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Is a Service Dog Right for You?

The Service Dog lifestyle is not for everyone. It is a LOT of work. You cannot simply put a cape or harness on your dog and be on your way.

You must begin with a dog that has reasonable potential to become a Service Dog and understand that not every dog is physically or temperamentally appropriate.

A dog’s good manners at home does not equate with appropriate Service Dog public access behavior or an ability to reliably perform disability-related tasks. These require special training over a long period of time in many different environments.

Training a service dog is hard work. You are the one who lives with your dog, and nobody else can do the work for you. Training must also be maintained throughout the dog’s life.

You must commit to bringing your Service Dog with you, everywhere you go, at least 90% of the time and preferably more. This is the high level of commitment that is required to sustain a therapeutic bond with your Service Dog and maintain his/her training.

Your first trips out in public as a Service Dog team are important events. Exposing your Service Dog In Training (SDIT) to the public prematurely can have several negative effects: It can set back your training if the dog was not ready and has a negative experience; it can get you thrown out of a public facility where gatekeepers may remember you when you try to come back later with a better-trained dog; it can give the public the idea that service dogs are poorly behaved animals, and might cause some of them to complain to their Congressperson about why there are not more "rules" governing service dog public access; and last but not least, it can harm the reputation of service dogs, in general, which may have a negative effect on other Service Dog teams who follow behind you.

Working a Service Dog in public draws a lot of attention from passersby. Collectively, they will barrage you with the same questions, over and over. This is exhausting. Always be polite when informing members of the public, “No you may not pet my Service Dog.” Or, “Service Dog etiquette requires that you ask permission before petting a Service Dog.”

You must learn ALL the state and federal laws that govern your access with a Service Dog. There are many different laws, each of which covers only specific situations. Don’t make the embarrassing mistake of quoting a law to a gatekeeper that doesn’t apply in the situation for which you are negotiating access. Access challenges are frequent, and saying “the law is the law” will not necessarily open the doors you wish to enter. At businesses, employees are allowed to ask you if the dog is a service dog, and what tasks the dog has been trained to do for you.

Be aware that all of this unwanted attention may delay you considerably and may exacerbate your symptoms.

You may need to litigate in order to reinforce the law with a particular gatekeeper. Finding a skilled and affordable lawyer is not easy. Litigation takes years, and your medical and personal history will be subject to intense scrutiny.

Finally, don’t expect everyone in your life to be supportive of your desire to train/use a Service Dog, because they won’t be. Relationships that you previously believed to be supportive may indeed fall apart over your use of a Service Dog and because of your willingness to be open about your disability.

The Service Dog lifestyle is a serious long-term commitment. If this discourages you, then you may want to reconsider getting a Service Dog.

Copyright 2008 Psychiatric Service Dog Society, used and modified with permission.

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