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Service Dogs - training, tasks they perform, standards of obedience

 Assistance canines are broken down into three categories:  Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, and Service Animals (everything other than guide or hearing dogs). In the United States, the term Service Animal is used generically to mean any kind of assistance animal, including both guide and hearing dogs.

The Codes of Federal Regulation for the Americans with Disabilities Act defines "service animal" as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items."

There are some good organizations that will help with placing a service dog.  But there are sometimes long waiting lists and great expense involved.  There are approximately 15,000 service dogs across the U.S.

That is why some people, like myself, have trained their own dogs.  My standard poodle, Jazzy, does some handy things for me.  She picks up anything you drop or that she feels is misplaced - she is quite particular and likes things in order.  She will help carry in the groceries, put her toys away, and assist with removing jackets, socks and shoes.  Her services are quite handy.

Some advantages of training your own dog are:

1 - no waiting
2 - more cost effective
3 - you can train for your specific needs

There are  some minimum standards for Service dogs including:

1 - must respond to command 90% of the time.
2 - demonstrate basic obedience
3 - must perform at least 3 tasks to help the client's disability

The most important factor is picking the right dog for your needs.  Most service dog tasks require a dog to take things in their mouth.  Certain breeds are much more willing to do this.  For example, my rottweiler hates to carry things while my poodle loves it - a  poodle is a retrieving type dog.  Use your dogs natural abilities and tendencies.  Traditional breeds for service dogs have been German Shepherds, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers.  But almost any type of dog that has the temperament, skills, and willingness to work can become a service dog.

In the United States there is no special license or certification required.  While a business cannot require certification as a condition of allowing a team to enter their facilities, they may ask what the dog has been trained to do and whether it is required because of a disability.

What makes a dog a real service dog is being trained to perform tasks that assist a person with their disability.


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