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WHAT TRAITS CAN QUALIFY OR DISQUALIFY A DOG FROM BECOMING A SERVICE DOG?


An influencing factor in why service dogs are in such high demand today is the rigorous assessment process that a dog must go through and pass before qualifying to be a service animal. However, this process is vital in ensuring that service dogs and their handlers will be able to successfully navigate society within their protected and legally standardized guidelines as well as meet the needs of their handlers. Even though many dogs do receive various forms of training prior to assessment (command, retrieval, obedience, or, in the case of New Life K9s, bond-based choice teaching), it is not an easy task for a dog to meet the complex expectations of being a service provider. Since a service dog’s role is generally not yet well understood in society, many people are not aware that the dog’s existence and success or failure in an individual’s life can legitimately factor into life-or-death outcomes; in other words, service dogs are simply not pets and can save the lives fo their handlers. 

TRAITS ASSESSED

Here are some general traits that can be assessed when determining if a dog can qualify as a service animal:

  • Aggression

  • Attention

  • Motivation

  • Fear 

  • Submission

  • Energy level 

These traits are often analyzed and tested over several weeks or even months to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the observed behaviors. To provide a little more context to these traits, below are several scenarios: 

  • The dog must be able to remain behaviorally stable in a wide range of environments; gentle and non-reactive (no barking, growling, etc.). 

  • The dog must be able to remain focused, quiet, and dutiful to its handler versus wandering or becoming distractible. 

  • A dog’s energy level must be low enough that the dog should be able to lie or sit on the floor next to its handler quietly without lots of movement. 

  • When walking on a leash, the dog should be calm and attentive without pulling, barking, or lunging. 

In the event that a desirable or interesting item/individual enters the dog’s environment such as other dogs, children, food, or noises, these distractions should be ignored (unless this is contradictory to the handler’s specific service training). However, a dog’s greeting customs—what is an appropriate or inappropriate reaction—can be determined personally by the handler. 

In some circumstances, being potty trained or housebroken to the level needed to be a service animal can be difficult to achieve if a dog is not trained in the puppy phase. For example, not all animals can learn to urinate or defecate with commands on a schedule (unless natural extenuating circumstances occur to disrupt this).

Ultimately, a high percentage of dogs—50% or even less—don’t make it through to the finish line to become service dogs because of these comprehensive assessments, their natural dispositions, or prior life experiences. These statistics, however, are indicative of how specialized and unique these dog characteristics are to the broader canine population. The better the training and assessment process is understood by the public, hopefully, the more understanding service dogs themselves as well as their owners will receive.

To learn more about how New Life K9s service dogs are educated click below!

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New Life K9s places service dogs with veterans and first responders with PTSD at no cost to the veterans and first responders.

References:

  1. Weiss, E. (2002). Selecting shelter dogs for service dog training. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science : JAAWS, 5(1), 43-62. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/selecting-shelter-dogs-service-dog-training/docview/72882788/se-2?accountid=143111  

  2. Weiss, E., & Greenberg, G. (1997). Service dog selection tests: Effectiveness for dogs from animal shelters. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 53(4), 297-308. doi:10.1016/s0168-1591(96)01176-8  

  3. Chu, S. (2020, November 25). Dos and DON'TS: Behavioral requirements for service dogs. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://www.supportdogcertification.org/article/dos-and-donts-behavioral-requirements-service-dogs

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