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On the Consequences of Fake and Undertrained Service Dogs

My name is Caitlin. I am a young disabled woman who works with a beautiful golden retriever service dog.

My service dog is highly trained. She has hundreds of hours of training in tasks to mitigate my disability, basic obedience, and public access manners.

However, not all service dogs undergo such rigorous training. Some service dogs will display inappropriate behaviors and businesses either cannot, or for fear of being sued, will not ask them to be removed from the premises. For example, an otherwise legitimate service dog might bark at other customers or sniff the open cases of meat in the grocery store. Occasionally, a real service dog might not have been trained to walk nicely on a leash or perform other behaviors that allow them to be as invisible as possible inside a place of public accommodation, or they might have known those skills at one time but their training has since deteriorated. Legally, these ill behaved dogs still might be legitimate service dogs. You cannot judge legitimacy based solely on the animal's behavior. However, these dogs are considered by most to be undertrained service dogs because they are not trained to the high standard that the public both expects and deserves.

There are also people who will take a dog into a public place claiming that it is a service dog when it does not legally meet the definition of one. These fake service dogs are often ill mannered and the owners are usually poorly equipped to handle a dog in a public venue.

There are many arguments favoring taking undertrained or fake service dogs into public. “If it’s okay for service dogs to be here, it should be okay for all dogs!” “That service dog is no cleaner than my dog, so there’s no reason for health codes to exclude my pet dog!” “I don’t want to leave my dog in the car!” “If I keep my dog in a stroller, it won’t bother anyone!” “I’ll only do it this one time!”

The one that I have found the least merit in is this: “Taking an undertrained or fake service dog in public is a victimless crime.”

This is absolutely and inarguably false!

I have identified several groups that are directly harmed when a person brings an undertrained or fake service dog into a place of public accommodation.

1. The Business

The costs to the business are obvious. No one wants to eat at a restaurant where a dog is begging for your food or barking or urinating on the floor. They lose customers.

In addition, were the health inspector to see a dog sniffing food on a buffet or eating from a restaurant dish, that facility could face serious ramifications for the violation of health codes.

2. Service Dog Handlers

The damage that undertrained and fake service dogs do to the reputation of other handlers is also very serious. These dogs break the trust that the public has in service dogs. This directly and immediately affects other handlers. Businesses are less likely to treat service dog teams with respect because they have had bad experiences with dogs in the past.

This is not merely a hypothetical reaction. I have handled a service dog for less than two months and have already experienced difficulties because of the undertrained and fake service dogs in my area.

The other day I walked into my favorite pizza joint. In the past month I had eaten there no fewer than three times, each time accompanied by my service dog. This time, however, things were different. Before I had even entered the establishment the hostess began glaring at my dog. She paused, apparently hoping I would voluntarily leave. “Table for two.” I requested politely. She cast her eyes around and said, "I'll seat you on the patio." It was pouring rain outside. Not yet realizing what was happening, I said blankly, "it's raining."

Without another word to me she turned around and walked away. I saw her consulting with her manager to find out what to do. After a few moments alone to process the situation I began to realize that this woman did not want me inside the restaurant and had no intention of seating me. Luckily, the manager told her she had to seat me and do so inside out of the rain. But when the hostess returned to seat me she was still glaring. She grumbled to herself, "we all remember what happened last time!" She sat me without speaking to me or even looking me in the eye. My service dog has always behaved above reproach in this particular environment, so I had no idea why she was so hostile.

I spoke to the manager to thank him for ensuring that I was given access to my dinner and to complain about how rudely I was treated. He explained that a few days ago there was an undertrained or fake service dog sitting on a chair and causing general mayhem. Many customers complained. This, he said, caused the hostess to be concerned about all dogs. That was the reason that I was treated so poorly.

A fellow SDCer also experienced difficulties with an undertrained or fake service dog. She was at a convenience store when a Chihuahua on a Flexileash charged at her service dog, Mike. The Chihuahua attempted to bite Mike on the face but Mike was directed out of the way just in time. Management asked the woman to remove her ill behaved dog from the store. This request was in accordance with state laws regarding interfering with a service dog and federal laws which dictate that disruptive dogs can be removed from the premises. The woman, however, refused to comply. She screamed that it was a service dog and refused to remove or control it. The situation almost required police involvement to diffuse.

A third member of the Service Dog Central community recounts this tale regarding her experiences with an undertrained dog.

“I will start this by saying I live and work in a small state. Because I work for a branch of local government, I purposely do not work in the same county in which I live. My service dog is a yellow Labrador. Knowing that my dog is a yellow Labrador is important because of the dog she was confused with.

