Every month is service dog month here at W.A.G.S. 4 Kids, but September is when service dogs are recognized nationally during National Service Dog Month.
According to DogTime.com, this month was originally known as National Guide Dog Month. In 2008 National Service Dog Month was established by Eight Is Enough actor Dick Van Patten, who was also an animal advocate and the founder of a pet food brand. He was inspired to create a fundraising drive for guide dog and service dog training programs after a visit to a facility in California. Van Patten’s original fundraiser has since evolved into an annual month of recognition, appreciation, celebration, and education.
What is a service dog?
The Americans with Disabilities Act states, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Service dogs help individuals with challenges like mobility difficulties, vision or hearing impairments, autism, seizures and epilepsy, diabetes and more. They are trained to perform a variety of tasks specifically to assist their individual partner with things in their daily lives.
What can a service dog assist with?
Service dogs can assist with many disabilities and conditions when performing a variety of tasks tailored to the needs of the individual service partner. Many people are familiar with brace and mobility support dogs, wheelchair assistance dogs, guide dogs, hearing dogs, diabetic alert dogs and seizure alert dogs. However, there are many other types of service dogs including, but not limited to, autism assistance dogs, allergen alert dogs, psychiatric service dogs and medical response dogs.
Depending on the disability or condition the dog is assisting with, the tasks the dog is trained to execute are varied. For an individual with a mobility disability, their service dog’s tasks may include opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, retrieving items, and providing bracing or support. A diabetic or seizure alert dog uses scenting to alert. For an individual with autism, their service dog can use touch tasks to help interrupt STIM (self-stimulating) behaviors.
Does a handler need to provide proof or documentation?
There is no paperwork or documentation required for a service dog. The ADA explains that a special identification card or training certificate for the dog can not be asked for. Some programs may provide an ID card or training paperwork when the service dog is placed with its handler, however this is not mandatory.
Additionally, it’s not necessary for a service dog to wear a service vest or coat. A vest, harness, or coat are commonly seen on service dogs, but this isn’t because they are required to wear them. Some service dogs may have their gear on because that is one way they know they are in “working” mode. There may be certain times that the dog doesn’t need to be focused on work, so their vest is removed allowing for a bit of relaxation. Another reason a service dog may have a vest on is so the public knows not to interact with the animal. Many service dog coats and vest have “do not pet” printed on them. Distracting the service dog from its work can be dangerous for the dog as well as its handler. The best practice is to simply ignore any kind of working dog, whether it is wearing a vest, coat, harness, brace, or not.
What questions can be asked?
When entering a public establishment, if it is questionable as to whether a dog is in fact a service dog, there are only two questions that may be asked of the service partner. As defined in the ADA, those questions are: “Is the service animal required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” The dog’s handler should answer these questions. Medical documentation or proof of disability cannot be asked for and does not need to be provided.
Should the service animal be interrupting or impeding business, the handler has a one correction allowance. For example, if the dog is in an aisle or barking, the handler can be asked to correct the behavior one time. Should that behavior not be corrected, or if it happens again, the handler and dog can be asked to leave. If the handler is not in command and control of the dog, or if the dog is not housebroken, the owner can be asked to remove the animal from the facility and offered the option to obtain goods or services without the animal present.
Additionally, having allergies or a fear of dogs are not legitimate reasons for denying a service dog access to an establishment or refusing to serve the owner of a service dog. If allergies pose an issue, both parties should be accommodated by being provided the opportunity to occupy different areas of a building or facility.
Are service dogs the same as emotional support or therapy dogs?
Service dogs are not the same as emotional support animals or therapy dogs. In each of these groups, the dog has a different job or goal. These terms are not synonymous.
Persons with disabilities are protected by the ADA and are entitled to have a task-trained service dog with them at all times. Therapy dogs and emotional support dogs are categorized as pets. Service dogs are also the only type that are specifically trained to assist just one person. Therapy dogs provide emotional support and comfort to many people, while an emotional support animal’s primary function is to provide emotional support through companionship. The emotional support animal category was developed to address housing issues in “no pets allowed” rental restrictions. These animals are deemed as a necessity to the owner, so landlords cannot deny residency under standards of the Fair Housing Act.
Each of these types of dogs have a specific job when it comes to working with humans, and in today’s society it can seem as the lines are blurred among them. If a situation ever arises when you need to establish what type of dog you’ve come into contact with, it’s important to remember the two questions described above.
Education is key when it comes to knowing what to do if you see a service dog in public. Knowing more about them can also be helpful in understanding more about different disabilities and increasing inclusion in all areas. W.A.G.S. for kids has the enduring goal of placing more task-trained service dogs with the local children with disabilities who need them. To help our mission in support of National Service Dog Month, please click below to donate.