Under the ADA, you are allowed to take your service dog virtually anywhere you are allowed to go. Your dog is not considered a “pet”. You are allowed to have your service dog with you in your apartment, restaurants, beaches, airplanes, etc., all without having to pay any extra fees or deposits.
There are only two questions you may be asked regarding your service dog: 1) is the dog a service dog required because of a disability, and 2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
Under the ADA, service dogs must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service dog’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the dog through voice, signal, or other effective controls.
A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service dog from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service dog be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the dog’s presence.
Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service dogs. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service dog must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
Once your dog is considered a service dog you can take them with you anywhere the public has access to as long as they are not misbehaving.
For this description, the word, “mobility,” refers to an individual’s ability to navigate his or her surroundings. A “mobility dog” refers to a service dog who is trained to physically assist an individual whose disability affects his or her ability to get around, independently.
Mobility dogs are some of the most recognizable types of service dogs because the jobs they are performing are readily apparent to others. While working in public, it is generally easy to observe what the dog is doing. These dogs are generally in the medium to large size range, although, in some cases, they may even be in the size range classified as, “giant.” A dog who will be performing such a high degree of physical work must be of an appropriate size and must be structurally sound enough to perform such a job. However, this does not mean small dogs can’t assist with other forms of physical assistance work.
People with disabilities which necessitate the use of a wheelchair can benefit from some of the help that a mobility dog may be able to offer. In these cases, the service dog may assist the handler by pulling a wheelchair or helping a handler transfer into and out from a wheelchair. Other jobs mobility dogs may have, involve helping their handlers walk, preventing them from falling, or helping their handlers up from a fall.
Mobility dogs can assist people with disabilities, who struggle with impaired balance. These service dogs may help by bracing to provide steady support. They also can be trained to use their natural inclination to resist physical pressure, to provide counterbalance assistance. This can prevent the handler from losing balance or can protect the handler from the effects of losing further balance.
Other Types of Physical Assistance
As simple as it may seem, a service dog who retrieves items for his handler can make a world of difference! An inability to reach everyday items can be extremely limiting. Service dogs can be trained to retrieve a wide variety of objects, in various manners, including, but not limited to:
- Dropped items: keys, a wallet, a cell phone, a credit card, a coin, etc.
- A ringing phone
- A drink out of the refrigerator
- Identifying items by name, finding them and retrieving them
More Assistive Tasks
- Opening and closing doors, drawers, cabinets, etc
- Helping with chores, like laundry and making beds
- Pushing buttons, like handicap buttons to open doors, elevator buttons, crosswalk buttons
- Assisting with transactions at check-out counters
- Carrying items, like shopping bags
Medical Alert Dogs
Perhaps one of the most miraculous feats demonstrated by a service dog is the ability to sense a particular medical crisis both before it occurs and before the dog’s handler is aware that such a crisis is imminent. Upon sensing an impending medical crisis, the dog will communicate this to his or her handler. These service dogs are referred to as Medical Alert Dogs.
In most cases, the ability to sense an oncoming medical crisis is innate within the dog. This means that it is not a trained skill. In fact, regarding many medical conditions, it is not yet known for sure how dogs can sense the respective episodes or crises. Without knowing exactly what the dogs can and cannot sense, it is difficult to train a service dog to perform alert work for many medical conditions. In many cases, a dog who has not received training of this nature may simply become so bonded with his or her owner and in tune with the owner’s condition, that the dog may develop alerting skills naturally.
Dogs who demonstrate the ability to alert to a medical crisis can be trained to communicate with their handlers in various ways, like pawing at the handler, nudging the handler, jumping up on the handler, or barking. Some dogs develop unique ways of communicating with their handlers, like refusing to let them leave the house or even refusing to let them stand up. Each team is unique.
The significance of dogs who alert to medical crises before they occur is not in the alerts themselves, but in the opportunities that are presented to handlers to know something is awry before it happens. Once a handler is aware that a particular medical condition is going to occur, he or she can take appropriate action, like getting to a safe place, taking emergency medication, or getting help from someone else.
Medical Response Service Dogs
While not all service dogs possess the ability to detect a medical crisis before it happens and alert to it, that does not mean they cannot have jobs that are crucial to their handlers’ safety! There are innumerable things service dogs can do to assist their disabled handlers in response to medical crises. A service dog can be trained to respond in what is often a life-saving manner, once the handler begins to experience a medical crisis. These types of service dogs are referred to as “Medical Response Dogs.”
