What Qualifies a Dog to Be a Service Dog?
If you suffer from an emotional or physical disability you may be wondering what qualifies a dog to be a service dog. In this post, we will answer that question and give you some facts you will want to know when getting a canine for the purpose of service.
Can My Dog Be a Service Dog?
Many people ask the question of whether their current dog can be a service dog? The answer to this question is dependant on what you need your service dog to do for you. If you have a dog for emotional support or to help you with stress and/or anxiety, then there are no restrictions on the canine companion. In fact, an emotional support animal (ESA) can be anything from a snake to a horse but know there are restrictions on this type of “service” animal.
However, if you require a dog to do more than just offer comfort, then you will need the canine to be properly trained to do the tasks required. For example, if the dog has to pull a wheelchair, then a Chihuahua will not be considered a service dog as it simply would not have the strength to complete this task.
Whether you train your dog yourself or enlist the help of an agency or professional trainer, your service dog must be obedience trained. This entails the basic commands of sit, stay, come, down, drop, heel and leave. Depending on the breed of dog you have chosen or already have this can take weeks to months to accomplish.
Another important quality your service dog must possess is socialization skills. A skittish, hyperactive or unruly dog will not do well as a service dog. Your dog must be quiet, calm, relaxed, alert, and of course, friendly.
To qualify as a service dog your canine must be able to demonstrate the ability to do the work tasks that you cannot do for yourself. This can include fetching medicine bottles, opening drawers, or even alerting you to a drop in your blood sugars or of an oncoming seizure.
Public Access Training
How your dog acts in public areas is crucial to having a service dog. These working dogs must not respond to any of the noise, commotion, chaos, food smells or people when out with its handler. This type of training may take several months before your dog is desensitized to hustle-and-bustle of being in a public place. Some dogs may never have the ability for this type of public access training and therefore would not be considered a service dog.
Service Dog Rules
Because a service dog is there to help the handler there are rules your dog must follow when out in public. These include;
- No sniffing of people or merchandise
- No barking at people or other animals
- No begging for food or table scraps
- No jumping onto people or objects
- No lunging at passing people or other animals
- No overexcited or hyperactive behavior
- No eliminating in an inappropriate area. Dogs must learn to relieve themselves on command.
There are a lot of rules for a service dog to follow, but what about the handler? Some agencies may have you sign a form that both you and your service dog will behave accordingly when out in public. This can include;
- Being prepared to answer the questions of “is the dog a service dog and what task does it perform for you?”
- Being polite, confident and courteous even if the people you are dealing with are not familiar with the American Disability Act and service dogs.
Although it is not required by law, a service dog vest and/or badge is helpful when taking your working dog out into the public. You may also register your service dog with a reputable organization. This informs people at a glance that your dog is there to provide you with a service and not just a pet you are trying to “break the rules” with.
Service Dog Qualification Is a Process
Having a properly trained and accredited service dog is a process that takes time. Even though you can take an ordinary dog and turn it into a service dog, it will have to exhibit the qualities it takes to do this important work. It is also highly recommended to start your service dog training when your dog is just a puppy. Teaching an “old dog new tricks” will be much tougher, and he may not be able to accomplish all the tasks and training required to be a full-fledged service dog.