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What Is A Service Dog?

Updated: Nov 17

"Service dogs provide a source of independence for disabled people"


Service dog staring out into the distance waiting instructions

Defining A Service Dog

According to the ADA, “a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability”. A service dogs job of performing task work and being allowed public access rights is what separates them from being a pet.


Additionally, did you know that for many handlers, their Service dogs are considered medical equipment? This is because they are used to aid disabled people in their everyday lives similar to other forms of medical equipment such as walkers, or wheelchairs. Due to this reason, Service dogs have full public access rights. These rights are what differentiate them from an Emotional support animals. A service dog's purpose is to help disabled individuals lead more independent life.



Who Can Have A Service Dog?

Anyone with a disability that can be mitigated by a service dog is allowed to have one. There is no age or disability type requirement. However, a general rule of thumb is that the handler of the service dog should be able to control them on their own. For this reason, it's not usually recommended that small children work with a service dog unless they have an appointed handler.


The tasks the service animal performs have to be directly associated with the handler's disability in order for them to qualify as a service animal. For example, A person disabled by arthritis can qualify their dog as a service animal if they perform tasks that lessen the effect of the handler's arthritis. However, if the dog performs tasks that are not for the benefit of mitigating the handler's arthritis, then it could not be qualified as a service animal. This is because, if the tasks performed do not serve a purpose, then they are qualified as tricks. And any dog can learn a trick, but that does not make them a service animal.


Why Do People Need Service Dogs?

Service dogs provide a source of independence for disabled people. The tasks that service animals perform prevent the handler from having to rely on other people to perform everyday tasks. In addition, some service dogs perform tasks that humans or other medical technology can not provide. This is common with medical alert dogs. Service dogs who sense changes in body chemistry can often alert to things such as oncoming seizures, or changes in blood sugar levels. These alerts allow their handlers to take action such as getting to a safe space or calling for help before they are in danger.

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