To clarify, we’re talking about Service Dogs, not Therapy Dogs – those dogs brought to hospitals, schools or airports, or Emotional Support Dogs – those dogs people have at home to help them cope, but Service Dogs: A dog specifically trained to perform a specific task to assist an individual with a disability.
- 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 required because of a disability?
- 2) What work, or task ,has the animal been trained to perform
- 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 have control
- 2) The animal goes to the bathroom
- 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, once advanced manners have been perfected
- 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 do. 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, with commotion present, etc. Without proper training, or reinforcing and grounding each of these components completely, the dog can experience stress and anxiety, and 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 times. 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 at 2am. They will never express anxiety 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 work, 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. 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.