Millions of people around the world suffer from disabilities. While this isn’t a problem that will magically go away, what if we told you that you don’t have to be held back by physical or mental limitations? We’re not magicians, but we do have a trick up our sleeves: service dogs.
Service dogs are companions that help people with disabilities perform tasks throughout the day. These tasks vary, but the definition is loose for service dogs; if you have a disability, there is a good chance that you can register your dog as a service animal. In fact, most dogs are viable options for service animals regardless of their breed.
Unfortunately, the process isn’t as straightforward as taking a trip to your local pharmacy or doctor for a prescription. Instead, you have to take care of a few things first and make sure your dog is properly trained. Luckily, we’re here to help. Read on to learn about how you can register your dog as a service animal.
What Is a Service Dog?
To get started, you have to know what a service dog is. So, we’re going to break down the definition of a service dog according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While many people claim their dog is a service dog, there are some specific rules and regulations that need to be followed.
For a dog to be a service dog, the ADA states that it needs to be trained to help a person with a specific disability. For example, if you’re someone who forgets to take their medication at night, the dog needs to be trained to remind you. We’re sure that your dog can perform other tasks, but completing the task that’s relevant to your disability is what determines their eligibility.
Service dogs are also unique, and don’t share the same traits or similarities of emotional support animals (ESAs) or guide dogs. While some service dogs can help people with anxiety, the major difference between a service dog and ESA is that service dogs perform tasks. ESAs can be great for calming people down, but ESAs don’t follow the same laws or require the same training.
How the ADA Defines Disabilities
Knowing that the ADA permits people with disabilities to have service animals is a great start. Still, you need to know what the legislation considers a disability to know if you’ll qualify.
According to the ADA, a disability can be numerous things, but it has to be something that limits at least one daily task. These can also be mental or physical issues, so even if it’s not a disability that people can openly see, that doesn’t mean you’re not protected. Additionally, people who have a history of disability are also protected under the ADA.
Another thing to keep in mind is that service dogs are not classified as pets by the ADA. While this might sound harsh, it’s a good thing. It’s for this reason that service animals are afforded unique privileges like being able to accompany you to a restaurant.
Service Dog Legislation
While service dogs are easier to register than something like a guide dog, there are still some laws you need to be aware of. Some are beneficial, while others may hinder your experience, depending on where you live.
Breed Specific Legislation
First and foremost, we’re going to start with breed-specific legislation (BSL). These are laws that states, communities, and cities can pass. Still, the rules and regulations are typically enforced by local governments. If you’re curious about the status of your state, we recommend checking out this map.
While the ADA makes it possible to have a breed that’s been banned in a specific area, we’re mentioning this because it will be harder to get certain breeds in states with breed-specific legislation in-place. For example, it’s challenging to get your hands on a pit bull-type dog in states like Iowa or Ohio.
Additionally, some breed-specific regulation allows you to have the breed but only if it’s muzzled in public or on a tight leash. Keep in mind, the laws and restrictions vary on a state-by-state basis.
The American With Disabilities Act (ADA)
For some context, we’re going to breakdown what the ADA is and how it came to be. Ultimately, this will help you develop a clear understanding of how and why this legislation was passed.
The ADA was first addressed on July 26th, 1990, by President George Bush (Sr). The act was a major success for people that suffer from disabilities. While the law has been under the spotlight from time to time, it’s evolved over the years into something effective. Here are a few things the ADA covers for people with disabilities:
- Public accommodations
- Access to government programs
While the ADA covers many things, it’s not perfect. Some states have imposed further restrictions, so it’s important to refresh yourself on your state’s regulations.
The Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was passed in 1986 and ensures that airlines don’t discriminate against disabilities. Under these guidelines, the law states that airlines must allow service animals on planes for people that need them. Your dog needs to meet certain size requirements but, in most cases, you can take your companion with you on airlines.
While these pieces of legislation are important to know, every state has caveats and special ways of handling things. For example, some states might require a note from a doctor, while others are more relaxed. For these reasons, it’s important to check with your state’s laws.
The Fair Housing Act
While the housing laws vary in some states, as long as your service animal is registered, they’re protected under Fair Housing Act (FHA). The law states that service animals are permitted in places that animals are otherwise not allowed. For this, you’ll need proper identification and paperwork for your service dog.
While the legislation we discussed is federal, some states may have additional stipulations that you must adhere to. The good news is that these laws apply across the country, so even if it might be more of a hassle in Kentucky than New York, there is no need to panic.
Training a Service Dog
Once you know that you’re eligible for a service dog, it’s time to train them. When it comes to registering service dogs, this is typically the most challenging part. While commands like “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “come” are essential, these commands merely scratch at the surface. We’re going to take you through a handful of things you can do to train your service dog and check their temperament.
Training Your Service Dog
According to the ADA, your dog needs to be trained to help you with specific tasks. This means that the dog needs to perform that task flawlessly. To start, you’ll have to decide between verbal commands or hand commands. If you’re feeling bold, you can also try and use a combination of the two.
The good news is that when it comes to teaching your dogs to complete tasks, the process is identical to teaching them to sit. Sure, it might take longer, but you’re following the same principles. The only difference is that you don’t want to use harsh discipline when training a service dog because it can discourage them and impair their confidence. If you’re more of a visual learner, we recommend giving this video a watch before you start training.
