A service dog is a type of
assistance dog, specifically trained to help people who have disabilities other than visual or hearing impairment,or medical response dogs. Service dogs do not have to have pedigrees: desireable character traits, good conformation, and good health are more important. Service dogs are sometimes trained and bred by private organizations. In other cases, a disabled handler may train their own dog with or without the aid of a private dog trainer.
Many assistance dog organizations employ programs where future service dogs spend a year or more with a host family- particularly if the program breeds their own dogs or otherwise receives the dogs as puppies. During this time, they are primarily acclimated to working around people and all kinds of potential situations, as well as exposed to
In addition, in the
United States, use of selected inmates in prisons as animal trainers and puppy-raisers prove to be a valuable resource to service dog organizations. In addition to teaching the dogs basic obedience and other skills needed to prepare them for their future careers, such programs have proved to be mutually beneficial relationships. Often, the inmates develop improved socialization skills and behavior as a result of their work with the dogs.
The process of obtaining a "program" service dog usually includes an application and evaluation process, after which potential handlers may spend time on a waiting list while a suitable dog is found and/or trained. The dogs may be obtained free of charge, while a significant financial outlay may be required for others -- assistance may or may not be offered. Once partnered, the new handler learning to work with the dog may take a few weeks to a period stretching over several months, depending on the tasks to be learned, and the personality and age of the dog/puppy. In addition, many service dogs are required to touch up their training after they are formally placed, on a yearly or otherwise regular basis. Service dogs are allowed to enter public places, with the same access rights afforded to Guide (Seeing Eye) Dogs: therefore, service dog owners are expected not only to keep their companions up-to-date on all shots, but also to schedule "well dog" visits at least twice a year. Service dogs that travel on planes/trains to foreign countries can remain with their owners when the requisite paperwork is presented. All service dogs should be micro-chipped with a chip recognized not only in the US, but also in the EU. And before travel, check national and local laws in other countries carefully.
A growing number of people choose to train their own service dogs, because their needs may be so unique. Service dogs come from a wide variety of places- from a breeder, or rescued from a shelter. Some owners choose a current, older
petthat might become a suitable partner (particularly if they develop the ability to alert to a medical condition). Handlers sometimes choose to researchand train the dogs themselves, while others may employ a professional trainer or organization that accepts handler-picked dogs to help. People who train their own dogs generally spend a year or more with the dog "in-training," though self-trained dogs in particular may never stop learning new skills. There are organizations that can provide training tapes and manuals for those who are unable to attend training sessions.
Typically, where a puppy is selected, having been selected for desired traits (intelligent, emotionally secure and stable, interested in cooperating with humans, self-confident, but not aggressive, responds to 'fetch' commands, etc. )the service dog-to-be goes to a puppy raiser. There the raiser teaches the puppy basic commands such as, sit, stay, no, leave it, etc. Then it goes into specialized training with the properly placed owner. At the schooling sessions, the dog learns special commands. Examples of such commands are: Turning on lights, opening the refrigerator, closing doors, picking up objects, finding objects, etc.
Many disabled handlers train their dogs from puppyhood, bypassing a puppy raiser (although some programs still use them). It is advisable for a disabled person to obtain a puppy showing evidence of the desired traits, and to find a dog training facility that offers "Puppy Kindergarden", Basic Obedience, and a specialized service dog class for training of tasks needed by the disabled person.
Public accessibility of service dogs varies according to the country and region. A number of
states employ specific laws to ensure the rights of handlers while in public. For example, in the United States, service dogs and their handlers enjoy special protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990[http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/statutes/ofccp/ada.htm] , which gives them equal access to anywhere the general public is allowed, such as restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters,taxis, and aircraft, as well as providing protection for handlers living in places "pets" are generally not allowed. Persons with service dogs should not be required to pay, for example, 'pet deposits' nor be excluded from housing available to the general public (though damage done by a service dog is the responsibility of the owner). Service dogs can be trained to be quiet and nearly 'invisible' in public places. Objections that service dogs can create allergic reactions are sometimes made by shop owners, restaurant managers, etc., but the presence of the service dog is no more endangering than the presence of cat and dog owners who also enter, since the same hair and dander products are found on their clothing and persons. Nevertheless, it is advised to carry a card stating the rights of service dog owners, as listed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, including Internet and telephone numbers where the voice of authority can be reached to support the needs of the service dog's owner and his/her canine companion. The access rights of service dogs and their owners to public places, including hospital stays, are slowly expanding: a service dog owner should stringently defend these rights for the sake of others in the same situation. Some countries have to deal with religious beliefs and concerns. Muslim taxis or waiters may refuse service, and dogs are to be caged/boxed when riding on public transport in Greece, or will not be allowed into a museum, as in Turkey). It may be useful to obain a letter from a local authority that states the service dog is to be allowed into restaurants, theaters, etc. (Such a letter was valuable in Hungary). Laws change frequently: all service dog owners should keep their knowledge up-to-date, and should actively support changes that help ease the current situation in many places even in the US, where service dogs' rights may not be recognized because "the owner isn't blind." As the population ages, more service dogs will be needed. Service dogs are working animals, and should be retired from serious workloads at about ten years of age, (or perhaps they may work a year or two more, until their work load becomes more a burden than a pleasure due to age problems). It is usually easier to train a puppy who is brought into a home where an old service dog is still working, as the puppy will often bond with the older dog and will learn from its example.
Paws With A Cause
Support Dogs, Inc.
Canine Companions for Independence
Dogs for Diabetics
National Service Dogs
* [http://www.adionline.org Assistance Dogs International]
* [http://dogswithjobs.com/about_dogs/dog_jobs/assistance_dogs.html Assistance Dogs - Dogs in Human Health]
* [http://www.iaadp.org International Association of Assistance Dog Partners]
* [http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/qasrvc.htm Legal information about service dogs in the U.S.] [1. [http://www.dol.gov/esa/regs/statutes/ofccp/ada.htm ^] The online copy of The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990]
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