Service and Therapy Dogs


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THERAPY DOGS ARE NOT SERVICE DOGS.  Therapy dogs are any dog over the age of a year that has been trained and tested by a reputable agency to visit sick or elderly persons that are in a hospital, nursing home or hospice.  Therapy dogs provide emotional therapy by providing a short term (about 10 minutes or so) visit to a person who desires to pet a dog for a while.  Therapy dogs provide a great boon to the community.  Therapy dogs are required to allow themselves to be petted by any person who wishes to pet them; remain calm around crowds of people, walkers, crutches and canes; avoid food temptation and do not pick up any items off the floor if they are not told to do so.  These skills are absolutely essential to a Therapy dog.  The dog must not be tempted by food or medications spilled on the floor and must ignore these when told to do so.  They must tolerate crowds to handle a dayroom in a hospital or nursing home-filled with people that might make odd gestures, or noises, or equipment that might make funny noises.  There are 4 large organizations around the country, and many, many more smaller ones.  The organizations require certain training for their programs, but in return they provide insurance for the visiting team, in case a client gets scratched or bumped by the dog. Some of the organizations are Bright and Beautiful Therapy dogs and Therapy Dogs, Inc.

Lately, many people have been contacting me regarding buying a puppy to be a service dog.  I hate to disappoint them, but there are some important facts they need to know.  A service dog is NOT A PET.  They are working dogs that are permitted public access thru the Americans With Disabilities Act, which is a law that requires businesses to allow service dogs the same rights as the people they service.  A service dog is an adult dog that has been specially trained to do specific tasks for a person with a disability.

PUPPIES ARE NOT  SERVICE DOGS, no matter how much money they cost, nor how much a seller tells you they are trained.  HIGH PRICE does not guarantee a service dogPotential puppies are sent to live with puppy raisers at the age of 8 weeks old.  The puppy raisers are a foster family that will give the puppy basic obedience training--housebreaking, how to walk on a leash, sit, down and come on command.  They take the puppy out in public to get them accustomed to being out in the world and to things such as traffic, noise, other people and other dogs.

You can not tell if a puppy at 8, 10, 12 or however many weeks old is service dog material. 
It would be UNETHICAL for a breeder to sell a person a puppy with the guarantee that this dog would grow up to be service dog material.  What if a family bought a puppy and it turned out that the puppy was not able to do the service dog job?  What do you now do with this young adult dog that you have had for a year?  Do you place that dog and start over?

When the puppy is approximately 14-16 months old, they are returned to the organization for evaluation and possibly training as a service dog.  Anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of the young adult dogs WASH OUT as service dogs and are put up for adoption.  Their foster family is the first the dog is offered to and they have the right to adopt the dog, if they so desire.  There are times when an entire litter washes out of a program and times when an entire litter does make it thru the training and go to work.  Each dog is an individual, and each is different.

I highly recommend that anyone wishing for a service dog contact the agencies that specialize in service dogs such as Canine Companions for Independent Living.     As for Diabetic Alert dogs, there are a huge number of agencies that are now out there---check them CAREFULLY. 

     Beware of people/breeders/organizations that guarantee that all their dogs become service dogs.  Many service dogs from reputable organizations are actually FREE or are a very low cost.  Any breed, including mixed breeds can be trained to be a service dog, IF the dog has the aptitude and the temperament.  You can not make a very friendly dog that runs up to everyone or a very shy dog that cowers behind your legs into a service dog.  They just don't have the temperament.