Instead, you’ll want to create a reward system using treats and verbal praise. Not only will this make your dog more comfortable as they learn to help but it will also help your dog build a bond with you. The bond between people and dogs is often overlooked when discussing service animals but you need to put your trust in them. So, we recommend building a healthy relationship with your companion.
Checking Their Temperament
While training a service animal will use up the bulk of your time, before you start training, you need to check their temperament. Checking their temperament is simple; you need to make sure your dog is well behaved and won’t disobey you in public or bother others.
Service dogs need to be kept close to you and keep to themselves. It’s for these reasons that they’re permitted on residences and in public areas. If service dogs don’t have a good temperament, you might be better off looking for a different dog. We recommend training a service dog when they’re a puppy. This way, their temperament and training potential is a blank slate.
While the training process doesn’t take as long as guide dog training, it’s still a process. You need to give your dog time to adjust, so never rush the process. It’s also important to note that service dogs in training aren’t always given the same privileges, so we recommend waiting until they’re well-trained before taking them into the public. One incident can be enough for that dog to lose its service dog status.
Traveling With Your Service Dog: Public Etiquette
Once your dog is trained and you’re ready to head outside your home, it’s important to know how travel laws work. For this reason, we’re going to take you through a few scenarios and how service dogs should be handled in them.
At the Park
We recommend bringing your service dog to as many parks as possible during practice and their early days of being a certified service dog. This is because parks provide you with a good balance of human and canine interaction.
At the park, you can monitor your dog’s temperament around people and other dogs. Plus, you can practice with small tasks like walking, having them grab something, and more.
Remember, if they make mistakes early on, try to focus on positive reinforcement, especially in public places.
Dining out is where things become more complicated. At first, your dog might have a hard time adapting to loud noises and the smells of good food. It’s here that you can get your dog used to smells, noise, large groups of people, and more.
We recommend waiting until you’re confident in your dog’s ability before heading to the restaurant.
If you’re going shopping at the mall or grocery store, you need to make sure your dog can handle large crowds of people and help you navigate if necessary. We recommended practicing in an empty mall; they usually let you in before the stores open to walk around.
When it comes to bathrooms, it depends on what you need. If you’re unable to close stall doors, you’ll need your dog to do it for you. While this is possible, it might take additional time to learn. For this reason, we recommend training your dog to close doors in your home before you take them out into bathrooms.
Service dogs are also allowed on public transportation. Busses and trains are simple and don’t require much, but airplanes complicate things. When it comes to flying, we recommend keeping a note handy that informs the airline of your disability.
Additionally, the dog needs to remain calm on the flight and in the busy terminal. For these reasons, we advise waiting a while before taking your service dog on flights.
Registering Your Service Dog With USAA
Once you know the basics and have your dog trained, it’s time to begin the process of registering your service dog. While you can head to the doctor in-person, it’s much easier to register your service dog online with USSA. The process is simple and the fee is minimal, especially compared to in-person clinics.
How Does Online Registration Work?
Online registration is simple; you need to fill out a form and pay a small fee. USSA has a simple and straightforward process that guides you along the way. You only have to answer a few questions, fill out a form, and provide some information about your dog. Additionally, you can request documents online instead of heading back to the vet or doctor.
So, what does a service dog registration from USSA include? It comes with:
- A service animal ID card and photo identification
- The option to add a vest for use in public
- A service animal certificate that proves your dog is registered
- The option to download a PDF file of your certificate
- Full access to USSA’s 24-hour support team, legal staff, and website
Additionally, your service dog will be registered for life in one of the largest service animal databases in the world.
Service Dog FAQ
While registering a service animal is a straightforward process, it’s okay to have some questions. At times, refreshing yourself with laws, regulations, and training can be overwhelming. So, we’ve compiled a list of common questions to make sure you have everything you need.
Do Service Dogs Need a Vest?
One common misconception is that service dogs need a vest to stroll around in public. In public, you don’t need anything except you and your dog, unless they’re trained for a leash.
With that said, you can still dress your service dog up in a vest. We recommend doing so because it will show others that your dog isn’t just another dog walking around. This prevents people from attempting to interact with the dog, which can interrupt training or distract them from your needs.
While it helps to have a note from a doctor, getting your dog registered as a service dog online is a viable option that eliminates the hassle of needing to leave your home.
Can Any Dog Be a Service Dog?
Many people have questions about breeds because not all dogs are the same. Some dogs are better than others at being service dogs, so we’ve prepared a short list of the simplest breeds to train:
- Golden retriever
- Labrador retriever
- German shepherd
- Mixed breeds between retrievers
While these are a handful of the best breeds, you can feel free to register any dog as a service dog. As long as their temperament and training meet your needs, they’re eligible to be a service dog!
Service dogs are great companions that can change your life. If you or a loved one is suffering from a disability, it might be time to consider working with a service dog. Not only will they relieve stress and keep you company, but they can help you complete tasks you can’t on your own. Plus, who doesn’t want to take their furry friend with them everywhere?
So, save yourself the hassle, and consider registering your furry friend with USSA!