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If you’re a person living with a disability, you may have considered getting a service dog to assist you in some way. Service dogs are no longer only for the blind, after all. They can be trained to assist people who are hearing impaired or have mobility issues; to recognize low blood sugar in diabetics; or to alert people with epilepsy of an impending seizure. In fact, the abilities of these specially trained animals is almost boundless, provided they receive the right training and are paired with the right partner.
Still, finding a service dog to meet your needs isn’t always an easy task. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide to help you learn if you qualify for a service dog and how to get a service dog if you do.
A service dog can provide many different kinds of assistance to a person with a disability. He can also provide companionship, loyalty and unconditional companionship and love.
This article was originally published by Your Dog Advisor and is used with permission.
Who Is Eligible for a Service Dog?
In general, anyone living with a disability is eligible to get a service dog. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this means any person with a “condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.” The World Health Organization further explains that disability has three main components:
- Impairment, such as the loss of use of a limb, eyesight or hearing, or cognitive impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Activity limitation, such as limitations in seeing, walking, thinking or remembering
- Participation restrictions, such as the inability to work, drive, go to school or participate in social and recreational activities in the community.
A disability may result from a mental illness as well as a physical impairment. For example, people living with crippling anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder may be disabled by their condition and eligible for a service dog.
With that being said, most organizations that provide service dogs to people with disabilities have their own criteria as well. For example, Paws With a Cause, a nonprofit headquartered in Wayland, Michigan, that provides service dogs to adults with mobility issues, seizure disorders, or hearing loss and to children with autism, requires that applicants meet a predetermined threshold of disability (e.g., moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears, or a medical condition affecting one or more limbs). They must also be at least 14 years-old and live in a stable home environment with no other dogs (other pets are okay).
Similarly, Canine Companions Inc. requires that applicants be at least 18 years of age (5 years for a child) and complete a lengthy review process that includes a medical referral, an in-person interview and more.
Additionally, all professional organizations that train and provide service dogs require that applicants demonstrate they have the physical and financial resources to provide food, exercise, grooming and veterinary care for the dog.
What Are the Different Types of Service Dogs?
The history of service dogs dates back to the 1750s, when a Paris hospital for the blind began training guide dogs to assist their patients in performing the tasks of daily life. Since that time, the concept of a service dog has evolved to include dogs that perform a wide range of tasks for humans with physical and emotional disabilities and a variety of medical conditions. This includes:
Once called seeing-eye dogs, guide dogs help visually impaired or blind individuals navigate through life. They are most often German shepherds, golden retrievers or labs, but standard poodles and mixes like labradoodles and goldendoodles are also well-suited to the job. Unlike most service dogs, guide dogs are trained in “intelligent disobedience.” That means they will disobey a command from their human partner if the dog judges the action to be dangerous or unwise. For example, a visually imparied person might not see an oncoming car and command the dog to cross the street. In that case, a guide dog would disobey to keep its owner safe.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
Mobility assistance dogs are trained to assist people with mobility issues in a variety of ways. They are very helpful to people who are confined to a wheelchair or who’ve lost the use of one or more limbs due to a condition such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, ALS or a stroke, as well as to amputees. They can be taught to turn on lights, press elevator call buttons, open doors, retrieve items and much more. Some mobility service dogs may also pull a wheelchair using a special harness, or “brace” a person with balance or strength challenges when they stand up, transfer from a wheelchair or move about.
Because mobility dogs generally need size and strength to perform their jobs, they are usually large dogs. Bernese mountain dogs, border collies, boxers and even Great Danes can make excellent mobility dogs, as can German Shepherds and retrievers.
As the term suggests, hearing dogs help people who are hearing imparied respond to sounds in their environment, such as a knock on the door, a smoke alarm, a doorbell or someone calling their name. Depending on the situation, the dog may lead their human partner to the noise (e.g., to the front door) or just alert them to the sound (e.g., an alarm clock) Hearing dogs can be almost any size or breed, but the breeds most often trained for the job are golden retrievers, labs, poodles and cocker spaniels.
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Thanks to their incredible sense of smell (about 100,000 times more powerful than a human’s) dogs can sniff out changes in body chemistry that no human can. Dogs can detect many kinds of cancer, for example, and they can also be taught to recognize when a person with diabetes has low or high blood sugar and to take appropriate action before a serious emergency occurs. The dog may be trained to fetch emergency medical supplies, for example, or alert another family member if the diabetic loses consciousness. Some service dogs are even trained to call 911 using a smartphone or tablet with a touchscreen, or using a special K-9 alert phone or device.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are trained to help people with serious mental health issues interact with others and function independently in the world. Unlike emotional support animals, which can be any type of animal that provides companionship and emotional support, psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks. For example, a psychiatric service dog might help interrupt a panic attack by repeatedly nudging his owner or sitting on their lap. They can also help a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder control repetitive behaviors that disrupt their lives. PSDs are also very beneficial for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder who need the calming presence of a trained dog that can “run interference” for them when they are out in the world.
