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5 Common Service Dog Myths Debunked

When it comes to Service Dogs, there are a lot of myths out there. Many of these Service Dog myths are pretty pervasive, and it’s to the point that lots of people don’t know what’s correct. Without further ado, here are 5 common Service Dog myths debunked.

When it comes to Service Dogs, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially if you don’t know any Service Dog teams or trainers. Even specialists in the training, health, and behavioral industries, like doctors, veterinarians, counselors, and professional trainers, don’t always know what’s true. These special working dogs are amazing, incredible animals and they often perform miraculous feats, so it’s understandable that the work they do, as well as the requirements and expectations surrounding Service Dog teams, can get a little muddled in the retelling. We’re planning on making these myth debunking articles a series, so if you ever have a question about Service Dogs or want the facts on something related to Service Dogs laid out, don’t hesitate to ask us!

Service Dog Myths: Service Dogs Can Only Be Retrievers or Shepherds

MythOnly certain breeds can be Service Dogs.
Fact: A Service Dog can be any breed or mix of breeds.

This common Service Dog myth has been around for decades, but it’s understandable. For the last several decades, the majority of organization-graduated working dogs have been Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or German Shepherds. This is true not only for Service and Assistance Dogs, but also for other types of working dogs, like detector dogs and patrol canines. There are exceptions, of course, like the Doberman Pinschers who graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind and from Pilot Dogs. Most people, however, are used to seeing Labs, Goldens, and Shepherds partnered with a person to get a job done.

Service Dog Myths Pit Bulls Can't Be Service Dogs

Any breed can be a Service Dog, if they possess the right temperament and necessary characteristics.

That has led to the misconception that only Labradors, Goldens, and Shepherds can be working, Service, or Assistance Dogs. However, that’s a myth. Any breed of dog can be utilized as a Service or Assistance Dog. They don’t even have to be purebred. Mixed breeds are more than welcome, and, in fact, many programs purposefully utilize mixed breeds. Not only is the dog’s breed not important, but neither is the dog’s size, gender, color, or markings.

What matters most is the dog’s temperament, trainability, and ability to physically do the job required of them. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds regularly possess the tendencies required to succeed as a Service Dog, like being social, food motivated, and free of negative temperament traits. They are not the only breeds with those traits, though. The next time you see a dog working in public who is not one of the “big three,” know that they’re just as much a Service Dog and that they’re working just as well and hard!

Service Dog Myths: Service Dogs Have To Be Professionally Trained

Myth: Service Dogs only come from organizations or programs. A dog that comes from anywhere else is a fake.
FactService Dogs can be trained by anyone with the necessary skills and knowledge, including the person who is going to partner with the Service Dog.

Almost everyone has heard about “seeing eye dogs.” Most people know that dogs can be trained to help children with autism. Many people know someone partnered with an Assistance Dog or have seen someone using a Service Dog. Most people believe Service Dogs must graduate from a professional program or organization.

However, that’s one of the more common Service Dog myths. In actuality, Service Dogs can be trained in several ways:

  1. By an organization or program specializing in training Service, Guide, or Assistance Dogs
  2. By a professional dog trainer with knowledge to select and guide a canine candidate, with or without their future partner, through basic, intermediate, and advanced obedience, and then through public access training and task training
  3. By the individual with a disability, with or without the assistance of a professional trainer (Partnering with a professional trainer is *always* recommended, if this route is selected!)
  4. By any combination of the above methods — As an example, a professional Service dog trainer, who is not connected to an organization, may raise a Service Dog candidate until they’re 8 months old, and then place the dog with the dog’s future partner. They then may continue to guide the training, until the dog becomes a fully fledged Service Dog.

If a person with a disability trains their own Service Dog, with or without the help of a professional dog trainer, it’s called “owner-training.” A Service Dog who has been owner-trained is just as much a Service Dog as a dog who graduated from a formal program. It is important to note that no matter where a Service Dog comes from, or what type of education they have, they must still meet behavioral and training requirements, and they must be specifically task trained to mitigate their person’s disability.

Service Dog Myths: Any Dog Can Be a Service Dog

Myth: Any dog can be a Service Dog. If I or someone I love needs a Service Dog, our family pet or a cute puppy we find for sale can become one.
Fact: A very small percentage of dogs has the potential to excel as a Service Dog. Good Service Dog candidates are quite rare.

