cover photo credit: @alybbw, used with permission
As trends gain popularity, they gain inaccuracies. The rising prevalence of assistance animals is a fantastic sign, showing that more people with disabilities are taking charge of their treatment. Unfortunately, it also means that more and more people are passing around misinformation. This is a breakdown on the mythos of service dogs.
1. Service Dogs Must be Certified or Registered
The most commonly spread rumor about service dogs is that they must be certified or registered. This rumor comes from the existence of scam sites targeted at disabled people. Scam sites claim that a fee paid for a fake certificate will make any dog a service dog.
In reality, service dogs require approximately two years worth of training in obedience, public access manners, and must perform at least one task to assist a disabled handler.
2. They Don’t Like Working
This is one of the most frustrating myths about service dogs. Animal welfare organizations like PETA have made claims that owning service dogs is cruel. According to these claims, working a dog is comparable to working a slave, which is outrageously false.
Dogs that don’t want to work simply do not work.
In fact, dogs that are chosen as service dog prospects are chosen specifically because of their high work drive and desire to please their handlers.
3. They Can Go Everywhere
This myth has a lot of accuracy to it, but absolutes are rarely true. Service dogs can go anywhere the general public is permitted to enter. This includes restaurants, grocery stores, and other establishments that may not be pet-friendly.
However, service dogs can’t go anywhere that the general public wouldn’t be allowed to go. This includes certain parts of hospitals, some private religious establishments, and other places. It also includes spaces that may be too dangerous for a service dog, such as science laboratories or around heavy machinery.
4. They Work 24/7
Face it—no one wants to work all the time. Everyone needs time to rest, to eat, to sleep, to play. Service dogs are no exception.
Handlers need their service dogs to perform extremely important tasks. What good would it do to burn them out by overworking them? Just like all other employees, service dogs come home at the end of their work day, have a good meal, romp around in the yard, and rest. It’s much needed and deserved.
5. Service Dogs and ESAs are the Same
Misused and mixed-up terminology are the causes of this myth. There are massive differences between service dogs and emotional support animals. Emotional support animals are pets that can live in no-pets housing and occasionally fly on airplanes. Unlike service dogs, they undergo no training, and thus cannot go into public with their owners.
Service dogs, on the other hand, are task-trained and have full public access rights. They accompany their handlers because they actively task to alleviate their handler’s disability.
6. Service Dogs Must Wear a Vest
Though highly recommended, it is not required by law that a service dog be wearing a vest or any other form of identification. Because it’s so common, many establishments and business owners assume that it’s required. Avoiding access issues is much easier when a service dog is vested or otherwise identified by their gear. However, many handlers prefer to work their dogs naked for a variety of reasons, and cannot legally be denied access for doing so.
7. Only Certain Breeds Can be Service Dogs
In the service dog world, a trio of dog breeds make up The Big Three
—the breeds most commonly found to complete service dog training: Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Standard Poodles.
The popularity of The Big Three is justified. The success rate in these breeds is high, mostly because they’re high-drive working breeds with a penchant for retrieval and a strong desire to please their handlers.
That isn’t to say, though, that they’re the only breeds that are acceptable as service dog prospects. Other popular breeds and mixes include “Doodles,” German Shepherds, Great Danes, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Belgian Malinois, Siberian Huskies, Cocker Spaniels, and even Chihuahuas.
8. Any Dog Can Become a Service Dog
Even though any breed has the potential to become a service dog, not every individual dog does. Service dog training is a lengthy and rigorous process. It requires a dog to be steadfast and stoic in the face of scary noises, strangers stepping on them, children grabbing their tails, and sometimes even taking charge when their handlers are no longer cognizant or conscious.
Think about it: would you put your life in the hands of the average pet dog?
9. Service Dogs are Perfectly Behaved, Always
This is the myth about service dogs that always surprises people. Service dogs are the goody-goodies of the dog world; people constantly praise them for their incredible behavior. They must be that wonderful all the time, right?
A service dog is still a dog. They aren’t robots; they’re living creatures. And, like everyone else, they have bad days. They make trouble. They have accidents. They get tired and misbehave. It happens, and it’s unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean that dog is any less of a service dog.