A service dog is a dog that has been trained to help someone with a disability or severe medical issue. For instance, people with hearing impairments, mental disorders, seizures, mobility impairments, diabetes and severe allergies often have a service dog. Many dogs are trained to detect dangerous situations, keep their owners safe and provide protection.
Some states define service dogs different than they do dogs that lead blind or visually impaired people. However, the same laws apply, meaning dogs that are trained for visual impairment have the same privileges as other service dogs.
If you are a veteran, you may improve your quality of life by getting a service dog. It is important to know that veteran service dog programs exist in many states and help veterans pay for the cost of training.
What are the requirements for a service dog?
While you may think that you need a service dog vest for your dog, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require dogs to wear vests, ID tags or harnesses. However, you may find a vest to be helpful when you are entering public spaces such as stores, hotels or movie theaters because it may stop others from doubting the dog’s status.
It is important to understand that the ADA differentiates a therapy dog from a service dog. The purpose of a therapy dog is to provide comfort, affection, and love to its owner if the owner has a mental disability. However, therapy dogs do not have to be trained. As a result, therapy dogs are not protected under the ADA or the Federal Housing Act (FHA).
Difference Between Guide Dogs and Service Dogs
Some states differentiate between several types of service animals and require certain animals to have professional training. For example, New Jersey defines a guide dog as any dog that is individually trained to serve a person who is deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired.
Guide dogs must be trained by a reputable organization. Most of these organizations will train both the dog and the owner so that the owner understands how to handle his or her dog and give commands. Some organizations provide dogs, while others require owners to bring their own adult dogs or puppies for training.
Training Requirements for Service Dogs
It is a common misconception that service dog training must be completed at a professional organization. Besides the few states that recommend owners have guide dogs professionally trained, service animals do not need to be professionally trained. This means that owners may train their dogs themselves.
If you complete a service dog registration and enroll in a program, you and your dog may be required to pass a final exam that tests your dog’s abilities to follow the training and your abilities to correctly handle the dog. Training exercises will vary tremendously depending on your disability.
For example, your dog may be trained to comfort and distract you if you have PTSD, help you stand or retrieve objects if you have a physical impairment or detect when you are about to have a seizure. In addition, some programs require their dogs to wear an identifying vest or tag.
The ADA also requires a service animal to be harnessed, leashed or tethered when you and the animal are in public spaces. There is an exception for dogs who cannot be tethered because it would interfere with their ability to perform certain tasks.
For instance, a dog that is trained to protect you from dangerous situations or to alert a bystander needs more freedom to move. These service dogs must still be controlled by voice commands, hand signals or other effective controls.
Note that therapy dog training does exist for therapy animals. However, therapy dogs do not need to be professionally trained, and therefore do not have the same privileges as service animals.
Questions that Employees May Ask About Your Service Dog
If you have a service dog certification, you are not required to carry it with you or present it to any sort of authority. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prevents employees at different stores or public spaces from requesting one.
In addition, a staff member may ask you only specific questions:
- Is your dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has your dog or animal been trained to perform?