Service Dogs make it possible for people with disabilities to regain their independence, drastically improve their quality of life, and, in some cases, even save their life. For people living with disabilities—from helping people with Autism engage to empowering veterans, becoming the arms and legs for physical disabilities, to easing the fears of a hospitalized child—properly trained Service Dogs can have a life-changing impact on a person.
Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Animals (ESA)
Before you delve into the possibility of acquiring a Service Dog, it’s essential to understand the difference between Service Dogs and ESAs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Technically, a Service Dog can be any size and breed, although some breeds have been identified as a better fit. Individuals with Service Dogs have conditions and disabilities that range from sensory (like blindness or hearing) to psychiatric, physical, and intellectual.
Service animals can accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go, including establishments that prepare or serve food regardless of local or state health codes that prohibit animals on the premises. However, there are a few exceptions stated in the ADA.
Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals (ESA), or therapy dogs, do not qualify as service animals and are not covered by the ADA, do not get the same rights as service animals, and are limited to specific public places. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals do not require specific training to assist with a disability but provide a calming presence.
Qualifying for a Service Dog
Unfortunately, the number of people with disabilities who need and want Service Dogs far exceeds the availability of Service Dogs, making the wait quite long.
Although each organization or trainer may have specific requirements for eligibility, you must first meet the ADA requirements. The ADA requires that you have written documentation from your healthcare provider stating that you have and are being treated for a disability requiring assistance from a Service Dog. In addition, the work the Service Dog has been trained to do must specifically relate to your condition. The ADA requirements are updated frequently, so visit its site for changes.
Suppose you receive a Service Dog from an organization, such as Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD). In that case, you must meet specific eligibility requirements, including acceptance of your disability and the resources to care for the dog.
3 Options for Acquiring A Service Dog
There are essentially three different ways to get a Service Dog. Training a service dog yourself can be difficult and can take years. Usually, you would get a service dog from someone else who has already trained it.
Working with an organization specializing in training dogs for your specific condition is considered the best way to get a Service Dog. The staff and volunteers have expertise with training and will also help you determine if a Service Dog is a good fit for you. In addition, an organization will help you acquire a Service Dog and provide intensive team training that will teach you commands and skills and help you bond with the dog.
Another advantage of receiving your Service Dog from a specialized organization is that the trainers will continue to communicate with you to help transition once you’ve completed training and take the dog home. It will take several months to work seamlessly as a team after the placement for you and your new service dog.
In addition, the Service Dogs placed by organizations have been screened for good health and temperament. The ECAD breeding program uses Labrador and Golden Retrievers (except for some breeder donations). The program exclusively uses female breeders the organization raised from birth with even tempers and excellent health proven to be good learners.
- Getting your dog trained by an organization
Some organizations will provide professional training for your dog, sometimes called “Board and Train.” One advantage of this option is getting a Service Dog much sooner if you have a qualified dog. However, the training can take several months and is only available after your dog is assessed. Therefore, regardless of how wonderful they are or how much training they receive, many dogs cannot be Service Dogs.
If you choose to use a training program, it’s essential to ask about the training methods used to avoid trainers who use punishment-based training methods.
- Training your own Service Dog
Training a Service Dog on your own can be extremely time-consuming and take years. Although it could be an excellent way to get a Service Dog sooner, your dog must have the right temperament to be successful. If you decide to train your own Service Dog, it’s probably a good idea to have an experienced trainer who’s worked in the Service Dog training industry assess your dog.
Training service dogs is incredibly demanding in time and cost for any organization. The cost of care and training of Service Dogs is high. Thanks to our generous supporters, we can provide Service Dogs to those who need them; however, the waitlist is long. There are several ways you can change the life of someone who needs a Service Dog, including cash donations, bequests, and planned giving and providing supplies on our wish list. Even sharing this blog can help!
Living with a disability is challenging, stressful, and sometimes scary. Service Dogs help people with disabilities, allowing them to gain autonomy and a sense of security. If you are inspired to help make this work possible, your gift can make an enormous difference.