All You Need to Know Before Getting a Service Dog

The relationship between humans and animals dates back to 9,000 years ago, back in the Stone Age when animals were first domesticated. Today, animals are more than just companions and house pets. Dogs, in particular, are known as service dogs, guide dogs, assistance dogs, and hearing dogs. They perform a variety of tasks for people with either physical or mental disabilities. But before you get a service dog or emotional support animal, you need to know a few things first.

Getting a service dog isn’t like going to the store to look for smart glasses to buy. There are a lot of things that you need to consider, especially as it concerns the difference between a guide dog and an emotional support animal.

A Service Dog or an ESA?

An emotional support animal (ESA) can be a dog, cat, rabbit, bird, or other pets that provide calming effects to humans with emotional disabilities and conditions such as anxiety and depression. They do not have to be trained, though you have to register your animals. They need a prescription letter to quality for the ESA label. Many airlines, for example, allow people with the fear of flying to bring their ESA with them. An ESA doesn’t have the same rights as service dogs.

A guide dog or service dog is professionally trained to perform tasks that its handler cannot. Although it can also provide emotional support (as most dogs do), it is mostly there to assist its owner. Although some other pets are used as service animals, dogs are the most common. German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers are the most widely used breeds because of their calm temperament, desire to be helpful, and intelligence.

Laws protect the rights of service animals. The American with Disabilities Act (1990) and the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) in the UK exempt service animals from rules that otherwise prohibit their presence in public places and businesses (except if they become unruly).

Are You Qualified for a Service Dog?

Young woman and her German Shepherd dog lying in the grass

There are different ways to assess whether you are fit to get a service dog. It is best to discuss this with your physician since their recommendation will also be considered in your application to get one. In general, you must be at least 12 years old—6 to 12 years of age for children with autism—and have a diagnosed physical disorder, PTSD, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder affecting one limb.

Other requirements are a stable home environment where there are no other dogs—other pets are allowed). You should be physically and cognitively capable of participating in training the dog (at least one hour every day). You can handle the dog and physically, emotionally, and financially afford the dog’s needs.

Well-trained dogs can understand more than 100 commands. They can even do the laundry and help a disabled person move from a wheelchair to a couch. Dogs are used to calm children with autism and can detect early signs of seizures. Even today, the use of service dogs has never been fully maximised. There are still a lot of illnesses that can benefit from having a service dog. Unfortunately, the stringent requirements mean that it’s also mostly only available for people with resources and don’t need government backing.

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