Training your pup to be a service dog can seem like a noble and wonderful responsibility for both you and your animal, but what exactly does it take? And what are the different kinds of service dogs out there? We’ve asked an expert to share the details, below.
There are many different types of service dogs available to people of all different types of disorders and disabilities and it’s important to distinguish between them before determining what kind of dog you’re looking for or what type of dog you’d be able to train. Assistance dogs, like guide dogs, hearing dogs and seizure response dogs, are trained to provide a specific task, said Deb Davis, the national marketing manager for Paws With A Cause. Service dogs are trained for a person with a physical disability and can be trained to pull a wheel chair, turn on light switches, push elevator buttons, dial a phone and retrieve dropped objects.
Social support dogs are trained to provide emotional support for a person, Davis said, and aren’t granted public access rights under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) as others are. Therapy dogs provide comfort to groups of people or various individuals across hospitals, rehab facilities and group homes. The main difference between these types of dogs and specialized assistance or service dogs is that they live with their handlers and are not custom trained to work with only one specific client to mitigate their disability.
What is a Service Dog?
The ADA, according to Davis, is vague about what constitutes a service dog, which means that virtually any dog can become one. In order to become a service dog, it should perform tasks to mitigate a person’s disability and be well behaved and kept tidy. Just because your animal is a trained service dog by these standards, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to bring them everywhere, Davis said.
“A business owner has the right to refuse access to someone claiming to be with a service dog, but they cannot ask a person what their disability is in order to allow access to their venue,” she said. “They may ask what the dog is trained to do and if the customer cannot answer, access may be denied.”
There are no rules under the ADA about identification of a service dog; however, Paws With A Cause requires all clients to use their service dogs while they’re wearing their vests. This way, the general public will know the dog has been trained by an accredited agency and can be held to a higher training standard, Davis said.
Although anyone can train their own service dog without the approval or testing of any agency, Davis said there is a huge benefit to having a service dog trained by an agency versus doing it yourself or having an individual trainer train the dog. Though some people think that training a service dog is no different than training any other dog, they can be very complex to someone who doesn’t have specific knowledge of the breed they’re working with or experience handling various breeds, she said.
“Getting to know an individual dog is critical in the training process,” she said. “Many trainers and agencies tend to volume train in order to produce [a large] number of dogs, yet the training is much more sound and secure if a trainer takes the time to get to know the dog and how it learns.”
Training a Service Dog
At Paws With A Cause, dogs learn basic obedience and socialization in a foster puppy home before going to the organization’s training center for more advanced training. This training includes a review of their already-learned skills, selection of what kind of dog they’ll be trained for (i.e. hearing dog, seizure dog), training for that discipline and learning custom tasks for that discipline. This process generally takes between four and six months depending on what the dog will be learning, Davis said. Although not impossible, Davis said it is rare for a person’s pet to pass through this training process if they haven’t been with the organization since birth.
“We believe there is great value in knowing a dog from birth in order to maximize its training process,” she said. “If we know a dog since birth we also know its behaviors, temperament and health history. All of these elements play into the makeup of a successful service dog.”
If you’re interested in obtaining a service dog, Davis advises you to do as much research as possible and ask as many questions as you can of prospective agencies.
Photo Courtesy of Paws With A Cause