Saturday, February 23, 2013

So You Would Like A Service Dog



D'fer!  My constant partner for the past 8 years or so.  So many things I would not have been able to do were made possible by this incredible dog.



Every week we get multiple requests from people who would like to train a dog to be a service dog.  The people contacting us are quite varied, but there are common threads of information that they are looking for.  Regardless of if you are a person with a disability, a person who knows someone with a disability and would like to train a dog to help a friend, someone who is just starting out in dog training who would like to consider working in the field of training dogs to help the disabled or someone without a disability who would like to take a pet out in public with them, you all need to know the same information.

At Dogs in the Park we are unable to help everyone who wants to train a service dog through our classes.  There are too many issues that surround service dogs that take up time in a regular training class and too few people locally to support a class specifically for service dogs.  There is enough demand however to support an annual seminar and we have now been offering such a seminar for over five years.  These annual seminars offer information both for those who are beginning their journey and those who have been training for many, many years.  We include information on access, laws, how to train your dog and tasks that your dog can do.  For this reason, we have developed this article to help people who want to train their dogs to assist them.  We are happy to respond to emailed questions on this topic but please read through the following questions and answers before emailing us and if you have a question that is not addressed then please feel free to contact us.  If you phone the office, please leave an email where we can reach you to respond to you.

Do you or the person you want to train for have a disability?

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This question is the first question you need to answer before you can move forward.  In most jurisdictions, you cannot use a service dog in public unless you have a disability.  In each legal jurisdiction there is a specific definition of what a disability is.  In general, you are considered disabled if you live with a condition that limits your ability to carry out the activities of daily living.  Usually, The activities of daily living means you cannot go to school or work, or you cannot shop for your groceries, get yourself to your doctor or cook or clean.  This does not mean that you could do it, but you don’t like to, but rather that you are unable to do it.  If you do not have a disability, in North America, there is no way for you to legally take your pet with you out in public.



Do you have a condition that is best helped with a dog?

D'fer alerting.


Dogs have been used to help people with a very wide variety of problems, from autism to diabetes to mobility issues to psychiatric illness and beyond, but in every case the dog has to DO something.  In some cases having a dog who can interpret the environment for the handler and the handler can determine if they are seeing something real helps a handler determine when they are experiencing hallucinations and when they are seeing real things.  This is a filter that the person can take everywhere with them, but it is something the dog does; it is not just something that happens.  If you cannot think of what you do will DO, but only that you would like him to be with you, then your dog is not normally permitted to be out in public with you.  If you can think of something that can be done with a dog but that can be better done with technology, technology may be a better alternative for you to consider.

Do you have a suitable dog?

This sheltie is not a common breed used for service work, but he does a really good job!


The work of a service dog is challenging and often quite difficult.  Your dog must be able to enjoy changes of environment and footing, must be able to tolerate unexpected pats from strangers and accept grocery carts bumping into them.  They work in places that are not meant for dogs to go to, and they must do it without complaining, startling or becoming frightened.  If you have a dog who startles and becomes frightened when a truck backfires, or who barks at things like people who walk by while wearing a funny hat, then your dog is the wrong dog for the job, and you will spend more of your time addressing your dog’s needs instead of him helping you.  It is important to have someone to help you to determine if your dog is actually appropriate for the work-having a second pair of eyes to look carefully at your dog’s suitability is important.  A huge variety of breeds have been used for service work, from tiny Yorkshire Terriers through giant English Mastiffs, as well as a wide variety of mixed breeds, but each individual must be considered on his own merit.  You cannot simply say that you have had a dog of a certain breed who was perfect for service work and then randomly choose another dog of the same breed and expect to be successful.  Choosing the wrong dog is not fair to the dog and makes your job of training much more difficult than necessary.

Did your dog have appropriate early socialization?

This young dog is learning that she is safe on a tile floor in a public atrium, before she is 5 months old.


Most dogs cannot overcome a lack of socialization and go on to become confident, happy working service dogs.  Socialization for service dog puppies means the careful exposure of the puppy to everyone and everything you expect him to cope with as an adult and it happens before the puppy is 16 weeks of age.  If your pup was rescued out of a barn at 20 weeks, you might be able to teach him to cope with the world you want him to work within, but it will not be a fast or easy job.  If your dog missed early socialization, you must realize that you will need to spend more time and energy teaching him to accept the world than you may have the energy to commit.  If you have a puppy under 16 weeks, you really should be in a good puppy socialization class.

Does your dog have the appropriate training to help you?

Leash manners are important skills to have!  Training takes time, effort and patience and is often costly.


Service dog training can be divided neatly into two categories; public access and task training.  Public access training is all about leash manners and the ability to not touch things that your dog will encounter in public.  I like to think about service dogs as conspicuously invisible.  They must never bark at people or animals or things that startle them, or pick up food off the floor or solicit attention from the people he encounters when he is working in public.  Then your dog must also have the skills needed to help you; alerts for medical conditions, picking up items if you cannot or opening doors to let you through for instance.  It generally takes between ten months and two years to train all the behaviours that your dog will need, and until that training has occurred, your dog is not going to be helping you.

Do you require certification to take your dog out in public?


Certificate with red ribbon
Certification is not required in most places, but you must know the laws of your community!


This question depends entirely on where you are.  You need to know the law where you are at any given time.  If you live in North Carolina and you visit Ontario, you would be covered by the laws in the community you are in at any given time, not by the laws of where you are from.  It is important for you to know the laws where you are living, but also the laws where you are going!

