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So you want a service dog...

March 5, 2018

Can you train a service dog for me?


This is a question we get a lot. Well, sure we can. However, the question really should be, “Will my dog be considered a service dog after training?” Or, what people are often really asking is, “Will my dog be able to go anywhere with me?” And the answer to these questions is, "It depends."


Firstly, there are several different types of dogs that assist people. There are dogs that sniff drugs and bombs, dogs that protect people, and dogs that provide support to kids who have to testify in court or visit hospitals... All of which we can train for you but none of which are awarded the “Service Dog” label that means you can take them into a restaurant.


So who does get that label? According to the  Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities, and usually this means waiving a no-pet policy for a service dog. This can apply to places such as hospitals, restaurants, public transport, and schools. However, they are not generally required to make accommodations for emotional support dogs, therapy dogs, comfort dogs or companion dogs. So what is the difference? A service dog is one that has been individually trained to perform tasks for a specific individual with a disability. The rest provide comfort, support, or a calming influence for a person through their presence.


So, a couple of things here...


To have a service dog that can accompany you in public, by definition...

a)         you must have a disability;

b)         the dog must be trained to perform tasks or specific actions when needed; and

c)         these tasks must be directly associated with your disability.


What does that mean exactly???


Well firstly, it means that you must have a diagnosed physical or mental impairment that affects one or more life functions. If there is no disability, then there is no service dog label, regardless of what the dog is trained to do. Service dogs are for people that need them, not so anyone can take their pet into a day spa.


Secondly, the dog must be specifically trained to perform tasks or actions. This is the clause that prevents the service dog title from being applied to therapy dogs or emotional support dogs. Therapy dogs and emotional support dogs provide comfort or support through their presence or natural doggy desire to snuggle. Unless the dog is specifically trained to perform a specific behavior, and that behavior is tied to a command or situational context, there can be no service dog label.


Lastly, the trained behaviors must be directly linked to your disability. So obedience or protection training, for example, do not make your dog a service dog, regardless of whether or not there exists a disability.


So what are some examples?


Therapy Dogs – Receive training to accompany their handler into hospitals, hospices, courts etc to provide comfort and support to those in need. They are not considered service dogs and generally only have public access rights to those places where they work.


Emotional Support Dogs – Often used by people with various types of mental impairment or illness (for example PTSD, Autism or Anxiety, among many others) to provide comfort, support, and grounding through their presence. Emotional support dogs should have excellent obedience training but are not considered to be service dogs, despite the many benefits they provide. While these dogs are not generally granted public access rights like a service dog would be, some airlines, housing organizations, and landlords will make exceptions to pet policies for these dogs to allow a person to travel and live with their emotional support dog.


Service Dogs - Assist with tasks directly related to a medically-diagnosed disability such as epilepsy, diabetes, blindness/deafness, etc. Examples of trained tasks are alerting to low blood sugar, dialing 911, providing mobility support, alerting to an oncoming seizure, etc.


So, back to the original question, can you train me a service dog? Yes, as long as you have a medically-diagnosed disability and need help with disability-related tasks.


What about the next most common question – can you train my dog to be a service dog? That depends on the dog. It takes a certain type of dog to be able to learn these sorts of tasks and perform them reliably. Some pets are suitable and some are not. Generally speaking, we suggest buying a dog specifically tested for service training, but certainly give us a call to discuss options for your dog.


What about emotional support or therapy dogs? Can you train those? Yes, absolutely, give us a call at 423-991-6222.

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