National Service Dog Month
Image used with permission
by Briana Livelsberger
In honor of September being National Service Dog Month, I wanted to share some helpful tips and etiquette to use around service dogs. First, I’d like to talk about what a service dog is, what service dogs do, and the difference between service dogs and other dogs.
According to the ADA, a service dog is a dog that has been trained to complete tasks for an individual with a disability. These tasks are directly linked to the individual’s disability and can range from opening doors, helping their partner get dressed, picking items up from the ground, etc. Some service dogs also offer balance support, sense upcoming seizures, monitor blood sugar, assist those with PTSD, sense when one is about to faint, etc. (ADA). Service dogs also come in a variety of breeds (depending on the tasks needed of them).
This, as well as other things, make service dogs different from emotional support/therapy animals or regular pets. Service dogs must be kept clean. In order to work in public, service dogs have to pass certification tests every year and have strict rules to follow when out in public. Service dogs must be kept very healthy. Service dogs must also be under control by their partner at all times. Service dogs are granted public access while most therapy animals are not (some states do allow therapy animals in public in certain places, with permission), (ADA). Therapy/emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA.
People have taken the rise in the use of service dogs as a reason to take their pets anywhere, claiming that they’re service animals when they’re not. Service dogs aren’t supposed to be aggressive to other people or animals. Service dogs aren’t allowed to pee indoors. Service dogs have to behave themselves. Employers/employees are often afraid to ask if an individual’s dog is a service dog because they don’t want to get sued. Even if they ask, individuals may say that it’s a service dog when their dog isn’t. As a result, there are many who then think that service dogs are a menace, giving service dogs a bad name. Note: If you are an employer/employee of a business and you aren’t sure if a dog is a service dog, you are allowed to ask if the dog is a service animal required by a disability or what work/task the dog is trained to do (ADA). You are also allowed to ask an individual to leave if their service dog isn’t behaving.
In comparison, therapy/emotional support animals are not granted public access. While some states or businesses may have a policy in which therapy/emotional support animals can accompany their owners to specific places, this is not universal nor protected by law. More often than not, therapy/emotional support animals stay at home. Full-fledged service dogs start training when they’re puppies and go through extensive training their first two years of life. After that, they go through advanced training which can take another two years, during which time they learn the tasks that their partner needs them to do. In total, it takes a service dog two to four years of training in order to be certified as a service dog. On the other hand, therapy/emotional support dogs do not go through extensive training. In order for one to be a therapy/emotional support dog, you simply need to fill out a form and have a letter from your doctor. As a result, some therapy/emotional support dogs can be well-behaved and well-trained or poorly behaved and not trained. No matter what, if you take a dog out in public, whether the dog be a service dog, therapy/emotional support dog, or a pet, you need to be responsible.
When you encounter a service dog, here is what you should and shouldn’t do:
- Do not pet a service dog without permission. This distracts the service dog from being able to accomplish their tasks.
- Ask if you can pet the service dog: asking allows time for the service dog’s partner to be able to get their service dog to face them while you pet (but that is only if they say it’s okay).
- Do not get excited around a service dog
- Act calm around a service dog
- Do not run up to a service dog
- Do not talk, smile, wave, or attempt to get the service dog’s attention in any way
- Talk and smile at the service dog’s partner: talking with or smiling at a service dog’s partner allows the service dog to keep their attention on their partner.
- Do not bark at a service dog
- Do not yell at a service dog
- Do not block a service dog’s path or hover over them
- Make sure you give enough room for a service dog to complete tasks for their partner
- Do not call a comfort trainer a muzzle: the service dog has full access to their mouths
- Do not kick, hit, tug the collar, or physically assault a service dog
- Respect the service dog
It is amazing to see these service dogs work and do their jobs. However, it is important to watch these amazing feats from a distance. Interfering with a service dog is actually a punishable offense, sometimes in the form of a fine. In Pennsylvania, it is punishable with a $15,000 fine in addition to any other costs that may result from the interference (i.e. hospital bills, vet bills, replacement of service dog (a service dog costing about $5-10,000), replacement of equipment, compensation if an individual can’t work without a service dog, so on and so forth). Businesses can be fined $75,000 for the first instance of denying a service dog team access. This fine increases $150,000 each time this happens after the first time. This is why a lot of businesses are afraid to deny access to someone who claims to have a service dog even when it is clear that a dog isn’t. Legally, a service dog team can be asked to leave if their service dog is being unprofessional or acting up.
If you see these fabulous, hard-working, canine caregivers, please do not interfere with their work. It is important for their and their partner’s safety that interference does not occur.
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