Service dogs are considered “working dogs,” not “pets”. There are 80 million such dogs living in households within the United States. These dogs are trained to help and be companions for people with disabilities. A service dog helps disabled people lead more independent lives. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is a ‘ dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.’ According to the ADA, a “disability” is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of life’s activities….” Most of these guide dogs are German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labs. However, the ADA does not allow other breeds to be excluded as service dogs. The health benefits of having a service dog have been proven in studies to include increased fitness, lower stress levels, and improve the overall happiness of the individual.
The cost of training a single service dog can exceed $25,000.00. Professional service dog trainers have high standards; therefore, the dropout rate for the dogs being trained is 50 to 70%. Both profit and non-profit organizations train dogs, and some allow dogs to go into homes without cost for those who cannot afford it, while others charge the new handler for the cost of training. Training includes house training, sitting quietly beside his handler, and staying calm in a variety of situations. Each dog is trained specifically for the disabled person’s disability. For example, a guide dog’s work would be to help someone blind or visually impaired, while psychiatric service dogs help people with post-traumatic stress syndrome or obsessive-complusive disorder (OCD), and other psychiatric disabilities. Also, medical alert dogs signal the owner that a medical issue is about to occur such as a seizure, or low blood sugar.
A therapy dog is not a service dog. Therapy dogs provide comfort to people in hospitals, assisted living facilities, college campuses during stressful exams, or even in airports for weary travelers. They are friendly, well-trained dogs that allow petting, affection, and interaction with people in a variety of situations. If a dog’s presence is to merely provide comfort, then the ADA considers this dog as an emotional support dog rather than a service dog.
There are places online that will provide service dog certification and/or identification for your service dog. However, in the United States, the ADA does not require certification or identification. Therefore, the staff at a public establishment cannot require either prior to entry. After you verbally state that your dog is a service dog, you should be allowed entry into restaurants, malls, and other business entities.
Finally, there is a plethora of information on the Internet to assist you should you be interested in acquiring a professionally trained service dog. However, the ADA does allow a disabled person to train his or her own dog, but a dog in-training is not considered a service dog until that training is completed.
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