For people who are suffering from physical or mental disabilities, medications and assistance equipment are the most traditional ways to reduce dangers due to the disability. However, service dogs, also known as Assistance Dogs, have developed into a new rehabilitation method in recent years. Compared to normal pets, service dogs are very skillful in performing specific tasks and providing emotional support in times of stress, which allows disabled people to maintain their independence and improve their health and wellbeing. In the US, service dogs are widely recognised in hospitals, schools, stores, accommodation, transportation, and many public places, as long as they have been registered as a qualified service dog. If you are wondering if your dog can be a certified service helper and can accompany you anywhere in the UK, here are things you need to know beforehand.
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Do you qualify to get a service dog/assistance dog?
According to Assistance Dogs International, only someone with at least one disability or illness that affects daily activity is entitled to get a service dog to support his or her life or job. The illnesses and disabilities should be diagnosed by medical professionals. Service dogs should improve the health and quality of life for their owners. The presence of service dogs usually benefits people who have:
• Bone and skeletal problems (such as osteoporosis, scoliosis, etc.)
• Chronic illnesses like diabetes
• Mobility/Balance difficulties (including paralysis)
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
• Vision impairment (such as blindness)
• Hearing impairment (such as hearing loss)
• Sleep disorders (such as narcolepsy)
It is unlikely that service dogs are suitable for all of the illnesses above. Normally, doctors will provide you with the ultimate advice and alternative treatment after prolonged observation.
Service dog qualification
As service dogs must undergo rigorous training and serve their handlers in different locations, they have to overcome lots of difficulties during training and restrain their eagerness to play or rest when working for humans. According to professional trainers, a qualified service dog should have a good personality, have been systematically trained and passed public access tests.
• Has high trainability. Responds well to cues from trainers or handlers, which is the key to efficient training.
• Alert to stimuli (such as behavioral signs of human anxiety and low blood sugar levels)
• Eager to be held or petted by the handler
• Not easily distracted by sound, food and other animals
• Good at collaboration, which is important for the work with the handler or trainer. (Similar to “high trainability”)
• Courteous and gentle to strangers who ask for petting, the staff of the “No pets” store, and so on.
• Friendly and confident when greeting a stranger
• Not too active. A service dog should accompany the handler calmly and obediently. Otherwise, an energetic dog may bring you many problems or complaints.
It usually takes one to two years to fully train a service dog. Therefore, a qualified service dog should be older than one year. The exact training period depends on several factors:
• Age at which training begins. A puppy will learn faster and perform better than an adult dog.
• Breeds which have a low desire for prey are usually great service dogs.
• Tasks depend on different types of service dogs. Psychiatric service dogs for people with mental disabilities are not required to perform complicated tasks, like navigating humans across the road. Therefore, the training is always easier and shorter than for guide dogs.
• Training method and pace can directly affect the training result. It is better to hire a reputable trainer or send the dog to a training school for professional learning.
Other important factors that influence the training can be found here: How Long Does it Take to Train a Service Dog?
3. Public access tests
After service dog training, the final step is to check the result of the training - whether your dog is able to keep calm and how it deals with special situations in public. There are six basic tests:
• Staying with the owner
• Controlled unloading of a vehicle
• Entering through a doorway
• Staying within six feet around the owner
• Dealing with distractions
• Dining with the handler in a restaurant
Certify a service dog in the UK
The UK Equality Act of 2010 (EA) protects service dogs in the UK from unlawful discrimination when entering places where animals are prohibited or when accompanying owners by taxi or airplane. Business owners and service providers are required to accommodate individuals with disabilities as well as grant the service dog access to publicly accessible premises and means of transport.
There is no official registration for assistance dogs granted by the UK government. However, most UK companies or premises recognise the service dog that has been trained and certified by one of the following organisations: Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and The International Guide Dog Foundation (IGDF).
They belong to Assistance Dog UK (ADUK) and cover many types of service dogs, including:
• Service dogs for autism
• Mobility assistance dogs
• Guide dogs for the blind
• Hearing dogs for deaf people
• Medical detection dogs
• Seizure alert/response dogs
Limitations and exceptions
Only the well-trained and certified service dogs qualify for these privileges. The laws in the UK currently do not apply to other assistance animals like emotional support animals and therapy dogs. Also, unlike the US, almost all airlines in the UK allow only service dogs as “assistance animals” to enter the passenger cabin. Other animals (such as ESA and pets) must be transported in the cargo hold. Therefore, if your emotional support pet can calm down anxieties or alleviate illnesses without having experienced special training, it can be removed from homes, airplanes, and so on.
With proper training and registration, your domestic dog can become a qualified service dog and accompany you in many places, such as hotels, shops, workplaces, flats and minicabs where other animals are usually not welcome. It does, however, mean that you have the responsibility of constantly looking after an animal. Otherwise, a service dog could be evicted for disobedient or rude behaviour.