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Service dog training

Service Dog FAQ

What is a service dog?

A service dog is any canine that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks which benefit an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

What do service dogs do?

Service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks for their disabled handlers. These tasks often include things like pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button, among others.

Service dogs are trained to perform tasks that will assist an individual with a disability and as such, they should not be confused with other types of working animals, such as therapy dogs or emotional support animals.

What are the different types of service dogs?

There are many different types of service dogs that perform various trained tasks for individuals with disabilities. The most common types of service dogs are:

  • Guide Dogs
  • Hearing Alert or Signal Dogs
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs
  • Seizure Alert Dogs
  • Sensory Signal Dog / Social Signal Dog

What are the service dog requirements?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the following requirements apply to service animals:

  • Service animals must be canines or miniature horses.
  • Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, can not be considered service animals.
  • The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler’s disability.

What are the best breeds for service dogs?

The most important things to consider when selecting a breed to be a service dog are the animal’s size, temperament, and receptiveness to training. Smaller breeds of dogs may struggle to perform their necessary tasks, and dogs that are too large may be difficult for a disabled person to transport.

That’s why most service dog programs and organizations train golden retrievers and labradors to be assistance animals, but many other breeds may also be suitable.

Do service dogs have to be professionally trained?

No. People with disabilities have the right to train a dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program. However, many organizations have proven track records and established training programs which may make them better equipped to prepare a canine for work as a service animal.

In the event you are training your own service animal, check out our free service dog training resources.

Which laws govern service animals?

In the United States, service dog laws can be separated into three areas:

  • Case Law – decisions made by courts
  • Federal Law – (both statutory and regulatory laws) and
  • State Law

The primary federal laws governing service dogs in the United States are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Many cases that appear before judges are tried under both federal and state laws at the same time, and in the event that an individual is qualified for protection under both a Federal and a State law, whichever law affords greater rights to the disabled individual shall apply.

Do you have to certify or register a service animal?

No. As an owner/handler of a service dog, you are not legally required to register or certify your animal as a service dog and there is no official Service Dog registry in the United States.

In order to determine whether an animal is a bona fide service dog, the U.S. Department of Justice allows businesses to ask the following two questions:

  1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
  2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

In order to qualify as a “service animal” under federal law, the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks which assist an individual with his or her disability.

Does my service dog need a vest or ID?

No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness. However, it can be helpful, particularly when flying, to clearly identify your dog as a service animal so that it is not confused with being a standard pet.

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Therapy dog vest

Therapy Dog FAQ

What is a therapy dog?

Therapy dogs are canines that are trained to provide comfort and affection to people in retirement homes, nursing homes, hospices, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, and to people with autism. Therapy Dogs work in animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy, typically alongside their owner/handlers who consider them the canines to be their personal pets.

What are the requirements for therapy dogs?

Therapy Dogs must:

  • Be well-tempered
  • Well-socialized
  • Enjoy human touch
  • Comfortable in busy or stressful settings
  • Not shed excessively
  • Love to cheer others up!

A good therapy dog must be friendly, confident, gentle in all situations and must be comfortable and contented with being petted and handled, sometimes clumsily. Therapy dogs must have a calm and stable temperament and must be able to tolerate children, other animals, crowded public places and other situations which may be stressful, without becoming distressed or dangerous. Additionally, some institutions require that any therapy dogs working on their premises be fully insured and trained, and sometimes that they be certified by an accredited organization.

Read more about Therapy Dog Requirements

What are the different types of therapy dogs?

There are many different types of therapy dogs:

  • Therapeutic Visitation Dogs
  • Disaster Relief Dogs
  • Facility Therapy Dogs
  • Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs
  • Reading Therapy Dogs

Read more about the different types of therapy dogs.

What are the best breeds for therapy dogs?

Because a good therapy dog must have a calm and gentle demeanor,  the most important things to bear in mind when choosing a canine to serve as a therapy dog are the animal’s temperament and how easily the dog can be trained.

Some of the best breeds for therapy work are:

Small Breeds:

  • Chihuahua
  • Corgi
  • French Bulldog
  • Pug
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Bichon Frise
  • Beagle
  • Yorkie
  • Pomeranian

Large Breeds:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Greyhound
  • Rottweiler
  • Saint Bernard
  • Poodle
  • Great Dane
  • Mastiff
  • Bernese Mountain Dog

NOTE: Although any size dog can make a great therapy animal, small dogs are particularly well-suited for the job because they can be easily lifted onto a person’s hospital bed, or held in the patient’s arms.

Do therapy dogs require special training?

Practically any dog, regardless of breed, may be eligible for therapy dog certification, provided that it can pass the required training and temperament testing, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test. Passing the CGC Test is a requirement for many therapy dog groups, and the official AKC test includes:

  • Sitting politely for petting
  • Appearance and grooming
  • Walking on a loose lead
  • Walking through a crowd
  • Sit and lay down on command
  • Coming when called
  • Reaction to another dog
  • Reaction to distraction
  • Supervised separation

Read more about Therapy Dog Training.

Do therapy dogs have to be certified or registered?

There are many different organizations which offer therapy dog certification and/or registration, and each organization has its own standards and protocols.

However, all organizations that deal with therapy dog certification typically share common ground in their training and temperament requirements for any therapy dog candidates. Additionally, some medical institutions require therapy dogs to be registered or certified by an official organization, prior to allowing the dog-handler-team to operate on their premises.

Read more about Therapy Dog Certification

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emotional support dog

Emotional Support Animal FAQ

What is an emotional support animal?

An emotional support animal, or ESA, is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to its owner/handler, by alleviating or mitigating symptoms of mental or emotional disability. An ESA is typically a dog or cat, but can be any kind of animal.

NOTE: An ESA is not classified as a service animal, and it is a Federal offense to misrepresent one as a service dog.

Which laws govern emotional support animals?

In the United States, emotional support animal laws can be separated into three areas:

  • Case Law – decisions made by courts
  • Federal Law – (both statutory and regulatory laws) and
  • State Law

The primary federal laws governing emotional support animals in the United States are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).

Many cases that appear before judges are tried under both federal and state laws at the same time, and in the event that an individual is qualified for protection under both a Federal and a State law, whichever law affords greater rights to the disabled individual shall apply.

What are the requirements for an ESA?

There are very few legal requirements which apply to an animal serving as an ESA directly. However, the animal’s handler must have the following:

  • A diagnosed mental or emotional disability
  • A written recommendation from a licensed mental health professional, which states the patient’s need for the ESA as part of his or her treatment.

Does an emotional support animal require special training?

An ESA is not required to have any formal training, aside from standard house-breaking and obedience training. However, in order to qualify for the travel and housing rights afforded to an ESA, the animal:

  • Must not pose a danger to other people or animals, or exude threatening behavior, such as growling, lunging, etc…
  • Must be housebroken
  • Must not be a nuisance (e.g. excessive barking, damaging or destroying property, etc…)

Any animal serving as an ESA that cannot meet these basic requirements may be denied the housing and air travel rights.

Do you have to register or certify an animal as an ESA?

No. There is no legal requirement to register or certify an animal as an ESA and there is no officially-recognized database or registry.

Does an ESA need to wear a vest or ID?

Although it may be helpful to clearly distinguish an animal as an ESA there is absolutely no legal requirement to do so. Many airlines recommend adorning an ESA with a special vest and/or identification card, to help delineate the animal as more than a pet, but again, there is no legal requirement.

NOTE: Mislabeling or misrepresenting any animal as a service animal is a Federal offense.

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