"Can you ever be required under the ADA to provide proof you are disabled or proof your dog is a service dog?"
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.
Businesses may ask two questions:
1. Is that a service dog?
2. What tasks has the service dog been trained to do?
They may not presume the dog is a pet and tell you "No dogs allowed" or "No pets allowed" or "You can't have that dog in here" or "Get that animal out of here" (all things I have heard many times, once as recently as this morning).
While a person partnered with a service dog is within their rights to file a complaint against business owners and employees who are confrontational and sometimes abusive in their language regarding the service dog's presence, most people don't bother. It's not worth the extensive and sometimes expensive hassle of dragging the business to court over verbal abusive language.
If it goes beyond verbal abuse, though (such as pushing you through the door, locking the door against you, deliberately placing obstructions in your way and refusing to move them, or charging you a "pet fee"), it's sometimes necessary to file a complaint against a business for abusing you and/or your canine partner.
When lawyers and judges become involved, you will have to provide more extensive proof of disability and the need for and training of your service dog other than your own word.
Proof may include any, and possibly even most, of the following:
Medical records from any medical providers treating you for your disability or for aspects of your disability.The only thing that an owner-trained service dog would lack would be the service dog certification from a recognized/accredited program. There are too few such programs available nation-wide to provide service animals in the numbers needed.
Service dog 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.
Photographic evidence of the dog's training (video is much better, though).
In person demonstrations of the dog's training.
The disabled person may also lack an SSDI determination if they haven't filed for SSDI - not all disabled people need the assistance of SSDI. I don't have an SSDI determination because I am fully capable of holding a full time job. My disability doesn't prevent me from being gainfully employed at a livable (or better) wage, and my paycheck is higher than what I could receive from SSDI. I am likely to be able to make it to retirement without ever filing for SSDI, and my retirement income will exceed what I could receive from SSDI, so it's unlikely I will ever file for it.
I'm not going to discuss all the laws that protect you under ADA, the Fair Housing Act, or the Air Carrier's Act. Do remember that effective March 2011, the ADA changed their regulations and only service canines and guide ponies have full access to all businesses and other locations where their human handler has access. Other service animals not canine or guide pony (like cats, pigs, monkeys, parrots...) still have ADA protections under the Fair Housing Act and Air Carriers Act. If you try to take a service cat into a restaurant, the restaurant has the right to deny you access which you must accept (and the restaurant may choose to grant access as well), but they don't have the right to deny you access if you are accompanied by a service dog or guide pony. Your landlord does not have the right to evict you for having that service cat. That's pretty much all I'll say about the laws.
First, you will have to prove you are disabled. You don't need a service dog/pony/animal if you're not disabled. That is best left between you and your lawyer or doctor or both.
For your service animal, some basic formal training and a log book can serve as the documentation you will need if you are self-training your service animal. If you acquire your service dog through a certified training agency, they will provide the documentation you need, but a log book you keep can also be useful, mostly for you and your service animal, but also as ongoing documentation.
Dogs that come from certified training agencies generally have the CGC or the equivalent, plus the socialization and specialized training you need, so we'll talk about getting some training help and keeping a log book.
The CGC (Canine Good Citizen) is essential to get if you are self-training your service dog. It's not expensive, and practically every city that has dog trainers has trainers that can provide this. The CGC becomes an official part of your dog's name, in the same way that Ph.D. becomes a part of your name once you earn it.
I recommend getting the CGC before you begin training your dog for assistance. In the CGC, the dog learns basic obedience and manners which will make specialized training much easier. It also indicates the dog is mature enough to learn the more complicated service tasks. For dogs that will be used for physical tasks (balance, pulling a wheelchair, etc.), they should be fully grown and physically mature.
Guide ponies are generally provided by the Guide Horse Foundation, and for owner-trained, I'm sure they can provide assistance in documenting that.
There was once a site for information on training and documenting service cats, but that site is gone now. Pat Gonser used to do this, and I can't find anyone else who does. Once the ADA ruled that only dogs and guide ponies (miniature horses) could have full access, many of the other service animal training sites disappeared. I think this is sad and kind of wrong, because while other types of animals may not have the full access of dogs and ponies, they still have some protections under the ADA in housing and transportation, and still serve a useful purpose.
There is no equivalent of a CGC for service cats, pigs, ferrets, parrots, or other assistive animals, but a training log can help.
From the moment you begin training, you need to create a log (online or on paper) that documents training. I'm going to mostly talk about dogs, because that's what I do, so insert whatever animal you want wherever I say "dog".
The log book should state the breed and age of the dog, the date the training began, what disability you are training the dog for, the lessons you teach the dog and the progress the dog makes, retraining, up-training, and who is assisting you in the training. It should contain the CGC and any other training certificate your dog receives.