Some skills that medical response dogs can be trained to perform include, but are not limited to, seeking out another individual when their handlers are experiencing a medical crisis and need help, positioning their handlers in a manner that will keep them safe during a seizure, retrieving emergency medication, dialing 911 on phones equipped for use by service dogs and a wide variety of unique skills that not only give the gift of independence but can also mean the difference between life and death for their handlers.
Medical Assistance Dogs
Many service dogs that are trained to assist their handlers with medical crises possess both the ability to detect the medical crises before they occur and the skills that are necessary to take appropriate action once the medical crises have occurred. These dogs essentially combine the roles of both Medical Alert Dogs and Medical Response Dogs. Medical Assistance Dogs are used to mitigate an extraordinarily wide variety of medical conditions. Some of the most common medical conditions that these dogs assist their handlers with are those that entail changes in blood sugar, changes in blood pressure, seizures, syncope (fainting), migraines, and other debilitating symptoms.
It is important to keep in mind that not every diagnosis of behavioral health issues will meet the legal criteria to be considered a disability. For example, if an individual suffers from a psychiatric disorder, but is not significantly limited by the condition in one or more major life activity, or the dog is not specifically trained to mitigate a debilitating condition, he or she may not have rights of service dogs that are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A psychiatric service dog team must meet the same criteria as any other service dog team to be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act: The individual must have a life-limiting disability and the service dog must be individually trained to perform tasks or do work that mitigates that disability.
Individuals suffering from disabling behavioral health issues may experience an additional challenge in their lives: the stigma that is attached to a behavioral health diagnosis. As it is, there is already a stigma associated with having a disability, regardless of its nature.
However, for many people who have not experienced severe behavioral health problems, mental illness is a taboo subject.
It is not uncommon for handlers of psychiatric service dogs to face a heightened degree of scrutiny from others, for a variety of reasons. There may be concerns about the individual’s psychological stability, doubts about the individual’s need for assistance from a service dog, or simply an inability to accept those who are “different.”
It’s crucial to keep in mind that a handler of a psychiatric service dog has two very important characteristics in common with handlers of any other type of service dog:
- A psychiatric service dog handler has a legitimate disability and by using a service dog, he or she is taking concrete steps toward independence and self-empowerment.
- Just like all other service dog handlers, a psychiatric service dog handler is a person first and a person with a disability second. He or she deserves just as much respect as anyone else, regardless of disability.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.*” The likelihood that you or someone close to you will be affected by mental illness at some point in your life is fairly high. Please do your part to eliminate the stigma associated with psychiatric disabilities by adopting a mindset of empathy.
The tasks or work a psychiatric service dog performs is dependent on the symptoms of his or her handler’s mental illness. Because there is such variation in the symptoms of different psychiatric disorders, each psychiatric service dog’s job is unique.
The following are some examples of tasks or work that a psychiatric service dog may perform to assist an individual with a psychiatric disability.
- Providing “deep pressure therapy” to minimize the severity and duration of anxiety or panic attacks. This involves the dog using his weight, to apply pressure to the handler’s body, in places that typically elicit a calming effect.
- Using the following behaviors to alert, interrupt, or alleviate anxiety or panic: licking the handler’s face or hands, pawing at the handler, and otherwise physically engaging the handler.
- Assisting the handler, who experiences visual or auditory hallucinations by indicating whether something is or is not present.
- Assisting handlers with Night Terrors by waking up the handler from night terrors, turning on lights, bringing emergency medications, waking up a family member, and taking additional action that may be needed to help the handler calm down.
- Alerting to impending panic attacks, anxiety attacks. Leading the handler to a safe place during anxiety or panic attacks.
- Responding to suicidal ideation by interrupting morbid thoughts, alerting another person that help is needed, bringing the handler a phone, or calling 911 on a phone equipped for the dog to use.
- Reminding the handler to take medication.
- Guiding the handler home or to a safe place during times of memory loss or a dissociative episode.
- Interrupting self-harming behavior.
- Waking up the handler when severe fatigue, caused either by depression or medication causes the handler to sleep through a normal alarm clock.
- Using “blocking” techniques with the dog’s body to create a buffer area of personal space when the handler feels closed in.
- Searching the premises to determine whether someone is there, who shouldn’t be.