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Frequently Asked Questions - Service dogs

Guide Dogs (38)

Labrador Retrievers are currently the most popular breed used for Guide dogs. Most programs use Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, or crosses between Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers as guide dog candidates. Some programs use Labradoodles, Boxers, or Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. It is extremely rare for a private trainer to train a guide dog. Since very few programs would accept outside animals for training, other breeds are very difficult to obtain.

These breeds are chosen for their biddability, intelligence, ability and willingness to work long hours, ability to tolerate stress, good health, and public acceptability or recognition.

Originally guide dogs were primarily German Shepherds. They were selected because they were available (this was right after World War I), they were being very well bred to work, could work very long hours, were easy to train, and were good at working out problems or situations for which they were not trained.

Later most programs switched to Labrador Retrievers because the German Shepherds were not suited for many clients. Shepherds require confident owners with some skill at training and handling dogs. They can be hard headed and become destructive if not given enough mental and physical stimulation. In more recent years their public image has also deteriorated because of poorly trained dogs biting people.

Seeing Eye Dogs are just one "brand" of guide dog. Only guide dogs trained at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ are properly called "Seeing Eye Dogs." The generic term is "guide dog."

"Kiss," who was born in 1927, was later renamed "Buddy." She was trained in Switzerland by Dorothy Harrison Eustis for Morris Frank. He had written to Eustis asking if she could train a guide dog for a blind person after reading an article she had published on a guide dog program in Switzerland. The team completed training with Eustis in 1928 and made their debut in the U.S. the same year. The pair campaigned across the country for the opening of a school to train guides in the U.S. In 1929 the campaign succeeded with the opening of the Seeing Eye in New Jersey.

Eustis based her training program on guide dog programs then in operation in Switzerland and Germany. These programs no longer exist. The Seeing Eye is the oldest continuously operating guide dog school in the world still in operation.

Each guide dog program has its own policies and procedures for acquiring puppy raisers. Nearly all will require that you live close enough to their facility that you can make weekly visits to the facility for training classes. So the first step is to find a guide dog school near you. See the link below of guide dog schools in the U.S. to see if one is near you.
Nearly all programs will require that at least one person work in the home so that the pup is not left alone during the day. Since most puppy raisers are children, this means having at least one parent who is home during the school day and willing to take on responsibility for the puppy's training during that time. There is a link to the Seeing Eye's puppy raiser information below as a representative example of puppy raising programs for guide dogs.

Also check with your local 4H organization. Most have a Guide Puppy affiliate.
Look for a guide dog program near you. Nearly all programs require that their puppy raisers live nearby so they can attend weekly training sessions at the facility. Each program will have their own requirements as to how to apply to be a puppy raiser.

Several organizations for the blind maintain lists of guide dog training schools. Here are a few:
National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
American Foundation for the Blind
Guide Dog Users Incorporated (GDUI)
American Council of the Blind (ACB)

Where are guide dogs trained in the U.S.?
International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF)

First and foremost, a guide dog should have rock-solid nerves. He should be calm and confident, obeying even in the midst of chaos. He should not be easily frightened but also should not be ignorant of real danger when it presents itself. Just as you wouldn't want a guide dog who trembled at the sight of a passing car, you would not want one who stood happily in the road as one speed straight toward it. In other words, you want a dog with an abundance of good common sense.

He should be biddable, which means he should have a desire to please his master and to work as a team member, choosing to perform his job out of loyalty even when it is unpleasant and he'd rather be doing something else (like staying home warm in bed instead of out on the streets in the sleet taking his master to the pharmacy for essential medication).

He should be intelligent and trainable. He should be an excellent problem-solver because it is impossible to predict every possible puzzle a dog might encounter in his working life and he must be able to apply what he knows creatively in new situations to make safe and reasonable decisions.

The ability to exhibit "intelligent disobedience" is also prized. A guide dog intelligently disobeys a command to go forward when it would put his master in danger, such as when a car is coming. When the dog refuses the command, it falls to the owner to determine why and then make an informed decision on whether to proceed anyway, wait, or take a different path.

Since the typical guide dog doesn't begin his working life until he is nearly two years old, and he requires very careful rearing and training costing typically $20,000 to $30,000, a good candidate for guide training must be young enough and healthy enough to have a long working life. Guide dog candidates are screened for health issues such as hip dysplasia before they begin formal training.

Guide dogs should also be of an appropriate size: large enough to work in a guide harness (with its ridged handle that signals the owner) yet small enough to fit in small spaces under chairs and tables. Most guide dogs are German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, or Golden Retrievers.

Basically, you can't.

Guide dogs are trained by charitable programs such as the Seeing Eye, specifically for people who qualify as blind. If you are blind, you apply to a guide dog school and if accepted pay a nominal fee for equipment. Some schools retain ownership of the dog for it's life and it must be returned to them when retired.

If you want to adopt a retired guide dog, again, apply at a guide dog school. But these dogs are not sold, just adopted. The waiting lists are typically about three years long and you must pass a rigorous screening to qualify.
There are some Guide schools that do not charge anything for either the animal or the equipment, plus cover the costs for the required 28 days of residential training. Some also offer a yearly stipend to help with vet visits and annual vaccinations.

To puppy raise for the Seeing Eye (the most recognized guide dog school in the world), you must join 4-H, which requires you to be at least 9 years old. You must also have the support of your parents as someone must be at home during the day to care for the puppy and with you at school that means mom or dad.

The actual trainers, as opposed to puppy raisers, are adults.

Find a school near you and volunteer. Meanwhile, go to college and get a degree in animal behavior to make yourself more marketable. Volunteer at animal shelters rehabing dogs to make them adoptable. The more dogs you work with the more your skills will grow. Apprentice with a local dog trainer (guide or otherwise) to learn more dog training skills.

Each dog is an individual. The key to a good trainer isn't as much knowing theory as it is knowing dogs and how they think and being able to communicate effectively with them. Theory on guide dog specific training must be learned from the guide dog school, but the basic foundation of dog training theory is learned by working with many different dogs and needs to be a life-long commitment on your part. Most guide dog programs, such as the Seeing Eye, require a a college degree and an apprenticeship on top of basic dog training skills. For the Seeing Eye, that apprenticeship is three years.

If you pull together the skills needed, the school you volunteer and apprentice with may either hire you or give you a letter of recommendation to work for or apprentice with another school.

Her name was originally "Kiss," but this was changed to "Buddy" by her blind owner, Morris Frank. Frank renamed all of his subsequent guide dogs "Buddy," as well.

A guide dog is a dog individually trained to assist a person who is blind with navigation. They are trained to recognize and navigate around common obstacles such as pot holes, utility poles, curb cuts, mail boxes, and low-hanging branches, among other things.

There are several programs that train dogs to guide the blind. The most well known of these is the Seeing Eye, in Morristown, New Jersey. Only dogs that graduate from the Seeing Eye are properly called "Seeing Eye Dogs," all other dog guides are called "guide dogs."

In some countries the term "guide dog" is also used to refer to assistance animals of all kinds, but in the U.S., the term "guide dog" refers specifically to dogs who assist owners who are legally blind.

Most people who are blind are not totally without vision. Generally, a person is considered blind when their vision is below 20/200. In order to succeed with a guide dog, the person must have too little vision to allow them to try to guide the dog as this would damage the dog's training.

Guide dogs assist people who are blind. They indicate to their blind handler when an obstacle is in their path, usually by stopping and standing still. On command, they will attempt to find a way to navigate around the obstacle.

