm, especially in unfamiliar settings
- Be alert, but not reactive
- Have a willingness to please
- Be able to learn and retain information
- Be capable of being socialized to many different situations and environments
- Be reliable in performing repetitive tasks
Professional service dog training organizations and individuals who train service dogs are located throughout the U.S. They work to train dogs to perform a skill or skills specific to a handler’s disability. As part of their training, service dogs are taught public access skills, such as house training, settling quietly at the handler’s side in public, and remaining under control in a variety of settings. Both non–profit and for-profit organizations train service dogs. The cost of training a service dog can exceed $25,000. Persons with disabilities and those acting on their behalf are encouraged work with an experienced, reputable service dog organization or trainer. Carefully check out the organization, ask for recommendations, and make an informed decision before investing funds or time to acquire a trained service dog.
Content of this blog post is from the AKC and their entire article “Service Dogs 101: Everything You Need to Know” can be found at http://www.akc.org