Service Dog

Dogs are incredible animals that have evolved over time alongside the human species to help us take on all kinds of different challenges. From hunting dogs, to guard dogs, and sheepherding dogs, these amazing beasts have learned to help us in nearly every facet of life throughout history. Today, many dogs are still used for these earlier purposes, but still more dogs are being trained for specialized duties that help us in our modern world.

Dogs trained for specialized tasks and put to work in the modern world for our benefit are often called working dogs.

What is a Working Dog?

Dogs have long been used for more than simply companions. Dogs have famously been used to help pull sleds in the snowy regions of Alaska to allow for travelling across regions that would have otherwise been nearly impossible to traverse. A ‘working dog’ is any dog that performs a function for its owner which they are specially trained to perform. These tasks can vary greatly in nature, but all working dogs are highly trained to aid their human counterparts in doing their job.

Working dogs have been trained for all kinds of amazing tasks such as helping police detectives sniff out dead bodies (cadaver dogs) or aiding in sniffing out drugs or even explosive ordinance. Dogs have an amazing ability for catching scents that humans are otherwise incapable of detecting, but working dogs aren’t limited to jobs that specifically involve their keen noses.

Working dogs are also put to use to aid search and rescue efforts due to their ability to hear people who might be buried under rubble or piles of snow in the case of an avalanche. Dogs are also used by police officers to aid them in apprehending criminals by cornering them or even tackling them to the ground during a chase.

The list of ways in which dogs can help us in our modern world continues to grow as trainers find more uses for them on a regular basis. One of the most incredible ways working dogs are put to use today is to aid those with disabilities in living their daily lives safely. These specific working dogs are known as ‘service dogs.’

What is a Service Dog?

Service dogs are working dogs that are used specifically to aid people who suffer from disabilities that prevent them from otherwise leading a normal life. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” These dogs are much more than pets as they are highly trained for specialized tasks of all kinds to make the life of their owner better and more manageable.

What Disabilities Can Service Dogs Help With?

There are service dogs capable of aiding people with all kinds of different disabilities in a whole gamut of different ways. For instance, there are dogs known as ‘seeing-eye dogs’ which aid those who are blind in navigating strange places, busy streets, and crowded public spaces. These animals can help by guiding their blind owners with gentle nudges and through the use of their specialized harnesses that allow them to lead their humans away from harm and towards their destination.

There are also service dogs that are trained to aid those who suffer from epilepsy. These animals can sometimes sense when a seizure is about to come on and can give their owner a warning to give them some time to place themselves on the floor or out of harm for when the seizure comes on. These service dogs can also help push their owners away from falling into the middle of the street or landing harshly against sharp corners by using their bodies to guide their fall into a safer direction.

Service dogs can also be trained to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing by alerting them to things the disabled person can not hear themselves. For instance, a hearing dog for the deaf can be trained to alert the person when a smoke alarm is going off or when their telephone is ringing and they don’t notice it going off. They might also notice that an emergency vehicle siren is going off in the distance and can alert their owner that it may not be safe to cross the road just yet due to this.

Service dogs are also trained to help those who suffer from mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorders, anxiety, depression, or autism spectrum disorders. The unique tasks that service dogs are trained to perform can vary drastically from one illness to another and even from one individual to another depending on the specific needs of the person for whom they are trained to aid.

Service dogs are enabled to provide these amazing benefits to their owners’ thanks, in part, to the laws that protect disabled people from discrimination and laws that specifically allow them to take their service animals with them anywhere they go.

What Does the Law Say About Service Dogs?

Thanks to the ADA and other similar laws that have been put in place, people are legally allowed to bring their service dog with them in places that otherwise have rules that prevent dogs from being brought there. Under the ADA, service dogs cannot legally be denied entry into businesses, state and local government facilities, or nonprofit organization which serve the public. This law extends to places that serve food and beverages and includes things such as flights and train rides.

Due to the valuable assistance which service dogs provide to their owners, disabled people are permitted to bring their service dog with them just about anywhere and can also live with their animal even in places that have strict no-pet policies. Not only are service dogs allowed to live with their owners, but they are also exempt from being charged additional pet fees due to their classification as a service dog as opposed to being a ‘pet’. This distinction is important because service dogs are by no means a pet—they are a working animal which performs a vital role in the safety and wellbeing of their owner.

