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Do I Need to Certify my Dog?
The answer is, it depends in what environments you want to use your dog's skills and where you live.
If you are only going to use your dog at home, and take him only to places that any pet dog can go, the answer is no certification is needed.
In some circumstances where your work environment is suitable and safe, the employer and other employees are okay with it, you may also not need to be certified to take your assistance dog to work with you. Some places of work welcome dogs generally, and others may be open to your assistance dog if it is proposed to them. If there is a dog or pet policy in writing, get a copy of it. Otherwise, we suggest asking for permission in writing to protect yourself and your dog. Of course, it is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is well-behaved and welcomed in the place of work.
It will also depend where you work if your dog has access at all. In food preparation areas or operating theatres or other places where the public is not allowed, even a certified dog may not be allowed. Check your local laws and talk to your employer. An employer cannot discriminate against you for having a service dog but they may be able to limit access where you can take the dog. Talk to a disability laywer for the exact details of your situation.
In Public Places
If you are planning on having your dog assist you in public places such as restaurants, stores, and on public transportation etc, the answer varies.
If you need to take your dog in public places where pet dogs are not allowed, yes, certification by the provincial body in some provinces of Canada (BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia (soon) is recommended and will make your life easier if challenged by a retailer or accommodation provider. In the UK, Yes. In the USA, no as residents are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Here. Each country has its own laws.
Note: Even if your dog is certified, anytime your service dog causes a disturbance (barking, whining etc), shows aggression or fear, or has a housetraining mistake, you can be asked to leave the premises if you have been asked to remedy the situation and do not or cannot.
Are "Service Dogs in Training' (SDit) Protected for public access?
It depends on where you live. Some states protect them it, some do not. For example, in BC, the handler must work or volunteer for an Assistance Dog International (ADI) accredited organization. Owner-trainers are not protected.
What Does The Certification Process Look Like?
Before you apply to a certifying body (government or ADI accredited organization) for certification to use your dog as an Assistance dog or service dog, you will need to collect proof of your dog’s training and use.
Any documentation you can provide helps the certifying body to evaluate your dog as a service dog such as:
*Proof of the vet visits, vaccinations, etc. needed to keep the dog in good health, recovery from injury or illness etc.
*Proof of spay or neuter.
*Canine Good Neighbor Certificate
*Public Access Test completed and passed
*A prescription for a service/assistance dog from your doctor, nurse practitioner, or other health care provider (varies depending on the certifying body)
*A list of the tasks (suggest at least 3 that specifically address your disability in public places- providing comfort does not qualify as a task)
*Documentation of the amount of time in specific training your dog has had for each task. (Keeping a journal that you can summarize is a key point)
*Outside or supervised training that has been done A written letter documenting what training they have overseen and your success rate as a team. Make sure to provide the name of the training company Or companies you worked with.
*Employer’s letter of how your dog operates in your workplace (if your dog has been allowed to work with you).
*Letters from friends and family documenting the past dog’s behavior in their homes, in public etc.
*A concise letter detailing the difference your service dog makes in your life.
*Other documentation that may support your application.
The government or organization will then refer you to a person who is authorized to test your dog in person and submit the results to them. Note: If someone claims they will certify you and your dog without seeing you work together in public, then they are a scam and a waste of your money. There are thousands of these online so buyer beware.
How Long Does it Take to get a Dog Ready for Certification?
It depends. Some dogs started as puppies and trained professionally can be ready by 18 months to 2 years. Dogs trained by owners usually take longer as they have lives to lead and they are not professional trainers who are training every day. How old the dog is and how much previous training s/he has had before you start also affects the duration. It depends on the dog and how willing and interested s/he is to learn, how dedicated you are as a trainer, how good your training skills are, your specific tasks and many other factors like your health while you train.
Remember that not all dogs that start training will be suitable in the end to be certified to assist you in public places. Be prepared to remove your dog from training and find another. Plan what will happen to the dog. Will you rehome him? Will you keep him?
Education is an Important Role of the Handler
Much of having an assistance dog is about taking the time to educate the public about the laws.
Having your service dog in training identified with a training vest is one way to show you are serious about training, but is not required by law.
What Identification Does my Dog Need Once s/he is certified?
Once your dog is certified, s/he will wear the identification provided issued by the certifying body. In BC and Alberta, retailers can only ask if your dog is a certified service dog and to ask to see that collar tag/certification. Make sure you can produce it at all times in public. If the dog is not wearing a certification tag or you do not have it, the establishment may choose to prevent access. They can also ask for the certification number from the tag and call to verify that your dog is registered with the province. If you or your dog create a disturbance, they can ask for your dog's tag number and make a complaint to the Ministry of Justice.
In the US, retailers, transportation and accommodation providers can only ask if the dog is a service dog and what tasks the dog performs for you.
What about Fakers?
If your dog is not certified and you claim s/he is, that is fraudulent representation and you may be subject up to a $3000-$6000 fine depending where you are located. If you live where your dog does not need to be certified, s/he does need to have specific training both for public access (120 hours) and for tasks that specifically mitigate your disability to qualify for public access as a service dog. This is where the documentation and proof of training can help you prove your dog is legitimate.
Can We Get Certified Online?
No. Going online to get your dog certified is a waste of money as none of them are legitimate.
A couple of simple criteria to rule out bogus tests:
1. All legitimate assessment/certification tests for owner-trained teams are done in person. The testers need to see you and your dog working together in person and they will make sure you know how to take care of your dog and know your rights and responsibilities. Public safety is the number on concern for certifying bodies. The application process may be online, but there will always be an in-person part of the test.
2. The organizations doing the certification in North America will be accredited by either Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation or a state or provincial body or an organization that has been contracted by the state or province to assess the team in person.
If the certifyer doesn't meet these two criterion, then it will not be a legitimate one in North America.
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