Wednesday, November 8, 2017

About Service Dogs



Heath poses with the Blu Roo. His assistance makes it possible for me to be independent so we finally have our own transportation

Having found myself part of a Service dog team, I am becoming aware of some of the issues that presents. As some of them are far more serious than people who are not involved with SD’s could understand, I hope to do my best to explain them and then, through you, educate the public.

The American Disabilities Act determines what constitutes a Service Dog and the rights of an SD team.

First of all, a Service Dog’s owner must actually BE disabled to the point that they cannot live a normal life without the assistance of the dog. In essence the dog is akin to a piece of medical equipment, like a wheelchair or blood pressure monitor or anything else necessary to assist the handler and protect their health and safety. The dog must be individually task trained to mitigate that handler's particular disabilities.

An Emotional Service Animal (ESA) does NOT have the training or rights to public access. They are a comfort animal only and with a doctor's note have rights to live with owner in what might normally be a no pet complex and have rights to fly with handler.

A Therapy Dog is not a Service Dog. It is specially trained to interact with children and others who may be somehow confined to a facility as a type of Emotional therapy for others. Their handlers may or may not be disabled.


While we all probably visualize a dog that guides the blind, the Service Dog of today is able to serve far more disabilities, often more reliably than conventional medical equipment. There are hundreds of invisible disabilities. Some dogs automatically “alert” to events such as : seizures, blood pressure changes, insulin changes, disassociation and others. Not every Service Dog is able to perform those particular tasks as some are born, not made, so they are more rare than others and can be any breed or size. Their attention to their handler can often be life saving. Dogs can be used to detect allergens in foods, another life saving service, others may help with mobility, counter balancing and assisting handler in rising and walking safely, pick up things that are dropped, bring items that are out of reach of handlers, open and close doors, turn lights on and off, assist  with psychiatric disabilities such as PTSD, blocking and trying to keep a safe zone open for handlers, help avoid triggers, they can alert handlers to harmful behaviors such as picking, scratching, rocking, they can guide a disoriented handler out of stores or strange places, taking them to exits, guiding them to vehicles, there are hundreds of  tasks a dog can be trained to do that are life changing to a disabled handler.

Size and temperament are important factors in choosing a Service Dog. A large Mastiff type dog may be suitable as a mobility dog, whereby a chihuahua, or toy breed might have a natural alert that is more easily detected when near a handlers breath and are small enough to be carried. There are no size or breed requirements, but temperaments are critical, as these dogs must perform in a variety of situations in public and must be biddable and confident enough to accept any and all of the things that might occur in public places. 
These dogs require a high degree of training, executing their jobs while presenting good manners in public, not barking, straining at the leash, showing aggression towards strangers or other dogs, quietly and calmly accompanying their handler in all places and situations.  A good SD should be unobtrusive, attentive to its handler, does not pull, bark, sniff around for food, defecate or urinate inside, behave only mildly interested in other dogs, if not ignore them all together. 
Legitimate SD's have legal public access to any place the public may go, such as restaurants, hospitals, stores, etc.

They are NOT required to wear an identifying vest, and they do NOT have certifications. Certifications (unless given by a training facility upon graduation, a courtesy, not a requirement) are a sham, as they can be purchased online for about $80 with no proof of training, disability, or anything else. It’s basically a false ID and illegal to use. Some States may offer a special tag, as a courtesy.
With the rising number of Service Dogs for invisible disabilities, there is also a rise in phony teams, causing serious problems for both business owners and legitimate Service Dog teams.


As a gatekeeper or store owner, you have the right to ask if the dog is a Service Dog and ask what special tasks the dog performs.The team is not required to demonstrate the tasks. This seems like it is impossible for gatekeepers to turn away illegitimate teams, but if a dog’s behavior is causing a problem for the business, (barking, urinating or defecating, aggression, jumping on people, riding in basket, sitting off floor, etc) the business owner CAN request the handler to remove the dog and be welcome to return without it. It is illegal to deny access or treat a legitimate Service Dog team differently than any other customer, provided the dog is not causing a disturbance by misbehavior.

The easiest way to tell if a SD team is real or not, is pretty much by observing the dog. Although dogs are sentient beings and can have ‘off days’ just like we do, they can sometimes make mistakes but they should not be disruptive. A phony Service Dog team can not only give Legitimate Teams a bad reputation, they can cause serious problems for real teams.

Dogs can be acquired through professional training facilities often for thousands of dollars, trained by a professional trainer who knows something about the requirements of the handler’s disability or trained by the handler themselves.

