What is a Service Dog?
Generally when people hear the term “service dog” they often think of guide dogs for the blind or service dogs for individuals using a wheelchair. These were the first type of assistance dogs. There are many other types of dogs now to assist their owners: dogs for seizures, diabetes, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders, just to name a few. All service dogs perform tasks for their owners. The key requirement for a service dog is training for these tasks, and as important, the ability to go into public places and behave well in all situations. Public venue training is key to the Federal ADA law that allows a dog in public places, such as restaurants, stores and airplanes. An untrained dog that keeps you calm at home, with a vest bought on-line, is far from a legal service dog under the law in public places.
Why Use Service Dogs for Psychological Needs?
Dogs naturally read humans for mood, body chemistry and other physiological changes. Their willingness to bond with and serve their human makes for a perfect working team. With the aid of service dogs people are able to immediately feel their symptoms ease. Working with doctor or therapist, many people using service dogs can reduce their medications; some totally stop them. A service dog is not a cure for PTSD, but it allows an individual back into the community with comfort and support. One meaningful sentence is often repeated among service dog owners, “It gave me my life back.” Powerful.
If Alaska Assistance Dogs is not training any more, how can it help me?
Alaska Assistance Dogs is now focusing on education, referral to reputable professional service dog trainers, and information resources. Current problems in our field are “fake” service dogs and poorly self-trained dogs, even poorly trained agency-related service dogs. It can not be emphasized enough that a service dog is not one that can be picked up at a shelter, given a few commands and, with an on-line purchased vest, become a safe, supportive working dog. The liability for that scenario alone is huge. Service dogs are animals with special temperaments, excellent health lineage and solid training for the rigors of public life. Service dogs are neutered or spayed, do not run around with prong collars because they don’t behave, are taught ONLY with positive reinforcement techniques, and have a lot of public venue experience.
The intent for this website is to keep Alaskans well-informed about what a service dog is, how to get one, what the laws require, and how to get help when things go awry. There will be articles about choosing the right dog, where to get initial obedience training and how to find an experienced professional trainer. AAD is mentoring a wonderful new service dog organizaition in Fairbanks (Look for TOPADS in organization referrals). A very exciting project we are undertaking is to help start a Veterans-for-Veterans service dog organization in Anchorage. In February we will join with the VA Mental Health Wellness Council in Anchorage and Dr. Camilla Madden, VA recovery psychologist, to put it all together (see information under PTSD in Programs). We have many options and a lot of work to do in education. Carole Shay, LPC, would like to do some therapeutic programs in Mat-Su Valley for autism and school programs. Watch for announcements on this site.
Please be patient with us. It will take a few more weeks to bring this site up to par as far as information and reference materials. Thank you!