Questions to Consider If You Want a Service Dog

Questions to consider if you want a service dog?

When considering these questions, remember there are not right or wrong answers.  The answers will help to determine which organization is the best match for you.

 What can a dog do for me?

Remember while these canine partners are amazing, they are not TV dogs with super powers.  Service dogs work with hard tasks like retrieving objects, or identifying sounds.  They can often do skills from more than one work style, such as hearing sounds and retrieving items for someone who is hearing impaired and uses a wheelchair.  However, there are limits, and you should prioritize the skill you wish to have.  It is important to remember that these animals are NEVERallowed to be protective or aggressive.  They cannot prevent someone from taking your child or stop your child from leaving the house. 

How am I sure I am getting a service dog?

Service dogs are defined and protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Many training programs which train service dogs also train therapy or companion animals.  It is important to know what you are really getting. 

Service animals have protection for public access when working; therapy animals, companions or other assistance animals do not. 

According to the ADA a service animals is a dog, or miniature horse, which has been individually trained to perform task for a person with disabilities and that the trained task must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Note: comfort and emotional support do not qualify as skills under the ADA for service animals.  Just because a dog can do something (fetch an item), it does not mean this is a trained skill for your service dog.  The trained skill must be directly related to your disability.

Be sure you know what trained skill your dog will have and how to use it to help you overcome aspects of your disability.

How to I pick a training organization?

There are several things you should consider when evaluating which training organization to work with.  Here are some questions to ask the organizations before choosing: 

  • ·     Do you work with my disability?

Not all organization work with all disabilities

  • ·     Do you work with my state?

Not all organizations work with all states or countries

  • ·     What age group do you work with? 

Some organizations only work with adults or people over a specific age

  • ·     Are you a member of Assistance Dogs International, Guide Dogs of America or the International Guide Dog Federation or International Association of Assistance Dog Partners? (Remember to ask about the group that services your service type)  If not why?

These memberships are voluntary and show that the group is working to uphold and set high standards for the industry.  There are some training programs that are good who are not members of these groups.  You should understand why they have made the choices they have to help you know if this is a group you want to work with.

  • ·     Are they a non-profit, foundation or for profit program?

This status does not indicate the quality of the dogs they produce.  This can affect your fundraising choices.  Some scholarships or community support will only contribute to non-profit or foundations.

  • ·     Who owns the dog after placements? 

Some organizations keep ownership of the animal and will later determine retirement of the animal and may reclaim the animal at retirement.  Other organizations put ownership with the client and allow the client to determine the retirement time and allow the client to keep the animal in retirement, if desired. All reputable organizations will assist in determining when retirement is best and in finding a suitable home for the retired dog, if requested by the client.

  • ·     Are other pets allowed in the home with the service dog? 

Some organizations say yes to all other pets, while others say no to any.

  • ·     What are the travel requirements? 

Travel is required by someone, either the client or staff of the training organization.  Find out what travel is expected for the interview of the client and or the training.  Find out about retesting travel; many programs retest teams on a regular schedule, will the staff travel to you or must the client travel back to the training organization.  Does the program provide housing on their campus when you are in training or do you need to stay in a hotel?  Is food provided by the training program or do you need to purchase it?

  • ·     What is the cost? 

There is always a cost and this will range significantly.  Most organizations ask the client to fundraise on their own behalf (donations being made to the training organizations by third parties are tax deductible if the organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit).  Smaller costs often mean larger wait times.  Please be assured fundraising is only hard if you are not willing to tell people you are raising funds.

Be sure the costs are clearly stated in your contract.  Some programs work on a flat fee system.  This means you have one amount which covers all they will financially ask of you.  Other programs break down their costs item by item; example: cost of training, cost of purchasing the dog, routine vet care, spay or neuter cost, hip check cost and so on.  Be sure to clearly understand if you will be asked for additional funds along the way and if you will be asked to pay these costs again in their first candidate fails and they need to find a second or third candidate for your service dog. 

  • ·     Is a portion of the funds to be raised needed before I can be considered for a dog?

