How Service Animal are Trained and Used

Revamping the Handicap Accessible Symbol
December 29, 2015
Georgia Tech’s AMAC Center
January 12, 2016

You may have heard of service animals, but understanding what they’re used for is a completely different thing. Most people are familiar with service animals such as guide dogs for those who are visually impaired and hearing dogs for those who are hearing impaired, but there are several other uses for these animals and the way in which they are trained is quite the concept.

So, what is a service animal? A service animal is not just a pet or companion. They are animals that perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with disabilities cannot him or herself. As a result, the person must have a disability according to a medical professional and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which can be either a “physical or mental impairment.”

In addition, the animal must be trained to mitigate a person’s disability by performing such tasks as retrieving, leading, providing balance, pulling, and/or alerting. They should be able to follow basic obedience commands like sit, stay, here, down and/or as well as exhibit good behavior in public places.

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.

There is also no restriction on the type of animal that can be used for a service animal as long as it’s trained. Although they are more often dogs, there is no reason that someone couldn’t have a service pig or a monkey. However, in September 2010, a final rule was published in the Federal Register to amend the service animal definition to be limited to dogs, but with some exceptions for miniature horses. This new regulation went into effect in March 2011. Of course, a person may keep a service animal such as a pig or monkey for their personal use, but they will not be granted public access.

There can be some confusion regarding service animals that assist those living with invisible disabilities caused by chronic illness, injury, pain and mental disorders. Nonetheless, for those debilitated by such symptoms as extreme pain, fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, and cognitive impairments, a service animal can make a vast difference in their quality of life. These service animals can perform helpful physical tasks such as picking things up off the floor, reminding a person to take their medicine, helping with balance, and more.

The bottom line is that “The rule defines ‘service animal’ as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability” and the service animal owner must have a legitimate disability. All the same, we are not attempting to interpret the law or make assessments regarding who specifically qualifies and who does not. That must be done based on each individual case, circumstances, and determined by medical professionals and/or legal authorities.