There are many reasons for an individual to acquire a service dog. That being said there could be as many reasons why an individual acquires a service dog and misuses the service for the mere attention received by having one.
Let me cut straight to the point here. I have been training service dogs professionally since 2007. I train them for appropriate public access behaviors, psychiatric assistance, mobility assistance, and medical alert assistance. When a client contacts Dog Works Training Company. to have us professionally train a dog for services they require per a doctors recommendations, we require a copy of that recommendation in writing and we require that they undergo an application process.
“Certify” a Dog
Over the years, we have received multiple requests to “certify” a dog for someone needing an immediate certificate to travel, or to go to a store and not wanting to leave their dog at home or in the car. When I explain that a professionally trained service dog undergoes a minimum of two years of training that they will be charged for, and that they must be able to perform at least four specific services for them and that even if they have self-trained that they must undergo a test before I will “certify” their dog, most never call back.
Group Service Dog Training
On a recent trip to a Leadership Conference I had the opportunity to visit the Georgia Aquarium. It is a beautiful place and even in a state of mandates, was very crowded. Curiously I noticed a group of women standing in a cluster just before the line to enter. They stood out and were getting longer looks and attention. They each had a Pitbull by their side wearing a vest of some kind that was difficult to clearly read. The vests were heavily adorned with patches, that were also very difficult to recognize or read. To the normal lay person the assumption is; must be service dogs in-training because they’re grouped together.
To the professional trainer, we recognize many flags here. First observation, group of people with dogs that appear to be in service garb, must be in-training. Second observation after a little longer look, group of friends or possible family members that have service dogs wearing prong collars attached to leashes attached on the wrist. Third observation, self-trained unaffiliated dogs being used as emotional support dogs but being passed off as psychiatric service dogs.
Final observation, group of people taking advantage of others because they won’t be questioned about the use of their dogs in this public space.
A HUGE Influx of “Service Dogs”
Once inside the aquarium after seeing the group of 5 or 6 outside, I observe another wearing a plastic guide dog harness with a woman pushing a stroller and dragging along the dog and her toddler. This dog was obviously in distress in the crowd, was way too thin for the apparent gear it was placed into. That gear being used for either guiding a blind person or assisting a person with mobility/bracing, meaning the dog was not in a physical state that it could support the weight of someone falling on it. She too had the dog using a prong collar.
While enjoying the aquarium and over two hours into it, we decided to grab a cold drink. As we are sipping on our sodas a family walks past us. Daughter about 12 pulling what appeared to be a border collie along wearing a service vest and her mother, dragging and pushing around a young but full sized Great Dane that was not comfortable about the space. Great Dane was not wearing a service vest.
It was merely wearing a reflective harness like runners put on their dogs. However this lady was not a runner and the dog was indoors. This particular family did not appear to have any knowledge whatsoever about properly directing their dogs and seemed more interested in doing what everyone else was attempting to do, enjoy the aquarium. That being said, this family and their dogs appeared to be just that a family out with their dogs. We snapped a photo of one of the whale shark displays and they were sitting under it, this was taken after we observed them trying to navigate the very crowded snack bar café area. They had gone to sit down because they were completely disheveled.
Service Dog Vests
Each of these groups had their dogs along with them for varying reasons none of which were clearly communicated to the public on the dog’s vests. Guide dogs, hearing impaired, mobility, and psychiatric service dogs wear different colored vests for quick identification to the public. It has become popular in the last 5 to 7 years to use different colors including black and camouflaged that were typically used by police and military previously. While many have come to recognize that a dog wearing a camo vest is typically a veterans service dog others are using them because they like the tactical appearance. Still others are doing this to disguise themselves as imposters.
It is these imposters that we observed in the aquarium. While I am not judging them for having the dogs or using the dogs, if they were truly needed to the degree that required them to get a doctor’s recommendation beyond that of an emotional support dog then at the minimum each group required a better understanding of the proper use of equipment, environmental socialization and exposure, and public access. This is the reason that consulting with a professional trainer and paying for those services places professionally trained service dogs in a better position emotionally and physically that allows them to properly and confidently perform their jobs for the person requiring their services.
Do Your Service Dog Research
If you require a service dog by all means do your research, talk with your doctor and find a reputable dog trainer. If you think you need a service dog, please do the same, and be willing to recognize that just wanting your dog with you and needing it are two very different things. Your decision to cross that line harms those that truly benefit from the use of their professionally trained medical device.