In 1975 Canine Companions for Independence was established as the first service dog-training program in the United States. These dogs were highly trained by professional trainers to help people with disabilities. These dogs are bred to be service dogs, begin training as puppies and are trained until they are about 2 years of age. Even though these dogs are bred to have the right temperament and get consistent training, just over half actually become service dogs. Because becoming a service dog is such a specialized skill, many dogs that are bred specifically to become service dogs do not actually become service dogs. In my opinion, becoming a service dog is like becoming an Olympic athlete. Just like an Olympic athlete, these dogs must have the natural ability, temperament and personality to become a service dog. In addition, they must go above and beyond with their training and practice, far more than a pet dog would experience.
Today the people who need service dogs are experiencing a crisis. Everyday people without a disability are bringing their pet dogs into stores and restaurants and are pretending these dogs are service dogs. The problem has become such an epidemic that airlines and businesses are having to crack down. Unfortunately, people who have fake service dogs are hurting people with real service dogs because they are being judged and questioned about the legitimacy of their dogs. Imagine that you are a person with PTSD or social anxiety disorder and your service dog has given you the confidence to leave your home alone and when you enter a store you are questioned about your dog. This could be devastating to a person who struggles to leave their home without their dog.
Most organizations that breed and train service dogs have a wait list. Because of these wait lists, many people are trying to train their own service dogs. This is also a big problem. Although there are some individuals who can train their own dog to become a service dog, the majority of pet owners do not have the time or skills it takes to train a dog to be a service dog (remember I compare them to Olympic athletes). Here are a few reasons a pet dog owner may have difficulty training their own dog to become a service dog:
- The dog was not born with the right temperament or personality to become a service dog
- The dog did not experience enough socialization as a puppy (professionally trained service dogs begin training and socialization as early as 6 weeks, they go to new places every day, they meet new people daily and they begin basic obedience immediately)
- Finding a trainer who really understands how to train a service dog can be difficult
- Practicing the skills multiple times a day, everyday is difficult for many dog owners
- If the person doing the training has the disability, he or she may not be capable of training the skills needed for their dog to be a service dog.
If you are thinking about training your own service dog, you should work with a trainer that specializes in service dog training BEFORE you get a puppy. These trainers can help you pick out the right breed and temperament to increase your chances at successfully training a service dog. Once you have the puppy, you will need to plan to take the puppy with you to new places everyday (even before they finish their puppy vaccines) and have training sessions multiple times a day. You will need to learn how to teach skills that will take patience and a lot of repetition. You will need to be committed to daily training, dog training classes, taking your dog to new environments and allowing your dog to meet other people and dogs on a daily basis for at least 2 years. The bad news is, even if you do everything “right”, your dog still may not have what it takes to be an Olympian (aka a service dog).
Please don’t get me wrong, I think service dogs are a wonderful thing for people with disabilities. The dogs that become service dogs are an elite group and it will be terrible if fake service dogs diminish this.
Canine Companions for Independence is taking signatures to help stop fake service dogs. Please click on this link if you would like to get involved, https://secure.cci.org/site/SPageNavigator/StopFraud.html