What is a Service Dog?

What is a Service Dog?
 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as “…any dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” A service dog is distinct from an emotional support dog (ESD), who is prescribed by a doctor or a licensed therapist to provide a therapeutic benefit through dedicated companionship for a person who suffers from an emotional or mental disability. 
Separate from each of these is the therapy dog: animal-assisted therapy involves an animal, in this case a dog, as a form of treatment. You might have seen therapy dogs at work in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, schools, libraries, and in other dog-friendly venues and situations. While a therapy dog can improve the lives of people in various settings, he is not trained to perform specific tasks for a disabled person as a service dog does—an important distinction. The same holds true for the ESD, who can help ease anxiety, depression, and other conditions in affected individuals, but is not a service dog and as such does not enjoy the same rights as a service dog. Only a service dog can go anywhere his handler goes.

The Hallmarks of a True Service Dog (Or, How to Spot a Fake)

How can you tell if a service dog is legitimate? Plenty of dog owners try to pass off their pets as service dogs to bring them into venues where dogs aren’t typically allowed. But a true service dog…
  • Is a working dog, trained to perform specific tasks, and thus must always be prepared to work. A dog being pushed around in a cart or sitting at a restaurant table is not a working dog.
  • Is almost always leashed for his own protection. The exception is a service dog trained to monitor a human’s bodily functions and is thus held close to the body.

  • Is rigorously trained and has impeccable leash manners: a dog who tugs at the leash is not a true service dog.

  • Never barks or whines except to alert the owner of an impending stroke or panic attack, for example. Barking out of impatience betrays a ‘service’ dog as an impostor.
  • Is trained to avoid distractions, including interesting smells. Even in a store, a service dog resists sniffing at items placed on lower shelves.
  • Never eliminates indoors.
  • Never steals food, and will even resist snapping up food dropped on the floor or ground.
  • Is fully socialized and thus self-assured and calm in a crowded venue.
  • Does not seek attention from anybody except the person holding his leash, because he recognizes he has important work to do.
  • Never shows signs of unprovoked aggression towards people or other animals, even if he is trained specifically to protect his handler.

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