Thursday, August 20, 2009

When is a Service Dog a Service Dog and NOT in Training??

4 -month old Rowena in her new first service dog vest.
As you can see by her romping through the falling snow of her very first winter,
she is too young to equate the vest with being at work

First of all, let's look at the definition of SERVICE DOG as defined by the ADA...

Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform work or tasks for people with disabilities- such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks or work. Service animals are working animals, not pets.

The disability can be a physical or mental disability (which is actually a physical disability... When someone takes an anti-depressant, where does the pill go when the person gulps it down? And another, Do are brains effect the health and well-being of the rest of our bodies? Biochemically, everything in our brain effects many different areas of the body and many areas of mental and physical functioning.)

What type of training should a dog go through before becoming a service dog?

A service dog is a dog that is individually trained to perform work or tasks to help mitigate a disabled person's disability.

The answer to this question does vary. It depends on what kind of disabilities the dog is being trained to assist with and whether the service dog will be only used at home or if it will also have public access. There is no uniform standard training for service dogs as each will be assisting with a variety of disabilities, and no one person experiences the disability the same as another. The "Cookie Cutter" service dog training school does not work for all disabilities. That being said, there are untold standards that must be met.

A service dog must do work or perform tasks to assist his/her disabled handler to do something that the handler cannot do by him/her self. If you are capable of getting your own meds in the morning and preparing water in a glass (or opening a bottle) to drink down that pill, a dog trained to retrieve your meds and fetch a bottle of water from the fridge would not be mitigating that person's disability, so this would not be a task. I was always taught that my service dog should be able to perform a minimum of 3 identifiable tasks. This is not mandatory, but highly reccommended at some service dog training facilities (including those who assist disabled individuals train their own service dog).
A service dog, if it is to be used in public, must have basic commands down and basic public etiquette down or the dog may become disruptive. In the case that the dog does become disruptive or a risk while in public, a public place can legally ask the disabled handler to remove the dog and return without. A public place CAN NOT assume that a service dog might behave a certain way. The dog must pose a risk or disrupt the flow of the business otherwise many places would disallow service dogs. I suggest the dog have puppy kindergarten with socialization or STAR Puppy (AKC program), basic obedience, and pass the Canine Good Citizen test (AKC program). I also suggest that the dog be able to pass a general public access test that shows the dog can maneuver through public places filled with people, food, many different distractions, different surfaces etc. and still be able to listen and behave with the handler. There are samples of these online, and some are listed on this blog under Rosie's favorite Links for you to take a look at.
All the above being said, there is no mandatory training program, just public expectations and the ongoing stress that if my service dog misbehaves, it may look bad and make it difficult for the next service dog team gain public access at the same place. Because I trained my dog, any misbehavior is a bad reflection on me, but also on any other handler trained service dog team. Basically, my dog can behave and she does work and tasks that assist me with my disabilities so that I can live more independantly. That is really what makes her a service dog.

How long can it take to train a service dog?

Typically, it takes about one year to a year and a half to raise and train a service dog. There is no minimum age required of a service dog (at least not in this state nor is there one in many others), and there is also no maximum. There is just common sense. For example, Rosie began alerting before she was six months old. However, her basic obedience training was not where I wanted it to be yet so she remained "In Training" until I finally got to take a public access test with her and we passed. I believe she was 3 at that time, but that was just because of my own insecurities, not her being incapable. She met all definitions of a service dog from about a year on.
How can a dog become a service dog at such a young age? I raised and trained my own puppy. I got her at 9 weeks old and took her EVERYWHERE from day one. She was exposed to my many moods and my many biochemical changes and learned early on how to alert. (Not all dogs can alert. It cannot be trained, only reinforced). I could train her and reinforce her tasks from puppyhood on. That is how it is possible for a dog younger than 1 year to be qualified for Service Dog status. One thing that really gets in the way is programs where the dog is fostered by families who may or may not know how to properly raise a puppy. Some programs after a year move that dog to another facility for basic obedience, and then again for task training and orientation with a disabled handler. When the animal has to retire, some programs make the disabled person give up the dog and the poor dog must begin again in a new home. In the puppy raising, the pup may or may not get enough socialization to be able to become a successful service dog graduate. Some breeds even require more attention on socialization than other breeds. I know my biggest fault is that I over-socialized my pup with humans a bit too much. She loves people way too much.

How can you tell a service dog is ready to work as a service dog?

Is the dog potty trained well?

Does the dog have basic obedience skills down? Can you control your dog in many situations?
Can the dog act appropriately in a public place (many types of public places) Can your dog pass a public access test with flying colors?
Can your dog pass a Canine Good Citizen test (passing is getting all 10 categories past)? Get along with other dogs and ignore if he has too?
Does it perform work or tasks that assist its disabled handler?

Like I said before, not all of these are mandatory accomplishments, but I highly reccommend them (as do many hander-trainers of service dogs). When we go out there with our service dogs, we want to be shining examples of service dog teams everywhere.
Now, for a question that was in my comment box: The child with Autism who was not allowed to bring his new service dog into school...
It is not impossible for an 11 month old dog to be a fully trained service dog.
When a family purchases a service dog from a training facility, they are often putting all their trust that this facility knows what they are doing, and will provide the family with a dog that is trained appropriately, behaves appropriately and is mature enough to carry through with tasks. Not all training facilities will do this, and there are plenty of stories on the internet of families getting screwed by a service dog training program of some sort with a dog that has "issues". A dog that develops issues later on can often be sent back to the training program for retraining and assessment, but it is up to the family to make sure the dog is not developing issues that are not being attended to.
From the question regarding the child being refused his new service dog to attend school with him: When the dog needs to go out to relieve its self, who will take the dog out?
I have the feeling that there are plenty of breaks through out the day for the boy to take the dog out to relieve its self. I also know that many dogs can "hold it" for several hours at a time if needed. If there are no breaks, part of the accommodation for the child would be that he would be allowed times when he could take his dog out.
Regarding the question of whether a child is able to handle the service dog by himself...
Some disabled children are assigned personal aids or assistants to help them through out the school day. I know that in some situations that this has been the resolution. I also know that had this service dog been a guide dog for a blind child that no one would question the child's ability to 'control' the guide dog who may be any size from a 65 pound Lab, Golden, all the way to a 100 pound Shepherd. No service dog is perfect no matter how many years on the job or how much training. However, having said that, I have also read stories of hearing dogs and guide dogs being refused access to schools as well. Should schools be immune to the ADA? No. They need to be educated and held accountable.


Keldrena said...

Umm, guide dogs schools don't place dogs with small children for a reason. If the kid has someone to help with the dog, great he should be able to have it at school. I've also heard bad things about the program they go the dog from, which was part of my issue. If the dogs trained and has someone to take care of it, great. It just shouldn't fall to the teacher.

Just the opinion of a PSD handler.

Keldrena said...

Oh, I almost forgot. I read in another article that the mom is going to handle the dog during the school day, which sounds great, although I realize not all parents would be able to do that.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to point out that the child in question's mother planned on quitting her job to go to school with him to handle the dog. Which completely defeats the purpose of hoping to let the child be more independent.

Also, to my understanding guide dogs are not placed with young handlers. I read somewhere that the youngest was 11 and had to pass a public access test with the dog without an adult handler present. Could this five year old child pass this test? Probably not.