A quick and dirty guide to service dog resources for the handler-trained service dog.

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Ada Luna performing a task

Laws, rights, and definitions:
Americans With Disabilities Act Title II Federal law defining and dealing with service dogs. In some states (like California) you may have more rights than ADA grants, but you never have fewer.
Here’s the short version with the ADA FAQ
And here is California’s handy guide to overlapping legal protections for service dogs and emotional support animals in California
Nolo has a helpful explanation of your rights in California and helps clarify the difference between an ESA and a psychiatric service dog:

California doesn’t have a separate definition for “psychiatric service dog,” but a dog that is individually trained to help a person with a mental disability with specific requirements is considered a service dog, and an individual that uses such a dog is entitled to the same rights under the law as someone with a physical disability that uses a service dog.  -NOLO

Ask JAN  The Job Accommodation Network’s service animal section explains when a service animal is a reasonable accommodation. Whether you work a job or not, the information in this section helps explain when a service animal is a service animal and how to navigate bureaucracy with one.
Sources for finding and training a service dog candidate:
We strongly recommend looking for candidates through dog foster programs or reputable breeders, because both should be able to tell you a lot about the dog’s personality, medical soundness, and tendencies.
Akc.org marketplace is the best place to look for reputable breeders
Petfinder.com and Adoptapet.com are huge resources for finding foster agencies in your area.
Iams Dog Breed Selector Tool is a fantastic resource for you to familiarize yourself with breed traits and tendencies, and figure out which highly trainable breeds who are non-aggressive and not overprotective fit your resources and lifestyle.  Poodles, Papillions, and Maltese, as well as some non-aggressive breed terriers are popular small service picks.  Labs, golden retrievers, and standard poodles are popular larger breed picks for someone new to training a service dog.  More experienced dog owners also may opt for a German shepherd or similar.  Feel free to explore the breeds.
No matter which breed you select, the right temperament is vital to service dog success.  For this, it’s tough to beat Joan Froling’s guide to temperament testing a service dog candidate.
And remember, this is a life-long commitment to daily reinforcement of your dog’s training.
In our experience, the effort is well worth it for a loyal and furry companion who makes living with a disability significantly less draining.
Got questions?  We’re happy to answer them.

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Fruit Bat enjoying an off-duty frolic through the flowers

 
 
 

A few words about the diversity of disability

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Ada Luna performing a task
We’re fans of diversity.  In people and in general.
Often, people who share membership in a diversity group feel some kinship with other members of the group.  Often.
Not always.
And often not always in the world of disability.  Being disabled is such a broad label, I’m not sure it should be applied nearly as often as it is to disabled people as a group.  Certainly not to disabled people with service dogs, because our disabilities create so many different, and even incompatible, needs.
I’m often disheartened to see a service dog handler with great posts or videos about service dog handling and disability advocacy only for them to make an absolute statement about what service dogs have to be.
Sometimes it’s a certain size.
Sometimes it’s a particular command.
Frequently, it’s about whether a service dog can interact with the world while working. 
The only thing you can guarantee about an absolute statement of opinion is that the statement is probably incorrect.
One more time for the new kids in back: A service dog must 1) work for a handler with a disability 2) in a way that assists with the disability through tasks and work (ideally at least two). Aside from that, the dog needs to be potty trained, under the handler’s control at all times, and not unduly disruptive.
Complaints I’ve read recently which a service dog does not have to be, but in a perfect world would probably be:

  • Able to ignore completely all distractions. (Many service dogs achieve this skill because the handler’s life depends on it.  However, service dogs also do work and tasks to improve quality of life, which can allow for the handler to decide what leeway the dog can have and still perform its work.)
  • Walking next to the handler.  (Again, many service dogs need to do this in order to perform their work.  However, there are other categories of service dogs who are better able to perform work from a bag or carrier due to their size or the tasks they need to perform.  An excellent example: Diabetic Alert dogs.)
  • Familiar with one uniform set of training words and gestures.  (Some train their service dogs deliberately with more obscure commands to prevent others from trying to give the dog a command.)
  • Working for a handler with a disability that primarily affects the body’s ability to perform everyday tasks. (Service dogs are becoming much more common with disabled individuals who have disabilities of the brain and brain chemistry.)
  • Never taking initiative to interact with other people. (Dogs trained to assist with social phobias may be trained to understand when they need to act as a bridge for their handler.) 

The last two seems to be the big sticking point for “that one guy who always knows everything.”  Can you be considered disabled if you have a disability of brain chemistry or wiring, but seem otherwise normal at first meeting?  Or are you just a snowflake who wants to take your dog everywhere?
Let’s consult the ADA definition of disability:  An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
It certainly looks like mental impairments and phobias are covered, doesn’t it? 
When you, however well-meaning, interfere with a dog-handler service team, you risk liability for preventing the disabled individual from enjoying equal access.  It’s not worth it.  Especially since there are so many handlers who have mental disabilities which impair their ability to cope with that interference or the embarrassment it causes.  These are the people who will flash that service dog badge or paper as soon as you ask. 
Not because it’s the law.  
But because you’re being a bully. 🙂

If someone is bullying you and your service dog, and you know your rights, stand up for them.  We’ve got your back.