They can also be trained to find specific places and things on command. Guide dogs generally learn the places where the handler goes regularly, such as home or work. They can also find things like chairs, restrooms, and exits on command.

The first part of guide dog training is usually done by puppy raisers who socialize and habituate pups in their care and teach them basic manners and obedience under the supervision of a trainer from a guide dog school. This process typically takes 12 to 18 months. At the end of that time, guide dog candidates are returned to their schools for advanced training in obstacle avoidance, directed guiding, and intelligent disobedience.

Directed guiding ("left," "right," "forward," "wait") is taught by pairing the commands with the actions. It's the easiest part of the advanced training, but also the most used.

Intelligent disobedience is the process of recognizing when there is an exception to a command and disobeying out of duty rather than disobeying because the dog would rather do something else. For example, if a guide dog is given a command to "forward" into a street, but he sees a car coming, he will intelligently disobey the command to "forward" because it is dangerous to the handler to step in front of a moving car.

Obstacle avoidance is the most important safety skill of guide dogs and the one that most fascinates people curious about guide dogs. Once an obstacle is recognized, the dog is instructed to navigate around that obstacle. He must do so regardless of whether the best path lies to the right or left of the obstacle, and while taking into account not only his own path, but the path of his human partner. Guide dogs are also trained to recognize low hanging obstacles, such as tree branches, that could injure their partner and to navigate around them as well.

Here's one example of how obstacle avoidance might be taught:

Avoiding low hanging tree branches

The trainer approaches a low hanging tree branch with a cane held in front of her face. When the cane hits the tree branch it makes an audible cue to the dog that something has happened. The trainer might also say "ouch" or otherwise indicate an injury has occurred (good acting on the trainer's part is essential for this to work). The team will repeat this exercise with the same tree a few times until the dog is consistently navigating around the branch. Then the trainer finds another branch in another area for additional practice. Because dogs don't generalize well, it is important to practice the same concept (avoid low hanging branches) in several different locations and situations until the dog realizes all low branches and not just specific ones are to be avoided.

When a dog disobeys a command it means he refuses to do it. Intelligent disobedience means he has a valid reason for refusing to do it. For example, if a blind person gives a guide dog a command to "forward" and there is an obstacle in the path that could injure the handler, the dog refuses the forward command. When a guide refuses a command, it is then up to the handler to determine why and work out what to do about it.

Guide dogs are taught intelligent disobedience in a variety of ways. The most common is to use some level of aversive training methods. For teaching intelligent disobedience in a traffic situation, first the dog is taught how to safely cross a road with their trainer. This is done by stopping at the down curb, waiting for a “Forward” command to go forward then walking straight and directly across the road at a good pace to the opposite up curb. Most schools teach their guide dogs to stop at the up curb, indicating to their handler that they have reached the opposite side of the road successfully.

Once a dog can do this and shows no fear of the traffic, the intelligent disobedience portion is trained. Intelligent disobedience means the dog will willfully disobey a “Forward” or other command to move in a particular direction if it would place their handler in harm’s way. Most schools use other guide dog trainers in cars to train the intelligent disobedience in traffic situations. A trainer will sit in the passenger seat of the car with a soft nerf bat or squirt gun full of water and as the dog gets too close to the car, the trainer will gently correct the dog by batting them on the nose with the nerf bat or squirting them with the water gun. Most dogs do not like this and so the next time the car is in their path, the dog will stop to avoid getting to close at which point the trainer working beside the dog will praise and otherwise reward the dog for the correct decision. Once the car has crossed their path, the trainer will then cue to the dog to “Forward” and continue safely across the road to the up curb.

In order to prevent the dog from becoming shy of crossing roads or working alongside traffic, the trainer will set up the situations in the beginning so that the dog sees more situations with no traffic in their path then with a car in their path with a trainer in it that would correct them for getting too close. This ensures that the dog learns that if there is no danger of a car too close, they are still to cross the street quickly and straight across to the up curb.

As the dog improves, the situations are made more difficult until the dog can safely guide their handler from cars coming to close in front, behind and to each left and right side. Now with the new near silent hybrid cars many schools train with these types of cars as well, really teaching the dog to look for dangerous traffic situations that could harm them and their handler.

To teach the dog to avoid bringing their handler too close to an edge on a subway or train platform or other drop off, some schools teach it by having the guide dog trainer walk the dog very close to the edge and if the dog does not stop or turn away the trainer will actually “fall off” the edge, pulling the dog with them! Most dogs again do not like this as they like their trainer and do not want to see them “hurt” nor do they want to fall off the edge themselves so very quickly they learn to stop or turn their trainer away from the drop off that would put them in danger. When the dog makes the correct decision he is always praised and rewarded for doing so.

Guide dogs are better at identifying and navigating around low hanging obstacles and at learning frequently traveled routes by name. The guide dog can also offer suggestions on how to navigate around an obstacle. In a cluttered area, such as a construction zone, a guide dog can negotiate all of the obstacles faster than a person with a cane.
Canes give better information about the details of an obstacle, such as it's specific location, size, dimensions, and shape. While a guide dog would stop for a mail box in the middle of the sidewalk, he has no way to indicate to his handler that it is a mail box. With a cane the handler can quickly identify the obstacle. Canes also give better information on the texture of surfaces and the height of objects, such as chair seats.
People with canes experience far fewer access issues than those with guide dogs. The cost of obtaining and maintaining a cane is much less than that of a guide dog. A cane might be purchased for $50-$100 which is less than most programs charge for guide dogs. The cane requires little or no maintenance while the guide dog typically requires in excess of $6,000 in care (food, vet, supplies) over a lifetime.

A guide dog is much more than a pet. It is a person's eyes. Losing a guide dog is somewhat akin to losing one's sight all over again. Usually there is a transition period during which the old guide retires and a new guide takes his place. However, when a guide dies unexpectedly it can be very disorienting in addition to the grief someone might feel for the loss of a limb. Coping is pretty much the same as for any other great loss. It starts with disbelief, passes through anger and other emotions, and eventually ends with acceptance (hopefully). Since each person is an individual, each will experience the process in their own unique way.

The first guide dog was trained at least as long ago as the middle ages and probably before that as evidenced by woodcuts depicting dogs guiding the blind.

The first modern guide dogs, what we now think of as guide dogs, were trained during and after WWI in response to the need for guides for soldiers blinded in the war.

"Buddy" the guide of Frank Morris was the first Seeing Eye dog, which was founded in 1929. The Seeing Eye is the oldest guide dog school still in operation.

Eye of the Pacific Guide Dogs and Mobility Services, Incorporated
747 Amana Street, Suite 407
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814
Phone: (808) 941-1088
E-mail: info@eyeofthepacific.org
Web site: http://www.eyeofthepacific.org/

Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, Inc.
P. O. Box 142
Bloomfield, CT 06002
Phone: (860) 243-5200
E-mail: info@fidelco.org
Web site: http://www.fidelco.org

Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind
1210 Hardscrabble Road
Cassville, New York 13318-1304
Phone: (315) 822-5132
E-mail: freedomdog@wildblue.net
Web site: http://www.freedomguidedogs.org/

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
371 East Jericho Turnpike
Smithtown, NY 11787-2976
Phone: (631) 265-2121; 800-548-4337
E-mail: info@guidedog.org
Web site: http://www.guidedog.org

Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc.
P. O. Box 151200
San Rafael, CA 94915-1200
Phone: (415) 499-4000; 800-295-4050
E-mail: iadmissions@guidedogs.com
Web site: http://www.guidedogs.com

Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. (Oregon Campus)
32901 Southeast Kelso Road
Boring, Oregon 97009-9058
Phone: (503) 668-2100
E-mail: information@guidedogs.com
Web site: http://www.guidedogs.com/

Guide Dogs of America
13445 Glenoaks Boulevard
Sylmar, CA 91342
Phone: (818) 362-5834; 800-459-4843
E-mail: gdaguidedogs@earthlink.net
Web site: http://www.guidedogsofamerica.org

Guide Dogs of Texas, Inc.
11825 West Avenue, Suite 104
San Antonio, TX 78216
Phone: (210)366-4081
E-Mail: larrytuttle@guidedogsoftexas.org
Web site: http://www.guidedogsoftexas.org/

Guide Dogs of the Desert International
P. O. Box 1692
Palm Springs, CA 92263
Phone: (760)329-6257
E-Mail: info@guidedogsofthedesert.org
Web site: http://www.guidedogsofthedesert.org/

Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Inc.
611 Granite Springs Road
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Phone: (914) 245-4024; 800-942-0149
E-mail: info@guiding-eyes.org
Web site: http://www.guiding-eyes.org

Kansas Specialty Dog Service (KSDS), Inc.
124 West 7th
P.O. Box 216
Washington, KS 66968
Phone: (785) 325-2256
E-Mail: ksds@ksds.org
Web site: http://www.ksds.org

Leader Dogs for the Blind, Inc.
1039 South Rochester Road
Rochester, MI 48307-3115
Phone: (248) 651-9011; 888-777-5332
E-mail: leaderdog@leaderdog.org
Web site: http://www.leaderdog.org

Pilot Dogs, Inc.
625 W. Town St.
Columbus, OH 43215-4496
Phone: (614) 221-6367
E-Mail: jgray@pilotdogs.org
Web site: http://www.pilotdogs.org

Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc.
4210 77th St. East
Palmetto, FL 34221
Phone: (941) 729-5665
E-mail: info@guidedogs.org
Web site: http://www.guidedogs.org

Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc. - Georgia Outreach
1535 Lake Paradise Road
Villa Rica, Georgia 30180
Phone: (770) 459-2051

Southeastern Guide Dogs, Inc. - North Carolina Outreach Program
11 Union Street South, Suite 210
Concord, North Carolina 28026
Phone: (704) 721-5000

The Seeing Eye, Incorporated
Post Office Box 375
Morristown, New Jersey 07963-0375
Phone: (973) 539-4425
E-mail: info@seeingeye.org
Web site: http://www.seeingeye.org/

Upstate Guide Dog Assn.
7926 Routes 5 and 20
Bloomfield, NY 14469
Phone: (585) 624-1074
email: webmaster@ugda.org
website: http://ugda.org

It depends on the age of the dog and where the dog is in training. If he has the fundamentals down and is working on proofing (performing learned behaviors in spite of distraction) then an active place like a busy shopping center might be a good place to find those distractions to practice ignoring.

If it's a pup being socialized and he's confident and outgoing, a busy shopping center gives ample opportunity to meet new people.

The key is to do it at the right points in the dog's development or training. Overfacing a dog by putting them into a situation too stressful or too distracting for them to process will only slow or damage socialization or training.

According to her great-grandniece, Keller Johnson-Thompson, she had several pet dogs but no guide dog:
"Although Helen had many dogs throughout her lifetime, she never used any of them as dog guides, as many blind people do today. But as she made her way through her gardens later in life, several dogs could always be seen at her side. Some of these dogs included a Great Dane named Belle, a Scottie named Darkie, German Shepherds, Collies, and even a Dachshund named Sunshine."

Most guide dog schools operate their own breeding programs. From a pool of puppies bred to become guide dogs, some candidates are chosen to be used in the breeding program instead. Both actual guides and the dogs used to produce them are selected for specific characteristics of temperament, health, and structural soundness.

Most breeding programs have the dams (mother dogs) whelp (deliver puppies) on site in special environmentally controlled whelping rooms. Pups must be kept at a higher than normal temperature during their first weeks.

Neurological stimulation exercises and socialization are begun at birth. As the puppies grow, pathways form in their brains that will affect how they learn in the future. Early stimulation (handling and exposure to new experiences in sites, sounds, smells, and touch) helps to guide how those pathways form.

Once the pups are weaned at about eight weeks, they are placed in homes with families to raise them until they are approximately a year old when they are returned to the training program for advanced training and placement with a blind person.

It was called "Love Leads the Way."

David Permut and Jimmy Hawkins produced this movie and Delbert Mann directed it. It was made for the Disney Channel, and premiered on October 7, 1984. It was based on the book, "First Lady of the Seeing Eye" by Morris Frank and Blake Clark. A German Shepherd named Pilot played Buddy with help from trainer Ron Bledsoe. It was filmed on location in Nashville, Tennessee and Leavenworth, Washington. The running time is 99 minutes. The cast includes Timothy Bottoms, Ernest Borgnine, Glynnis O'Conner, Susan Dey, Patricia Neal, Arthur Hill, Richard Speight Jr, and Ralph Bellamy.

A guide dog is taught a variety of behaviors and signals that the user will then "command" the dog to respond. The dog is also taught intelligent disobedience, such as to disobey a given command that if obeyed would result in harm or death to a user.
The human handler tells the dog where to go. The dog may also learn through repetition paths that are frequently taken by name, such as "home" or "office."


In the USA and throughout the world, the majority of guide dog programs require handlers to be a minimum of 16 years of age (a high school sophomore) to apply, go through training and be partnered with a guide dog. This age minimum is to ensure that the handler is old enough to be fully responsible for the proper care and well being of their canine partner as well as have enough independent travel and mobility skills to properly keep up on the dog’s extensive training.

There is currently at least one guide dog program in the UK and one in the USA that is open to partnering teenagers as young as 13 years of age with guide dogs. These children go through the same process as any other guide dog applicant for being partnered and trained with a dog, and they must have at least 2-3 regular routes that they will work their dog on to keep up with the dog’s skill and training as well as have support from their family and school system to properly care for and work the dog on a regular basis. Many of the dogs partnered with these younger visually impaired individuals are dogs that are less active and would not meet the more active and demanding needs of an adult guide dog user.

A large portion of the cost is absorbed by volunteer puppy raisers who teach the pups basic manners including where and when to toilet, how to walk on a leash, basic commands like "sit" and "down," and how to live among humans without jumping up, bolting out doors, or mooching food.

Formal training with professional trainers who teach the dogs how to actually guide a person who is blind typically costs around $20,000. If puppy raisers were paid, this cost would probably double. Most guide dog training programs are funded by charitable donations so the cost to the blind owner is modest compared to the actual cost of training these highly skilled dogs.

The majority of guide dog handlers or white cane users utilize one or the other- either a guide dog or a cane at any time. The majority also have normal dexterity in both the left and right hand. Most guide dogs are trained to work on the handler’s left side, leaving the handler’s right hand and arm open for carrying and holding things. Most cane users handle their cane in their dominant hand, either left or right as the case may be. This also leaves the opposite hand and arm open for handling other objects. For those individuals who do not have normal dexterity in both hands or arms, or who have something unwieldy or too heavy, many use a back pack or other bag on their back. Others use fanny packs or similar carrying devices.

It's a common misconception that dogs are color blind. They aren't. Dogs don't see the same range of colors that humans do, but they do see color.

However, guide dogs are trained to automatically stop at all intersections, regardless of traffic lights. The dog is unaware of the lights and is focused only on finding the curb or other obstacle that might be in his master's path. It is then up to the human handler to listen for the sounds of traffic to determine which direction it is going and when it is safe to cross.

