5 Common Misconceptions About Service Dogs

Posted on: 28 May 2019

Are you considering getting a service dog to help you navigate daily life with a disability? If so, a good way to start is by learning a bit more about service dogs, their legality, and what it takes to own and utilize one in the United States. Sadly, there are a lot of misconceptions about service dogs. Here are five of them that are particularly common and detrimental.

Misconception 1: Dogs Need to Be Certified to Work as Service Animals.

Most people assume that a dog has to carry a specific certification to work as a service animal in the U.S. This is not the case. The ADA defines a service dog as one that is trained to work or perform tasks for someone with a disability. There are no specific certification requirements. Does that mean your dog does not need to go to training school? No. Completion of a qualified training program is important to ensure your service dog is able to do its job properly. But you do not need to worry about being asked for proof that your dog holds a specific certification. 

Misconception 2: Any Dog Can Be Trained to Be a Service Dog.

If you currently have a dog, you may figure you'll just have that dog trained to be your service animal. But while this may work in a few cases, it is not typically the best choice. Some dog breeds are better suited to being service animals than others. (Golden retrievers, German shepherds, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels are well suited to the job.) Service animals also do best when training starts young. A better approach is typically to keep the dog you have now as a pet and also buy a second trained service dog.

Misconception 3: Service Dogs Are Only for Blind People.

So-called "seeing-eye dogs" are perhaps the best-known type of service dog, but service dogs can be trained for all sorts of other tasks. If you are a diabetic, a service dog can let others know if you're about to go into a diabetic seizure. Seizure dogs can keep your body from hitting the floor if you do have a seizure in public, or they can alert others and get you assistance. Some dogs are also trained to assist patients with PTSD. They can calm PTSD patients down when they start to feel nervous or anxious, or they can alert others nearby that the patient needs help.

Misconception 4: Once Your Service Dog Is Trained, the Process Is Over.

The initial training period of a service dog lasts a year or two, after which the dog should be able to perform as needed. But over time, even the best service dogs should go in for "refresher" courses to keep their skills sharp or to learn new skills. Many training programs are structured so that these refresher courses are provided once a year or twice a year, making them easy to work into your schedule.

Misconception 5: Service Dogs Do Not Get to Be Pampered Like Pets.

When your dog is working, it is working, but that does not mean you can't treat it affectionately like any other dog. Especially when you are at home, your service dog can run and play in the yard, cuddle on the couch, and otherwise live like a pet — with the added caveat that they are also performing service duties.

Would you like to learn more about service dogs and what one could do for you? A good way to start would be to contact a service dog school that trains these animals. They can assess your needs and set you up with the perfect dog. Or if you already have a dog picked out with a breeder, they can give you information about enrolling your dog in training classes.