Autism Support Dogs
Partnered primarily with children and families, autism support dogs are taught to recognize behaviors that are common to children on the autism spectrum and to take action when they occur. For example, many children with autism engage in self-harming behaviors, such as head banging or biting themselves. Autism service dogs can be trained to gently interrupt these behaviors by engaging in some way with the child or by fetching an adult who can intervene. Autism dogs can also accompany children with autism to medical and dental appointments to help alleviate their anxiety, and make social interactions less stressful and more enjoyable.
What Breed of Dog Can be a Service Dog
Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what task they are trained to do. The most common breeds are German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and Golden retrievers because they are large, strong and — as a rule –obedient and smart. But a tiny Pomeranian can be trained to alert a hearing-impaired person to certain sounds, or to interrupt a panic attack for someone with PTSD. And poodles make wonderful service dogs for people with a variety of disabilities because they come in three sizes (toy, miniature and standard), are hard-working, athletic, and among the smartest dogs in the world.
In fact, depending on your disability and where and how you live, almost any dog has the potential to be a good service dog for you. Of course, if you need a dog to pull a wheelchair, a little shih-tzu won’t do. But as long as the dog’s size and strength is appropriate for the tasks at hand, what’s most important is not the breed but the temperament and personality of the dog. According to United Disability Services, the best service dog candidates have the following traits:
- A desire to work — Working dogs are happiest when they are active, even if they are just going out for a walk. Dogs that prefer a sedentary existence are usually not the best service dogs.
- Calm demeanor — A good service dog is alert and eager to please, but not particularly reactive to external stimuli such as noises, cars, people or other pets.
- Friendly disposition — A service dog interacts with many people in many situations, so a friendly disposition is a must.
- High intelligence — Let’s face it. All dogs are cute, but not all dogs are smart. In order to follow the complex commands he must learn in training, a service dog should be smarter than average as well as obedient and eager-to-please.
- Loving and loyal — Almost any dog will bond with their owner if given the right amount of attention and love. But a service dog and their human partner need to form a special kind of bond.
Where to Get a Service Dog
Although it is possible to train a service dog yourself, it is a long and painstaking process that requires a great deal of patience, energy and skill. Service animals must be trained not just to assist their human partner, but also to behave in public in very specific ways. For example, they must be calm and attentive to their partner in crowds, walk calmly on a loose leash, and not behave aggressively towards humans or other animals. These behaviors alone typically take at least 120 hours of training over a minimum of 6 months, according to public-access standards developed by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Additionally, the dog must be fully house-trained, trained in basic obedience, and able to reliably perform all of the specific tasks he will need to learn. Fully training a dog to act as a service dog will usually take several years.
For these reasons, most experts in dog behavior recommend that a person seeking a service dog does so through an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of nonprofits that raise, train and place service dogs. These professional organizations maintain high standards for breeding, training and placing dogs with human partners, and assist clients throughout the U.S. Many of these organizations do not charge clients for the dogs they provide. However, if there is a fee, it may be as high as $30,000 or more. In that case, the organization will usually work with approved applicants to help them raise the necessary funds.
ADI maintains a database of accredited service dog providers on its website. You can search for an organization that provides assistance dogs in your area by entering your location here.
How the Process Works
Once you have identified an organization that you believe can provide a service dog to assist you or a loved one, you should be prepared to go through a rather rigorous process before you’re actually paired with a dog. In almost all cases, waiting lists are quite long — United Disability Services says a typical wait for one of their service dogs is three years. With that being said, most of these organizations provide interim training and other learning opportunities, so that when a dog partner is identified, you will be ready to begin working with the dog.
Although each organization has a different process for how to get a service dog, the steps typically follow a predictable path.
No. 1. Supply basic information about you and your needs
Most organizations that provide service dogs to the public begin the process with a short preliminary application on which you supply basic demographic information and an overview of the person’s disability. If the preliminary application is approved, the process moves on to the next step. In some cases, a staff member may reach out by phone to discuss the process in more depth once the preliminary application is approved.
No. 2. Complete an Application
Complete a full application with all documentation. This is a much more lengthy application and will usually include a referral from a health care provider or other proof of the person’s disability. You may also be required to supply personal references and financial documents proving that you have the resources to properly care for the dog.
No. 3. Interview with Staff
Depending on the organization you’re working with, this step may be done in-person, via teleconference or on the phone. This is usually a more in-depth interview in which the staff get a better sense of the disabled person’s personality, physical attributes and needs. If the disabled person is a child, both the parents and the child will attend.
