Some people are surprised to learn that there are no legally-mandated training standards for Service Dogs. Furthermore, it is illegal for anyone to ask for proof of training or certification. This is important because otherwise disabled individuals who use Service Dogs could be stopped and forced to show paperwork everywhere they go. Most individuals who use a Service Dog purchase vests, special harnesses or other gear which, while helpful, leave little accountability. Our purpose is to add a layer of personal accountability by tying training and behavior standards for both a person and their dog into an online registration that can be revoked if they do not continue to meet those standards.
Please remember that owning and using a Service or Assistance Dog is a privilege, covered under the law, for disabled individuals who use a dog to help them complete specific physical tasks they would otherwise have difficulty performing on their own. It also comes with great responsibility. Service and Assistance Dogs teams have been granted their rights based on their excellent behavior, politeness, public conduct and the necessary, beneficial and functional tasks the dogs perform for their disabled owners.
Certain types of Service Dogs, such as Psychiatric Service Dogs, will require a doctor’s prescription for airline travel and access to other public areas. Simply registering with us does not qualify an animal or an individual as a Service or Assistance Dog Team or provide any special rights, legal or otherwise. Registration is for personal identification purposes only, similar to an online resume or providing a vest for your dog. Under the ADA, Service and Assistance Dog teams are not required to provide identification materials of any type in most circumstances, including badges, ID cards, dog vests or capes. Registration or membership with any organization is also not required.
Please note that misrepresenting an animal as a Service or Assistance Dog for any reason is not only unethical, but illegal and may be punishable as a misdemeanor. It is also in direct violation of our Terms and Conditions.
Training may be completed by yourself, a friend, family member or professional trainer or training organization. It takes about six months to a year (120+ hours) to properly train a Service or Assistance Dog. A full-time professional trainer may be able to train a dog more quickly. Be prepared to spend at least 30 hours of training in a controlled public setting so that the dog will learn to behave obediently and unobtrusively in public. Please remember that you are 100% responsible at all times for the behavior and control of your Service or Assistance Dog, even during training.
Our mantra is document, document, document. We highly suggest keeping a notebook or a blog as a log or record of your training dates and accomplishments. It will not only serve to help you during the training process but will also serve as a useful paper trail for your Service or Assistance Dog.
Note that all states do not grant the privileges of the ADA to Service or Assistance Dogs who are in training. Owners who have Service or Assistance Animals in training may register with us, but are personally responsible for obeying all applicable laws.
Your dog must obey basic verbal and/or hand signal obedience commands such as Sit, Stay, Come, Down and Heel. When off leash, your dog must come when called.
Your Dog’s Behavior
Your dog must also display good behavior and social skills including:
- No aggressive behavior toward people or other animals; no biting, no snapping, no growling, no mounting, no lunging and/or barking;
- No begging for food or petting from other people;
- No sniffing merchandise or people who pass by;
- No urinating or defecating in public unless given a command/signal to eliminate in an appropriate place.
Physical Tasks Related to a Disability
Many disabled people have pets. A Service or Assistance Dog is distinguished from a pet by the specific physical tasks they have been trained to complete. A Service or Assistance Dog is individually trained to complete specific identifiable physical tasks that its disabled owner has trouble completing for him or herself. In other words, simply having a disability is not enough to qualify a pet as a Service or Assistance Dog. While it is illegal for someone to ask about your disability, they may ask what physical tasks your dog has been trained to complete.
Natural dog behavior such as protectiveness, barking, licking or comforting an owner are not considered appropriate tasks under the ADA, even if those actions help the disabled owner.
What is a physical task?
A physical task is a chore or behavior that a Service or Assistance Animal performs, on command or cue, to help a disabled person with something that they can not easily do for themselves.
A physical task must also be quantifiable in some way, such as fetching a medicine bottle for someone who is having a seizure, opening doors or drawers for someone who has physical mobility issues or alerting on glucose levels for a diabetic.
Examples of some things that would not be an appropriate physical task would be simply providing companionship, emotional support, guarding, protecting or even tasks performed merely for convenience such as fetching the morning paper.
If you need more clarification, please seek a local Service Dog trainer for help.
Your dog should appear clean and well groomed at all times. Some Service and Assistance Dog handlers feel that a vest or I.D. is very helpful, even though it is not required by law. It is extremely important to look professional at all times.
Please remember to be confident, polite, courteous and respectful at all times, even if you encounter someone who is unfamiliar with the ADA. Be prepared to explain what tasks your dog is trained to complete to help manage your disability. You do not need to explain your disability. Keep in mind that the impression you leave with someone may be their only experience with a Service or Assistance Dog team.
Passing a Public Access Test
Passing any PAT is not required by law. This is because most experienced trainers and legitimate members of the Service Dog community agree that there is not an appropriate one-size-fits-all test for every handler, dog and/or disability combination.
Every organization that provides a Public Access Test, including ADI, IAADP and others, make it clear that passing their test does not mean they (nor we) “certify” your dog — and nor is certification recognized under federal law. While some trainers and organizations may “certify” their graduates, that status is something granted by them and is not recognized under the law or necessarily by other trainers.
Under the law, individuals are legally allowed to train their own Service Dog. As well, there are no mandatory regulations for dog trainers. Some of the most qualified and experienced dog trainers do not have a formal background. Please do your research and look for recommendations when selecting a trainer or training organization.
Whichever PAT you choose to use, every version recommends you have reputable trainer, friend, family member or other witness watch you complete the test and, preferably video record it and/or sign a printed copy of the test to have as part of your records.
USSDR includes successful completion of a Public Access Test as part of our standards. Furthermore, our expectations go beyond just passing the PAT. We also require adherence to specific training and behavioral standards on the part of the handier and dog. For more information on our mission and purpose, please visit USSDR.org.