This common myth is 100% false. Any dog cannot be a Service Dog. Service Dogs require a very specific, and quite Service Dog Myths Puppy rare, set of temperament traits, learning aptitudes, and health requirements. Their disposition must be excellent, and they must be completely free of anxiety, reactivity, aggression, or timidity. Dogs who can become Service Dogs are very few and far between.

It’s not easy finding a Service Dog candidate, and it is quite unlikely that a family pet, or an adult dog just picked up from the shelter, will be able to succeed. Not impossible, of course, but quite unlikely. Merely having a dog and having a need for a Service Dog does *not* mean that dog can become a Service Dog. In a similar vein, simply picking out an 8-week old puppy and declaring that she’ll be a Service Dog one day won’t cut it — there are a million miles between “tiny cute ball of fluff” and “Service Dog,” and that journey is best traveled with guidance from an experienced person or group.

It’s not easy being a Service Dog, and it’s not easy training a Service Dog. The more work put into ensuring a canine candidate has the best potential to succeed, the better it’ll be for everyone. Only very special dogs thrive as Service Dogs.

Service Dog Myths: Therapy Dogs, ESAs, and Service Dogs Are the Same Thing

Myth: Who cares what they’re called? All of these therapy, comfort, emotional support, helper, special, service, guide, assistance, working, whatever dogs are the same thing. The terminology doesn’t really matter.
Fact: Words carry a lot of weight, especially words that are written into law and legally defined. Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Service/Assistance Dogs are radically different, and each type of working dog has different requirements, rights, and expectations.

With the recent explosion of emotional support animals (ESAs), “support dogs,” “helper dogs,” “comfort dogs,” and yes, Service Dogs, lots of people are under the impression that any dog with a title is ultimately a Service Dog. This is one of the most dangerous Service Dog myths. Even more scarily, it just as often takes the parallel form of “If I want to take my dog everywhere, I just need a Service Dog vest.”

Service Dog Myths Therapy Dogs Are Not Service DogsFalse, false, false, false. No matter how this Service Dog myth presents, it is untrue. First and foremost, simply granting your dog a title does not mean you and/or your dog suddenly possess special rights. A Service Dog (or Assistance Dog) by any other name is not a Service Dog. There are drastic differences between emotional support animals, therapy dogs, and Service Dogs. Lots of people mistakenly call ESAs and/or therapy dogs “comfort dogs,” “helper dog,” “support dog,” or some other official sounding title. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what the dog is called. It only matters what the dog does, and who the dog belongs to.

Any type of working dog that is not a Service Dog or Assistance Dog (sometimes called Service Animals or Assistance Animals), does not have the rights that a working Service Dog teams has. When with their human partner who has a disability, Service Dogs can generally go anywhere members of the general public are allowed to go. It is the person who possesses access rights, not the dog. ESAs and therapy dogs, no matter what they’re called, do not have public access rights. ESAs may live with their people, and may fly with their person, as long as they have legitimate doctor’s verification. Therapy Dogs can only go where they’re invited, and they have no other public access and no special housing rights.

All types of Service Dogs possess hundreds to thousands of hours of specialized training. Therapy Dogs often have high levels of training as well, but they aren’t partnered with someone with a disability. ESAs are not required to have any specific training or skills. Moreso, nothing makes a dog a Service Dog except for possessing specialized training, and being partnered with a person with a disability. That’s it — not paperwork, not a vest, not an ID card, not a harness. Anything less than specialized training and working directly with a person with a disability, means a dog is not a Service Dog, and ergo has no public access rights or special entitlement to anything.

Note: Claiming a dog is a Service Dog when it is not does drastic damage to the Service Dog community. Moreso, it is illegal. 

Service Dog Myths: Anyone Can Have a Service Dog

Myth: Anyone who wants a Service Dog can have one. 
Fact: Only individuals with a disability can have a Service Dog, and not just any dog will do.

Service Dog Equation Anything Pawsable

Click me to expand and learn more about the Service Dog Equation!

Service Dogs are all over the news, our communities, and the media right now. It seems like everyone and their brother has a Service Dog, is fundraising for a Service Dog, or knows someone who has or needs a Service Dog. Even though lots of people don’t know a lot about Service Dogs, how prevalent they are in day to day life can make it seem like anyone can have a Service Dog.

However, only one group of people can legally partner with a Service Dog: those with a disability. Specifically, they must have a disability that directly impacts their quality of life in one or more realms of life, like work, school or personal care. Then, a dog must be able to directly minimize the impact said disability has on the disabled individual’s life. Then, that dog must be trained to perform trained behaviors that specifically mitigates those areas of impact. Behaviors a dog does naturally, like being a companion, snuggling, or alarm barking, don’t count. When all of those points of criteria are met, then a person with a disability and a dog with specialized training, become a Service Dog team.