No. 4. Receive an Approval Letter
If your application for a service dog is approved, you will typically receive a letter in the mail with instructions for completing next steps. This letter almost always indicates conditional approval; it is not a guarantee that you will get a service dog. In most cases, at this point you will be placed on a waiting list until a suitable dog is available for you. This wait can be fairly brief or quite long. For example, Canine Companions International estimates a wait time of between 2 and 20 months. During this time, a representative from the agency may visit your home to assess the physical space, or you may be asked to submit a video instead.
No. 4. Attend In-person Training
This is the most critical part of the process of getting a service dog — teaming up with a dog. This in-person training usually takes about 2-3 weeks, and, unless you’re fortunate enough to live within driving distance, you will need to arrange travel and lodging for the time you’re required to stay. During this time you will meet the dog selected by the staff to be your canine partner and begin public access training (e.g., walking calmly in a crowd; appropriate behavior around people and other dogs; entering buildings and elevators etc.). You will also begin to work with the dog around performing specific tasks.
If this training goes well and you and the dog pass the public-access test required to graduate, you will be allowed to bring your service dog with you when you return to your home.
No. 5. Follow-Up and Aftercare
All organizations that place service dogs with disabled persons will follow-up with you regularly to ensure that you and the dog are doing well. The number and nature of follow-up visits vary quite a bit. Some organizations simply ask you to check in regularly by phone, while others require in-person training at regular intervals to reinforce learning and correct any inappropriate behaviors that may arise. Service Dog International, for example, requires that you return to its facility within 12 months of graduation and every 24 months thereafter for recertification. In some cases, a dog may be reclaimed by the organization if for any reason its needs are not being met.
Getting Around With Your Service Dog
Once you and your service dog have learned public access skills, you are free to bring your dog with you nearly everywhere you go. All entities that serve the public, including restaurants, bars, arenas, and theaters, as well as businesses and government offices are required to allow a disabled person to enter with their service dog as long as the dog is leashed or otherwise under your control. You have the right to take your dog with you on a bus, train, airplane or any form of public transportation. You can also take your dog to work, school and to church.
With that being said, there are often circumstances when your right to bring your animal into a place of business may be challenged by an employee who is unfamiliar with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have a working knowledge of your rights under the ADA so you know what to do should an incident occur. The list below is not all-inclusive, but it addresses a few of the most common questions disabled persons ask about their service dogs.
Does my service dog need to wear a vest?
No. Service dogs do not need any special identification. Nor do they need to be “certified” or “registered” or wear a special tag. Legally, you cannot be asked to show documentation that your dog is a service dog.
Can my service dog be excluded from an area because of his breed?
No. Some apartment complexes, condominiums and even some municipalities have “breed bans” in place (for example, against bully breeds such as pit bulls and American Staffordshire terriers). However, these rules cannot be used to exclude a service dog based solely on its breed.
Can an employee ask me what my disability is?
Legally, no one has the right to ask you what your disability is. According to the ADA, they can ask only two questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required by a disability?
- What task has the dog been trained to perform?
They cannot ask you to demonstrate what the dog does for you or ask what disability requires you to have a service dog.
Can I take my service dog into the hospital to visit a friend?
Yes. Dogs are generally allowed in hospitals, including patient rooms, as long as their presence doesn’t pose a safety hazard of some kind. Generally speaking, any area of the hospital that allows visitors must allow service animals to accompany them.
Can a local municipality force me to register my service dog?
No. The ADA prohibits cities and other municipalities from requiring that a disabled person register their service dog. However, the dog does need to be licensed and have proof of required vaccines like any other dog.
If you believe your rights are being unfairly challenged, ask to speak to a manager or supervisor and explain the situation to them. Most people in supervisory positions are aware of ADA rules. In the most extreme scenario, you can request local law enforcement to enforce your rights.
For more information on your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, visit ADA.gov.)
The Bottom Line
Now that you know how to get a service dog, the next step is to ask yourself: Is a service dog right for me? Being the caretaker for any animal is a huge commitment, and a service dog needs at least as much care and attention as any companion dog. With that being said, the rewards of having a service dog in your life can be enormous. When you’re paired with the right partner, you’ll experience independence, companionship, freedom, and, of course, unconditional love. That’s a combination that’s hard to beat.more
In the US, businesses can take advantage of two tax incentives available to help cover costs of making access improvements for customers with disabilities:
• A tax credit for small businesses who remove access barriers from their facilities, provide accessible services, or take other steps to improve accessibility for customers with disabilities
• A tax deduction for businesses of all sizes that remove access barriers in their facilities or vehicles
A business that annually incurs eligible expenses to bring itself into compliance with the ADA may use these tax incentives every year. The incentives may be applied to a variety of expenditures; however, they may not be applied to the costs of new construction. All barrier removal must comply with applicable Federal accessibility standards.
