Most people have heard of seeing-eye dogs for people who are blind and hearing dogs for people with hearing impairments, but there are so many tasks that dogs can help with beyond just for people with visible disabilities.
Getting a specially trained service dog through a charity or special company that trains dogs is one method, but according to the ADA, anyone has the right to train their dog to be a service dog on their own.
The Purpose of Service Dog
For your dog to be eligible to be a service animal, they must be trained to perform a task that supports a person with a disability. This means that you as a handler must have a disability and the dog must know how to do something that helps you live with that disability.
For example, if a person has epilepsy, that is a disability that can affect daily life. A service dog can be trained to make it easier for a person with a disability, like epilepsy to live their life as normally as possible. A service dog could be trained to detect a seizure before it starts and warn the person of the incoming seizure. A service dog could also be trained to provide support during a seizure, such as protecting the person’s head if they fall or creating a safe perimeter to protect them from other people or hazardous objects.
As another example, if a person has depression, a service animal can support with a specific task like reminding them to take their medication. It’s important to note the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals provide general support to people and are not trained to perform a specific task. If the animal is trained to support with a task then they can be a psychiatric service animal.
It’s important to note the distinction between service animals and emotional support animals because they have different rights according to the ADA. An emotional support animal may be exempt from a no-pet housing policy, and some airlines may make exceptions for emotional support animals. Service dogs on the other hand are permitted to accompany their handlers anywhere the handler can go. So while an emotional support animal may not be welcome inside a restaurant, a service animal would be permitted.
The only possible exceptions to service dog access are when it conflicts with a health or safety code, like if a restaurant is too small to accommodate the dog, or if the dog would be in the kitchen and violate health codes.
Because of the increasing popularity of service dogs and emotional support animals to help with a variety of visible and non-visible disabilities, it can be hard to recognize a service dog. One way a business can identify if a dog is a service dog is by asking. There are only two questions that businesses are allowed to ask to verify if a dog is a service dog. They are: “is the dog a service animal required because of a disability” and “what work or task has the dog been trained to perform”. Staff is not allowed to ask for proof beyond those questions, like documentation or requiring that the dog show the task, or about the person’s disability.
In order to make it easier on the handler, many people choose to visibly identify their service dog with a certificate, digital ID card, service dog vest, or other identifiers like leashes or tags. These identifiers are not required, but they let businesses know that a dog is a service dog without having to ask the questions, which can be overwhelming for the person, especially if they have a non-visible disability.
Register a service dog
If you are looking to avoid confrontations and quickly identify your dog as a service dog, you can register your dog online with a service dog registration service. Like the ADA states, service dog registries don’t require any information about your disability or make you prove the dog’s tasks. Adding your dog to an online service dog registry affirms that your dog is trained to perform a task that supports you with a disability. In exchange, the registry may provide a digital or physical certificate and ID card that you can show businesses to avoid questions. When selecting a service dog registration, look for one that is trusted, has nationwide recognition, and includes an ID lookup so you can always see your dog details with the registration number.
Emotional support animals and therapy animals can also be added to many service dog registries. They are usually similar documents, but service dogs are typically blue in color, while emotional support animals use red or orange, and therapy dogs use green. This color difference is also common on vests and visual identifiers, but not mandatory.
Some services that privately train service dogs may provide their own documentation and visual identifiers.
The important thing to remember is that service dogs make life easier for people with disabilities by performing a specific task that helps them live their daily life. Registering your service dog may be one more way to make life easier. While the ADA outlines the law, most businesses and many employees are not aware of it, so it can be a lot of pressure on the individual to educate. Cards and certificates from service dog registries take the pressure off the individual, so they can avoid confrontations and any added stress related to their disability.
If you have a disability and a dog that you think has the potential to be a service dog, give training a try. You can train your dog by yourself, with the help of a trainer, or through a special program. Dogs are incredible support systems, and with a little love and a lot of time, your dog can do so much more for you.