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Friday, March 11, 2011

Tags! What Gives?


Therapy dogs, Assistance dogs, Guide dogs, Service dogs!
                                     What gives?

Formally a Therapy dog Evaluator,  and present AKC CGC Evaluator,  I have since begun a new journey as a foster home trainer of an upcoming service dog.  The training takes 2 1/2 years.  This page was updated on 4/23/2017 (originally written back in 2011 when I had Therapy dogs.)

Recently I had been asked the question about how to get a dog certified for therapy to aide a family member suffering illness. I had explained that the therapy work that my dogs do is different than what they were looking for, which was an assistance/service dog.

Today we hear more and more about Therapy dogs, Assistance dogs, Guide dogs, Emotional Support dogs and Service dogs, so what’s the difference?

Therapy dogs work to stimulate and make happy the lives of others at the direction of their handler. They are not allowed in businesses unless there is express permission from the business owner. They bring joy and comfort to the public through petting.
Assistance/Service dogs assist physically or mentally challenged people in everyday tasks. They are not to be petted and do not offer comfort to the public.
Guide dogs lead the blind through everyday life and perform tasks for the owner.
Emotional Support dogs, provide comfort to their owner.

Only Assistance/service/guide dogs have access to all places under the law.  Emotional support dogs and therapy dogs do not.

There are websites that will sell you any type of equipment for a price, trying to make a dog look legit, but that does not lend any credibility to the dog, and in fact, it does a big disservice to all.

I am also finding (which really disgusts me),  people who have their dogs registered as a therapy dog sometimes abuse that privilege, which can then ruin it for the people who really need an assistance dog by their side. Here is a perfect example of what I mean.

Every year I volunteer with an organization at the fairground where I give information about State Animal Response Teams in Pennsylvania. I often bring with me one or both of my tested therapy dogs, (Chance and Steeler) to lure the people into the booth, because let’s face it, people at a fair don’t want to see an information booth, they want to see or buy something special!  But in order for me to bring my dogs onto the fairgrounds, I had to get special permission from the board of directors, because aside from the dogs that are contained in cages for the dog show, family dogs are not allowed on the grounds during fair week.

So, picture it, there I stood, behind the great information table that holds baskets of peanut butter biscuits and other small items while my therapy dogs sat in front of the table bringing in the crowd.

But on an unusually warm day, while standing back looking out at the passersby,  I saw a man and women briskly walking through the fair with two golden retriever pups, cute as could be, maybe about 5 or 6 months old, and dangling from each dog’s collar were yellow therapy dog tags clearly identical to the group I test for!

I suspect that the gatekeeper at the fair allowed the dogs in because of those tags; however, being an Evaluator for this particular organization, I knew full well that those dogs were too young to have been tested for therapy work!

Needless to say, this couple really pissed me off and if I had in me the sprint of a 20 year old gymnast, I may have jumped across the table and confronted them on it! (But alas, this older mind asked this older body, what are you nuts? And I let it go.)
This is what I mean by abuse and it is this type behavior from previous patrons that might have a business owner chase legitimate dogs off their premises.

After that incident, I looked a little deeper into this subject and I came across a site called I don’t know if it is deep enough for all that one might need it to be, but I think it is a good start for anyone who is looking to get a paper trail going for their dog to become an assistance dog.

Key things needed to succeed
Do a minimum of four months of basic obedience; get an AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate, and six months of Public Access Training.

The bottom line for success:
Public access standard

03-23-2014  update:  I found this website for seizure alert dogs with some good resources so I am adding it here.

Another site I came across was Assistance Dogs of America Incorporated (ADAI). It does seem that they are similar to many Guide Dog centers which foster pups out to families then take them back and evaluate them. They also seem to get dogs from pounds and breeders and look for mostly retriever or retriever mixes for this job. Their site can be found here.

The Assistance Dogs International Inc. (ADI) developed a public access test 15 years ago.  This test cannot be administered without the express permission from the ADI 
It is advised you hook up with their website regarding this.

The below link was fairly helpful in how to get started in training your own dog with a qualified dog trainer as well. This site also tells you how to keep a log of training's.

The ADI is trying to model a standard law as a template and you can find that here:

Service dog information for Veterans:

Service Dogs for Psychiatric Disabilities

Service and Assistance dog trainers and resources by state 

After note:

This is a follow up to the above post as it regards to Assistance/Service dogs which came to me about a week after I posted. I was very happy to hear from someone that actually works with ADAI to bring insight to this type of training. This email has helped me to understand so much more of what is involved for training than just having Fido fetch your shoes. It is valuable information for anyone who may be looking for a service dog as well as the information as to why you might not want to use your own dog for such work. I was going to run this on its own rather than adding it to the TAGS post but I did not want to bounce my readers from post to post with this needed information and really how much of me can you take in one week?