Heath waits with me at the hospital


This is most of the information about the dogs I can think of off the top of my head, now I would like to address the responsibility of the PUBLIC.

One should NEVER ask to pet a Service Dog. There are multiple reasons for this. I know handlers with beautifully trained dogs that they can no longer use, because the dog draws unwanted attention and makes going in public even more stressful with the dog than without, because of people constantly approaching to talk with them or the dog. These are folks that need space and no uninvited interaction from people.
Another problem of distracting someone’s Service Dog is that it draws the dog’s attention away from the handler and he may miss a necessary alert to a coming seizure or other event.
Heath is a social butterfly, and it causes me a great deal of grief, when people reach down to pet him. because he quickly gets excited and over threshold and wants to socialize with EVERYONE, especially any children that happen to be in sight. Fortunately, he is learning to take it more in stride as he matures but is still upsetting because most people only ask as they are reaching for him and it's already too late.

If you are in public with your own dog, keep it far away from Service Dog teams. I know of dogs that have been ruined because someone else allowed their pet dog enough leash to reach a Service Dog, sometimes even becoming aggressive and causing injury resulting in the Service Dog to either lose confidence or become aggressive towards strangers or their dogs itself. Basically, the dog is no longer able to be used because of careless ignorance on the part of irresponsible or ignorant pet owners. I have had it happen to Heath and I and am fortunate that he is flexible enough that he did not respond, we were able to remove ourselves quickly and the incident wasn’t serious enough to cause him much distress. These dogs work hard and the mental discipline they use can be exhausting to them. Dealing with strange people and pets can cause burn out for the dog.

Another pet peeve of handlers is strangers who talk to their dog. Again, it distracts the dog but it also demeans the handler. Even I find it very annoying when someone approaches and uses the baby talk voice to distract Heath and behave as though I am not even there. It is terribly rude, regardless of intention.

Not many people want to answer a thousand questions about their dog or share private information about their disability with total strangers. It is appreciated when parents instruct their children about the dog teams and teach them it is important not to distract the dog because it is working and doing an important job for its owner.

Not every handler is opposed to speaking with people, but what has been most appreciated by myself, if someone must interact with us, is for them to speak directly to me,  a quick compliment on Heath’s behavior. Even my husband and family are not allowed to interact with Heath when he is working, other than to hold him at the hospital until I am out of surgery or X-rays.

We are often told “It’s obvious he is a REAL Service Dog. He’s so well behaved!”
Last week it was “I’ve seen a lot of dogs that don’t belong in here. That is one good dog, he belongs”
 We've worked hard to  achieve the level of training he has and it's nice to be recognized.

Heath having fun with his brother while "off duty" on one of our road trips



So, to the Public, please don't interfere with Service Dogs that are working.
To the Business owner, if a dog is misbehaving and causing problems, you have the right ask the the handler to please remove the dog and return without it.
To the Pet Owner, please leave your pets at home. Their behavior may not only endanger a team, but makes it more difficult for legitimate teams to be accepted by the public.
To the Service Dog Teams, be considerate of others. Don't allow your dog to become disruptive. Don't disregard the rights of others, and don't be rude to people who want to ask questions, instead try to educate them, politely, because your behavior also reflects on all Teams. We are all ambassadors.


11 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, too many people with pets don't understand the great disservice they're doing to legitimate service dog teams. Everyone thinks their dog is the exception to the rule, the one that doesn't 'really bother' anyone. One of my pet peeves.

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  2. Good to see you writing again. Good information. Very informative. Thanks You.

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  3. My friend has a male friend who has a "service dog," it was a stray he picked up and is really a comfort dog. I've never seen this dog give comfort. If a buiness questions this person, he explodes and says you can't question me. I get so irritated about this, but don't know what I can do.


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    1. There is not much you can do, but you can certainly see why this is a problem for legitimate teams

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  4. This is really a superb post.

    I'd only add one thing. Just as it's important to acknowledge the many things that a service dog can do reliably, it's just as important to acknowledge the areas where a service dog is not the most reliable choice or is not an appropriate choice. Service dogs can do a lot but they can't do everything, including being more than a dog or performing miracles.

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    1. This is true.They are a huge responsibility

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  5. Wonderful. I am sharing this with my clients.

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    1. Thank you, and thank you for taking time to comment

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  6. Thank you for the reminders, Kim! You and Heath are a wonderful example!

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