Article: Working Dogs » Service Dog
A service dog is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities including visual or hearing impairment, and also to help people with mental disabilities including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and severe depression. Desirable character traits include good temperament or psychological make-up, good health including physical structure, biddability and trainability. Service dogs are sometimes trained and bred by service dog organizations. Some dogs are donated by private breeders, and some are selected from shelters. Any breed or mixture of breeds of dog might produce a representative capable of service work, though few dogs have all of the qualities in health, temperament, biddability, trainability and physical ability needed. Such a dog may be called a “service dog” or an “assistance dog,” depending largely on country. Other common names include “helper dog,” “aide dog,” and “support dog.”
In the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.” 
Service Dog Etiquette
Most owners expect their service dogs to be treated as a working animal while in public. The health and safety of their owner may depend on the dog’s ability to focus and resist distraction. Many service dogs are trained to avoid distraction when wearing their gear, but relax and are friendly when the gear is removed. An owner will expect to be asked for permission before another individual interacts with the dog.
Service dog puppies are often fostered by their programs to private families to be reared until they are old enough for advanced training. During this time, the puppies are socialized through extensive interactions with people of all kinds (with variations in age, gender, ethnicity, mode of dress, disability, etc.) as well as with other common domestic animals, especially other dogs. Puppies are also habituated by their foster families so that they become comfortable in a wide variety of situations. The foster families, called puppy raisers or puppy walkers, take responsibility for teaching the pup basic life skills common to any well behaved dog including basic obedience and manners, including toilet training, not begging or jumping up on people, waiting at doors, riding in cars, coming when called, sit, down, stay and walking politely on a leash.
Also, there is owner training, in which the disabled person does the training, from start to finish, without the help of a program. Not all SDs are program dogs.
Puppies are periodically tested during the fostering period but are more thoroughly evaluated once they are returned to the training center, usually between twelve and eighteen months of age. They are evaluated for temperament, health, biddability, and trainability. Those not up to the standard are offered up for adoption or are transferred to different programs such as police dog or customs dog training programs. Generally the family that fostered the puppy is given the first option to keep any pup that does not continue in the program.
Next the serious training begins. Core skills shared by all public access service dogs include proofing to work in spite of distractions and generalization to work in a variety of venues. All service dogs need to learn a working position, usually the heel position, which the dog is responsible for maintaining regardless of how the owner moves and whether or not a leash is dropped. They are taught to toilet only on command when working.
By definition, a service dog is a dog that is individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate the disability of the dog’s owner. Since each person is an individual, they experience their disabilities uniquely. Therefore, each dog must be custom-trained for the individual it will be helping. For example, a dog meant to assist a person in a wheel chair might be taught to pick up dropped items, open and close doors, and turn on and off lights.
Core skills  and tasks are generally taught during the same period when the dog is kept at the training center to work with professional service dog trainers. The last phase, called public access training, is proofing and generalization or teaching the dog to perform his duties without regard for distraction and in any environment. This period typically lasts six months to one year.
Program-Trained Dogs vs. Owner-Trained Dogs
A growing number of people choose to train their own service dogs, because existing service dog training programs do not answer their needs. This is permitted in some countries, such as the U.S., but not in all. Handlers with experience training advanced dogs may choose to train the dogs themselves, while others may employ a professional trainer or organization that accepts an owner’s existing dog.
Program-trained dogs are matched with their future handler near the end of the training process. By this point it is nearly certain the candidate will complete training and be able to become a service dog. Owner-trainers usually start working with their puppies while they are very young, too young to be thoroughly evaluated. Owner-trainers whose puppies fail to measure up must deal with the emotional conflict of whether to rehome the dog to start again or keep him as a pet.
Because programs for the most part are breeding their own puppies and raising them according to very carefully researched and planned guidelines, their success rate with a given puppy is usually about 85%. Owner-trainers, lacking the experience of the program trainers and not being able to manipulate the genetics or early neurological stimulation of the puppies, experience a much lower success rate.
However, for a person with the skill to train their own service dog, this option can make dogs of specific breeds available that would not be available through a program, and allows for greater customization of training. For a handler used to a certain set of command words or who needs a cross-disability dog, this can be a very useful option.
Public access rights of owners of service dogs vary according to country and region.
Disabled owners of service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which generally gives them the right to be accompanied by their service animal anywhere the general public is allowed. Additional federal laws protect people with disabilities partnered with service animals from discrimination in housing (the Fair Housing Amendments Act ) and on aircraft (the Air Carrier Access Act ).