Legally, people who have service dogs are only obligated to answer two questions if confronted by staff of businesses which question their rights:

  1. Is the dog a service animal which you require to assist with a disability?
  2. What specific task(s) has the dog been trained to perform in service of the handler?

Any questions outside of these two need not be answered by a person with a service dog and can be legally ignored or refused by the disabled person. They are not required to answer any questions about the nature of their disability or even what disability they have.

Service dog handlers cannot be charged additional fees due to the presence of their dogs. They also can not be legally disallowed entry or access to service that would be granted to people without service animals. The only situation in which a disabled person may be legally asked to leave an area or establishment is in the case of their dog being out of control of the handler. This is why service animals must be highly trained in addition to the training they require for performing their specific duties.

Service Dog Qualification and Training

Not every dog is suited for becoming a service dog. In fact, dogs that are already pets are typically not capable of becoming a service dog because these animals must begin their training at a very young age and be trained specifically for their intended purpose. The amount of training necessary for a dog to become a service dog is incredibly. Due to this, only the healthiest of breeds and dogs are even considered for the possibility of becoming a service dog.

While you can train your dog to become a service dog, it can be a long and difficult process and is not recommended for those who are not experienced in the art of dog training. It’s vital that a service dog be trained for specific duties in order to qualify as a service dog, but it’s also important that the service dog be trained basic social skills as well.

Service dogs can be incredibly expensive due to the intensive training they require and the need for them to be healthy and long-living animals. After all, it would be an incredible waste of time and resources to put a dog through all the necessary training to become a service dog only for it to be too unhealthy to perform its duties throughout its life. In addition to specialized training for its specific tasks that it must perform, service dogs must also be incredibly well trained for general purposes such as house-training and dealing with the presence of other people and dogs.

A service dog that is not properly house-trained could have a potty accident resulting in its handler being forced to leave the establishment they are in. Furthermore, a service dog that isn’t capable of remaining calm in even loud and busy environments would be incapable of properly aiding their handler in the handler’s times of need. If the service dog starts making a scene in the middle of a restaurant, it could easily result in the owner being asked to leave the establishment.

The service dog isn’t the only animal that requires training in this relationship! In fact, the handler-to-be must also be trained in the handling of the animal in order to best understand the signals the dog is giving them and so they can learn how to signal the dog regarding what they are attempting to accomplish. Dogs are incredibly smart animals and service dogs are trained to understand complex situations, but they still need specific guidance from their handlers from time to time to ensure that both the human and the dog are always on the same page.

The Importance of Looking the Part

If you have spent any time in the business world, I’m sure you’ve heard someone talk about ‘looking the part’ or the idea of dressing for the job you want to have. This applies equally to service dogs and their handlers. It’s very important that service dogs are easily recognizable by others to be performing a role to avoid potential complications. If a service dog is clearly marked out as such thanks to an official service dog vest, harness, or ID tag, then the handler is much less likely to be confronted by others regarding having their dog in places pets are not allowed.

In addition to this, having an official vest or paperwork will also make others much less likely to approach your service dog like they would a pet. This will keep people from distracting your service dog from its job or getting in the way of it performing its duty.

Because of these reasons, it’s important to make sure you register your service dog and obtain all of the proper documentation. Having the right documents will make it much easier to explain your situation and your legal rights in the case that you are confronted by someone who isn’t aware of the laws regarding service dogs. While having a service dog vest is not proof that a dog is actually a service dog, it’s often enough to avoid being questioned on the matter anyway. As was stated above, service dog handlers are only required to answer two specific questions about their service dog and its purpose when confronted by someone regarding their ability to gain access to a location with their animal in tow.

While obtaining a service dog or training one yourself is no small task, the value that they can add to your life is hard to overstate. Skilled service dogs can literally save lives and are capable of drastically improving the quality of life of a disabled person. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about obtaining a service dog or an emotional support animal, contact the professionals at USSA with any questions you might have.