ADA Accessibility Tax Credit
Small businesses with 30 or fewer employees or total revenues of $1 million or less can use the Disabled Access Credit (Internal Revenue Code, Section 44). Eligible small businesses may take a credit of up to $5,000 (half of eligible expenses up to $10,250, with no credit for the first $250) to offset their costs for access, including barrier removal from their facilities (e.g., widening a doorway, installing a ramp), provision of accessibility services (e.g., sign language interpreters), provision of printed material in alternate formats (e.g., large-print, audio, Braille), and provision or modification of equipment.
ADA Accessibility Tax Deduction
Businesses of all sizes may take advantage of this tax deduction. Under Internal Revenue Code, Section 190, businesses can take a business expense deduction of up to $15,000 per year for costs of removing barriers in facilities or vehicles.
Tax Incentives in Combination
These two incentives can be used together by eligible businesses if the expenditures qualify under both Sections 44 and 190. If a small business’ expenses exceed $10,250 for the maximum $5,000 tax credit, then the deduction equals the difference between the total spent and the amount of the credit claimed.
Read more at Tax Incentives for Business and ADA Compliance Costs and Tax Incentivesmore
The ADA National Network launched the Hospitality and Disability Initiative to promote accessibility and opportunity for people with disabilities within the hospitality industry. Materials and services are also designed to assist lodging and food service employers recruit, hire, and retain qualified workers with disabilities.
Accessible Meetings, Events and Conferences Guide
Customer Service Training Toolmore
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.
To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
ADA Title I: Employment
Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant’s disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. Religious entities with 15 or more employees are covered under title I.
Title I complaints must be filed with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the date of discrimination, or 300 days if the charge is filed with a designated State or local fair employment practice agency. Individuals may file a lawsuit in Federal court only after they receive a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC.
Charges of employment discrimination on the basis of disability may be filed at any U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission field office. Field offices are located in 50 cities throughout the U.S. and are listed in most telephone directories under “U.S. Government.” For the appropriate EEOC field office in your geographic area, contact:
(800) 669-4000 (voice)
(800) 669-6820 (TTY)
(844) 234-5122 (VP)
For information on how to accommodate a specific individual with a disability, contact the Job Accommodation Network at:
(800) 526-7234 (voice)
(877) 781-9403 (TTY)
ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities
Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity’s size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).
State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.
Complaints of title II violations may be filed with the Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of discrimination. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and has been unable to resolve violations. For more information, contact:
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section
Washington, D.C. 20530
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)
Title II may also be enforced through private lawsuits in Federal court. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or any other Federal agency, or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter, before going to court.
ADA Title II: Public Transportation
The transportation provisions of title II cover public transportation services, such as city buses and public rail transit (e.g. subways, commuter rails, Amtrak). Public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services. They must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result in an undue burden, provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems. Paratransit is a service where individuals who are unable to use the regular transit system independently (because of a physical or mental impairment) are picked up and dropped off at their destinations. Questions and complaints about public transportation should be directed to:
Office of Civil Rights
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, D.C. 20590
(888) 446-4511 (voice/relay)
ADA Title III: Public Accommodations
Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities. Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs. Transportation services provided by private entities are also covered by title III.
Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment. They also must comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication with people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities; and other access requirements. Additionally, public accommodations must remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the public accommodation’s resources.
Courses and examinations related to professional, educational, or trade-related applications, licensing, certifications, or credentialing must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people with disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered.
Commercial facilities, such as factories and warehouses, must comply with the ADA’s architectural standards for new construction and alterations.
Complaints of title III violations may be filed with the Department of Justice. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department is authorized to bring a lawsuit where there is a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of title III, or where an act of discrimination raises an issue of general public importance. Title III may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (or any Federal agency), or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter, before going to court. For more information, contact:
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section
Washington, D.C. 20530
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)
ADA Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services
Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires common carriers (telephone companies) to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables callers with hearing and speech disabilities who use TTYs (also known as TDDs), and callers who use voice telephones to communicate with each other through a third party communications assistant. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set minimum standards for TRS services. Title IV also requires closed captioning of Federally funded public service announcements. For more information about TRS, contact the FCC at:
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
(888) 225-5322 (Voice)
(888) 835-5322 (TTY)
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.
29 CFR Parts 1630, 1602 (Title I, EEOC)
28 CFR Part 35 (Title II, Department of Justice)
49 CFR Parts 27, 37, 38 (Title II, III, Department of Transportation)
28 CFR Part 36 (Title III, Department of Justice)
47 CFR §§ 64.601 et seq. (Title IV, FCC)