Today, as dogs are trained to help in more and more conditions, more and more people are adding a four-legged helper to their lives. Even so, there are still a lot of misunderstandings about service dogs, including who can have them and what they do.
Here are 12 of the most common misconceptions about service dogs.
1. Emotional support dogs are the same as service dogs.
There is a very clear legal difference between the two and they should not be confused. A dog with emotional support is defined as an untrained pet that gives him or his handler emotional support. Assistance dogs are allowed to fly free of charge in the cabin of an aircraft and live in accommodation without pets with a doctor’s advice.
However, a service dog is considered medical equipment, not unlike a wheelchair or insulin pump. Service dogs must be specially trained for work or duties related to an individual’s disability reduction. Emotional support, comfort, or calming effects do not count as work or duty for a service dog.
2. Assistance dogs are certified or registered after completing their training.
While the United States does not have a legitimate federal or state ID or certificate to “prove” that a dog is a trained service dog, many scammers claim that their products are not only legitimate but also mandatory. This misunderstanding exists because of such scam sites.
3. Assistance dogs are only for the blind or deaf.
This was the case many years ago, but things have changed. Today service dogs are used by people with mental illness, autism, seizures, diabetes, and myriad other conditions.
4. The training only lasts a few months.
Technically, the training never ends. Service dogs need to be able to learn new things and adapt to the needs of their handlers as they change over time. In addition, it is not uncommon for fully trained dogs to need to touch up something they have already learned. But from start to finish, it takes about two years to train a service dog.
5. Service dogs work all the time and never get time to “just be a dog”.
This couldn’t be further from the truth! Being a working service dog is arguably the best life a dog could have. You can almost always be with their dealers no matter where they go. They have a job and a purpose, and most receive higher quality care than many people.
6. Bully breeds cannot be service dogs.
Any dog of any breed, shape, or size can potentially be a service dog, provided they are healthy, have a stable temperament, and can be trained to do the work required. Many “unusual” breeds are fantastic service dogs.
7. People with assistance dogs are lucky because they can take their dog anywhere.
It’s understandable why anyone thinks that. However, people with disabilities certainly do not see it that way. The dog is there because the person has a condition that affects their ability to perform at least one important life task. The dog’s purpose is to help the person be more independent.
8. Service dogs know if people are drugged.
The number of people who fear service dogs because they believe they will be there to detect medication is surprising. While the dog can likely smell drugs, service dogs and sniffer dogs are trained to respond to things entirely different. The only person service dogs focus on is their handler.
9. It is okay to pet a service dog when the handler is not looking.
In the Service Dog community, people who do this are referred to as “drive-by petters”. They wait for the handler to look away and then pet the dog as they walk by. Not only is this disrespectful, but it also distracts the dog who needs to focus on the job. In addition, most states have laws prohibiting disturbing or deliberately harming service dogs (or allowing another dog to harm them).
10. People with service dogs want to chat.
No, they don’t. Usually, for example, they just want to get milk and go home instead of indulging in a stranger’s curiosity. Just because they have a dog doesn’t mean they want to share their life story with anyone who asks.
11. Companies can require people with assistance dogs to show that they need them.
Under the federal law on Americans with Disabilities, employees can ask two questions: First, is the dog a service animal that is needed because of a disability? Second, what work or task has the dog been trained for?
You cannot ask about the person’s disability. Require medical records, special ID cards, or training materials; or ask the dog to demonstrate the work or task.
12. Businesses must never request that a service dog be removed.
Just like people with disabilities, companies have rights. If a dog gets out of hand, acts aggressively, or is out of the household, a company can and should require that the dog be removed from the property.
The next time you see a service dog team out and about, ignore the dog and go about your business. It’s okay to put a smile on your face, but beyond that you’re doing the courtesy of the team to allow them to go about their business without the distraction.