Since we now are offering service dogs (diabetes alert dog) and PTSD dogs we are getting some inquiries on the training of therapy and service dogs. I find instead of needing some training the owners dogs either are already trained, need some specific training or the owner doesn’t fall under a recognized disability under the Americans Disability Act. I also decided to write this article because a local trainer in my area is charging people $500 to train and provide the owner with a dog tag that says “Service Dog”. This would be fraud because it is a misdemeanor to go into businesses stating your dog is a service dog when in fact it isn’t under the ADA. Have you heard of the adage if it is too good to be true it is? Service dogs cost a lot more than $500. Our diabetes alert dogs are $19,000 but you have to understand we have over a years’ worth of time invested in these dogs for training. They are called upon to save people’s lives so we don’t take this training lightly.
What is a Service dog?
Service dogs are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Under the ADA, recognized disabilities are people who are blind, deaf, wheelchair bound, a person who has seizures, mental illness, or has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The dogs must be trained to do something, lead the blind, pull a wheel chair, pick up things, and remind a person to take their meds or calm someone who is having an anxiety attack. Emotional support dogs do not qualify as service dogs. When people want me to train their dog to be a service dog I ask them what do they want their dog trained to do? Often they don’t know what to say because they think an emotional support dog can be a service dog and they just want the dog under control so they can take it in public businesses.
The next issue is that people want their pets to be trained as service dogs. It takes a unique dog to be a service dog and 99% of dogs cannot be service or therapy dogs because they have issues; nervous, protective, aggressive, hyperactive and so on. A dog that lunges at other dogs cannot be a service dog. A dog scared of slick floors cannot be a service dog. A dog scared of noises cannot be a service dog. I had a gentleman the other day call and want me to train a German Shepherd Puppy to be his service dog. He has PTSD. The German Shepherd breed is naturally protective and I would not recommend one as a service dog. Secondly, he was purchasing the pup from a breeder he found on the internet he had never met. The dog was coming from California. I never buy pups where I cannot see the parents and evaluate the litter. It’s just not a good idea when you are looking for a working dog. There are so many issues that can arise and cause you to wash the dog out. You have to be careful. The gentleman was persistent because he always wanted a German Shepherd. I told him I would train it for him but not to be disappointed if the dog has issues. I think if you are going to need a service dog you should take advice from a professional.
When it comes to training, you do not need your dog trained by a professional dog trainer. You can do the training yourself. If you are physically disabled and unable to pick items up off the floor you can train your dog yourself to retrieve items. If you are unable to get up if you fall and your dog steadies you so you can get back up on your feet you don’t need a professional dog trainer. Certainly do not pay someone money for a tag saying your dog is a service dog when it is not.
What we provide is advanced obedience training so you can take your dog into public places and know they are going to be calm and under control. We train dogs to ignore distractions. Service and Therapy dogs need advanced obedience and ignore distractions. Ignore the out of control dog on a leash, ignore the lady dropping her sandwich on the floor, and be calm around crowds and loud noises. Dogs need environmental socialization so they can negotiate stairs, escalators and elevators.
A final note on Service dogs. Michigan has a voluntary service dog registry. As long as your dog meets the ADA guidelines you can register your dog and the State provides you with a patch for your dog. To register you need your physician to fill out the necessary paperwork on your disability, there is a form on your dog and you need to fill out a form on yourself. The link to the registry is under the Michigan Civil Rights web page. http://www.michigan.gov/mdcr/0,4613,7-138-74964—,00.html
Therapy dogs are not service dogs. They are not given the same freedom in public places as service dogs. Therapy dogs are dogs that are calm and let people pet them. They are taken into hospitals and retirement facilities to help people who may be stressed or need a little loving. Studies have shown dogs help to lower blood pressure. If you want your dog to be a therapy dog you need to train with the West Michigan Therapy Dogs Inc. Training is located at Spectrum in Grand Rapids and Freemont. Many people who have trained with us have went on and certified their dogs as therapy dogs. Information on therapy dogs can be found here; http://www.wmtd.org/
I hope this clarifies service and therapy dogs. For service dogs you need to have a disability and your dog has to be trained to do something. In addition your dog has to be well behaved. A misbehaving service dog can be asked to leave the property if they are causing a disturbance. So, make sure your dog is well trained and socialized environmentally. Register your dog with the State if you live in Michigan and you should have no issues. If you need additional training find a reputable trainer to help you.