Published in: Jul 17, 2019
While dogs act as lifelong companions for some of us, they are an indispensable part of the day-to-day lives of several specially-abled people. Service or assistance dogs have, over the years, become more and more common and their services have been recognized by law too.
Generally speaking, a service dog is one who’s trained to assist specially-abled people with their day-to-day functioning. However, they’re not the same as working dogs such as police dogs or search-and-rescue dogs. As per the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), "service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities."
The key points to note in this definition are:
A service dog is permitted by law to enter any business premises, state and local government institutions, and non-profit organizations catering to the public. They also need to be under control, in the form of a leash or harness preferably, unless it comes in the way of their duties. As per the ADA, a specially-abled person can’t be questioned about their disability. Businesses or organizations are limited to only asking them whether their dog is a service dog required for assistance and what specific tasks they are trained to perform. Service dogs should also not be petted, given any food or attention while at work. Finally, no extra money can be charged to handlers for service dogs, neither can they be denied the right to enter a premise without their dogs. In case the dog becomes uncontrollable, the handler may be asked to leave the premises.
There are three categories of assistance dogs:
These are dogs who assist visually-impaired or blind people to navigate properly. Some of the common breeds chosen as guide dogs are Labradors, Golden Retrievers or a hybrid of both.
These dogs help hearing-impaired or deaf individuals to be alert of noises such as doorbells. Although Labradors and Golden Retrievers are the most common breeds chosen as hearing dogs, other breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Lhasa Apsos, and Shih Tzus too can be successfully trained for the job.
These dogs assist with several different functions and can be classified into:
Service dogs shouldn’t be confused with therapy dogs since they perform completely different roles and have opposite traits.
The training process for a service dog is rigorous. A certified service dog needs to perform all necessary duties on command. Moreover, they should also be trained enough to perform the tasks required for the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) Public Access Test, a collection of tests meant to test a dog’s behavior in distractive environments.
Most dogs are bred specifically to work as service dogs by organizations who also train them and provide them to clients. The training can be quite arduous and not many dogs pass the final test, the dropout rate being close to 50-70%.
The popularity of owner-trained dogs has grown over the years. The frustrating procedure, expense, and reliability of obtaining a dog from an organization have motivated many specially-abled people to train their own service dogs. However, in the cases, getting professional help from a trainer is extremely important for the dog to provide reliable service. The ADI can help in finding the right trainer who is aware of possible regulations concerning service dogs. As per the ADA regulations, all service dogs should be house-trained and under control of the handler in public spaces.
Service dogs can be expensive, irrespective of where they come from. Service dogs that are trained and provided by organizations can cost around $25,000, which is inclusive of the cost of training, food and veterinary care for two years. There are several organizations that also offer financial aid for specially-abled people who can’t afford one. Owner-trained service dogs can cost as much, however, hiring a professional trainer is preferable for service reliability.
Every dog is not fit to be a service dog. All service dogs need to possess a certain set of qualities to offer reliable service. These are:
To know more about service dogs and organizations that train and place them, you can check out the website of Assistance Dogs International.