Hello, I'm a disabled service dog trainer and I've compiled a list of misconceptions that the general public has about service dogs. I feel that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
Here in the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (among others), is the law that allows disabled individuals to utilize service animals. According to the ADA, staff may ask two questions:
(1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and
(2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.
Staff cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. There is no such thing as a legitimate ID card or certificate in the United States that "proves" a dog is a trained service dog. There are however, many scam sites that claim that their products are not only legitimate but required. They are nothing more than a scam, seeing as one cannot buy into the federal law, that's just not how it works. It is because of such scam sites that this misconception exists.
This used to be the case several years ago, but since then, trainers have discovered an amazing variety of disabilities that service dogs can help with! Today, service dogs are used by people with mental illnesses, autism, seizures, diabetes and countless other conditions.
Technically speaking, training is never over. Service dogs must be able to learn new things and adapt to their handlers needs as they may change over time. Additionally, it is not uncommon for "fully trained" dogs to need a little bit of touch up work on things they've already learned how to do. From start to finish, it takes about 2 years to train a service dog. It's very expensive and time consuming, but certainly worth it in the end!
This couldn't be further from the truth! Being a working dog is arguably the best life a dog could have. They're able to be with their handlers almost all the time, no matter where they go. They have a job and a purpose and most get a higher quality of care than human companions!
Actually, a dog of any breed, shape, size or color could be a service dog provided they had the right temperament and training. Businesses, services and housing cannot legally deny a service dog solely based on breed. Many bully breeds make fantastic service dogs!
At first glance, it's understandable why someone might think this. However, disabled people certainly do not see it that way. The dog is only there because the person has a disabling condition that impacts their major life functions. The purpose of the dog is so that the person can be more independent.
One might be surprised by the number of people who are fearful of service dogs because they think they're there for narcotic detection. Technically, sure, the dog could probably smell it, but service dogs and detection dogs are completely different. The only person a service dog should be focused on is their handler anyways.
In the service dog community, people who do this are called "drive by petters". They wait for the handler not to look, and they pet the dog as the walk by. Not only is this highly disrespectful, but it's distracting to they dog who needs to be focused on working. Not to mention that in some cases, distracting a service dog is a crime.
Sometimes, I just want to get milk and go, it shouldn't take 20 minutes just to get through the store. People who often have good intentions, ask really rude and sometimes invasive questions just out of curiosity. Service dog handlers just want what other shoppers want, to get their things and go. Just because they have a dog doesn't mean they want to share their life story with nosey people.
There is a very clear legal difference between the two, and they shouldn't be confused. An emotional support dog is legally defined as an untrained pet who emotionally supports their handler. With a doctors note, support dogs are allowed to fly in the cabin of an aircraft and live in no pets housing free of charge. A service dog however, is not legally defined as a pet, they are considered to be medical equipment, no different than a wheelchair or insulin pump. Service dogs must be specifically trained to do work or tasks relating to the mitigation of a persons disability. Emotional support, comfort or calming effect, do not count as work or tasks for a service dog.
Just like disabled people have rights, businesses do too. If a dog is out of control, acting aggressively or not house broken, a business can and should ask that the dog be removed.
Most trainers agree that training is only half of what makes a good service dog. Genetics play a huge part in it as well. A service dog must be healthy and have a stable temperament to be able to do the work.