The exact testing is up to the individual program training them. Each will set up their own criteria. However, the test would include working in public navigating around common obstacles, including low-hanging obstacles and traffic.

Health testing would include an evaluation of the dog's hip structure by x-ray, chest x-rays, hearing tests, CERF (eye test), thyroid function, and cardiac function as well as a full blood panel to check overall function of internal organs.

It is an unfortunately common mistake to use these terms interchangeably but they do not mean the same thing. Only guide dogs that were trained at the Seeing Eye facility in New Jersey can properly be called "Seeing Eye" dogs. It's like a brand name. There are vehicles and there are Fords. All Fords are vehicles, but not all vehicles are Fords.
The Seeing Eye is the oldest guide dog training school still in operation in the world. It is the most famous and the most recognized and this is probably why people get confused.

From the official Seeing Eye website:

"Quite frequently, people ask us, "How can I become a Seeing Eye instructor?" Staff instructors are full-time employees who hold college degrees from various fields of study and have successfully completed three years of specialized on-the-job training. They relate well to dogs and people and are physically fit, since their jobs are physically demanding and involve working outdoors in all weather. Some of our current instructors came from teaching, business consulting and rehabilitation fields. Some were in the military and worked with dogs before, and many started out as kennel assistants here at The Seeing Eye."

Pups in the Seeing Eye program are typically 7-8 weeks old when they are sent to live with 4-H families to receive socialization and training in manners and basic obedience. They are typically 14 to 18 months old when they are returned to the Seeing Eye for advanced training.

The Seeing Eye is just one of many programs that train dogs to guide the blind. Individual programs may do their puppy raising differently.

The Seeing Eye is the oldest and most recognized guide dog training program in the world.

No. Most people who are blind prefer to use a blind cane to aid in avoiding obstacles.

Some cities exempt guide dog owners and other service dog owners from scooping laws, but most do not. There is no need for an exemption because blind people are just as capable as sighted people in doing most things, including cleaning up after their dogs.

A person doesn't have to see poop to pick it up. Like anyone else, a blind person knows which end of the dog is which, and the dog only toilets on command so they know the when and where of poopology. A hand is inserted in a plastic poop bag like a glove and the hand is run down the hind leg of the dog to the dump zone. Then the scooper feels around for the warm squooshy stuff, grasps it, and turns the bag inside out. It's exactly the same for a sighted person who walks their dog at night and must scoop in the dark.

Puppy raisers generally receive their wards at about 8 weeks of age and return them to the guide dog center at around 14 months for formal training.

Typically the actual working part of a dogs training takes between 3 and 9 months - after the puppy stage and "being a good pet" training is finished. This is why many organizations use volunteer puppy raisers - it helps get their dogs through the basics with very little expense (most training organizations run on donations alone). Other groups scour rescues and adopt adult dogs who have already gone through the puppy stage... and yet others place their dogs in their future homes as puppies to help the bonding process along.

There are too many programs and independent trainers to accurately count how many guide dogs are in place in the world or even in the U.S.
The most recognized program in the world that trains Guide dogs is the Seeing Eye in Morristown New Jersey.

The Seeing Eye reported in their 2007 annual report that they had 1,760 graduate teams in the field.

Guide dogs are better at identifying and navigating around low hanging obstacles and at learning frequently traveled routes by name. The guide dog can also offer suggestions on how to navigate around an obstacle. In a cluttered area, such as a construction zone, a guide dog can negotiate all of the obstacles faster than a person with a cane.

Canes give better information about the details of an obstacle, such as it's specific location, size, dimensions, and shape. While a guide dog would stop for a mail box in the middle of the sidewalk, he has no way to indicate to his handler that it is a mail box. With a cane the handler can quickly identify the obstacle. Canes also give better information on the texture of surfaces and the height of objects, such as chair seats.

People with canes experience far fewer access issues than those with guide dogs. The cost of obtaining and maintaining a cane is much less than that of a guide dog. A cane might be purchased for $50-$100 which is less than most programs charge for guide dogs. The cane requires little or no maintenance while the guide dog typically requires in excess of $6,000 in care (food, vet, supplies) over a lifetime.

They don't.

The human handler is responsible for listening to traffic and knowing from which direction it is coming. Sometimes you can hear a grinding click sound when the lights change, while in some countries there is an audible beep to tell the blind when the light has changed.

If the handler gives a "forward" command and the dog sees or hears a car coming at them, the dog disobeys the "forward" command. So the dog focuses only on the cars, not on traffic lights.

A person doesn't have to see poop to pick it up. Like anyone else, a blind person knows which end of the dog is which, and the dog only toilets on command so they know the when and where of poopology. A hand is inserted in a plastic poop bag like a glove and then the scooper feels around for the warm squooshy stuff, grasps it, and turns the bag inside out. It's exactly the same for a sighted person who walks their dog at night and must scoop in the dark.

Some cities exempt guide dog owners and other service dog owners from scooping laws, but most do not. There is no need for an exemption because blind people are just as capable as sighted people in doing most things, including cleaning up after their dogs.

See also
How do blind people scoop poop?

Any breed of dog can potentially produce a good hearing dog. However, most hearing dogs are mixed-breed dogs selected for higher than average energy level and a weight of 30 to 40 pounds.

A "hearing ear dog," more commonly referred to as a "hearing dog" is specially trained to assist people who are deaf by signaling them of the presence of common sounds that require attention. Each dog is individually trained to their specific handler's needs. For example, if the handler has an infant, she would want her dog trained to alert her when the baby cries.

Hearing dogs are commonly trained to respond to the following sounds:
a doorbell or knock on a door
a telephone ringing
smoke/fire alarm
tornado siren
alarm clock
the sound of the handler's name being spoken
an oven or microwave timer

Upon hearing a sound the dog is trained to recognize as important, the hearing dog signals his handler, usually by poking or pawing at their leg, then either turns to look in the direction of the noise, or runs back and forth between the source of the noise and the handler to indicate where the noise is.

There is overlap between the two terms. Legally it is not relevant which the service dog does, so long as he does one or the other or some of both. A service dog's legitimacy is not determined based on whether he does one or the other or both. It's a little puzzling why we get so many requests for an explanation of the differences between the two when the differences aren't what matters.

First, what they have in common:
1. must be individually trained (not natural behaviors of dogs such as needing to be walked or turning their head when they hear a sound, emotional support, or companionship)
2. must mitigate the person's disability (ie be something the person's disability prevents or substantially limits them from being able to do for themselves)

A task is an individual, discrete (a complete stand alone unit), specific thing that needs doing. It has one cue and one result. It might be a simple behavior or a complex one with multiple steps, but there is always a single objective. Examples of tasks include: opening doors, picking up dropped items, and notifying the handler of the sound of the doorbell.

Work is a broader term that may include any of the following:
1. a group of related tasks (such as hearing work consisting of signalling for several different individual sounds with a different response for each sound)
2. a trained behavior that has a decision tree where the outcome is not always the same but requires the dog to evaluate different options and choose the correct one (such as guiding around obstacles)

Here are some examples from the human world to demonstrate the differences:

Housekeeping tasks include: doing the dishes, taking out the trash, washing the windows, doing the laundry, doing the dusting, cleaning the toilet. When you take all of these tasks together or some random assortment from the list, you call them "housework." The term "housework" is more broad than "house keeping tasks," but they're both still about the same thing which is cleaning the house.

Secretarial tasks include: filing, answering the phone, typing, making appointments for clients, sending out billing statements. Secretarial work is some combination of the above. It describes generally what a secretary does during the day without listing off what that secretary did on that one specific day in detail.

