Fake Service Dogs – Solution (part 2)

Fake Service Dog Teams – The Solution Already Exists (Part 2)

This is part 2, discussing the potential solutions. Read part 1 to learn more about the issues with ‘faking’ a service dog and what it means to be a real service dog, here.

A brown Poodle in a purple vest carries a plastic shopping bag through a parking lot.
Service Dog carrying a shopping bag.

The proposed ‘solutions’ are just new disasters

There have been proposals of stricter laws with fines or other penalties for misrepresenting as an assistance dog team, as well as discussion of training/certifying standards. However, there are major flaws with these proposals – they won’t solve the current problems, they impose hardship on legitimate teams, they infringe on constitutional rights of privacy, they are extremely costly and impractical to implement, they would need to be taught to everyone all over again, and they would need to be enforced.

If we’re going to enforce a law, the current ADA law covers everything we actually need – the person needs to have a disability, the dog needs to be trained to help it, and the dog can’t do anything to disrupt the business/general public and/or cause a safety risk.

Let’s take a closer look at the problems with some of the suggestions.

  • Creating New Laws
    • Education; new laws will require a huge campaign to teach everyone; this will take time and funds, and there will be significant confusion for many years (which can be used as a legal defence for people who appeal a fine). The current laws are known by the majority of people affected by them, so if a campaign is going to be made it may as well be for the current laws to reach the percentage of people who don’t already understand them.
    • Enforcement; the proposed laws will require strong enforcement measures – fines, verification of credentials, etc take considerable more effort for law enforcement to carry out than a business manager simply telling an offending handler that their dog’s behavior doesn’t meet public access standards and therefore they must remove the dog from the premises. 
  • Fines
    • Need to prove there was a legal misrepresentation, fairly easy for someone to fight it in court, and meanwhile ties up extra hours and costs to the government trying to prove their case. Ultimately the hassle and cost outweighs whatever fees may be recouped through fines.
A white and a black Poodle in purple vests hold a down-stay in front of a mirror at a store.
Service Dogs in-training holding a stay, learning to ignore other dogs (real and reflection).
  • National Certification or Registration/ID
    • It is generally unconstitutional to create a mandatory list of citizens who meet a certain description, in this case disabled citizens with a service dog. Regardless of legalities, the concept of collecting a master list of any subset of the population is a terrible idea on so many levels, and would be potentially dangerous for anyone on the list.
      • Some people argue this is “just like getting a handicap placard for one’s car,” but that is completely different. Without a placard, a person with a disability still has the right to park in any spot in the parking lot, just as every other driver. By opting-in to get a placard, the person is granted additional privileges to park in reserved spots that are closer and allow more space for any additional accessibility needs such as ramp and wheelchair access. Requiring a certification or registration in order to go about daily life with a personal, private choice of medical equipment is more like saying a person with a disability is not allowed to park anywhere in the lot unless they have a placard.
    • Who’s in charge? What are the standards, and who is qualified to assess a team’s adherence to them? What if a good team makes a mistake during their test – do they fail and need to retake? Can they retake it instantly or is there a waiting period? What do they do while waiting if they need their service dog in order to perform their job, earn their living, and provide for their family?
    • Does the training need to be done by someone with specific qualifications? The demand/wait for an assistance dog is already so high – how do we justify making it significantly harder to obtain a good dog? How are organizations assessed for the qualifications of their trainers? There are a significant number of organizations currently supplying dogs that don’t (or barely) meet current minimum legal standards – why should they be allowed when excellent owners/trainers who don’t have a specific certification are denied?
    • This is all incredibly impractical…
      • Accessibility; where do these tests take place? A person – disabled, no less – can’t be required to travel somewhere to be assessed for ‘permission’ to live their normal day-to-day life; the thought is ridiculous in itself, but the testing conditions would be incredibly skewed due to how drastically outside their “normal” the conditions are. Even if the trainer travels to the team (at whose expense?), the very nature of being tested can create an abnormal level of anxiety and physical stress that can set a person into a worse-than-usual medical state, potentially requiring medical treatment and/or having lingering effects long after the testing ‘ordeal’ should have ended.
      • Frequency; dogs and humans are dynamic beings, always learning and adapting. Behaviors can easily slide below minimum standards even in a month of poor practice or with a bad experience. Obviously teams wouldn’t be expected to re-certify monthly, but if this test is meant to assure that only teams meeting certain standards are out working, how will it keep on top of this constant behavioral development?
      • Cost; who pays the various costs this would entail? Trainer certification (for how long? And travel, hotel, loss of income?), team training/certification (and travel, hotel, caregiver – plus any care needed back home for children, pets, etc), re-certification (and travel, hotel, caregiver)… What if the whole travel/exam experience results in a medical event, and what if the person needs to be hospitalized so far from home for an extended period? Who pays for all the costs that are incurred?
  • A white Poodle in a purple vest tugs on a rope to hold a door open.
    Service Dog tugs and holds a rope to open a door.

