Dogs have been used as service animals in the United States for almost a century. Initially, only seeing-eye dogs were legally recognized in 1929. In the 1960’s, people began training dogs for other service purposes, but they were not legally recognized until 1990.
Today, service dogs provide assistance to people with a number of disabilities, from blindness and deafness to autism and mobility issues. Assistant dog programs have been established to train dogs and pair them with disabled clients.
In order for a dog to be legally registered with a service dog association, several requirements must be met. These requirements are in place to ensure the safety of both the dogs and their handlers.
Requirements must be met by the service dog, the client, and the assistance dog program.
In order to safely and effectively serve their client or handler, a service dog must meet a number of requirements as defined by nationally recognized service dog organizations. These requirements include:
- Obedience: The dog must demonstrate basic obedience skills when signaled with voice or hand signals. These skills include sit, stay, lying down, walking at a controlled pace with the client, and coming to the client when called. They must respond on the first command at least 90% of the time, both at home and in public.
- Tasks: A service dog must be trained to perform at least 3 tasks to assist the client’s specific disability.
- Health: Prior to placement, service dogs must be spayed/neutered and have current vaccination certificates.
- Proper identification: The dog must be outfitted with a laminated identification card with photo and the names of the dog and the client or handler. In public, an identifying piece of equipment or clothing must be worn (such as a cape, harness, or backpack). An easy to read logo must be present on the clothing in order to clearly identify the dog as an assistant dog.
To keep service dogs safe and well cared for, clients and handlers must meet a number of requirements.
- Training: The client must demonstrate knowledge of acceptable training techniques, as well as the ability to maintain and continue training as required with their service dog.
- Canine care: A thorough understanding of canine care and health is required.
- Local laws: The client must possess current knowledge of local access laws and appropriate public behavior.
Assistance Dog Program
When pairing an assistance dog with a client or handler, assistance dog programs are bound by a number of requirements to ensure the safety of both the client and the dog. These include:
- Knowledge of disabilities: The program must demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the client’s disability.
- Knowledge of training practices: In order to effectively train service dogs, the program must demonstrate an acute knowledge of proper obedience training.
- Dog specifications: If the service dog has any special health care or maintenance requirements, the program must alert the client prior to pairing.
- Follow-ups: For the first 6 months following placement, the program must provide monthly follow ups to assess the state of both the dog and the client. A qualified staff member will provide annual personal contact 1 year after placement. These follow ups must be fully documented.
- Staff training: The program must provide to its staff ongoing training and education regarding different disabilities. Additionally, they must provide the staff ongoing dog training support.