Is a Service Dog Right for You? Understanding Your Needs

Do you need a Service Dog?

Simply wanting your dog to accompany you during flights or having emotional trauma doesn’t automatically qualify you for a service dog. Putting a vest on your dog or having a note from a doctor or a certificate doesn’t make it a service dog or an emotional support animal.

Here is the definition of a disability from the ADA website:

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.

ADA definition of a Service Animal taken from their website::

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities

Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the relevant State attorney general’s office.

Obtaining a fully-trained and well-behaved service dog can cost upwards of $50,000 to $70,000. There are also several non-profit organizations that can assist in this process, but the waiting lists can be lengthy. If you truly need a service dog, it is important to work with a professional who can help match you with the right dog for the job.  It is crucial to be prepared both mentally and financially for the training and ongoing support needed for the partnership to succeed. It is legally permissible to train your own service dog. 

However, we tell our service dog clients that they need to be prepared for ongoing cycles of training throughout the life of the partnership. It may take years of training for a dog to become a fully trained service dog. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities, and they need to be reliable and well-behaved in all situations. Even after completing initial training, service dogs require ongoing training and reinforcement to maintain their skills and behavior. This is because dogs, like humans, are always learning and can develop new habits or behaviors (and not always the good ones!) if they are not consistently reinforced. Therefore, it is important for service dog handlers to continue to work with their dogs and reinforce the skills they have learned throughout the life of the partnership.

Currently, there is no federally regulated testing organization for service dogs.

However, there are qualified practitioners and organizations who have established generally accepted standards that working dog teams should meet. Whether you train your own service dog or you have a trainer help you, it is my opinion that at a minimum working dogs teams should be able to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen, Public Access tests, along with task verification in real-life public situations. Additional obedience training and testing can strengthen the bond between the team.  Service dogs need impeccable public manners and obedience and by law, must be in control of the handler at all times.  Service dogs need to be able to perform their tasks wherever they are. It takes a lot of on-going work to get a dog to the point where it can do all the above reliably. 

In some cases, a service dog may not be necessary to significantly enhance your quality of life. This opens up a world of potential dog to clients and provides opportunities for dogs with personal therapeutic benefit, available to clients at a lower cost. We often guide individuals on this journey with dogs in our GREAT DOG trained dogs family. 

Regardless of the route you choose, it is important to have a plan in place for training and future support with a professional or support team. At Aly’s Puppy Boot Camp, we offer services ranging from training working service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs from puppyhood to full working status and helping our clients to train their own dogs too.  Our superpower is selecting special pups with the right mind, body  and heart for service. 

Many of our advanced DOODLE AMBASSADORS are certified therapy dogs working in schools and hospitals and working service dogs for clients all over the world.  The art of what we do is  matching clients with the right dog for the job and establishing the right training foundation upon which an owner will grow skills.  We also provide ongoing support through our many in-person and online private communities.  We even help connect our worldwide clients to local trainers.  

The key to success with a working dog is finding the right dog, establishing a strong foundation, and putting together the right support team that will help provide ongoing support and training with the working team.

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