What is a Service Dog?
September is National Service Dog Month! It’s also a good time to answer one of the most commonly asked questions on this topic: What exactly IS a Service Dog?
According to the Department of Justice (the agency that regulates and protects Service Dogs under section III of the Americans with Disabilities Act), a Service Dog is trained to perform tasks that a disabled person cannot do, or tasks that alleviate the effects of a person’s disability. For example, a Service Dog may be trained to dial 911, alert a diabetic handler to dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar levels, retrieve dropped items, guide a blind handler, or provide physical stability to a handler with mobility or balance issues. A Psychiatric Service Dog might physically block a handler in a dissociative state from walking into dangerous situations, or may redirect a handler who suffers from panic attacks or PTSD. By law, the behaviors that designate Service Dogs must be learned behaviors, as opposed to behaviors a dog may naturally display. For example, a dog whose mere presence provides comfort to a handler with an anxiety disorder is NOT a Service Dog. While such a dog may qualify as an Emotional Support Animal, or ESA, these animals are not granted the same rights and privileges as a Service Dog. For more information, visit www.ada.gov/serviceanimals.