If you live in the United States, then you will not need certification for your service dog, but you may not have the right to bring your service dog in training with you as he learns.  The right to be accompanied by a service dog is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the right to bring service dogs in training is covered individually by each state.  You can find information about service dog in the Americans with Disabilities Act here:  http://www.ada.gov/

If you live in Ontario, where Dogs in the Park operates, you will need to know the information that is contained within Ontario Regulation 429/07 under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, Accessibility Standards for Customer Service,  found at http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/source/regs/english/2007/elaws_src_regs_r07429_e.htm

If you live somewhere else, you will be governed by the local laws.  It is not the intent of this article to provide an exhaustive list of links to laws around the world, so you will have to look up your own laws locally and become familiar with them.

I have heard that my dog must be certified to have public access.  Is this true?

Please reread the above section on the law; it is going to depend on where you are and what the laws are relative to where you are.  Be aware though of organizations that will sell you certifications for your dog; most of these organizations are willing to take your money and print out a piece of paper.  You can do that yourself for the price of a little time and a piece of paper through your printer.


Where can I go to train to be a service dog trainer?

Man standing on steps reading a map

At the moment there are a few private programs that train people to be service dog trainers, but the truth is that most service dog trainers for programs come up through the ranks, working first in the kennels and then learning to train service dogs within the organization they are working for.  Other people begin privately training dogs for others based on their abilities as a dog trainer. 

Where can I send my dog to be trained as a service dog?

There are a wide variety of private programs that train your dog to be a service dog, but check your references carefully and be aware of programs that claim they can train your dog in under six months.  Training a dog properly requires that dogs be allowed the time to obtain and integrate the information that they are being asked to learn.


 Does my dog have to be able to do three demonstrable tasks to be considered a service dog?

D'fer will pick up items such as his leash for me if I am unable to bend over due to my disability.
 

No.  That is the criteria that the organization Assistance Dogs International (ADI, found at http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/) has established for its member organizations.  ADI is a coalition of not for profit assistance dog organisations and has nothing to do with owners who train their own service dogs.  On the other hand, you dog must be able to do something that helps you and in many jurisdictions you may be asked to demonstrate that your dog is trained to assist you.  If you are just bringing your dog along because you like to do that or because you think it will be fun, that is not a service dog.

Will you train a dog to assist me at Dogs in the Park?

A dog in training at Dogs in the Park

We occasionally take clients on after they have attended our annual service dog seminar.  If you attend a seminar with us and you would like us to train a dog for you, we will consider taking you on as a client.  We choose the dogs we train for our clients; if you already have a dog we will not train that dog for you.  If you would like to take private lessons with us, you can do that with the objective of training your dog as a service dog, but we will not be doing the training in that case; we will be acting as consultants only.

How much does it cost to purchase, raise and train a dog from puppy hood to adulthood?

Coins stacked on top of cash bills
It can cost a LOT of money to prepare for, select and train a service dog.

This question depends entirely on how you go about doing that.  If you wanted us to train a dog for you from start to finish, including attending our conference, you might be looking at as much as forty thousand dollars USD.  If you are an experienced dog trainer with access to the right dog to start with, you can expect to spend as much as you might on a sport dog by the time they attain their second level of title (the equivalent of training a dog through his CDX or RX title). 

My school or employer won’t allow me to bring my dog to their establishment, or a hotel wants to charge me extra for having my dog with me.  Can you help?


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We cannot provide legal advice.


Sorry, no.  You need to speak with a human rights lawyer in your area.  We do not keep a list of human rights lawyers; you will need to do your own research about that.

I need to know something that isn’t listed on this page.  Can you help me?
Yes!  If you have not found the answer you need here, please email me at sue@dogsinthepark.ca with your question.  If you call my office leave an email address so that I can get in touch with you.  If you wish to speak with me on the phone, I will be happy to do so for a fee; please email me for details.

ADDENDUM:
Recently a few people are very persistent in wanting to come visit me and speak with me in person about their service dog projects.  I take on very few service dog clients each year, and I only take clients who have been to my service dog seminar.  If you want to discuss your service dog project with me in person there are two ways to go about that.  You can EMAIL me and I will provide you with details about my professional fees to discuss your project on the phone or in person, or you can EMAIL me and outline specific questions which I will respond to at no cost if the specifics of your question are not addressed in this article.  I will respond to what I consider a reasonable number of questions at no charge by email.  I will not discuss service dog projects by phone or in person until I have been paid to do so. 

Over the past fifteen years, I have spent thousands of hours sharing my knowledge and understanding of service dogs with others via email and over the phone and in person.  I cannot do this any longer as I must make a living if I am going to continue to do service dog work at all.  I am able to help you with my blog and in a limited way by email, and I still contribute to a variety of email lists, yahoo groups and Facebook pages, but I can no longer spend hours on end on the phone or in person helping people for no fee.  While I appreciate how difficult it is to wade through the large picture of developing a service dog, I hope that you the reader will appreciate how I must limit my participation in your project at no charge.  I just cannot afford to do that any longer. 

2 comments:

  1. Great article. Plus everyone thinks it sounds cool to have their dog with them all the time, it isn't. You are constantly interrupted, talked about as if you aren't there, judged, and stared at, not to mention the drive by petting that occurs from both adults and kids. Even if you have a disability that can be assisted with the use of a trained Service/Assistance Dog, consider whether the downside of dealing with the public, while with your SD/AD is balanced out, by the good.

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  2. Yes, working with a service dog is not a pleasure walk. You have stuff to do, etc. and you have to manage manners, maintain training and teamwork through doors, various scenarios unfriendly to dogs all the time. A service dog changed my life for the better, no question. But it is not trivial. (hi Sue Ah!)

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