Service dogs

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A few years ago, I walked into a local restaurant, car keys dangling from one hand, my Service Dog’s leash in the other. I greeted the hostess and told her I was meeting my husband for lunch. Looking around, I pointed him out and made my way to the table.

Upon sitting down, I was presented with a braille menu. This was my first time to encounter the belief that all Service Dogs work as guide dogs to the blind, despite the fact that I clearly drove into the restaurant and used my sight to locate my husband. Since that time, through personal experience and talking with other Service Dog Users, I have encountered many misconceptions about Service Dogs.

Myth 1: All Service Dogs are Seeing Eye dogs. The fact of the matter is, all dogs that lead the blind aren’t Seeing Eye dogs, just like all nose tissues aren’t Kleenex. The Seeing Eye is one of several organizations that train dogs for the vision impaired. However, Service Dogs also assist people with hearing disabilities, mobility issues, diabetes, epilepsy and a wide variety of other issues, including “invisible disabilities” that are not obvious to the casual viewer. According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability… The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability.”

Myth 2: Only Labs, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are Service Dogs. Many breeds of dog, as well as mixed breeds, in all different sizes, can be used as service dogs. Standard and toy poodles, Australian Cattle Dogs, Papillons, Border Collies, Boxers and Dobies are some of the breeds growing in popularity, but a dog’s temperament, skills, and willingness to work, are the most important criteria.

Myth 3: Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs are the same thing. These three types of dogs perform different tasks and have different laws applied to them. Therapy dogs are dogs that go into hospitals, schools, nursing homes and similar locations. Often the dogs socialize with the patients, residents or students, and some programs in schools are established for children to read to the dogs. Most organizations require visiting therapy dogs to be certified through therapy dog organizations. Therapy dogs do not have special access privileges like Service Dogs do. Emotional support animals are dogs or other common domestic animals that provide therapeutic support through companionship. They are also not given public access, though some states may grant limited special rights. Service dogs are the only type of dogs that are allowed public access when accompanying their disabled owners.

Myth 4: Service Dogs can always be identified by the special vests and equipment they wear. Service Dogs are not legally required to wear any sort of special identification or equipment. Some organizations have standard vests that dogs they train wear when in public. However, while many owners choose to have their dogs wear vests, there is no requirement for them to do so.

Myth 5: Business owners MUST allow Service Dogs access at all times. This is mostly true, but there are a few exceptions. By law, Service Dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers into government buildings, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public, and are allowed into all areas of the facility where the public is normally admitted. In a restaurant, for example, a Service Dog and handler must be allowed access to the dining room and restrooms, but would not be allowed into the kitchen as the general public is not allowed there. A person with a Service Dog may not be excluded from areas even if another patron is afraid of dogs, has allergies, or for some other reason objects to the presence of the dog, and establishments may not penalize, isolate or charge additional fees to someone with a Service Dog.

Service Dogs, however, must be well-mannered and under control. A person may be asked to remove their Service Dog from the premises if the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or if the dog is not housebroken.

Have you been fooled by any of these common Service Dog myths? Next week we’ll examine more of these myths, in hopes that you’ll develop a greater understanding of Service Dogs and their handlers.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.comfor possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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