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8 Things You Probably Don't Know About Psychiatric Service Dogs

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Chances are you’ve seen a psychiatric service dog team in public before — they are not a particularly rare sight these days. However, most people assume service dogs are only for those who are blind or who have a more obvious physical or visually-identifiable disability. To the contrary, a service dog is defined as any dog that is trained to mitigate a disability via a particular task. Therefore, dogs can be trained to specifically help people with psychiatric disabilities too. Psychiatric service dogs (PSD) have the same legal rights as any other service dog, so they may be working right in front of you and you don’t even realize it.

Here is a list of eight things you probably don’t know about psychiatric service dogs:

1. Service dogs do not need to be registered or certified.

If someone asks if your service dog is certified, they clearly don’t know anything about service dogs. There is no such thing as a service dog registry or certification process.  Unfortunately, there are many phony websites out there claiming they can provide a certificate or add your dog to their registry for a small fee, but don’t be fooled — they are all scams.

2. Service dogs do not need to be professionally trained.

It is a misconception that dogs need to go through a specific program or course to become a service dog. Many people cannot afford to put their dogs in training programs that take months to years and may cost tens of thousands of dollars. Technically, anyone can train a service dog, but it is no small task. Service dogs need extensive training and years of hard work to achieve the high standards set for service dogs in public.

3. Service dogs do not need to be identifiable.

Service dogs are not required to wear a vest or patch indicating they are service dogs. Most service dog teams wear them simply to avoid public access disputes, but they are not required.

4. Service dogs can go anywhere their owners can go, with a few minor exceptions.

That means they can go inside grocery stores, restaurants and even hospitals with their owner. However, it is important to note that only public places fall under the protection of the ADA — not private facilities such as churches or religious entities.

5. Service dogs can be any breed.

There are no restrictions as to what type of breed your service dog can be, and any public access breed restrictions are not applicable to service dogs. That means your service dog could be a pit bull or even a chihuahua! If the dog is trained properly and meets public access standards, the breed and size of your service dog are irrelevant.

6. Emotional support animals and therapy dogs are not considered service dogs.

They do not have the same public access rights and are not held to the same training standards as a service dog. If a dog simply helps reduce your anxiety by being present, this is not a trained task mitigating a disability.

7. It is a federal crime to harass or deny entry to a service dog team. Service dog teams are protected by the federal government under the Americans With Disabilities Act. During a public access dispute, business owners are only permitted to ask two questions of a service dog team:

A) Is it a service dog?
B) What tasks does it perform? 

This means you are not required to reveal your disability. You can simply indicate that your dog provides a medical alert or warns you before you get sick. This protects the privacy of the service dog team while still protecting the business owner.

8. “Four on the floor” is not a requirement for a service dog.

Many people (even people with service dogs) do not believe it is appropriate to have a service dog anywhere but on the floor. While they are not permitted to ride in carts at the grocery store or to sit in the booth with you at a restaurant, they are not required to have all four paws on the floor at any given time. For example, a service dog may be trained in glucose detection by smelling the owner’s breath. In that case, the owner may carry the service dog in a chest pack or harness across the front of the body so that the dog can detect changing glucose levels easier.

To learn more about service dogs, visit the Department of Justice Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA.

Originally published: February 11, 2019
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