Service Dog basic’s

To clarify, we’re talking here about Service Dogs, not Therapy Dogs – those dogs goodhearted people bring to hospitals and horrible events to help others, or Emotional Support Dogs – those animals people acquire to help them cope (typically at home), but Service Dogs: Dogs, specifically trained to perform a task to assist an individual with a disability.  

  • Service Animals can be either dogs or miniature horses that weigh less than 100 pounds
  • Any breed of dog can be a Service Dog (SD)
  • Trained SD’s are allowed to accompany their person practically anywhere they go
  • By law, you may ask an individual with a service animal 2 questions: 1) is the animal a service animal required because of a disability? and 2) what work or task has the animal been trained to perform?
  • Allergies or fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals
  • Puppies are not SD’s and typically not put into task training until 18 months when advanced manners have been perfected
  • By law, there are only 2 reasons a service animal and their handler can be asked to leave an establishment, 1) the animal is out-of-control and the handler doesn’t get control or 2) the animal goes to the bathroom
  • SD’s in training are regulated at the state level, Colorado considers dogs-in-training as Service Dogs
  • Certifying a trained SD is difficult. Less than 50% of the dogs bred for this work graduate
  • Certified SD’s typically have more than 100+ hours of training
  • Being a SD is difficult! People are unpredictable, and having to be around them, watch them and constantly be ready to move – but not react – is crazy-difficult for most dogs

Service Dog training involves three components; basic and advanced manners, task training and environmental proofing. All three are crucial to a well-trained and grounded dog as well as a dog that always behaves in an appropriate manner.

Task training involves training the dog to perform the specific tasks their person needs them to. For example, psychiatric service dogs are trained to provide deep pressure therapy during times of anxiety. Environmental proofing refers to training the dog everywhere; at different times, in different weather conditions, with different types of people and chaos present, etc. Without training, reinforcing and grounding each of these components completely, the dog can experience stress and anxiety and thus struggle with their job and ability to fulfill their duties – or act as a well-mannered member of society.

Can my Dog be a Service Dog??

So many of us want our dogs to be with us all the time. After all, it gives us something to focus on and can help many of us with uncomfortable moments or the inability to connect
successfully with people face-to-face. But, if we truly love our dogs and want what’s best for them, we have to be realistic about what they like and don’t like, what they can
and can’t handle, and what they want and don’t want to do.

Dogs that are able to IGNORE EVERYTHING in the environment

This means, they can ignore the dog walking past, the little kid with chocolate covered fingers who wants to pet them or the smell of beef brisket on a BBQ

Dogs that are comfortable enough in their own skin, that the unpredictable nature of HUMANS DOESN’T FREAK THEM OUT

This means that they aren’t anxious when walking through a crowd, even a drunken crowd, even at 2am, exploring an area they’ve never been or dealing with an aggressive dog or human.

Dogs that can put their HUMAN FIRST – no matter what

Let’s face it, some dogs don’t want to work or focus on something 24/7. They’re couch potatoes, bred for short term or different work or just don’t care enough. Service Dogs have to put their humans first, once a Cue of ‘Leave it’ is given, a trained Service Dog doesn’t need to be told again.

Dogs that have GREAT IMPULSE CONTROL and manners

Service Dogs cannot react to the environment….unless that reaction is part of their work – like blocking or grounding their human. Their entire job is focused on their human, and being calm for them, they take in just enough of the environment to be aware of what’s going and how it may affect their person.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is a start as to why less than 50% of dogs bred to be Service Dog’s even graduate with the title. Not all dogs can be Service Dog’s, actually as a trainer I spend a great deal of time finding the right candidates before putting in any of the work. Do your dog a favor, and don’t sign them up for a job they don’t want or won’t be good at.