Having a trained service dog is helpful for many people with physical and/or mental disabilities. Service dogs become a vital part of their handler’s lives as they go through individual training and learn to perform specific tasks that meet the handler’s needs. Some of you may wonder if you should certify your dog, is certification required by law and what are the benefits of having a certified service dog.
In today’s article, we would like to pay attention to service dog certification and the ways to certify a dog as a service dog legitimate.
What Is a Service Animal?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a “service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability”. Considering the definition of a service animal, it becomes clear that the dog must have gone through individual training. Here arises the question:
How to prove that your dog actually went through training, and can a certificate be required by employees and business owners?
Service Dog Documentation in the US
According to ADA: “Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry”. Also, impaired people have the right to train their dogs themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program. You can find more information on their website here. This means that US citizens can train their own service dogs and are not obligated to show any documents as proof.
Are There Uniform Laws in Regard to Service Dogs and Their Certification?
No, service dog regulations depend on the country you live in, and may vary on a local (province/state/city) level. Depending on the local laws, a certificate issued by a recognized organization like ADI or IGDF may be required or not. We want to use Canada as an example, as each Canadian province has different regulations in regard to this matter, i.e.: if you are a citizen of British Columbia, there are two ways for you and your dog to be certified- you need to receive a trained dog from an accredited school or to pass a public safety test. “Guide and service dog teams with valid identification cards issued by training schools accredited by ADI or IGDF, regardless of Province or country of issue, are considered to be certified under the GDSDA.”
However, if you are a US citizen, you may wonder why you should consider certifying your dog as a service dog since ADA does not require handlers to provide any documentation as proof of training.
Benefits of Certifying Your Service Dog
Since the number of people pretending to have a service animal only to get access to public premises, has increased for the last few years, having a certified service dog may be beneficial for many impaired people.
When handlers certify their service dogs, they prove that went through an actual training process, obtained a deeper knowledge of the nature of service animals and the variety of approaches in regard to raising and handling one. To have a certificate means for the handlers, that they are already familiar with the training basics and can guarantee that their dog will behave properly while in public.
One of the most important benefits of having a service dog certificate is that the “No Pet” policy of hotels, restaurants, stores, and other types of premises can not be applied to your dog. You will be able to prove that he/she has been trained and is a working dog, considered medical equipment, and not just a pet. Service dogs must be granted access to all places that their handler goes. They can be denied access only if they behave disruptively and cause damages.
Some of you may think, that training a dog at home is easy and enrolling in a course or contacting a trainer/training organization is not necessary. You need to remember, that online courses or on-site training will provide you with structured lessons, so you can start from the basics and gradually add new sets of skills and tasks. Also, you will learn to avoid common mistakes that many self-taught owners are likely to make. You will be able to learn more about your dog’s body language, how to read it, how to be a good handler, and how to know where your limits and the limits of your dog are. This is essential, as you will need to know when to stop and when to keep working harder on certain tasks.
When you visit a restaurant/ grocery store or any kind of public premises accompanied by your dog, you may be required to answer two questions:
1. Is this a service dog due to a disability;
2. What tasks he/she has been trained to perform.
When you have a certificate, you will be able to answer these questions, as either the tasks your dog has been trained to perform will be listed on the certificate, or you will get familiar with them during the training process. These may include:
Providing Deep Pressure Therapy, Tactile stimulation, Alerting about an oncoming anxiety episode, Guiding the handler to a safe place when an episode occurs, Opening/Closing doors/cupboards, Pulling a wheelchair, Helping the handler keep balance, Retrieving medication...etc.
How Can You Get a Certificate?
You can contact a service dog training organization/ trainer near you or enroll in an online course. You can take a look at the service dog training courses available on servicedogtrainingschool.org.
However, you can make your own research and participate in any course available online, that will suit your needs and is offered by a licensed and legitimate training school. We would recommend that you check the learning plan of the course you intend to enroll in, in order to verify that it includes tasks you consider helpful based on your condition. Also, you may want to check reviews of former customers and make sure that there will be support available during (and after) the training process.
Usually, the certificates include:
-Information about the course and the school;
The certification number is a unique number, listed on the certificate, that typically leads to your dog’s information, saved on the school’s records. Even if the certificate number provides you access to the information on the school’s database only, this does not make it illegitimate. We would like to note, that there is no official service dog registry in the US and registration is not required by law. “Mandatory registration of service animals is not permissible under the ADA. However, as stated above, service animals are subject to the same licensing and vaccination rules that are applied to all dogs.”.
Can You Just Buy a Certificate?
We would not recommend that you buy a certificate online, as it does not prove that your dog is a real service dog. You should enroll in a course or contact a trainer in order to go through a training process and get a certificate only after your dog is able to perform the required tasks.
That way you will be sure that your dog will behave properly while in public and will not be denied access due to bad manners.