According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability” Federal law, in the form of the ADA, does not require certification for a dog to be considered a service dog, but states can develop their own certification requirements. The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People is the source of all current information regarding service animals.
Select Your Dog
Be aware of your needs before you choose your dog. If you know that you need help standing or pulling a wheelchair, then you know that a small dog is not for you. If you require a dog that will indicate an impending seizure or asthma attack or that will pick things up from the floor for you, then a small dog might be adequate.
Decide between a puppy and a mature dog. If your needs are currently met by a mature dog or other assistance, you may have time to train a puppy yourself or with the help of a professional trainer. If you need an immediate replacement dog or have never had a service dog before, then you may wish to select an older dog through an organization.
Know the criteria for choosing a dog. The Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) is one commonly used selection tool. While the tests are usually performed by professional trainers, you can use these tests as guidelines if you are selecting your own puppy.
Train and Register Your Dog
Find a professional dog trainer or dog training club. Even if you are a skilled dog trainer, you will occasionally need a helping hand to teach your puppy or your dog certain skills. A second trainer can also provide additional training insight or knowledge, as well as necessary physical assistance.
Begin with the most basic training available to your dog’s age group. If you have a very young puppy, then beginning with the AKC’s S.T.A.R. Puppy program would be a good training choice. If your dog is older, a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program — or something similar — will provide a foundation for future training. A second benefit to the CGC is that it is similar to testing programs used by some service dog organizations.
Teach your dog to specialize. In Colorado, the service dog must be able to perform tasks for a person who is physically disabled but who is not blind or deaf. Your dog should be able to perform the basic functions that will assist you with activities of daily living that might have been limited by your disability. In addition to these particular tasks, your dog will need to be able to unload from a vehicle in a controlled manner, enter through a doorway in a controlled fashion, sit and lie down on command and be able to conduct himself appropriately in a public place, among other things.
The Denver Office of Disability Rights states that some canines may wear tags or harnesses identifying them as service dogs, however none of this is not required. Any dog who meets the ADA's definition of a service dog is considered legally acceptable. Although Colorado business owners may not demand evidence of a dog’s training or proof of a person’s disability, falsely claiming to be disabled or presenting the family pet as a service dog to circumvent local, state or federal laws may meet with harsh legal consequences.
Even though certification is not required, please be aware that falsely certifying your dog to take advantage of ADA protections may have legal ramifications.
The Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test consists of the following criteria: social adaptability, attitude to follow, restraining behavior, level of obedience, elevation, retrieving ability, sensitivity to touch, hearing sensitivity, sight sensitivity and overall stability.
Positive training or “clicker training” is useful in training complex behaviors to service dogs.
- german shepherd seeing eye dog image by Stephen Orsillo from Fotolia.com