If you search online for information about service dogs, you’re going to find a mixture of truths, half-truths and outright falsehoods. It can be a minefield trying to establish fact from fiction.
With this in mind, in this article, we want to focus on the facts – and dispel some of the myths – surrounding service dogs.
Myth: Service dogs can only be used to help the blind and deaf.
Fact: Service dogs actually have an expansive variety of uses, and are able to assist with a wide range of disabilities. Some examples of different types of service dogs are: autism assistance dogs, mobility assistance dogs, stability assistance dogs, PTSD service dogs and seizure alert or blood glucose alert dogs.
Myth: The life of a service dog is “all work and no play.”
Fact: Many dogs were originally bred to work. The concept of owning a dog simply as a “pet” was not commonplace until recently. Unfortunately, many behavioral problems that dog owners experience with their pups are caused by inadequate mental stimulation and physical exercise. Service dogs actually enjoy their work – it gives them an outlet for their energy and a purpose. They also get to be with their handler all the time, experiencing new people and places everyday.
Myth: Service dogs cannot be pet by members of the public.
Fact: Although this topic may have some truth to it (it is bad practice to pet any working dog without permission from the handler, or to interrupt a working dog while in the middle of performing a task), whether a service dog can be pet or not is a decision made by the handler. No law exists prohibiting the public from interacting with service dogs, and some handlers who would rather their dog was not touched will add harness patches stating, “Do Not Pet,” or similar.
Myth: Emotional support dogs serve the same purposes as service dogs do.
Fact: Emotional support dogs provide comfort through companionship to their owners. Emotional support animals are not trained to perform specific tasks, which their handler may be incapable of performing on their own. Service dogs, on the other hand, are trained to perform particular and necessary actions for their handler which may be life saving. This article provides more context on the difference between emotional support animals and service animals.
Myth: Service dogs must wear a vest or harness when working.
Fact: According to the ADA (Americans with Disability Act), service dogs are not required to wear any forms of identification accessories (such as harnesses or vests) when working or otherwise.
Myth: Service dogs are never allowed to be removed from private or public facilities.
Fact: If a service dog is deemed not to be under control – either due to aggression, creating unsafe circumstances for the public or defecating/urinating inside of a business – they can legally be removed from the premises.
Myth: Service dogs are legally allowed to enter any building that their handler does.
Fact: Although in most cases this is true, there are a couple of exceptions. Religious organizations (such as churches) are not required to allow service dogs to enter their facilities (according to Article 3 of the ADA). Restaurants are also not required to allow service dogs into their kitchens.
Myth: Any dog can be a service dog.
Fact: Not every dog can become a service dog. It is critical that service dogs are physically healthy, possess a very stable temperament, are environmentally sound and are focused enough to do their work regardless of where they are or what is going on in their surroundings.
Myth: Service dogs can be trained in only a few months.
Fact: Service dog training begins for most puppies at the age of eight weeks.This is partially due to the fact that puppies experience a “critical window of socialization” between 3 and 16 or 20 weeks. Specialized training takes place during this time to ensure that we give a potential service dog puppy the greatest chance at remaining sound throughout the rest of its training, while conditioning them for the more difficult challenges that they will face in the remainder of their training. After this point, a great deal of obedience training, desensitization training and further environmental training occurs. From this point forward, their foundational service dog training begins, in addition to the specialized task training required for their future work.
Myth: Only specific dog breeds can become service dogs.
Fact: It is occasionally presumed that only a handful of breeds are selected to be service dogs. Although we may frequently see Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds serving their handlers in commercials and documentaries, the truth is that many breeds have service dog potential. Health and temperament are the most important factors when selecting a service dog candidate, and as long as the dog can fulfill all duties required of their job, their breed is irrelevant. Technically, even very small dogs such as Chihuahuas have can become service dogs with the right temperament – signal alert and seizure alert dogs possess no size requirement.
Myth: Service dogs are required to be certified or licensed by a federal or private agency.
Fact: There is currently no requirement for service dogs to be licensed or certified in the United States. Handlers are also not required to carry any evidence that their dog is a service dog.
Myth: Service dogs that will be flying internationally are covered by the US laws in other nations.
Fact: Just as with any other set of laws, regulations and rights regarding service dogs differ significantly from one nation to another. It is a service dog handler’s responsibility to contact the country (or a credible agency within that nation) which they plan to visit prior to leaving the US and become fully informed regarding their laws and rights before visiting.