Notice the item "making appointments for clients?" Depending how that is executed and viewed by the person making the appointments, you could make a case that it is a task with a single result (an appointment is made) or that it is work because it involves a decision tree (when the appointment is made is going to depend on several different factors unique to each appointment that is made). That's because there is no concrete, black and white, hard line between the two terms. They are similar and they overlap. And that's why it makes very little sense to try to determine whether an individual service dog does work or does tasks. The vast majority probably do some of each along a spectrum that has guide dogs doing work nearer one end and wheelchair dogs doing tasks nearer the other.

The answer to this question may be more complicated than you expect. First, there are different definitions of disability in different federal laws. The definition for Social Security Disability Income is not the same as that in the Americans with Disabilities Act (which determines whether you qualify to use a service dog in public places where dogs are not generally permitted). It is possible for an individual to qualify for SSDI and not qualify for a service dog and vice versa. You must evaluate your situation separately for each context.

The definition of disability under the ADA is a legal, not medical, definition. Since a lawyer generally can't diagnose medical conditions and a doctor generally can't interpret the law, you may get stuck somewhere in the middle trying to figure it all out.

We've made a flow chart that incorporates the elements of the definition of disability contained within the ADA to try to help you sort through this question systematically.

You may want to review the legal definition as written by Congress for yourself, or review the entire Americans with Disabilities Act which includes some additional fine points you may notice in our flow chart in other sections.

Ultimately, what we recommend is that you take the flow chart or the written definition with you and discuss it with any doctor who is treating you or has treated you for your disability to get his opinion and to have his opinion entered into your permanent medical records.

Flowchart to help determine if you qualify for a service dog176.76 KB

The short answer is: No, businesses do not have to permit dogs, including service dogs, in the shopping carts owned by the business.

This is partly an issue of fundamental alteration and partly one of reasonableness. It is also an issue of professionalism and image.

From http://www.ada.gov/t3hilght.htm

Public accommodations must ... make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration would result in the nature of the goods and services provided.

The fundamental purpose of the cart is to transport merchandise, not dogs. Co-opting the cart from that purpose to transport a dog changes the nature of the service being provided (the cart).

In addition, the the business is not required to provide services or equipment for the dog, just to permit the dog to accompany the disabled owner the dog is trained to assist.
From http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

9. Q: Am I responsible for the animal while the person with a disability is in my business?

A: No. The care or supervision of a service animal is solely the responsibility of his or her owner. You are not required to provide care or food or a special location for the animal.

Except for airports, businesses are not required to provide toileting facilities for dogs either. They don't have to provide food, water, or dishes for the dog to eat or drink out of. If they aren't required to do any of that for service dogs in general, why would they be required to provide equipment to transport the dog while in their business?

Consider the scooters, power chairs, electric or manual wheelchairs or other mobility devices many large stores provide for customer use. They are not required to do that. It is a courtesy some stores choose to provide as part of their customer service to make the store more appealing to more potential customers. They aren't required to provide transportation equipment for the human with a disability, and neither are they required to provide it for the person's dog.

Remember that public access laws are about access for the person with a disability. Whether or not the animal is permitted in the cart does not affect the person's access to goods and services. It therefore becomes an issue of reasonableness. The person with the service animal must have some way to manage their dog when in a public accommodation that does not offer shopping carts. (Some examples of accommodations that do not offer shopping carts include restaurants, offices, hospitals, movie theaters, and hotels.) Therefore there must be some reasonable alternative to putting the dog in the shopping cart if the store objects.

If a business gives permission for the individual to use the carts to transport their dog while inside the business, that's between that business and that team. The business can give that permission if they choose to do so but they are not required to do so. Some local health codes may not permit it and some grocery stores or customers in grocery stores may object to having them in the child seat just as some restaurants would object to having them on the table. You can argue whether a dog is different from a diapered child with the business if you like but you still need their permission.

There are two remaining considerations.

First, putting a dog in a cart raises the dog higher than even a traditional sized dog would stand on the floor. This substantially increases the range where hair and dander from the dog can be deposited. Here is a basic formula for calculating where falling things that do not drop straight to the ground may be deposited. Measure the highest point of the dog from the ground. Now in your head mark a point directly below that highest point and inscribe it with a circle of a radius equal to the dog's height from the ground. For example, if the dog's ear tip is three feet above the floor, then hair and dander can be deposited any where within a cone with a three foot radius at the base (on the ground) and a tip at the tip of the dog's ear. In order to prevent hair and dander from falling on fresh food, refrigerated or frozen food (which attract hair and dander), or ready to eat food, the dog must be positioned at all times so that that imaginary cone does not come in contact with those types of food. Raising a dog off the floor increases the bubble you need to maintain between that dog and food.

Second, carrying a dog or putting it in a shopping cart is not professional. It brings into question the legitimacy of the dog as a service dog because so many pet owners treat their dogs like fashion accessories. It also increases skepticism for other kinds of service dogs when businesses start seeing an increase in the number of dogs being brought in that really don't look like service dogs. It makes life especially difficult for those people with legitimate service dogs that happen to be small and significantly increases the likelihood and frequency of access issues for the person putting their dog in the cart.

Also see
Special considerations for owners of small or large service dogs
Is it okay to have a small service dog in your lap in a restaurant or in a pouch/purse/carrier in a restaurant or grocery store?

Generally, no, but in some cases an exception may be made with permission from the business owner.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, access rights are based on "reasonable accommodations." While the US Department of Justice has not issued any guidance one way or the other on this specific issue, you can apply the principle of "reasonableness" to any situation to see whether the ADA permits/requires it or not.

Let's do that here. We have competing interests.
1. The health department has regulations about live animals being near food which makes it illegal in most areas for restaurants and grocery stores to permit pets into their facilities. An exception is made for service animals under reasonable accommodation under the assumption that the risk is minimal.
2. The business has an interest in activities that cost them customers. The public "ick" factor for a dog at or near table level is significantly higher than for one on the floor under the table.
3. A person with a small dog may prefer to keep their dog in their lap, but it is not an absolute necessity.

Reasonable accommodation means that you take ALL interests into account when evaluating a specific situation, not just whether the individual with a disability thinks it is reasonable from their perspective, but whether it is reasonable for all. The first item on our list addresses an issue that falls under "direct threat," because the health department has stated there is a sanitary and health risk of food contamination if live animals are near food. An exception has traditionally been made for service animals based on the long history of guide dogs, who are always on the floor, tucked under tables, and as far away from the food as possible. The risk of food contamination when the dog is on the floor is very minimal. This is where normal pet owners have their pets during human mealtimes, if not completely out of the dining area. Putting a service dog in a lap is significantly pushing the envelope of safety on this issue.

The second item on the list is an example of "undue burden." While some customers may leave because of the mere presence of the service animal, it is not possible to accommodate the disabled patron at all without the service animal. That situation falls in the favor of the person with the service dog. However, in the case of having the dog close to the food, the balance shifts. The business will lose even more customers, but for something that is not strictly necessary. This is unreasonable because it creates an undue (avoidable and excessive) burden for the business person. However, if the business owner has no objection to the dog in a person's lap and is willing to do additional cleaning to satisfy health department regulations, then the business is permitted to make an exception IF THEY WISH. They don't have to.

Now we examine the third item, or an individual service dog owner's wish to have their service dog in their lap. This is not strictly necessary. A small service dog can sit or lie under the table just the same as a service dog of any other size. Their size alone does not make it necessary for them to be in a lap. It is sometimes claimed that this is a safety issue because smaller dogs are at greater risk on the floor than larger dogs. In fact, a small service dog is far safer under the table than is a larger service dog because he is less likely to have body parts extend out from under the table to get trampled. So there is no reason to treat small service dogs differently for safety.