There was a woman who lived in the district where I work. She had a beautiful golden retriever. I had actually met her and her dog several times before the incident I am about to describe. Her dog came from a very reputable program. Sadly, she worked the dog far past its prime. She really should have been retired before this incident. At the time of these events the dog was about 11 years old.

The dog began developing toileting issues. One day she was in a grocery store and - depending on whose side of the story you believe - the dog was either two aisles away from the handler (according to the store) or two to three feet away from the handler (according to the handler). Both sides agreed that the dog had a leash on, but the handler was not physically holding it. The dog defecated in the produce aisle. The handler did not notice until it was pointed out to her by store personnel. Again, depending on whose story you believe, she either refused to clean it up (the store said) or she offered to clean it up and was not allowed to by store personnel (she said).

Because this was not the first time that this happened, the corporate headquarters sent the handler a registered letter within a few days, telling her that she was banned from the store. She immediately went to the media. She called the largest regional paper for that county. She was "front page news" for that story. She told her side of the story. The store told their side.

Of course, the public was given an outlet to comment, both online and with letters to the newspaper. Several people wrote in and commented online "that is the dog that works at ___________" or "is that dog's name GiGi?" (GiGi is the nickname the people in my office gave to my service dog - and people who came to my work knew that - my co-workers were very bad about telling everyone her name) and other similar comments - there were people who actually falsely accused my dog of pooping at my work. Of course, if that had happened, my employer would have withdrawn my accommodation of having a service dog. Human Resources wasn't very thrilled about it to begin with, so it's not that hard of a stretch to think if that was the case, my service dog and I would have been in trouble

It affected me greatly. I was only a year or so into my partnership with my service dog. It made me very nervous - going out and running errands on my lunch hour stopped immediately - because I did not want to run the risk of being chased out of stores. This woman and her dog were banned from at least four other stores in the area because of the same thing. Stores that I frequented myself. I took to carrying a copy of the newspaper article, with the photo on the front page, in my dog's harness to prove the name, the woman, and the dog - were not me just so I could go out to Staples on my lunch hour.

Sadly, the woman died about six months later of a drug overdose. Her dog was with her. A volunteer with the program she was acquired from took the dog, who also passed within a few weeks. But the reputation followed her into death. When it was reported in the newspaper, the article made mention of the stores that she was banned from and why.

There was another young lady - visually impaired - whose dog was also a golden and people looked at her with a bit of trepidation as well.”

These are only a few examples of real life situations where one fake or undertrained service dog has directly and negatively affected a service dog team.

3. The Dog

Taking an undertrained or fake service dog into a place of public accommodation is also damaging to the dog. Very few dogs are temperamentally sound enough to handle the stresses of working in public. Even fewer have the necessary training to ensure that they have the tools required to know how to handle many difficult yet common situations.

Dogs in public are subject to many stressors. There are children who will pull a dog’s ears. There are shopping carts which will run over a dog’s tail. There are other dogs who may bark. There are adults who will call your dog to them. There are pieces of food or trash or even nails on the floor.

A dog that has not been taught how to act in situations like these is going to be understandably stressed and as a result many are terrified. A frightened dog may even bite someone which could result in the dog’s euthanasia. It is undeniably unfair to the animal to drag it into these situations without proper training.

4. The Dog Owner

Yes, that’s right. Taking an undertrained or fake service dog into public is damaging to the owner of that dog.

When a person takes an undertrained or fake service dog into public they are disregarding the needs of the business, service dog teams, and the dog. This shows a fundamental character flaw. In some cases of faking a service dog,depending on where and how the person falsely claims their dog is a service dog, they could face fines, jail time, loss of government benefits including social security and medicare, and/or loss of the dog. Moreover, it is fundamentally unethical to take undertrained or fake service dogs into public access work.

Keeping in mind that many people will usually mistake an undertrained service dog for a fake service dog, the person who brings such a dog into public should be aware that people are going to assume that they are breaking the law. Even if they are never arrested or fined, owners of undertrained and fake service dogs are publicly displaying poor judgement and weakness of character.

It is irreparably harmful to the owner’s reputation to be seen as such a selfish and narcissistic person.

In conclusion, taking your undertrained or fake service dog into a place of public accommodation may seem like a good idea. It may seem as though you aren’t hurting anyone. Well, you are. You are causing irreparable damage to the entire community. Unless your dog is prepared and trained for the rigors of being a service dog, leave your pup at home!