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Fake Service Dogs Seem Innocent, but Are a Real Danger Everywhere

Service dogs can help humans in countless ways, but fake service dogs are becoming a very serious problem. 

Generally, you can identify service dogs by the fact that they wear a service dog vest, and sometimes an ID tag. But thanks to a rising trend that has begun online, it's possible to see more and more fake service dogs in public areas without realizing it.

True service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for humans, including disabled people and those with mental health problems. Service dogs help disabled individuals in countless ways, from providing balance and support while walking to fetching dropped objects or even opening doors to even alerting their owners to oncoming seizures. Assistance dogs undergo very specialized training to teach them how to perform these behaviors. The training also teaches dogs important behavioral expectations, such as not barking, not jumping on people, and how to stay focused on their owner rather than being distracted by their surroundings.

What Are Fake Service Dogs?

service dog helps blind man walk

The Americans with Disabilities Act outlines rules for assistance animals and canine companions for independence, including what type of harnesses should be used, public access rules for those with service dog teams, and service dog training required for therapy dogs. The ADA outlines that a real service dog must be a dog with a job, or a specific task outlined for the animal to do. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) can technically fit the bill, as many service dogs work with veterans with PTSD or other traumatic emotional issues. Unfortunately, service dog fraud is extremely high among this variety of service animal, and fake service animals pop up all the time under the guise of ESAs as an excuse to bring retrievers, labradors, or other breeds into the grocery store.

Because service dogs perform essential tasks to help people, they are allowed to go in most public places, including into stores and on airplanes. Business owners can question service dog owners, but they can only ask two specific questions: Is that a service dog, and what service does this dog provide? Store owners are not allowed to ask the service dog's owner about what their disability is under federal law, whether they live in California, Florida, New York, or somewhere in between.

The problem is, some people are passing off pet dogs as service animals and getting your dog certified as an emotional support animal is getting easier and easier. After all, it's hard to quantify emotional problems in the same way that physical problems manifest. If the approving agency is too strict, they might lock someone who genuinely needs help out of a service dog, but unfortunately many people take advantage of this fact. Take a look at this video for more information.

Fake Service Dogs and Their Effect On Society

service dog working with man in wheelchair

Fake service dogs are not good news for society. They can put real service dogs in danger, since these untrained dogs may attack service dogs, which are trained to be submissive. Additionally, fake service dogs may exhibit negative behaviors in public, including barking, jumping up on people, and even being aggressive. Real service animals are trained to specifically avoid these types of behavior and will often wear signage indicating that they should not be pet or approached while on the job. These dogs take their jobs seriously!

If you need a legitimate service dog, there are many ways to go about getting one. Some programs are willing to train an existing pet, but be aware of the fact that the rigorous training can take years and your pet dog won't necessarily make a good service dog. Other programs train service dogs and then match applicants with dogs best suited to fulfill their needs. Your doctor can provide you with additional resources and advice on getting a trained service dog.

While emotional support dogs also perform tasks for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses, there are different requirements and benefits for pet owners. Learn more about the difference here.

Visit the American Disabilities Act (ADA) website for more information.

Have you been seeing more and more fake service animals? Tell us on the Wide Open Pets Facebook page!

This article was originally published November 6, 2020.

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