In the beginning, we observed service animals as dogs that aided in mobility, guided the blind, or alerted the deaf. There were even a standard set of breeds that you consistently saw, that were bred within programs. These dogs went out to their prospective owners after extensive training, socialization, and health clearances to ensure they were prepared to do the work that was necessary. Now-a-days, service dogs can come in whatever shape, size, or form and can perform a variety of tasks for their handlers…and sometimes for things we cannot even see. Medical and Psychological professionals have agreed that dogs can come to the aid of a variety of internal and external disabilities that were previously overlooked. Due to working dogs broadening to people with invisible disabilities, the integrity and professionalism has become a bit muddy. Some individuals will train their own dogs and others will still go through programs. The inconsistency in appearance and overall behavior has become confusing for companies to draw the line between which Service Dog is legitimate and which one is not. A lot of companies, to avoid potentially infringing upon rights, will allow in any dog with a vest. So, what can we do?
All service dog handlers can help clarify any confusion by subscribing to similar standards. Keeping things consistent for the public eye helps to reassure the average individual that this animal is, in fact, working for the benefit of it’s handler. In addition, businesses should know that any “service dog” that they see that causes a disturbance on their property (not simply attributed to the dog’s presence) can be asked to leave (legitimate or illegitimate). What should these standards be?
- A Dog that is Well-Behaved and Unfazed. No barking at loud/startling noises, people, or foreign objects. No heavy panting and stress in confined areas, or inability to settle when the handler is not moving or disengaged.
- No Fancy Adornments. A working dog is inhibited by restrictive clothing and outfits. If the dog is wearing anything that could get caught on or stuck to something, it’s generally safe to say that they may not be able to work effectively. This doesn’t include dog booties, protective eye gear, or vests for the heat or cold as these items are for the dog’s safety and comfort. However, pajamas, human sunglasses, and tutus are not effective or comfortable for a dog to work in.
- Excessive Leash Pulling. Service Dogs know how to walk appropriately next to their handler unless their task dictates otherwise at a given time. The majority of Service Animals should be leashed unless it is to the handlers benefit to have the dog off-lead, but the animal must still be close to their handler.
- Know Your State’s Laws about Dogs in Training. Service Animals in Training are sometimes allowed the same access rights as fully-trained Service Dogs. Most decent handlers will also showcase when their dog is in training by the patches on the dog’s vest so that shop/property owners are aware. The rule still remains that if there’s any inappropriate behavior displayed the team may be asked to leave.
- No Distracting or Petting. A handler that suggests petting of the dog while on duty (generally means the dog is vested), unless there’s a young dog in training, is opening up a grey area for the public to openly distract or touch a working dog without consent. According to the ADA Service Animals are essentially medical equipment and should be addressed as such. Cooing at, or encouraging the dog to come to you isn’t acceptable behavior.
- A Clean and Well-Maintained Appearance. Due to the fact that they have access to areas like malls, restaurants, theme parks, etc., the animal should be clean and not have a shabby unkempt appearance.
- Emotional Support is not a Service. Even though ESAs have their place, they do not have public access rights aside from flying with their handlers. ESAs are not task trained to be able to physically aid their handler with their disability.
If, as a collective we can pay attention to, and adhere to these simple standards of etiquette, it can help the overall image and professionalism of Service Dogs. Untrained dogs put unnecessary strain and scrutiny on the entire community, and this can impact all individuals who truly need their dog to be at their service.