Fido to the Rescue: What Does it Take to Become a Service Dog?
Dog lovers everywhere know how wonderful it can be to share life with a canine companion; the bond we share with dogs is truly unique, and their ability to detect and respond to our feelings and concerns is nothing short of incredible.
For the thousands of men, women, and children living with a physical or mental disability, the bond with a dog can actually be life changing. Service dogs offer their handlers the chance to live independently, move freely, and can even save lives.
What is a Service Dog?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is not a pet. A service dog is defined as one that has been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Some of the ways in which a dog can be of service to a human handler include:
- Guide dog
- Hearing or signal dog
- Psychiatric service dog
- Mobility assistance dog
- Diabetic alert dog
- Seizure alert dog
- Severe allergy alert dog
In order for a service dog to be matched with a handler, they must undergo rigorous training in a variety of areas, depending on the needs of their future handler. This could be anything from learning to provide practical assistance to a person with limited mobility to being able to respond appropriately to someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A Better Breed?
Traditional breeds for service dogs have been labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and German shepherds, but nowadays, almost any type of dog can be trained as long as they meet the requirements.
Service dogs generally complete 1-2 years of intensive training and must meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 6 months old
- Be spayed or neutered
- Have the proper temperament (not aggressive, not too submissive, willingness to learn)
- Be able to learn and follow basic verbal/hand signal commands (e.g., sit, stay, down, come)
In the Public Eye
Besides temperament and training, a service dog must also display superior behavioral and social skills in a public setting. This includes:
- No aggressive or protective behavior against other people or animals (snapping, lunging, mounting, barking, etc.)
- No solicitation of affection or food from passersby
- No sniffing of merchandise, structures, or other people (unless released to do so)
- No urinating or defecating in public unless given the command to do so in an appropriate location
The Pet Experts at Elmhurst Animal Care Center value each and every canine patient. If you have any questions about your dog or would like to learn more about service dog requirements, please don’t hesitate to contact us.