Service Dogs work for people who have physical, psychiatric, or developmental disabilities. These highly trained and specialized dogs undergo thousands of hours of schooling so they can perform their work safely and reliably. They learn tasks to help reduce the impact of their handler's disability. These tasks fill in gaps in the handler's capabilities. By partnering with a Service Dog, disabled individuals often gain peace of mind, independence, and increased confidence. Since they commonly work in public, Service Dogs must be free of temperament flaws, focused, inobtrusive, and well-trained. Furthermore, the Americans With Disabilities Act specifies that they must be individually task trained to do work specifically for their handler. The types of tasks a Service Dog performs varies depending on the dog's job. Mobility Assistance Dogs might pull a wheelchair, help their partner stand up after a fall, or provide counterbalance. Hearing Dogs alert to sounds in the environment so their handler can respond appropriately. Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) increase their handler's day to day functioning by helping to manage chronic and acute episodes of mental illness and related symptoms. What are Psychiatric Service Dogs? Psychiatric Service Dogs work for people who have psychiatric disabilities. Typically defined as "a spectrum of mental disorders or conditions that influence our emotions, cognitions, and/or behaviors," psychiatric disabilities primarily affect the brain and brain chemistry. Many mental illnesses cause physical signs and symptoms, too. Examples in the U.S. government's Psychiatric Enforcement Guidance document include anxiety disorders (which include panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, and personality disorders. Other examples include phobias such as agoraphobia, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, and dissociative disorders such as dissociative identity disorder and depersonalization disorder. Like all Service Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs perform specific tasks and work for their handler. These tasks vary widely depending on the nature of their handler's disability and exact needs. It's important that tasks be trained behaviors that reliably occur on verbal, physical, or environmental cue(s). Behaviors that any dog can do, like sit for petting or provide companionship, do not qualify as Psychiatric Service Dog tasks. In order to be a Psychiatric Service Dog, a dog must be trained as a Service Dog and partnered with someone who has a psychiatric disability. Merely having a disability and a dog does not make that dog a Service Dog -- only task training and the proper temperament can do that. In addition to task training, Psychiatric
One of the most commonly asked questions is, “when is my Service Dog in Training ready for public access?” While that’s a question only you or your dog’s trainer can answer, here are 5 vital public access skills every Service Dog or Service Dog in Training needs to know before beginning work in public.
For many veterans across the United States, their Service Dog is a lifesaver, literally. However, current VA regulations limit access to VA facilities to "seeing-eye dogs and other animals as authorized at the discretion of a VA facility head or designee." The proposed Service Dog access regulation changes would open VA properties to more types of Service Dogs. Right now, the VA is holding open commenting and is inviting your input.
In the heat of the moment or when you need clear, concise information the most, it can be difficult to remember the most important details, especially with a topic as full of "legalese" as federal Service Dog law. Keep this handy Service Dog Law Hand-out readily available for those times when you need it the most.
Most working and Service Dog handlers and trainers understand that United States federal law provides protection and access for Service Dogs. Still, it can be challenging to truly grasp all of it. Use this handy guide to wade through the legal jargon.