What constitutes a service animal?

If someone has several certified disabilities and they just go out and buy a dog and train it themselves is that enough to qualify it?

2 Answers

  • 9 years ago
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    The legal definition: “Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”

    Can a person train their own service dog? Yes, but most people will not have the skill necessary. It is far more involved than raising and training a family pet. The training typically takes 18-24 months. This online booklet gives an overview of core training skills needed: http://www.deltasociety.org/Document.Doc?id=170

    Also be aware that during the training process, the ADA does not apply. That means you must investigate whether your state has rights for public access for owner trainers or not. About half the states have trainer's rights, but half of those require that the trainer be from a recognized program. So more likely than not you will not have public access rights. That means you must ask permission of businesses in order to train there.

    Also be aware that few dogs have all of the qualities necessary to complete training. A study by Paws with a Cause showed that fewer than one dog in a hundred in the general population had all of the qualities in temperament, trainability, physical health, bidability, etc. in order to complete training. Of the dogs they evaluated for temperament, three-quarters failed on the physical exam alone (most with unsatisfactory hip x-rays). It is impractical to put two years of training into a dog without having his hips professionally evaluated because though he may show no signs initially, he may develop hip dysplasia and be unable to work. Screening helps to avoid that situation by identifying dogs that are likely to develop the problem.

    If you decide to owner train you should first find a professional trainer qualified to train an advanced working dog and ask them to choose the candidate for you. The odds of an inexperienced person finding the right dog are around 1 in a hundred. With an expert the odds can go up to 50/50. For programs that breed and raise their own dogs the success rate is around 7 out of 8 (which is why many programs are now breeding in house). It's the single thing you can do that will most significantly improve your odds of success. Odds are you will need assistance from an expert trainer during the training of your dog anyway, so you might as well find them first and have them pick the dog for you.

    Regardless of who trains the dog, if the owner qualifies as disabled under the ADA, and the dog meets the definition I quoted at the top of this answer, then legally it is a service dog.

    Source(s): I'm a service dog trainer.
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  • 9 years ago

    The short answer is yes, but it's not that easy.

    In order to have a service dog, the person must have a disability per the ADA. The ADA definition of a disability is a physical, psychological, or medical condition that significantly negatively impacts one or more major life activity. Next, the dog must be trained to do something to mitigate that disability. The key here is the dog must actively do something. Just making you feel better by being there doesn't count. For example, my service dog alerts to my neurological episodes prior to them so I can take action. He also does light mobility work, braces, gets my meds, gets people when needed, etc... Also, in order to count as a task, what the dog does must be something that the person can not do due to the disability. For example, say I had diabetes but it didn't reach the level of the ADA definition of disabling. Even if my service dog was able to alert to sugar highs or lows, it would not count because the diabetes isn't disabling. Finally, the dog must be trained to behave properly in public.

    There is NO certification requirement in the United States per federal law. Even if a state law required it (such as Ohio), the ADA would trump that law and therefore, it can not be required.


    Training a service dog is very difficult. Less that 20% of the dog population has all the necessary requirements to successfully make it as a service dog. Unless you have a great deal of professional dog training experience, you will need to hire a trainer before you even have the dog. This is because you will need the trainer to assist in picking out the dog. The trainer will need to be involved in every step, even if you do most of the grunt work. It takes 18 mo - 2 years to train a service dog successfully.


    I'm going to add this: While fully trained service dog access is covered under federal law, access with a service dog in training is not. Whether or not a trainer has public access rights with a SDIT is based on state law. Some states are really open and allow any person training any type of service dog to have pubic access. Some allow any person training only certain types of service dogs (guide, hearing alert, mobility, etc...) public access. Some allow only certified trainers from recognized schools training certain kinds of service dogs (Tennessee grants public access only to certified trainers of recognized schools training hearing alert or guide dogs). Some allow only certified trainers of any type of service dog, and some do not allow any at all.

    No matter what state you live in, you do have the right to train your own dog. But, you need to know state law to know how much freedom and access you will have. If you live in a state where you don't have public access rights with a service dog in training, you will have to do the training solely in pet friendly places. In some areas, where its pretty pet friendly, that's not all that difficult. But, in other areas its very difficult. However, it is possible. Guide dogs were trained for decades without any public access rights.

    Source(s): Disabled service dog handler/ owner trainer
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