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A Few Questions - My Dog A Psychiatric Service Dog?

The Service and Therapy Dog forum is for all service and therapy dogs regardless of whether or not their status is legally defined by federal or state law, how they are trained, or whether or not they are "certified." Posts questioning or disputing a person's need for a service or therapy dog, the validity of a person's service or therapy dog, or the dog's ability to do the work of a service or therapy dog are not permitted in this forum. Please keep discussions fun, friendly, and helpful at all times.

  
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Athena

1287648
 
 
Barked: Fri Mar 1, '13 6:32pm PST 
OK, I know you probably get the newbies trying to turn their pet into a service dog just so they can bring it everywhere all the time. But hold on, this one may be a little different. First off, I have researched this quite a bit.
First, yes I am disabled. I have been on disability, receiving benefits, for the past 2 1/2 years. As much of a train wreck as it sounds, PTSD, Anxiety/Panic, Agoraphobia, and OCD are conditions present in my disability.
I have had dogs my entire life. My mother was a volunteer for Guide Dogs For The Blind, and we helped train, foster, and breed with them for many years, so even before I became disabled I was probably a lot more familiar with what it means to be a service dog.

A little while ago I was lucky enough to be chosen by Athena at our local shelter. She's a great dog. Soon afterward when everything calmed down we developed a very unique bond. She picks up on a lot of the things I do regarding my disabilities. She can sense a wave of panic or the PTSD coming before I can. She will lean against me, get a little restless when one is coming, signaling me to do whatever I need to do to curb it. She will often even try to lead me away from certain situations that will trigger an attack. She even has learned to disrupt some of my OCD behavior when that is getting bad. An example is I occasionally get overly paranoid of locking my home when leaving. I would go back and jiggle that doorknob seriously up to 6 times or more to make sure its locked(walking out the door could turn into a half hour process). She has gotten to the point she will sit down and not go back after the first or second recheck, as to say "geez come on its locked already!"
As far as I can tell, this behavior is of a service dog type. I'm not dragging her everywhere in claims she just keeps me calm. Rather, she is doing actual tasks and even signaling to me in a way that greatly helps me with disorders.
My question is, under the guidelines by the ADA, is that they say the dog needs to be trained TO DO THAT. And if I'm being completely honest, no one ever did. She just picked up on it herself, and decided to help. So legally speaking, would she still fit in as a service dog, or would she need to be trained to do the stuff she already knows how to do?
Don't get me wrong, I know there is a lot more to it than just that. She isn't ready for the full blown act yet, but we could be getting close. She is just a few steps from getting her CGC cert. But I think she really has a lot of the foundation down.
Opinions/thoughts?
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Link

Hero of Hyrule
 
 
Barked: Sat Mar 2, '13 12:01am PST 
My boy Link naturally alerts and responds to symptoms of my disability. However I noticed these behaviors, reinforced them, and proofed them around distractions (no dog will be 100% trained everywhere automatically) so that makes them trained behaviors. Even something as simple as praise or petting for doing a behavior will communicate to the dog that you like it and to continue doing it, which makes that a trained behavior IMO.
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Isaac

1278829
 
 
Barked: Sat Mar 2, '13 4:12am PST 
Well, receiving disability benefits doesn't necessarily mean you meet the definition of disabled as laid out by the ADA. I'm not saying you don't meet their definition, I have no idea if you do or not. Just that getting social security disability doesn't mean you do.

Yes, your dog must be trained to perform tasks that mitigate your disability. Things she does naturally do not count as tasks under the ADA.

It takes about 18 months to train a service dog and many dogs don't have the right temperament for the job, particularly the public access part.
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Link

Hero of Hyrule
 
 
Barked: Sat Mar 2, '13 9:04am PST 
Isaac, are you saying dogs who naturally alert to seizures (for example) do not count as SDs because the behavior wasn't trained?
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Cooper

microscopic mutt
 
 
Barked: Sat Mar 2, '13 11:26am PST 
Link, that's correct. The ADA says that a service dog is one "that is individually TRAINED to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability." So if the dog is just doing things it figured out on its own they don't count as tasks or work. There is a lot of case law in this area that substantiates this. See, for instance, Timberlane Mobile Home Park v. Washington State Human Rights Commission, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/wa-court-of-appeals/1003929.html

Howev er, shaping, reinforcing and proofing are all types of training, so if any of them have been done to strengthen a behavior that mitigates a disability then a case can be made that the dog has been individually trained to do tasks or work.
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Pooch ~ I- miss you ~

love forever
 
 
Barked: Sat Mar 2, '13 1:28pm PST 
If a dog naturally alerts already, I read that some of the training the service dog organizations do with them is to shape the alert, in other words to alter what the dog does when they are alerting to the medical condition. So would that be enough to consider the dog trained to do tasks?
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Isaac

1278829
 
 
Barked: Sat Mar 2, '13 3:57pm PST 
Yes, that's what I'm saying. If the only thing the dog does is to alert, which is does naturally and wasn't trained to do, that would not make it a service dog. However, why not train the dog to perform other tasks? For instance, if a dog alerts you to seizures, why not train the dog to do tasks to help you when you have a seizure? The dog could bring you medication, could get someone to help you, could call 911 (yeah, dogs can be trained to do that), etc. Then it would be a service dog.
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Crazy Sadie- Lady

Im a SD and- proud of it so- there!!!!
 