Under the ADA, businesses are permitted to deny access to service dogs that are not behaving properly. They may also be excluded if the presence of the animal constitutes a fundamental alteration of the business or poses a direct threat. Persons with service dogs are not required to pay any additional fees on account of the service dog, though the owner is responsible for any damages caused by the dog.
Generally, hearing and service dogs are permitted to accompany their disabled owner everywhere members of the public are allowed, but there are a few exceptions. For example, a member of the public would be permitted in the dining area of a restaurant, but not in the kitchen. Therefore, a guide dog would be permitted to accompany his disabled owner in the dining area of a restaurant.
It is also an important distinction to note that it is the handler who has access rights and not the dog. A guide dog without his blind handler has no particular access rights of his own and neither does a hearing dog or other service dog without his disabled handler.
“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.” — U.S Department of Justice.
In the U.S., according to the Department of Justice’s Business Brief concerning Service Animals, business owners/managers can ask 2 specific questions. 1) Is this a service dog required because of a disability? and 2) What task(s) is the dog trained to perform? If these questions are not appropriately answered, the business may exclude the animal, but not the person.
In the US a service animal (under the revised ADA law that went into effect March 15, 2011) the only animals legally accepted as a service animal are dogs (with a special provision for miniature horses, generally used as guide horses for the blind). Though service animals can legally accompany their disabled handler almost anywhere the handler goes, they can be excluded from areas where their presence would constitute either a fundamental alteration of goods and services available for all, or a direct threat to safety. Examples where a service animal might be excluded include:
- Sterile rooms, such as operating rooms, some areas of emergency rooms/departments, some ICU rooms, some ambulances, some delivery rooms (on a case-by-case basis)
- Clean rooms where microchips are manufactured
- Places where food is prepared (though they cannot generally be excluded from dining areas where food is present) (by order of most health departments)
- Open air zoological exhibits, such as open air aviaries (at the zoo’s discretion)
- Churches (at the church’s discretion)
- Native American Tribal Council Chambers (at the council’s discretion)
- Federal Courts (at the judge’s discretion)
- Jail or prison cells (at the discretion of the facility director)
- Private clubs (at the club’s discretion)
- Private homes (at the home owner’s discretion)
For additional information or clarifications regarding service dog rules, owners may contact the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA Information Line at 800 – 514 – 0301 (voice) or 800 – 514 – 0383 (TTY)
Life of a Service Dog
The typical working life of a service dog is usually eight to ten years, depending on the owner’s needs and preferences.
Service dogs are free to act when they are not working. Typically, they are taught to identify work versus free time by whether or not they are wearing their gear. Because of the strict behavior expected from a working dog when it is on duty, many owners will usually not permit people to pet the animal, or be reluctant to remove gear on request (such as for security inspections.)
Exceptions to this rule may exist, such as a seizure alert dog, which must not ignore an impending seizure even when it is not wearing its gear. Nevertheless, just as any other trained animal, working dogs must still obey commands even when they are off-duty.
When a service dog retires, it may remain with his owner or a family member as a pet. If the owner is unable to care for him and a successor dog at the same time, he may be returned to the program for “re-homing.” Typically, the family that raised it as a puppy is given the first opportunity to keep him as a pet. Others are adopted out to carefully screened homes. These dogs are highly desirable pets because of their manners and obedience training; as so, waiting lists for such placements may sometimes be measured in years.
- 28 C.F.R. 36.104 Definitions.
- Service Dog Etiquette.
- Puppy Socialization Guidelines.
- The Delta Society’s Minimum Standards for Service Dogs.
- IAADP’s Minimum Training Standards for Public Access.
- Codes of Federal Regulation implementing the ADA.
- Fair Housing Amendments Act.
- Air Carrier Access Act.
- ADA Business Brief: Service Animals.
TagsAfghanistan Africa America Ancient Egypt Ancient Greece Assistance Dogs Austria Bark Behavior Belgium Biology Bosnia Breed Type Canary Islands Catahoula Companion Dog Coonhound Croatia Cur Dog Sport Dog Types Egypt England English-French Evolution Finland Foxhound France Germany Greece Guard Dogs Hairless Health History Hounds Hungary Iberia Imperial China Ireland Israel Italy Lap Dog Malta Montenegro North Africa Norway Nutrition Palestine Pariah Persia Peru Poland Portugal Primitive Rabies Ridgeback Roman Russia Scenthound Scotland Serbia Sicily Sighthound Slovakia Spain Spitz Sweden Switzerland Taiwan Thailand The Domestic Dog Training Transylvania Wales Working Dogs