Literally no one else, regardless of the reason, or the training their dog has, or what they put on their dog, or what type of paperwork they carry, can have a Service Dog, or the public access rights Service Dog teams possess. Someone must have a disability, and any dog that someone chooses to partner with must possess specialized training to mitigate that disability. That’s the long and short of it.



  • Kathryn Smith January 13, 2017

    If people continue to abuse the ‘Service Dog’ system — be it a legitimate ‘SERVICE’ dog – trained to perform specific tasks, or any of the other designations – Therapy / ESA etc. it may well END the freedom that the REAL dogs/owner-handlers enjoy. Successful PROSECUTION of owner/handlers posing their dogs as ‘Service/Therapy/ESA’ dogs will stop it if it get enough ‘press’ — and sufficient FINES to really hit their wallets!

    • Roymond January 13, 2017

      Those fines should go to local animal shelters, or to groups who help match service dogs with people.

  • Shanna Kinser January 13, 2017

    Thank you so much for spelling this out. My mobility service dog is licensed through the county in which I live and has met all requirements to work as a mobility service dog. We have already done hundreds of hours of training together and she performs three major tasks. The confusion and faking are making it difficult for legitimate teams. There must be a way to, among other things, deal with the illegitimate online registries. Some people seem to earnestly believe that signing up, paying the fee, getting the vest, etc. is all it takes. Businesses need to be educated and vigilant. Legitimate teams need to step up and call out abuses.

    • Roymond January 15, 2017

      I had an interesting encounter not long ago. I was shopping, Bammer at my side, and there was another dog in the store. Bammer whuffed quietly, which told me to look around, when he saw the dog. The other dog stated jerking at its leash and yipping at Bammer.

      A manager came to see what the trouble was. After asking if both were service dogs, he asked if Bammer was well-behaved. I said, “Watch.” I dropped Bammer’s leash, told him to sit and stay, and walked down the aisle, around and up the next one, and back. Bammer was waiting quietly. When I reached for Bammer’s leash, the other dog went crazy again.

      The manager looked at the gal with the other dog and asked, “Will yours do that?” The lady had to admit he wouldn’t. The manager said, “Your dog needs better training. If he makes a ruckus like this again, he’s banned till he can behave.” He knew he couldn’t kick the dog out (yet), because the disruption wasn’t enough to disturb the operation of the business, but he clearly saw the difference.

  • Jim Keenedy January 13, 2017

    This is very well written and does an excellent job of addressing this very important matter. The “Fake Service Dog” issue is becoming epidemic! Thank you!

  • Jim Kennedy January 13, 2017

    This is very well written and does an excellent job of addressing this very important matter. The “Fake Service Dog” issue is becoming epidemic! Thank you!

  • Roymond January 13, 2017

    I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a representative of the DoJ ADA branch. She made the point that a service dog can be an emotional support dog, but the dog is more than just an emotional support dog; and that every service dog is a pet, but is more than just a pet. That’s true of my Bammer, who if I count by hours is more of an emotional support dog, but if count by the critical nature of what he does, he’s more of a service dog. The interesting thing is that he became an emotional support dog because he’s there for my anxiety, and just knowing he’s there if I need him (which he often tells me before I notice) reduces the need — so by being an emotional support dog he makes it so I don’t need him as often as a service dog (early on that wasn’t the case, but as I grew to trust him it shifted).

  • Lexy April 30, 2017

    That’s my dog in one of the pictures. Red merle mini Aussie with blue eyes. He is not a service dog lol

  • Jamie bartley December 27, 2017

    If I have trouble leaving my house, alone, and must take my dog with me, would she be considered an esa or a service dog. As she stays by my side, doesn’t bark, doesn’t acknowledge others, and sits when I say sit. But she does distract if there is a cat but sits when I say no. She has a slight pull when first let out of car until she is comfortable with surrounding and then calms. Never growls or barks. Sits under table at restaurants and won’t move till I do. Also waits on me to move first. She will get a distraction from yappers but never leaves my side and will ignore when I say let’s go or no.

  • Jamie bartley December 27, 2017

    Also she senses my panic disorder and my anxiety and allows me to accomplish more than I have ever done before. I was able to walk to my mailbox because of her, to the store, and through a couple retail stores because she was by myside.


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