I keep my log book both on line and in a three ring binder. I print out the log pages to put in the book, and add paper work and certificates, photos, ticket stubs, receipts, etc. My log book is part log, part scrap book.
I recommend using the IAADP's Minimum Training Standards and their log forms for your log book.
I like this log book and used it for a while, but then I modified it. I included my modified form at the end of this diary.
Their format looks as if you are supposed to fill in everything every time, and I saw there was a lot of information that only needed to be stated once. So that was where I began to modify the IAADP's form. The name, breed,etc. is on the opening page of the log book and isn't written down each time you trained the dog in my log book. I added the date your dog was spayed/Neutered because that is important.
This is what I put on the cover page of the log book:
Owner Trainer’s Name:
Breed or Mix:
I think all service dogs must be spayed or neutered because unspayed dogs go into heat and are distracted from providing assistance, then if impregnated, is out of service until the puppies are weaned. Unneutered dogs chase dogs in heat obsessively, breaking training and not providing the service you need. If you want to bred dogs, go for it, just don't use your breeding stock as a service dog. There's not a law that says service dogs must be neutered/spayed, but it makes tremendous sense to do so, and I, personally, don't consider an unfixed dog to be a proper service dog. Compelling court arguments can be made that an unfixed dog makes an unsuitable service dog.
It is much cheaper to go ahead and spay or neuter than to deal with the breeding cycle of a dog when you depend on the dog every day.
This probably holds true for other animals as well.
This log book can be done on-line, printed out and added to the three ring binder, or hand-written, if you want.
As for the rest of the log entries, the IAADP has weekly entries and I needed some to be daily, some weekly, some monthly, some biannually, and some annually, so out with the modification pen! When I was first training Itzl, I had daily entries, and I expect anyone starting service dog training will also have daily entries the first year.
This is the first year of training:
Date: Month, day, year.
Time: time began, time ended, total hours of training - include at home and outings time.
In home training session: Time, task, result
Outings: Time, location, task, results
This is IAADP's and they said it better than I could. Answer as many of these questions as apply. I'd recommend having the questions printed and put in the three ring binder so you can refer to them as needed (or placed where you see it when you do the online version of the log):
What novel sights, sounds, smells, taste or touch, footing, was the dog exposed to in an urban, suburban or rural environment in different kinds of weather? (e.g. a band in a park, a parade, a mounted policeman, Little League game, strangers in ethnic garb, potty in street near curb?) Did the dog improve when exposed to something that caused signs of stress earlier, such as an elevator ride, dog barking at him from behind a fence, working near an escalator, climbing a staircase or when asked to potty on different types of ground? What needs more work? (e.g. walking near heavy traffic, motorcycle revving up, garbage truck, approaching a mirror, screaming kids on schoolyard playground, holding a Sit Stay during a thunderstorm,etc.)Obedience:
Also IAADP's words, better than mine:
Where did you practice basic commands? (e.g. house, garage, neighborhood, outside shopping center). Any progress? What needs improvement? (e.g. out of sight Stays or Heel w/halt instead of Sit for balance or wheelchair work.) Practice Public Access Test exercises....holding Sit or Down when adult or child pets the dog or someone drops food on the floor or puts plate down by dog or passes with a shopping cart. Practice Stay or Come with a dropped leash indoors, outdoors in safe area. Have assistant tease dog at a distance with food, smooching, say “Hi, puppy, puppy” or bounce a ball while you keep him focused on you in a Sit or Down Stay. Advanced - practice Stay in public rest room, under table in restaurant, in stores in sight, you out of sight around a corner. Off leash heeling, Downs, recall indoors, outdoors in safe fenced area.Comments:
Anything unusual, worrisome, cute, exceptional? Did you read a book, see a video that helped with training? Reason for not practicing this week (e.g. sick, injured, family funeral, or dog neutered and must be kept very quiet for two weeks? etc. ) Overall progress....fair? Good?My words: Do be sure to include the cute. This is also where you could link videos, add pictures, and in the three ring binder, ticket stubs, receipts, and other memorabilia of the things you did accompanied by your service dog.
Once a week, I would add the following to my logs:
List the progress your dog has made on previous tasks. Is he still a beginner? That means he hasn't gotten the idea of the task yet and performs it correctly on command less than 25% of the time. Is he intermediate - performs the task correctly on command at least 50% of the time? Is he advanced - performs the task correctly on command and/or on his own directive 75% of the time? Has he mastered the task - performs it correctly on command and on his own directive 80% of the time or better?
New Service Dog Tasks:
Each week, if your dog has achieved advanced level on most of his previous tasks, add a new task for your dog to learn. Is the new task related to or building on a previous task? Is it a completely new skill? How long do you expect it to take for the dog to learn the new skill?
