Service dogs are canines trained to provide physical support for disabled individuals. Unlike typical canine pets, service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that service dogs shouldn’t be discriminated against or prohibited from entering establishments where common pets aren’t allowed. But for this to happen, a canine has to undergo service dog training and pass related tests.
What is a service dog?
Unlike emotional support dogs, service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks related to the disability of their handlers.
Also, service dogs have to be physically equipped to provide support when needed. For example, if the handler has poor mobility, service dogs should be skilled in opening doors and picking up things.
Lastly, service dogs aren’t considered pets, but working canines. With this comes strict rules for ownership to ensure that both the dog and the owner can live harmoniously.
Tasks of a service dog
Service dogs are expected to perform specific tasks skillfully and consistently. The following are some of the tasks that a service dog has to learn:
*Assist the handler in an upright position
*Retrieve fallen objects or medication
*Turn lights on and off
*Detect a fluctuation in blood sugar levels, allergic reactions, pulse problems, etc.
*Provide support during seizures
*Lead blind handlers
*Interrupt dangerous behavior
*Bark to call for help
*Provide pressure therapy
Service dogs can perform more tasks, depending on the handler with which they will be placed. With this, service dogs require individual and customized training.
General requirements for service dogs
Aside from breed and health specifications, dogs have to meet several general requirements before they qualify for service dog training. According to the ADA, there are three important requirements for dogs to qualify for the training:
*Fully housebroken. The dog shouldn’t be having accidents and should have control over its bladder.
*Can perform at least one task. The canine should be tasked-trained for at least one advanced command.
*Handler control. The handler who wishes to get the dog certified as a service canine should have full control over the animal.
Keep in mind that these are just the minimum requirements and may vary across organizations that provide training. Depending on the tasks that the dog will be required to perform, the training organization might require a different specification.
Duration of the service dog training
Training a service dog doesn’t happen overnight. For those who are planning to get their pooches certified, it takes a two-year-long program. This applies to both owner-trained and program service dogs.
Although some dogs may graduate from the program earlier than others, the minimum is 18 months. Anything earlier than that is quite premature. Take note that program service dogs will be trained from puppyhood until they become adults to ensure that they can remember commands properly.
For dogs with behavioral problems, training might take longer.
Tests that a service dog should pass
When it comes to service dogs, the law doesn’t require any specific tests for a dog to pass. However, training organizations will require various pre-training certifications so they don’t have to start from scratch.
The most common tests that training organizations require is the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen (CGC) training. It teaches dogs basic commands with 10 test skills in the end.
Aside from that, organizations may require certifications for AKC Community Canine, AKC Urban CGC, IAADP Public Access Test, and so on.
Take note that if your dog has been certified for the mentioned tests years ago, your dog will need to get re-certified.
The last test that the canine has to pass to become a full-fledged service dog is the exam in the training facility. This will vary across training organizations, but the rule of thumb is that the doggo should ace every item or only have minimal errors.
Steps in service dog training
For the training, the following steps should be completed:
*Considering the dog’s health and age
Before you even pay for the training, you have to ensure that your dog is physically prepared for the job. While there’s no breed restriction, service dogs are usually medium or large breed canines. This is due to the fact that the dog would need to use its strength to provide physical support to the handler.
Next, you have to check the health and age of the dog. A veterinarian can provide a clearance, which may or may not be required in training programs. As for the age, it’s ideal that the dog is at least six months old and is no longer a puppy.
Getting the right temperament for a service dog is quite tricky as each canine will have different personalities. There’s no right or wrong here, but it’s always ideal that the dog doesn’t have a bad case of aggression. Besides, training organizations will require some extent of training before admitting your dog to the program.
*Finding the right trainer
Once you’re sure that your dog is suitable for the job, it’s time to look for a reputable training program. Most programs are divided into three phases: heeling, proofing, and tasking.
Heeling is the basic task where a dog walks beside its handler with or without a leash. Next, distractions will be introduced to prove the dog’s command recall.
After that, tasking will be done under the most difficult environments to test the dog’s skills. Take note that this will include complicated tasks like a medical response.
In the United States, service dog training is self-regulated. This means that you have the freedom to train your dog at home. Some opt for service dog programs, but the endpoint here is the ability of the dog to perform actual tasks.
After your dog graduates from the training program, it’s time to check their skills. This will be done through the public access test. Such a test can be done within the training facility in the presence of a trainer. But for self-trained service dogs, video documentation will work.
During the test, an aspiring service dog should exhibit the following behavior.
-Control over hyperactivity and excitement
-No growling, biting, and barking
-Self-control in the presence of food and other distractions
-Consistent attention and response
-Eliminating only when commanded
-Quick command response
These are just some of the tests a dog has to pass. Again, it may include more items depending on the specific tasks the service dog is trained for.
*Service dog registration
If you’re in the United States, it’s important to get your service dog registered in the United States Service Dog Registry. With this, you won’t be questioned on the authenticity and legality of your service canine.
Once registered, you and your dog will enjoy protection under the ADA. It will also give you the confidence to impose your right as a disabled individual when bringing your dog to a public space.
For those who don’t want to go through the technicality of registering a service dog on their own, they can look for private registries. The likes of the National Service Animal Registry can assist you to register your service dog for a specific fee. They also assist the registration of ESAs or emotional support animals.
For service dogs that have been raised and trained on program facilities, the next step is finding the right person to serve as their handler. Placing service dogs to disabled individuals entails a rigorous process and a rather expensive fee. This is because the individual has to somewhat reimburse the cost of training and maintaining the dog.
Most of the time, it’s the disabled person who will seek a service dog. The queues can be long, and it can be a bit difficult to find one, especially medical alert canines.
Cost of service dog training
A dog trained for public access privileges may cost up to $7,000 or more. Take note that this only for the cost of training for canines with owners. However, if you’re getting the canine from a training center, the cost could be as high as $50,000.
The cost of service dogs is overwhelming but quite understandable as the trainers have to conduct rigorous training for months. This is aside from the expenses of keeping the dog in your care. Take note that service dog organizations will require a safe and comfortable home for the canine. If not, the dog might be pulled out of the handler’s care.
Will insurance coverage help with the cost of service dogs? Usually, no. For those who want a service dog, they would have to shoulder the expenses, though some institutions offer subsidies and financial help.
Training service dog is a laborious process. Trainers have to ensure that the dog can consistently deliver and perform skills. And for those who are seeking these canines, expect a hefty cost. Unlike typical pets, service dogs don’t come by instantly. Nevertheless, they are worth every penny with all the love and assistance they can offer.