My thanks to Marilyn, for getting back to me with such great information and reasoning!

My name is Marilyn Lazarus and I am the Head Trainer for ADAI. If you go to you can look up the ADI public access test. This is a standard test that all service dog organizations give their graduates for public access. In addition to the public access test, each organization should have their own test that is more specific as to individual tasks that the dog is asked to perform. This can be anything from retrieving a cane to bracing when an individual falls, to lifting legs onto the bed or lifting and putting down the wheelchair footrests, tugging an individual upright or (tugging them) over in bed to loading and unloading, and riding public transportation to whatever else may be asked of the dog.

We used to train some dogs that were privately owned only after a thorough screening and determination was made that the dog was suitable for service dog work, however we stopped doing that. There are a few people that were grandfathered in but I think they too would take a dog from us rather than get one on their own.
Sometimes people get a puppy that will not be suited to them either by size, structurally, or with the temperament needed when they are grown. This would force them to start all over again and what would happen to that puppy they have already raised and come to love? Affordability, family relationships, dog to dog relationships, and housing accommodations have to be taken into consideration when talking about owning more than one dog especially when a service dog is involved.

Many owners do not look at their own dog with objective eyes and don’t understand that their dog may show fear, be unable, uncomfortable, or unhappy doing the work which may be required of it. When ADAI needs to point this out, some owners become hurt and upset by this. Another factor to take into consideration with training one’s own dog is that dogs should not be used for bracing or helping with balance until their bones are fully formed and that is around the age of 2 years old.

It is much easier for us to match a dog with a person. We match the dog's personality and skill level with the individual's personality, lifestyle and needs. While that can take some time and put one on a waiting list, it ensures a better match between human and dog.

We use both puppies and older dogs. We get them from breeders as well as pets surrendered to us, shelters, humane societies, and sometimes rescue organizations.

I think it can be dangerous for an organization to certify an individual's dog as an assistance dog because there is so much involved in that. It is not a question necessarily of whether a dog can do what is on the test but rather if the dog feels comfortable and safe in being around the public surroundings required of it.

Videos of a dog and person in public are valuable to us because we can use them to see if something is not right. It affords us the ability to point out those concerns to the person the dog is with. (Many stores however, do not want you taking video inside.)

I think the most help you can provide to people looking to a dog for physical needs is to contact an ADI accredited service dog organization. When you get on the ADI website that I gave you, you can look under member organizations and see who is available in that area. Each organization should tell you what type of dogs they train, their contact information and what their service area includes.

Unfortunately, there are not organizations in every state and sometimes not in rural areas. It is very difficult to explain to an individual who may live far away why they would not be in our service area. We have to take into account time, mileage, weather, expense, and schedule conflicts of getting to the individual. When they have a problem, and they will eventually, it is hard to help them if we need to take a full day to get there and back. Most of the time, people wait so long that their minor problem turns into a major one that realistically would only take several days of consistently working on the problem to help resolve it.

If someone does choose to use their own dog, I highly suggest a qualified trainer with lots of service dog experience to objectively work with them and be honest as to whether their dog is..

(A) A candidate for such work and

(B) Can help guide and stay with them in proper training until the dog is ready for public access. As well as do follow ups with that client as needed.

The success rate for dogs in service dog organizations, even those selected for the work, is probably less than 50% and from shelters the success rate is much less.

Take also into consideration that not everyone who wants a dog necessarily should have a dog. Some people want to get a dog for their loved

one believing it will help them, but in some instances that loved one does not want a dog or in some instances another caretaker/home owner in that family does not want a dog. In cases like that it probably would not work.

If there is anyone is within 250 miles from northwest Ohio, tell them to give us a call but only if they are not going to be using their own dog. We will do a phone interview for preliminary information and then a personal interview at our facility.

UPDATE 10/26/2014
Thanks to Lynn Silvis for passing this information on.

There are plenty of scammers out there buying vests, patches, and fake credentials to get their dogs into housing, and businesses. Please be very aware of these people. The link below will help you to spot the impostors.  This could all be avoided if each state would put the need for service dogs right on a drivers license. States issue non driver's  licenses to those who are handicapped for identification purposes. They issue cards for handicapped parking and with that you need a note from the doctor. We put on out license if a person needs glasses , why can't we put that a person needs a service dog?    


My Update 1 -10 -15
Revised ADA march 2011 Requirements link here


consists of people petting dogs publicly
Service /Assistance dog 
a dog that performs a task for the owner


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