Some owners will claim that their dog is not able to work from the floor. Since there is no legitimate job a small service dog can do that a larger one cannot also do, including "alerting," this is a problem of the owner's own creation. If they failed to train the dog to be able to work from the floor, that is their fault and within their power to correct. It is not reasonable to expect a restaurant to compensate for the handler's lack of foresight or poor choice in dog.

Most legitimate small breed service dogs are perfectly capable of working from the floor, including heeling and long stays, exactly the same as their larger counterparts. There are some limitations, including an increased risk of injury in crowded environments when it may be prudent to lift the dog from the floor and carry it until the crowd thins out. A smaller service dog will not be able to heel as long, as far, or as fast as a larger service dog can. This is an obvious flaw in their use as service dogs that the potential owner should consider carefully when making their choice of a service dog. If you choose a dog with limitations, then you are stuck with those limitations and you are responsible for dealing with the consequences of your choice. There is no task or disability that specifically requires that the dog be tiny. It is a personal preference, a personal choice, with consequences. A person is free to make that choice, but they are not free to inflict added burdens on others because of that choice.

Now we get to the issue of small dogs in shopping carts, pouches, or other carriers that hold the dog high off the floor while shopping in grocery stores. The purpose of the shopping cart is to carry groceries and small children. It is a courtesy provided by the store for its customers because shopping carts will encourage them to stay longer and purchase more. Carts are not there as a convenience to service dog owners. A public accommodation is not required to provide you with equipment to care for or utilize your service dog. If your dog is capable of working without a shopping cart in other venues, such as offices, stores, theaters, etc., then it is capable of doing so in a grocery store as well. If an individual store gives permission for the service dog to ride in the cart it is permitted, so long as it does not also violate health codes.

It is permissible for a service dog to be carried by hand or in a carrier about the owner's chest in SOME areas of a grocery store, such as areas with canned and commercially packaged foods displayed on shelves. It is not reasonable to hold a service dog above the edge of a display of fresh food (such as vegetables or meats) which are in a cooler or bin that you might lean over to reach the food. It is not reasonable to hold the dog above the edge of a buffet style display where customers serve themselves, such as a take-home salad or food bar. This would permit hair and dander to fall onto the food and contaminate it. A rule of thumb is that whatever height the dog is from the floor, that is the distance the dog should be away from any open display of fresh foods. If the dog is three and a half feet off the floor and on the handler's person, then the dog and handler should not get within three and a half feet of the open display. This will prevent hair and dander from being deposited on food in the open display.

By the same token, large dogs that are able to see over the edge of the open display should never be permitted to look over the edge of the display, and should be worked from the side of the handler that is furthest from the display, such that the handler is between the dog and the display.

YES. While businesses are generally permitted only to ask whether the dog is a service animal required because of disability and what the animal has been trained to do, there are instances when more extensive proof can be required.

If you file a complaint about discrimination, proof of disability and proof of training will be required. If you appear in court and you claim to be disabled and claim your dog is a service dog as part of the case you are involved in, then you will have to provide proof that your claims are true. A court will not simply take your word for it.

If you are arrested for trespass for bringing an animal into a place where pets are not permitted, your affirmative defense may be that the animal in question is a service dog, but again, you will have to prove that is the case.

Proof may include:
Medical records from any medical providers treating you for your disability or for aspects of your disability.
SSDI determination.
SD certification from a recognized/accredited program.
Training logs if owner-trained.
Independent evaluation of your dog's training by a qualified trainer.
Certificates attesting to training and temperament, such a training class completion certificates, an obedience title or certificate, a CGC certificate, etc.
Video demonstrations of the dog's training.
In person demonstrations of the dog's training.

See also: http://www.adagreatlakes.org/Publications/Legal_Briefs/BriefNo015Service...

In some specific cases, yes.

For example, if the landlord can show that permitting a dog of a certain breed to reside on the premises would substantially increase his insurance premiums or cause his insurance carrier to drop him, then it would generally be considered an undue burden on the landlord and he can refuse to permit the dog even if it is a fully trained service dog. See attachment.

2006-06-12 HUD memo on insurance policy restrictions related to reasonable accommodations.PDF16.18 KB

In most countries, Assistance Animals are broken down into three sub-categories: Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, and Service Animals (everything other than guide or hearing dogs). In the United States, the term Service Animal is used generically to mean any kind of assistance animal, including both guide and hearing dogs.

The Codes of Federal Regulation for the Americans with Disabilities Act defines "service animal" as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items."

Generally guide, hearing and service dogs are permitted to accompany their disabled owner everywhere members of the public are allowed, but there are a few exceptions. For example, a member of the public would be permitted in the dining area of a restaurant, but not in the kitchen. Therefore, a guide dog would be permitted to accompany his disabled owner in the dining area of a restaurant, but not into the kitchen where food is prepared and special clothing and sanitation procedures are required.
It is also an important distinction to note that it is the handler who has access rights and not the dog. A guide dog without his blind handler has no particular access rights of his own and neither does a hearing dog or other service dog without his disabled handler.

"Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment." -- U.S Department of Justice ( http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm ).

For clarification, contact the U.S. Department of Justice's ADA Information Line at 800 - 514 - 0301 (voice) or 800 - 514 - 0383 (TTY)
"When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. 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." (see 2010 guidance linked above). If these questions are not appropriately answered, the business may exclude the animal, but not the person.

Though service animals of all kinds can legally accompany their disabled handler almost anywhere the handler goes, they can be excluded from areas where their presence would constitute a fundamental alteration of goods and services available for all customers, an undue burden, or a direct threat to safety. Some exceptions to ADA access rights are due to other federal laws, treaties, or the Constitution. For example, the exclusion for churches comes from the First Amendment to the Constitution. Other exceptions are written into the implementing regulations for the ADA itself in sections 36.208 (direct threat), 36.302 (fundamental alteration), and 36.303 (undue burden). Examples where a service animal might be excluded include (but are not limited to):

-Sterile rooms, such as operating rooms, some areas of emergency rooms/departments, some ICU rooms, some ambulances, some delivery rooms (on a case-by-case basis based on actual risk assessment)
-Clean rooms where microchips are manufactured
-Places where food is prepared (though they cannot generally be excluded from dining areas where food is present) (by order of most health departments)
-Open air zoological exhibits, such as open air aviaries or butterfly gardens (at the zoo's discretion but based on actual risk assessment)
-Churches (at the church's discretion)
-Native American Tribal Council Chambers (at the council's discretion)
-Federal Courts (at the judge's discretion)
-Jail or prison cells (at the discretion of the facility director)
-Private clubs (at the club's discretion)
-Private homes (at the home owner's discretion)
-Some amusement park rides (at the park management's discretion but based on actual risk assessment)

If a business can show that allowing a service dog to enter a specific part of their business would constitute a direct threat, fundamental alteration, or undue burden, then they may legally exclude service dogs from entering there, but must still accommodate the person with a disability without their service dog.

For an example of a direct threat, consider a burn unit or ICU caring for a patient in very fragile condition where doctors tell us that the mere presence of a dog, even a clean, well-behaved dog, poses an unacceptable risk to the life and health of the patient because the risk of exposure to loose hair or zoonosis is in their medical opinion too high, then a service dog might be excluded from the burn unit or ICU. A general rule of thumb (which still has exceptions) is that if special clothing such as gown or gloves is required, then a service animal might also be excluded and certainly a service dog handler upon noting special precautions are required for a given area should inquire about whether a service dog can enter without endangering the patients within.