Most training programs require that you help cover part of the training cost of your service dog.  This is most commonly done through a series of fundraising activities and help to show that you are vested in this special, living tool which you are about to get.  Programs will vary as to how much you are required to raise, some will require a specific amount be raised before they can consider you for a match , it is important that you have this in writing and know the amount upfront so that you can reach your  ultimate goal of expanding your independence with a service dog.

  • ·     Do you work with facilitation?  Why or why not?

Some training organizations are comfortable working with a parent / child team  and others feel it is important to have independent teams – meaning no 3rd party to oversee the team. 

People who are not able or capable of being fully responsible for their dog in public should be in a facilitated partnership.  This must be evaluated individually as all people have different capabilities.  Most people are not able to be fully responsible until about the age of 14, however some are never able to. 

Here is an example of a common activity: a person goes to a movie using their service dog; they must find appropriate seating, settle the dog, keep it from eating food which may be offered to it or spilled by other patrons, keep people from stepping on the dog, watch (and hopefully enjoy) the movie, while keeping one eye on the dog just in case (anything can happen – a sick dog, a person sneaking up for a stolen pat…).  An independent user does all this all day long.  A facilitated user cannot – but their facilitator does.

**Please see our page on this topic for details—important for parents and schools to know

  • ·     If not a member of ADI what public access test is being used?

Check it out.  A public access test is not about the skills the dog uses to help its human partner, it is about the human partner being in control in public places and having appropriate behavior from both the human and the dog in those places.  It is not appropriate for a dog to jump on its partner, or others; it is not appropriate to feed or water the dog from a restaurant table – especially with the restaurant’s dishes.  It is not appropriate for the dog to wander around public places off leash; It is not appropriate or legal for a dog to be aggressive or protective in public spaces.  These are just some examples of negative behaviors. 

Some programs, both ADI members and nonmembers, use the Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC) to help evaluate a pup’s public manors.  A CGC is a test any dog can take.  You can check out CGC requirements online.

  • ·     How many dogs have you trained for people like me?  Can I talk to some of them?

5 is the number we recommend

If this is a new program the organization should be upfront about that.  If this is an established program with a new style of service, ask to talk to other clients.  Remember an organization is going to recommend you talk to happy clients but it is still valuable to talk with them and get a feel for their experience – ask for the good, the bad, and the ugly

  • ·     What skill or skills will my dog be trained for?

Remember your service dog must have a skill or skills which it has been trained to do that are directed related to your disability.  The presence of the dog is not a trained skill.  If the program cannot tell you what trained skills they have planned for your service dog, don’t sign their contract until they can tell you. 

  • How are you trapping the scent from your seizures for you Medical Alert Dog to be trained to identify? Is the accuracy rate of your Medical Alert Dog 80% or better? How are they documenting accuracy and uncertainty during training? How will you be expected to continue recording these alerts?

Medical alert dogs are trained to smell for the chemical changes in your body that lead to your seizure, your diabetic highs/lows, or other similar conditions. These dog must be trained to know what to pay attention to and to provide an alert that is clear and publicly appropriate (examples: no jumping, no barking). Talk to the training program to fully understand how the dog is being trained and to assure yourself you will receive a fully trained adult service dog. You deserve it!

  • ·     What happens if we raised the needed funds and the dog does not work out?

Some parents have been told they have to raise money for each try – reputable organizations credit the money to you – not the dog – so until a good match is made they keep trying.

Be sure to know the answer before you sign the contract.  Don’t think “It won’t happen to us.”  It is understood that while 4 out of 5 matches are great, the 5th is not so great and needs to be reconsidered.

  • ·     Dogs in school? 

Some organizations promise that their dogs can go to school with young children because an aid can be responsible for the dog; some even require families to get an agreement with the school prior to matching a dog with the child.  Be advised – according to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Department of Justice, facilitates are not responsible for the tools used by the people entering the facility.  This means the school does not have to provide an aid or staff person to be responsible for the dog.  The child should have the dog in the school if the dog is expanding the child’s independence and the child can be fully responsible for the dog in public spaces

**Please see our page on this topic for details—important for parents and schools to know

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