A lot of people who know me ask me about training and regulations regarding service dogs, mainly because they know that we have had a service dog for a few years now. I have run into several people who truly dislike service dogs because of the number of people who go out and purchase a “service dog” vest, put it on their dog, and then claim that they are a “service dog”. I completely understand the frustration around this, believe me, because those people make it harder for those of us who have actually taken the time to have our service dogs trained and certified. While there are no current requirements for specific training, my guess is that there will be soon, because of the growing number dishonest people who are out there. For now, I’ll share what I know to be true regarding the steps needed to have a legitimate service dog:
The very first thing you need to do is have a real medical reason for a service dog. This can include, but is not limited to: diabetes, seizures, allergies, PTSD, medication alert, deafness, blindness, etc.. Dogs are such incredibly amazing animals that they can be trained for just about anything. They can detect incorrect sugar/insulin levels in diabetics, they can detect a PTSD trigger and and act to dissolve the perceived threat, they can detect a seizure, before it happens, so that preventative measures can be taken, they can detect allergies in foods, on surfaces, and in the air that could cause someone to go into anaphylactic shock. I even met a lady who’s daughter was autistic and she was having a dog trained to be able to walk with her, to and from school, safely. (The mom would always follow at a distance, but she wanted to give her teenage daughter a sense of independence.) There is almost no limit to what dogs can be trained for, but not all dogs have the temperament required to accomplish these tasks. This is where, in my opinion, professional trainers come in to assess and guide you through the training process. They are also the ones who will perform the “public access test”, that is required to have the dog certified as a service dog.
After you have a note or prescription from your doctor or mental health provider, you can then look into training. There are many different non-profit organizations out there that will pay the training fees for people in need of service dogs for specific reasons. For instance, military service veterans can get their PTSD service dogs training paid for. There is an organization in Texas called TADSAW, Train A Dog Save A Warrior. They will even find a dog for you, if you do not already have one. They have a list of professional dog trainers throughout the country that they use to have a dog trained as a PTSD service dog. There are also organizations for diabetic alert dogs, allergen alert dogs, and many others. Just google what you are looking for and you will certainly find something. If you cannot find an organization to cover the costs of training or if you are able to cover the costs on your own, you can go directly to a professional dog trainer, yourself. Not all dog trainers specialize in service dogs, so you may have to call around and do some research, but trust me, it is well worth the time and cost to get professional help in this area. The trainer, if they are familiar with service dog training, should be able to give you some idea as to what “services or tasks” your dog can be trained to perform for you. You can narrow down the three that you feel would benefit you the most, and start there.
Now that you have your dog in training, what rights do you have? Service dogs, in training, do not have the same access rights as they do once they are certified, according to the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. There are some states, however, where dogs in training do have the same rights. Your trainer should know if you are in one of those states. If not, it is pretty easy to find out. You can do a google search or simply call the ADA, directly. Unfortunately, I am in a state that does not recognize dogs in training as having the same rights as certified service dogs, so I had to improvise, especially with the socialization part, which is one of, if not the most important part of service dog training. Since they do not have the legal right to access, I used stores that allowed dogs in them like Lowe’s, Petsmart, Petco, and most farm supply stores, like Tractor Supply. I also called our local colleges and asked permission to be on campus during busy times, like lunch time, for even more socialization and interaction. The two colleges, one was a community college and one was a Cal State college, both granted me permission to do this. Without this express permission, you could be asked to leave, by campus police, and they would have the right to require you to leave. I also took my dog to my local train station, bus stop, and airport, to get used to the noise and traffic. I did not enter any of the facilities, but simply stayed outside, in the public area.