For an example of a fundamental alteration, consider a cat rescue society that attempts to find homes for abandoned/neglected/abused cats. They might reasonably exclude service dogs from their adoption area because the mere presence of a dog is known to cause distress to some of the cats up for adoption. They might instead offer a secure location for the service animal while the human partner visits with the cats or remove individual cats for inspection in another area, away from those that are afraid of dogs. The ultimate purpose of such a facility is to rescue cats from trauma and traumatizing a cat by exposing it to something it fears would fundamentally alter that purpose.

For an example of an undue burden, consider a swimming pool which uses special filtering equipment and chemicals to maintain a certain level of cleanliness and hygiene for swimmers. If they know that their filters cannot handle the added load of dog hair or that adding a dog to the pool would upset the delicate balance of pH and chlorine, thereby putting swimmers at risk of disease and that it would cost them more money than they can afford to upgrade the pool facilities to also handle canine users, then they might legally exclude a service animal from entering the water, but not from being in areas of the facility where people are permitted in street clothes and shoes, such as possibly the decking around the pool.

So far, this discussion is centered entirely on laws of access in the United States of America. Other countries will have their own laws in place regarding the access rights of individuals accompanied by a service animal.

Do not speak to the dog. Speak to the person instead.

First and foremost, do not distract the dog by petting it, calling to it, meowing or barking at it, or offering it food. The person's health and safety may depend on the dog's ability to concentrate so distracting the dog may result in injury to the person.

You may ASK to pet the dog, but be respectful if the owner says "no." Some service dog owner's will permit petting after they have removed the dog's gear. Others will not. It depends on how the dog was trained, whether the owner has time, and whether the dog is needed to remain on task at the time you ask.

It is natural to be curious about the service dog. It is okay to ask about the dog, but be respectful if the owner appears busy or in a hurry or simply doesn't feel comfortable talking with strangers. Some owners will enjoy talking about their special helper and educating the public about service dogs, but not all will.

It is kind to offer a bowl of water if the dog appears thirsty. However, most service dog owners will not permit their dog to accept treats or food. This is partly due to not wanting to break down the dog's training, and partly because there are, unfortunately, people in this world who will attempt to poison working dogs like service dogs by feeding them poisoned treats.

Discuss this first with your medical caregivers. Do they agree that you are legally disabled (under the ADA) and you need a service dog? You will probably need their support to get the medical documentation a training program would require of you.

Do you have the facilities and financial resources to care for a service dog? Do a budget. Are you able to care for the dog yourself? These are important considerations.

Make a list of the things you cannot do for yourself and write up a paragraph or two describing your lifestyle (are you active or sedentary, for example). Do this before approaching an agency so you'll be prepared to answer their questions and ask some of your own.

Start thinking about what it is that you want this service dog to do to mitigate your disability. In order to be a service dog, the animal must be "individually trained" to "perform one or more tasks which mitigate the disability."

The following do NOT count as trained tasks:

-emotional support
-companionship (even for agoraphobia or anxiety)

The dog has to actively do something, that you cannot do for yourself,
that also lessens the effects of your disability on your ability to function in the area of major life activities.

First establish you are disabled. Only persons who are legally disabled qualify for a service dog.
Next, contact an organization that trains service dogs. Service Dog Central has an article with links to several lists of service dog trainers around the world, or simply contact Assistance Dogs International for the name of a member organization nearest you.
Though some in the U.S. choose to train their own service dogs or to have a dog trained privately, few have the skills to train such an advanced dog. Therefore most service dogs are from programs that specialize in training service dogs. In most countries other than the U.S. service animals are required to come from ADI accredited programs.

Be sure to check out our series of articles entitled Tips on finding a program or trainer and evaluating the one you've found.

There are several lists of service dog providers on the internet. That's a good place to start, but remember that just because they appear on one of these lists doesn't mean they are qualified or even legitimate. It is still up to you, as the consumer, to do your research and make sure they are what they appear to be.

Service Dog Central also maintains a list of clients from our online community and the programs they've worked with so you can talk with real clients of some programs and get the inside scoop.

Some resources for finding service dog programs:
Assistance Dogs International
The Delta Society
American Dog Trainers Network

Resources for finding other dog trainers who might have experience with service dogs:
Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers
National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors
Karen Pryor Academy
Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Please note that the above organizations do not screen the programs that they list. You'll have to do that for yourself. I am aware of rip-off organizations in the database, so be careful.

Get additional tips from Delta's National Service Dog Center under Getting a Service Animal: Consumer Considerations.

Lists of Guide Dog Schools:
American Foundation for the Blind
National Federation of the Blind
Guide Dog Users, Inc.
American Council of the blind
International Guide Dog Federation

Assistance or service dogs help the disabled. They are generally broken down into three categories, guide dogs, hearing dogs and service dogs (which are for disabilities other than blindness or deafness). There are many kinds of service dogs, almost as many as there are kinds of disabilities.

Some service dogs are mobility dogs for the physically disabled who pick up dropped items, open and close doors, and turn on lights among other things.

There are also dogs that assist with medical-related disabilities, such as neurological, developmental, psychiatric, and diabetic disabilities.

Service dogs are about any breed you can imagine, depending on what job they perform. Larger dogs are used to pull wheel chairs, while smaller dogs might be more convenient for medical alert purposes. It all depends on the specific needs of the person with a disability.

Just about any type of disability might be mitigated by an appropriately trained service dog.

Dogs are highly biddable (enjoy working for people) and trainable. They are readily available and easily cared for. Dogs are capable of performing many useful tasks to help their disabled owners. They are more socially accepted than most other domesticated animals.

As of March 15, 2011, in the US only dogs can be considered service animals under the ADA. That means that only service dogs can be used in public accommodations where pets are not permitted unless permission is given (with some exceptions for specially trained miniature horses). Only dogs can be considered service animals in state services including state owned housing. In most other housing and in commercial flying, service animals can still be of any commonly domesticated species.

2011-02-17 HUD memo on new ADA regulations on assistance animals.PDF170.17 KB

In some cases, yes, but in other cases, no.

The Codes of Federal Regulation for the Americans with Disabilities Act defines "service animal" as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler´s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition."

Under that definition, only specially trained dogs can be service animals. The ADA applies to areas of public access or public places and businesses where pets are not generally permitted. It also applies to state services, including state owned housing. But it does not apply to most other housing.

Under the FHA (covers most housing), Section 504 of the Rehab Act (covers entities receiving federal funds), and the ACAA (covers commercial aircraft, service animals can still be of species other than dogs.

Most other countries recognize only specially trained dogs as service/assistance animals for public access, housing, and flying.

2011-02-17 HUD memo on new ADA regulations on assistance animals.PDF170.17 KB

This is a very complex question. Traditional breeds for service dogs have been German Shepherds (GSD), Labradors, and Golden Retrievers. But nowadays the use of unusual breeds has exploded. Mastiffs are used for mobility work. Chihuahuas are used for diabetic or seizure alert dogs. If the dog has the temperment, skills, and willingness to work; almost any breed could do certain jobs. A corgi wouldn't work out for pulling a wheelchair but but could work as a hearing dog. Breeds like pugs and bulldogs don't always make the best of service dogs due to the pushed in noses--this leads to difficult breathing while walking and a shorter working life. While toy breeds can do some service dog jobs, they are not often taken seriously by store employees and the public, especially if dressed up like someone's child.