IAADP says it better again:
Which manners were a priority this week? What improved? What needs more work? For example: Say please [with Sit Stay] for Supper, for Exiting house....expanded from 30 seconds to one minute! Enter, exit, riding in a car - improved. Lie quietly on side for nail grinder, grooming - needs work! Watchdog suppression - needs work! Jumping on visitors - needs work. Honor system - respecting “Leave It” edict re: bowl of treats on end table, 24/7....3rd week, also leaves bowl of treats on kitchen counter alone! Paw on knee - rarely tries this dominance behavior anymore. Licking self in public - only needed one correction this week, an “uh uh” with my disapproving glare at him. Doesn’t do it at church anymore or in grocery store. No sniffing other dogs while “on duty” at obedience class or in neighborhood - needs more work.Problems:
Are there any particular problems distressing you? Has there been improvement on any of the problems mentioned in previous logs? e.g. Barking at other dogs, becoming over excited in the presence of other animals or fearful of getting into the back seat of the car, or refuses to potty outside of his backyard or won’t use other footing except grass, balks at changes in footing (from carpeting to slick floors), etc.
Who did you refer to for assistance with problems and issues? What training do they have? Are they part of a dog training organization? Have they assisted in training service dogs before? Service dogs for your disability, or for other disabilities? What did they say? Are their suggestions helping?
Did you trim nails, clean ears, treated a hot spot, allergies, empty anal glands, bath?
After the first year, I'd keep weekly logs instead of daily, as the dog will be trained and only needs information logged for weekly, monthly, and annual needs. During hte first, year, keep these weekly and monthly logs, too.
Flea and tick treatment, monthly heart worm preventive, other monthly health care tasks. If your service dog is being treated for skeletal problems (hips knees, back), progress report on those.
How has the dog performed in training? Are there weak areas that need more work? Are some tasks still beyond the dog's ability? Can you use the dog's strengths to bolster the weak areas?
Vet Visit: All service dogs need to be evaluated at least twice a year for a check up to catch health issues that may reduce your service dog's effectiveness in assisting you. They can catch early signs of hip displasia, knee problems, back problems, vision and hearing problems. Also, all service dogs need vaccinations since they are exposed much more than pets are to diseases. A record of your dog's vaccinations is essential. List the name of your vet, the date of your visit, the results, and what vaccinations were given. My vet provides me with a printout of these things, so I just tuck it in.
Vaccinations: Service dogs are exposed to a lot of diseases accompanying you out in public. They need the protection of vaccinations. Leptospirosis, Coronavirus, parainfluenza, rabies, bortadella, adenovirus, hepatitis, distemper/measles, Lyme, CIV, and here in rattlesnake country - there is a rattlesnake vaccine. If the dog is bitten, it will still need vet care, but this may prolong the dog's life until you get to to the vet.
Provide an annual review of the dog's progress. The easiest way is to read over the monthly reviews and summarize them, adding anything new that came up.
Write down goals and expectations for the upcoming year. Include training goals, manners goals, trips and expectations for the dog.
As your service dog ages, this will include retirement plans. The average span of time a dog can perform service is 6 - 8 years. Less if the dog needs to function as a balance dog or pulls a wheelchair or performs other heavy physical tasks, more if it doesn't have to perform physical tasks. And that all depends upon the health of the dog. A hearing dog that is going deaf itself needs to be retired immediately to pet status. As heartbreaking as it can be, the dog should be rehomed as you train the new service dog because the old service dog will try to perform its tasks and will become territorial and possessive. It may also pine away and become sickly. You are doing the dog a kindness by finding it a new forever home that will take good care of the dog in its declining years.
And when you acquire a new service dog, begin again at the beginning.
This log book is an invaluable tool even if you will never need it for court. It will help you as you train your dog, and as you train future service dogs. You are likely to need at least 4 service dogs during your life, and possibly more.
If you have an at-home service animal and a service dog that you take with you everywhere, keep a separate log book for each animal. If your disabilities require more than one service dog (one for hearing, one for heavy physical tasks, for example), keep a separate log book for each dog.
Keep the contact information of any professional trainers with whom you work, as these people will provide good references for you should you need them. They may also qualify to provide the independent evaluation a court may request. It helps for the dog to work with someone familiar. I know that Itzl will not listen to people he doesn't know. He will look to me to confirm any commands or simply ignore the other person.
With these documents, should your disability and service dog be questioned, you'll have the right answers.
Blank Logbook Form:
Inside Front Cover/Cover Page
Owner Trainer’s Name:
Dog's Source: Rescue? Breeder?
Breed or Mix:
First year of training:
In home training session:
First year and after:
New Service Dog Tasks: