Despite being so popular in today’s society, many people question what a service dog is used for when they see them. Service dogs are essential for some people, and living without them can be extremely difficult. Yet, there are also people out there that fake service dogs and pretend their dogs are service dogs just to reap the benefits. So, it’s important for society to know what a real service dog is so we can respect the people who truly need them.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog is defined as a dog that assists a human with a mental or physical disability. They help their handlers live a more independent lifestyle. This could include guiding, retrieving, or alerting, depending on their handler’s specific needs. These dogs are much more than just companions because their handlers need them on a day-to-day basis and they’re allowed anywhere that their humans are.
Not just any dog can be a service dog. Service dogs must go through intense training to learn how to perfectly cater to their human’s needs. This means they need to have a calm temperament and they must be able to go places with their human without getting distracted along the way. In most cases, a service dog will be so well-behaved that you’ll barely notice they’re there. Overall, they are considered working animals rather than pets.
Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs
Emotional support dogs have also become more common in today’s society. Yet, people often don’t realize the significant difference they have from service dogs. Emotional support dogs are not service dogs. They cannot receive all the same benefits that service dogs do.
While service dogs go through extensive training to learn new tasks, emotional support dogs are simply there to calm their humans. They should still be well-behaved and have a good temperament. However, they cannot go in public places. They can live in a home rent-free and they can fly with no additional charges, but other than that, they cannot go anywhere else that dogs aren’t allowed.
Despite popular belief, emotional support dogs must also be prescribed by a mental health professional. There are many websites that will claim that you can just buy emotional support dog tags and paperwork for your dog, but that’s not official. Like service dogs, emotional support dogs are only for people who need them. If you try to fake an emotional support dog, you’re only hurting those who actually need them.
On the other hand, if you try to abuse your emotional support dog’s power by taking them places where dogs aren’t allowed, you’re making things unfair for people with service dogs. Service dogs can go everywhere with their humans, but emotional support dogs cannot. Service dogs have received more intensive training and they could save their human’s life. So, it’s important that emotional support dogs are not treated as if they’re service dogs because they’re not trained for the same things.
What are the Laws About Service Dogs?
The Americans with Disabilities Act states that service dogs are working dogs. They shouldn’t be pet while on the job and they should be focused on assisting their human whenever they’re out and about. They must be trained specifically to assist their handler for roles that are related to the disability. Emotional support dogs and therapy dogs do not fall under this category.
The law also states that service dogs cannot be denied from public places. Of course, they must be controlled at all times. This means they should be leashed unless their role requires otherwise. They must be quiet and obedient, never wandering off or getting distracted. If a service dog behaves differently than these terms, it’s possible that they’re not a real service dog. The only reason a service dog should bark or act out is to alert their human of something.
Humans cannot be asked detailed questions about their disability and they don’t have to show any paperwork. If a business suspects that a service dog might be fake, they can only ask two questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required to assist with a disability?
- What tasks is the dog specifically trained to do?
What Can Service Dogs Be Trained to Do?
Service dogs don’t just fit one description. They can come in all sizes and breeds and be trained for a wide variety of tasks. In many cases, the person’s disability may be physical and easy to spot, but in other cases, their disability might not be apparent. Some people might “look fine” but still need a service dog, which is why it’s important to be kind and respectful at all times. You never know what someone else has gone through.
Here are some of the many skills service dogs can have:
- Guiding the blind
- Alerting the deaf of sounds
- Moving a wheelchair
- Retrieving items
- Alerting before a seizure or diabetic attack
- Calming handler with PTSD during panic attack or anxiety attack
These tasks are only the beginning of what service dogs are capable of. Every person’s disability is slightly different, so these dogs need to learn how to react to their human’s specific needs.
How Much Training Do Service Dogs Need?
Most service dogs are trained for their role as a young puppy, but older dogs and rescue dogs can become service dogs too. The amount of training greatly depends on what the dog needs to be trained for. In total, a certified service dog should receive a minimum of 120 hours of training, which should take at least 6 months. That should also include 30 hours of practice in a public setting.
Again, service dogs with more skills will likely need much more time training than this. It all depends on the specific person’s needs. As extreme as these numbers sound, they are crucial to ensuring that a service dog is qualified to behave and support their human at all times.
How to Spot a Fake Service Dog
People who pretend to have service dogs only hurt those around them. They make people more skeptical about real service dogs. This has caused public places to deny service dogs due to suspicions, which is unfair to those who truly need service dogs and it’s against the law.
If you suspect that someone’s service dog isn’t official, you can ask them if their dog is a service dog and what task the dog is trained to do. Anyone who has a real service dog should answer these questions without getting defensive. If the person’s answers are vague or hesitant, then that could be cause for concern.
Here are some clear signs that a dog is not a certified service dog:
- The dog barks or whines.
- The dog seeks attention.
- The dog is easily distracted.
- The dog has accidents.
- The dog wanders away from their handler.
- The dog is distracting to others.
- The dog is disruptive.
A real service dog will never be disruptive or cause a scene. They won’t run around looking for someone to pet them or play with them. They should just sit quietly beside their human and not draw any attention to themselves.
If a service dog is behaving in one or more of the above manners, it’s highly likely that they’re not a real service dog. You might not be allowed to refuse a service dog in public, but you can tell a person and their service dog to leave your business if the service dog is acting out or being disruptive. So, keep that in mind next time you suspect that someone is faking their service dog.
Service dogs are an essential part of our society because some people need them in order to go about their daily lives. Therefore, it’s important to prevent people from faking service dogs because they are only hurting the real service dogs out there. Always be respectful toward well-behaved service dogs because they went through a lot of hard work and training to successfully assist their humans. They should be rewarded for their amazing skills.