Smaller breeds are being used by more disabled people on a fixed income as they eat less and can live happier in a smaller home. A cocker spaniel can alert to a sound just as well as a labrador.

Bully breeds, dobermans, and rottweilers are used as service dogs. This can caused access problems in areas with breed specific legisislation (BSL) aka breed bans. Some cities require service dogs of a banned breed to be muzzled in public. Or you may not be able to purchase a banned breed if you live within city limits.

Housing may also be an issue with a banned breed, or a breed considered "dangerous." In some cases, a landlord can refuse to permit a dog of a certain breed on the premises. See Can a landlord refuse a service dog based on breed?

Although service animals are supposed to be carefully tested for their ability to handle stress (called a temperament test) and should have very steady nerves, ALL animals, no matter how well-behaved, are capable of biting if pushed too hard. However, a temperamentally appropriate dog for service work will not respond violently to the owner being yelled at or the dog being stepped upon or bumped. These are things that can be expected to happen to a service dog during his working life. Yelping, or pulling away from a source of pain, such as being stepped upon, would be an acceptable response, but snapping (ie no physical contact), nipping (light physical contact), or biting would not.

Provocation of a temperamentally appropriate dog for service work would have to be extreme, such as violently striking the handler. A dog that bites with less provocation is probably not temperamentally suited for service work. Any service dog that bites for any reason, including extreme provocation, should be evaluated by a qualified behaviorist before returning to public access work.

In the US, the ADA permits the exclusion from public accommodations of any dog that behaves in a dangerous or threatening manner, and this would certainly include biting, or threatening to bite.

Dogs nap frequently throughout the day. This is true of service dogs as well. Though they are service dogs, they are still dogs and have the same needs as any other dog. A large portion of a service dog's work involves down stays at the owner's side while the owner works at a desk, attends a movie, sits in a waiting room, or eats in a restaurant. This is boring work and service dogs often nap through it. Fortunately, dogs sleep very lightly and are able to quickly rouse themselves and spring into action when needed.

In some countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, yes. In those countries requiring certification, Assistance Dogs International is usually the recognized certifying entity.

In other countries, including the United States, no.

In any case, certification should be done by someone qualified to evaluate service animals (not a regular dog trainer), and it should be based on an evaluation performed in person and in a wide variety of situations.

"Registration" over the internet, accomplished by filling out a form and paying a fee (usually $40-$50), does not qualify a dog as a service dog. It doesn't hold up as proof a dog is a service dog. It's just another rip-off. Save your money and get a real evaluation.

Note: A CGC (Canine Good Citizen certificate), CGN (Canine Good Neighbor certificate), or any of the Good Citizen Dog Schemes certificates do not make a dog a service dog. While any service dog should easily pass a citizenship test, not all dogs who pass the citizenship test will have sufficient training or an appropriate temperament for service work.

Some countries, such as the UK and Australia require service dogs to come from programs recognized by ADI.

In the U.S., there is no national mechanism in place for certifying or licensing service dogs. Some programs certify the dogs they train, but very few will certify dogs trained by others for liability reasons. Certification is not necessary so long as the handler is legally disabled and the dog is legally trained as a service dog (which includes task training).

While a business cannot require certification as a condition of allowing a team to enter their facilities, they may ask what the dog has been trained to do and whether it is required because of a disability. Refusal to answer can result in access denial. If the owner does not answer "the task question" or the dog does not behave appropriately, regardless of whether it has a certificate, the business may have the dog removed.

There are some fly-by-night agencies that will sell "certification" to anyone for a fee: they are a waste of money. Unless the team are examined in person by a qualified evaluator the certificate might just as well be printed on a home computer and laminated, which is exactly what is done by the agencies that sell certification for $40-$250. If you've got to have such a certificate, make your own and save $39 or more.

Remember: certification doesn't make a dog a real service dog any more than a fake ID makes a minor over 21. What makes a dog a real service dog is being trained to perform tasks that mitigate his disabled handler's disability.

According to a study by Paws With a Cause, fewer than one shelter dog in a hundred is capable of becoming a service dog. In their study they found that only one shelter dog in four was even adoptable to start with. Some were reclaimed by owners, while some were ill or temperamentally unsuited to be pets. Only 6.5% of the shelter animals they temperament tested were considered acceptable for service work and were taken for further screening. This 6.5% of shelter dogs had improved chances of adoption even if they did not make it through training to become service dogs because of the work done by the program in evaluating them. That 6.5% weren't necessarily saved but were definitely helped.

Seventy-five percent of the dogs taken for further testing wash out due to hip or elbow dysplasia which wouldn't put them out of the running for a good pet home but would make it cruel to the dog to place them in a working home.

Of the 1.5% of dogs who meet both temperament and health requirements, only 1 in 8 is actually able to complete the training. Those that wash out during the training phase can easily be rehomed into pet homes because the training they do receive makes them excellent well-mannered companions. The waiting list for these dogs is usually years long.

One in 500 makes it from shelter to a job as a service dog, but for each dog that makes it as a service dog seven more are also saved. Animals who make it part way through the program are better trained and more adoptable because of participating in the program. The program also takes an active role in finding the dog a forever home.

When a dog disobeys a command it means he refuses to do it. Intelligent disobedience means he has a valid reason for refusing to do it. For example, if a blind person gives a guide dog a command to "forward" and there is an obstacle in the path that could injure the handler, the dog refuses the forward command. When a guide refuses a command, it is then up to the handler to determine why and work out what to do about it.

Some retired service animals continue to live with their disabled owners or are rehomed with family members as pets.

Some programs have a policy of offering first option to adopt a retired service animal (assuming the disabled hander cannot keep it) to the person who raised it as a puppy.

Other service animals are adopted to loving homes where they live out their final years as beloved pets.

They don't mean to offend, they're just curious. They aren't really interested in your personal condition as much as they are in service dogs and what they can do. They want to hear Lassie stories. They want to tell you their stories about dogs they've loved.

Dealing with curiosity from members of the public is part of using a service dog. Write up some answer that you feel comfortable with and memorize it so you can just spill it out as needed without having to think. If I'm in a hurry I just give a couple of sentences explaining the sorts of things service dogs do and then explain that I appreciate their interest but am in a hurry and don't have time to chat. I don't give any personal information of my own, and people have always been satisfied with that answer.

If I have time and feel like it, especially when I am approached by children, I'll do some educating about service dogs. Things like "ask before petting," "don't distract," and so on.

You can also avoid conversations by not making eye contact with strangers. If you walk into a store with your eyes held up looking at the back wall of the store and move purposefully, you are less likely to be approached because your body language is saying, "I'm busy."

You can also print off brochures, such as the one available from the Delta Society, and just hand that to them to answer their questions.
http://www.deltasociety.org/Document.Doc?id=239 (This is a two-color, three-fold brochure in PDF format)

Please note that businesses are permitted to ask about your service dog, whether you require one because of a disability and what the dog is trained to do for you. They can refuse access if you don't answer, but you certainly don't have to answer a casual bystander who is simply curious.

No. A Muslim person is required to carefully wash and change clothes before praying after contacting a dog's saliva, but a taxi driver should not be exposed to such contact from a service animal, which is highly trained and well-behaved. It is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for a taxi driver to refuse to carry a passenger because they have a service animal.

A service dog is only a service dog when it is partnered with a person with a disability. If you are not disabled, then your pet cannot become a service dog unless you donate him for training as a service dog for someone who is disabled.

Yes. When they are home and their gear is removed they can act like regular dogs. Because service dogs work so hard and have such stressful jobs, it is very important for them to have "down time" and exercise.