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Answering Googled Queries

1) “should you pet a service dog”

Well, that depends on who you are. I pet my service dog all the time, and also my SDIT (Service Dog In Training). They like it when I pet them, and I often pet them just because we both enjoy it, as well as to tell them in a low-key way that they done good in a particular moment or decision point. I firmly believe that service dog handlers should absolutely pet their service dogs. If, however, you are John Q. Random Stranger, you should not pet someone else’s service dog. You should not ask to pet someone else’s service dog. If a service dog handler invites you to pet the service dog, that is OK, but don’t expect it.

2) service dogs vs. pet dogs

The key difference here is that service dogs are trained to assist a person with a disability. This means that in order to have a service dog, you must first acquire a disability. Then, the dog must be trained to perform tasks that help out with that disability. Also, the dog must be capable of handling public situations without being obnoxious and disruptive.

There are a lot of areas where pet dogs and service dogs overlap. For instance, my SD and my SDIT both spend a lot of time being petted (see question 1) and a lot of time cuddling, and chewing bones, and lying on the furniture, and playing games with me and with other dogs. All four dogs are concerned if I am especially wobbly. The difference is that if I am especially wobbly, Beowulf and Sid (well, Sid is working on it) both know how to steady me.

So for example, if you are get panic attacks, you might have a pet dog who is concerned and comes over and licks your hands, and you pet the dog and it helps you refocus and get past it. This dog is a pet dog, who might qualify as an Emotional Support Animal. If your panic attacks are disabling (i.e. they interfere with major life activities), and you have trained the dog to, for instance, spot when you are about to have one and perform a behavior that helps you refocus and not have the panic attack, the dog may qualify as a service dog.

You do not have a right to take a pet animal to places where dogs are not normally allowed, not even an Emotional Support Animal. But a person with a disability does have a right to take a service dog almost anywhere, because they need the dog to help them out.

Which leads to the final distinction: a pet dog is a well-beloved family member, ideally, and friend. A service dog is a vital partner in every-day life.

4 thoughts on “Answering Googled Queries

  1. Imma interject here, because I’ve had it be a point of contention between myself and other K-9 handlers and the occasional Canine Assisted person.

    A ‘Service Dog’ is a dog trained for a specific task to assist humans in some form. My USAR dog was a service dog just as much as your stability dog is now — she was just a Federal Service Dog, because she was hired by the Federal Government to do her task and her task was to save lives. She was allowed anywhere your assistance dog is, including traveling in the cabin of an airplane while on deployment. The term ‘service dog’ is one that can be used awfully easily for a number of definitions….I know you aren’t one to pick a bone on it, but there are so many who are, might I convinced you to broaden your definition a hair, to include dogs that do more that simply assist with a disability?

    (Seriously…there’ve been some knock-down drag-outs over this, up to and including a screaming fight on the part of the disabled person when a USAR dog on deployment was allowed into an airplane cabin and the disabled person’s ‘service dog’ took a snipe at the USAR dog. The disabled person threw a fit about a ‘non-service dog’ being allowed where only service dogs are allowed, and therefore put HIS dog in jeopardy [remember it was his dog that took the bite!] of being injured. Oi.)

    Still, all in all, nice post. Good on you for being confident enough to discuss it.

    1. No, sorry, you can’t convince me to broaden my definition, because the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as amended makes ZERO mention of SAR/Police K-9s for very good reason: those dogs do not assist people with disabilities. A SAR dog has limited access when it is on its way to an assignment or undertaking a task. SAR dog handlers do not, legally, have the right to just have their dogs with them all the time.

      Federal law, on the other hand, *requires* that a service dog be allowed into public facilities, because it is performing tasks that mitigate a disability. Just because a SAR dog performs an important job does not make it a service dog; the term “service animal” is very specific legally and is defined by the ADA and attendant regulations. SAR dogs do not fit the definition and their handlers do not have public access rights with these dogs that are the same as a person with a disability has with a service dog.

      And no, your SAR dog is not just as much a service dog as my mobility dog is. In case of a disaster, SAR dogs perform an important and life-saving job. My mobility dog performs tasks that enable me to do important things like go to school and the bookstore *whenever we leave the house*. If you took your SAR dog with you to class, she would not be performing her job there, she would be there as, essentially, a pet dog. There is a HUGE difference.

  2. I agree with you for the most part, except for emotional support animals. While I don’t currently have agoraphobia to the extent that I can not work, I can’t work in busy day environments with multiple people talking all at the same time around me. The stimulus is simply overwhelming for my brain. I can’t go to grocery stores during busy hours I time it so I go 10 minutes before close or the first 10 minutes they are open on a sunday. The medication makes me too groggy to actually do my job, but they are the first thing I reach for when I get home because my nerves are frayed. At this point I have the option of being able to work a graveyard shift with one other person and only a few people on the road. If my work didn’t make accommodation for my particular situation I’m not exactly sure what I’d do. Pursuing my service dog might be my only option. She has been trained to monitor my breathing rate, and my heart rate, even the blood flow and temperature to my hands and feet. She knows how to bring me medication if I need it. Its not as obvious disability as you have (which is not meant to minimize your disability at all) just to point out that people often have disabilities that aren’t visible but just as limiting.

    1. A dog who is trained, as yours is, to help you out with psych disabilities, is *not* an Emotional Support Animal, but a service dog. The key to the definition lies in training. An ESA provides comfort, companionship, etc, but has not been trained to perform specific actions that provide help with a disability. You note that your dog “has been trained to monitor my breathing rate, and my heart rate, even the blood flow and temperature to my hands and feet. She knows how to bring me medication if I need it.” The training to perform tasks that mitigate your disability would qualify her as a service dog under the law.

      ESAs are definitely very valuable to their people, which is why people who need them have some protection under the law in terms of housing, but they aren’t service dogs.

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