 
Barked: Sat Mar 2, '13 5:24pm PST 
OOOOh Boy i know I am going to get a lot of flack on this response but I really don't like people telling me that Sadie is not a SD cause she was not formally trained. All her talent is her own I just trained/incuraged her to keep doing what she dose for me. I felt the no brainer way was better for us both. Why make it complicated when it is not I don't agree that the ADA means that a natural alert or task is not mediated for a disabiliti. Learned or not it still is a task that the dog dose. I really don't cause if saying this up set anyone who dose not agree. I do not feel that makes Sadie a Real SD or not. My town sees her as one so I am cool with that and are my doctors. I feel that everytime I come in here feeling that a lot of people are put down or discuraged form training their dogs. I dont know why this is since I feel that we all are on the same side. I feel that Athena is a lot like Sadie they are simular breeds and the breeds are very intelgent. Sadie is able to learn a lot on her own and is easy to train like I was told she would be.
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Peekaboo

You can't see- me!
 
 
Barked: Sun Mar 3, '13 1:23am PST 
The dog in question in the case that was linked to had been trained by reinforcement – she was given praise and a treat. The judge who originally decided the case even said that the dog received training via positive reinforcement. The judges who reversed the decision said that the type of training (reinforcement) would “make any family pet into a service animal.” The problem, in this specific case, appears to be that the dog received no formal training and “may not be trainable as a service animal.”

I do have to wonder why this case was not tried under the FHA as it was clearly about housing. Surely if it had, the outcome would have been different since the FHA has no requirement for training.

In any case, I think this thoroughly illustrates the reason why it is so important to keep training logs and to meet with a trainer at least a handful of times if you are owner training for an evaluation, check-in, and some sort of PAT.

Edited to add clicky link of the case for those who need it.

Edited by author Sun Mar 3, '13 1:24am PST

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Peekaboo

You can't see- me!
 
 
Barked: Sun Mar 3, '13 2:08am PST 
I realized I didn't actually address OP's post...

Athena, it sounds like your dog is already a wonderful help to you, which is really great. But as the others have said, a dog who has received no training at all is not a service dog. What I would do if I were you is begin by ensuring you meet the ADA definition of disabled. Since you receive disability benefits you most likely do, but there are cases where people are receiving benefits and are not disabled according to the ADA. If you're unsure if you meet the definition, you can talk with your doctor or other care provider, and they should be able to help you with that.

The second thing you should do is write down a list of things that you have trouble with that your dog may be able to help you with. This is something that your care provider can help you with if you’re having trouble, or the people on the forum here are usually willing to help as well. It’s okay if your dog is already doing most or everything on the list, but my point for you to do this is to make sure that there isn’t something that would be of great help to you that you could train your dog to do, as well as showing documentation that you have thought about it.

The next thing will be to find a trainer. If possible, you will want one who has experience with service dogs; if that’s not possible, you want one that has experience with advanced obedience, like rally, agility, competition obedience. The first thing you want to have the trainer do is an evaluation – see if your dog is even suited to being a service dog. The trainer should be able to tell what areas you need to work on as well as how to train any new tasks that you would like to train.

Regardless of whether you’ll be training new tasks or not, you should work on training with the things Athena already does for you. By this, I mean shape the behavior so it’s exactly what you want it to be, reinforce it so she does it reliably, and proof it so that she will it 90% (or more) of the time in any environment, including high distraction environments that she’s never been in before. Do this with any new tasks that you will be teaching her as well. If done correctly, this will take a fair amount of time.

This part is really important: whenever you are doing any sort of training, even if it’s just five minutes here or there, write it down. Keep a log of all the training that you do. This will help prove that she is trained if you ever have to go to court. Obviously we hope it never comes to that, but it does happen sometimes.

I don’t know where you’re located, but it’s important you find out what your local in training laws are. If you are granted in training rights with Athena, then you need to be sure to follow them until you finish with training (ie, if it says wear a certain color vest, don’t wear a different color). If you are not granted access, then you have to do your training in pet friendly places and with the permission of any place that it is not against the health code for an animal to be there – which is usually anywhere that serves food.

Once Athena has completed training (performing her tasks at least 90% on the first command in high distraction environments without being stressed is a good measure), then you should have a trainer issue a Public Access Test (PAT). There are several different versions of this floating around. A PAT is not legally required but having your dog take one does two things – the first is that it documents that your dog is well behaved in public (which, again, is good if you ever have to go to court) and the second is that it gives you peace of mind that your dog is able to perform well. I do know some people who have their dogs take it more than once (either a week or so apart the first time or yearly) because a PAT is only a “snapshot” of your dog, how your dog is behaving on that specific day. She might be having a spectacular day and pass whereas she might not on any other day, if you understand what I mean.

This doesn’t have anything to do with her training, but I’m mentioning it because I don’t think anyone else has. It would be a good idea to get all of Athena’s health testing. Not just taking her to the vet and having a once-over, but a full blood panel (including thyroid, etc.). It would be excellent if you could get her hips and elbows checked as well, which have to be sent off for evaluation. You cannot use her for mobility or counterbalancing unless you do this as it could potentially harm her – I don’t know if you’re planning on using her for that, I just wanted to mention it.

Remember that service dog training takes a long time, and it’s very important not to rush things. Slow is fast, as they say. Rushing her may cause her to burn out and not want to work – and that is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s excellent that you’re working on Athena’s CGC as that is a good start.
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