SERVICE DOGS 101
AN INTRODUCTION TO SERVICE DOGS
Service dogs are dogs that are individually trained to perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability.
Tasks may include pressing buttons, retrieving dropped or out-of-reach objects, opening doors, turning lights on and off, summoning help, mobility assistance, response to seizures, and much more.
The goal of a service dog is to give their handlers more independence, freedom, and to improve their quality of life through performing specific tasks that would be difficult or impossible for handlers to do on their own.
Most service dogs begin their training at an early age. From birth, they get exposed to sights and sounds that they will encounter as service dogs. Most service dogs are specifically bred for many generations for suitable temperament and health to perform this special work.
Starting at 4-8 weeks old, puppies begin basic obedience training focused on engagement and problem solving in additional to the more traditional sit, down, stay, and come when called.
Specific skills for assisting individuals with disabilities are built on a firm foundation of handler engagement, problem solving, and resiliency to stimulating and challenging environments.
Once potty trained, they begin going out on field trips with their trainers. They learn environmental awareness, and become accustomed to the different sights, sounds, and smells of places they will go once placed with their permanent handlers. These field trips also give service dogs in training the opportunity to train on stairs and elevators, practice pushing access buttons, and be around shopping carts and people.
We match dogs with their human handlers based upon a number of factors. Factors include dog’s strengths, handler’s lifestyle, handler’s health conditions and needs, and more.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal legislation that allows individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by Service Animals. Legally, Service Dogs are medical equipment just like a wheelchair, cane, or oxygen tank. The ADA has two main requirements for a handler to have an animal that is considered a Service Dog. First, that handler must be disabled in accordance with ADA specifications. Second, the animal must perform specifically trained tasks that directly mitigate that handlers disability (comfort is not considered a specifically trained task according to the ADA). If these two requirements are not met, then the animal is not a service animal and is, in fact, in violation of a number of state and federal laws and the individual human may be penalized by fines, community service, or even jail time.