Best actual solutions

Instead of trying to solve the issue by adding more ‘punishments’, here are a few things we can do that will actually make a difference – and they are simple, affordable, don’t add any burden to legitimate assistance dog teams, and can be implemented now (actually, they already are, we just need to broaden the reach).

  • Better education of current laws
    • Authorities, businesses, and the general public can all be reached in a variety of ways… social media works very well though it can be hard to verify credibility, so incorrect information is also spread easily. Local media can air segments to bring clarity (again, they need to check their sources to be sure they give correct information). Assistance dog training programs and others in the industry frequently offer presentations and FAQ sessions to businesses, police departments, schools, places of employment and anywhere else that is interested. These presentations are often provided for free, or are sponsored by donations – there is generally no charge to the group receiving the presentation. Pamphlets and flyers can be distributed, even electronically for each business to print and distribute to their own employees.
  • Better enforcement of current laws
    • All a business owner or police officer needs to do currently is to state to an offending handler “I’m sorry, your dog is not maintaining minimum behavior standards for public access. For the safety and comfort of all of our customers and employees, I need to ask you to remove the dog from the premises.” It’s that simple! If the handler refuses to remove the dog or otherwise causes a scene, it’s no longer a matter of ‘assistance dog’, it shifts to however the store chooses to respond to a customer who is harassing or slandering the business/employees or even other customers.
  • Clear training/handling standards prior to using a vest/public access
    • As a society the US has grown accustomed to very low expectations of dog behavior, and as a result a significant percentage of our population thinks that a dog capable of sitting on cue and not pulling their owner too much is a decently trained dog. Minimum standards for an assistance dog working in public need to be much higher than this, and as a society we need to move towards normalizing good behavior in all dogs (pets included). The peer pressure of society recognizing behavior as acceptable or not will help prevent pet owners from even trying to pass their dog off as an assistance dog. A simple (though still very low) standard could be that prior to any public access every dog must meet the criteria of a basic training and temperament assessment such as the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test, or the UKC’s Socialized Pet Obedience Test.

 

Four Poodles of various ages and colors, no vests, hold a down-stay in a group in the waiting room at the vet.
Vested or not, service dogs (and in-training) are taught to handle all situations – like this group down-stay while waiting to be seen at the vet clinic.

In conclusion, handlers who ‘fake’ assistance dog status or who bring an under-trained or behaviorally unstable dog in public are a direct threat to the safety and health of the general public and any legitimate assistance dog teams they may encounter. With unverified “ID’s” they create future hardship for real teams who are then expected to produce ID’s or other documentation which the law has never required. The poor impression (and destruction and/or injury) they leave in their wake increases the suspicion and scrutiny towards teams who have always met or exceed all legal expectations. Fake teams are a major problem, but new laws with penalties and required certifications will create more trouble than they solve. The best course of action is to focus on enforcing the current laws, removing improper dogs from public quickly, and normalizing pet training in society so that it becomes laughably obvious to everyone when a team is trying to fake assistance dog status.

Fake teams destroy the trust of businesses and tarnish the reputation of what it means to be an Assistance Dog. 

Remember to check out part 1 of this article, and if you appreciated this content, please share it with your friends! If you have any questions or comments please leave them below, and subscribe to our mailing list if you’d like our future blog posts sent to you.

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