Service Dog Industry Faces Challenges

February 06, 2023

Inconsistent Terminology and Variability of Certifications Can Lead to Subpar Implementation

Service dogs have become increasingly popular for people with neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders. A 2016 report estimates that in the United States alone, approximately 500,000 service dogs support people with disabilities. A new comprehensive review published in the journal Veterinary Sciences has investigated several issues that impact the service dog industry. Specifically, the review’s European authors focused on three service dog-related matters: (1) the legal aspect, including definitions and certification processes; (2) the variety of performed tasks; (3) dog welfare. The authors started their review by highlighting the labels used to describe dogs that support people with disabilities. These labels tend to vary from region to region. Internationally, “assistance dog” is the most common term; in the United States, “service dog” is more common. Typically, “assistance” or “service” dog can be used interchangeably since dogs with these designations should have been trained to perform specifically defined tasks. However, Emotional Support Dogs (ESD) are different. ESDs are pets that offer health benefits or support for individuals with needs. However, they do not receive training to assist with needs or tasks. The authors then focused on the many tasks working dogs perform to help people with needs. The most common tasks performed by assistance dogs were tactile stimulation to reduce anxiety, interrupting self-stimulating behaviors, nudging or pawing to disrupt dissociative states, interrupting an undesirable behavioral state, maintaining constant body contact, deep pressure stimulation, and blocking contact with other people. When addressing the welfare of working dogs, the authors point out that these dogs should never be viewed as “less than” or merely “tools.” They should be considered individuals with likes, dislikes, and limitations. In the end, the review determined that consistent terminology is lacking for working service dogs. This research also discovered that legal authorities that monitor the accreditation process, training, and tracking of these dogs are almost non-existent. The authors suggest that stringent safety procedures are needed to protect service dogs so that they can perform to the best of their ability to help those in need.

Original Review

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