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Fake Service Dogs Are On The Rise

by Pam Wiselogel

posted in Pets

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Unscrupulous, able-bodied pet owners are finding yet another way to scam the system. In an effort to take their dogs with them everywhere, they are pretending their dogs are certified service dogs. Unfortunately, the rise of fake service/assistance dogs is causing harassment for true dogs of service and their disabled companions.
According to the ADA Requirements, service animals are defined as "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties".
For your dog to be a true ADA service dog, you and the dog must meet three requirements as per federal service dog laws:
1. You must have a legally recognized disability.
2. The dog must be trained to perform a task specifically related to that disability that you can not do for yourself.
3. The dog must have public access training and be well-behaved to a degree above and beyond most dogs.
Putting a "working" vest on your untrained pooch and calling him an emotional service dog is unethical. Under the ADA, pets whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals. While making you feel less depressed or emotionally supported is a wonderful benefit, it is not a trained task; therefore, your dog would not be a service dog. However, if your dog is trained to alert you to an anxiety attack from PTSD, then he could meet the requirements of an ADA service dog.
What's the problem with sneaking your pooch in under the guise of a trained therapy dog? He's cute, he's a great pet, and is usually well-mannered, right? Under most situations, you are probably correct. However, a dog in training for a specific service has extensive preparation under strict therapy dog requirements; not only for their specific duty but also for the variety of situations they might encounter. If your dog would have any reaction to unknown people approaching, kid's squealing, merchandise possibly falling down, or any abundance of unforeseen situations, you are putting your dog into a situation that makes real service dogs look bad.
One issue is that businesses are only allowed to ask two questions to someone with a trained service dog:
1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Staff cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, a special assistance dog card, or the training documentation for the dog. Unfortunately, when you falsely answer "Yes" to both of those questions and then your fake service dog acts in a negative manner, businesses begin to become suspicious of the true nature of the service dog team. This creates a domino effect that affects the next person that accurately answers "Yes" to both questions because they have a dog with a true service dog certification.
If you have a legally recognized disability and want your dog to meet the requirements according to the ADA, all is not lost. There are many steps for dogs to become legitimate service animals but it is possible. Unless you have experience with advanced dog training, it is best to hire a professional trainer. Remember, true service dogs are not pets; they are trained to be on the job 24/7 unless told otherwise. They must be trained for all situations including riding in cars and buses, going up escalators and stairs, and waiting undistracted in busy walkways.
There is no question that assistance dogs are a great tool for many; by following the proper training protocols, you can ensure your service dog is ready for his new job. If you just want your dog to comfort you when feeling a bit depressed, make sure you have a set of pet stairs at home or in your vehicle so they can safely be there for you in your time of need.
About the Author: Pam Wiselogel, founder of Play Safe Pet Stairs, is passionate about animal welfare. She believes in educating others on the use of dog stairs for small dogs and large dogs so their dogs can live long, healthy lives.
Head over to the Play Safe Pet Blog to find even more entertaining and educational articles!
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