Under the ADA rules and regulations, a service dog must be granted access to any place that is open to the public. There are a few exceptions to this rule: churches, places of worship, and synagogues are not required to permit service dogs. If you regularly attend these places, like I do, simply meet with your pastor, or other governing official, to get permission. Remember, by forcing your service dog into these places, you become one of those who give all of us a bad name. We want to remain within the law and respectful…but we also need to know our rights, which I will explain in a moment. Another place that is not required to allow your service dog is a public swimming pool. Your service dog is allowed to be on the deck or side of the pool, but not in the pool, itself. You are also not required to be allowed to take your service dog into a zoo or animal sanctuary; this is because dogs are natural predators of certain species as well as natural prey to others. Both of these situations could cause a frenzy with the protected animals that you are visiting or with your dog. Again, asking for permission, to visit these places, is key. I have never been turned down to places where I asked permission. Anyplace else, that serves the public, restaurants, retail stores, fair grounds, etc., must, under ADA regulations, allow your service dog to be with you. They are not allowed to ask what disability you have that warrants a service dog…that is 100% illegal! They are only allowed to ask two questions: one, “is the dog a service animal required because of a disability”, and two, “what task has the dog been trained to perform”. They are not allowed to ask for paperwork, to ask that the dog demonstrate the task, or ask what disability you have. If any of these things are asked or required, you can report them directly to the ADA and they will face pretty hefty fines. I know that a local Starbucks asked a woman to remove her service dog from the premises and they had to pay a minimum of fifteen hundred dollars in fines.
With all of your rights, please note that that retailers and business owners also have rights and if your dog is not behaving in ways that are consistent with acceptable service dog behavior, you can be asked to leave. These behaviors include, being aggressive toward other people or animals, urinating or defecating on the floor, barking uncontrollably, or generally being out of control for the owner. These are all pretty common sense as I wouldn’t want anyone visiting my home with a dog like this, much less being in my place of business.
You should also know that airlines are not required to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the ADA in regards to service dogs; they are governed by a whole different entity called the ACAA, Air Carrier Access Act, which is federal law that protects persons with disabilities during air travel. Most of their rules and regulations are pretty parallel to what the ADA has in place, but you will want to read up on this, specifically, before your air travel. Since it is “federal”, it does not cover international flights. I would highly recommend that before you decide to travel, internationally, with your service dog, that you research and do your due diligence to ensure you will not have problems. I know that when we went to Canada, with our service dog, Canada really didn’t care as they have no laws for or against service dogs. This also means that your “service dog vest”, means nothing to them, so taking them into public places, like a mall, is at your own risk…you could be asked to leave. Bottom line, always ask ahead of time, what the travel requirements are, before traveling outside of the United States.
For a full list of the rules and regulations set forth by the ADA, please go directly to their website at: https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm
For a full list of rules and regulations during air travel, as set forth by the ACAA, please go directly to their website at: https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet
Also, something very important to keep in mind, you are not required to “register” your dog with any service dog registration site. There are a lot of these sites out there that tell you that you have to register your dog and pay a fee, sometimes even an annual fee. This is simply not true. In order to certify that your dog is, in fact, a service dog, you must pass a “public access test”, given by a dog trainer in a public setting. We took our public access test at a local mall as it had all of the requirements and obstacles needed for the test, This is where I stress the point that having a professional trainer, to walk you through this process, is very important. While it is not required that your service dog is professionally trained, I did find it extremely helpful and beneficial to have someone in my corner who knew the laws and who helped us do it the right way.
Service dogs can not be discriminated against because of size or breed. In fact, if your local city has an ordinance against specific dog breeds, your certified service dog must be made an exception to this rule. There are certain breeds that do better, as service dogs, but in my opinion, all dog breeds should be given the chance. You are also not required, by law, to have a vest or any other identifying apparatus on your dog. Personally, to save time and hassle, our service dog is always wearing her vest, when being taken into a public place, but it is not required, by law.
As I stated in the beginning of this blog, I completely understand and sympathize those people who are hesitant about trusting a “service dog” into their place of business because of all of the people who do this with no training or certification, of any kind, but, I do encourage all of you, who have a true need for a service dog, to please follow the rules, guidelines, training, and required testing, to a “T”. Anyone with a legitimate need for a full time four-legged-helper, will know that what is asked, to make them legal, is well worth the time and expense.
Many blessings to you and your four-legged-love ~ Tammy