• Posted on December 1, 2016 8:48 am

    I receive many inquiries from various individuals and organizations with questions regarding Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals. Below I will explain what each is, what they are for and how they are different from one another. Please keep in mind I am not a lawyer, and that you should consult a lawyer with any specific questions. This article is here for general information purposes only.  What are Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Dogs? Service Dog - A Service Dog is a dog that was trained to perform specific tasks to help their disabled handler. In other words, a service dog is a highly calibrated piece of medical equipment, or auxiliary aid, that accompanies the handler wherever they go.Emotional Support Animal - An Emotional Support Animal (also known as an "ESA") is an untrained animal (usually dogs or cats) that accompanies their emotionally impaired handler as a form of untrained emotional support. There can be many benefits for the handlers of ESAs, however due to the large number of fraudulent abuse of the system, ESAs are becoming more heavily scrutinized. ESAs do not have the same public access as service dogs.Therapy Dog - A therapy dog is a dog that provides comfort and affection to groups of people. The therapy dog is in no way trained to assist the handler, instead the handler and dog visit facilities (hospitals, retirement homes, schools, etc.) as good will ambassadors. Therapy dogs may or may not be trained, but will have been evaluated for temperament. These dogs are calm, aloof and soothing. People find comfort in their presence and interacting with them.A mentally disabled person may have a service dog, or an emotional support animal. The difference is that the service dog is trained to perform tasks that mitigate the handlers disability, while an emotional support animal is not. Service Animals must be either a dog or miniature horse, while an ESA does not have this restriction. If the ESA has been individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate the handlers disability, this dog should be properly labeled as a service dog, not an ESA. THE LAW​While service dogs and ESAs disabled owners have laws protecting their public access, therapy dogs do not. Therapy dogs, after evaluation, must receive the express permission of a facility to bring their dog on the premises at an allotted time. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) - This law protects airlines from discriminating against people with disabilities. Part of this covers ESAs and service dogs. Service dogs are allowed admittance with minimal interference, while ESAs are required to act properly and not interfere with other passengers. The disabled individual must also provide proper documentation for themselves and their ESA in addition to any other pre-flight/pre-boarding policies and procedures specific to ESAs and their handlers. Assuming the disabled person and their ESA are allowed to board with the proper permissions and paperwork, the ACAA protects the disabled individual from being charged additional fees or having to cage their ESA below the seat or in cargo.The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) - The ADA protects the right of disabled individuals to have their service dog accompany them in public places. This means the dog must be individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Since most ESAs are not trained to perform any tasks, they do not receive the same access protection. The Fair Housing Act Amendments (FHAA) - This law essentially protects protected classes from being discriminated against. It extends to much more than just disabled people, however that is what I will be focusing on. In the most basic sense, this protects disabled people from being discriminated against in the rental or purchase of a dwelling (please see the law specifics). One reasonable accommodation to consider for disabled people is the access of a service dog or ESA. This means that landlords are compelled to waive the "no pets" policy, or their "pet deposit" policy. This does not mean that the landlord cannot charge you for additional damage done to the property by your service dog or ESA. In addition, if the animal is acting unruly or poses a threat the landlord, tenants or property they can possibly deny housing or charge a pet deposit. The disabled individual is still subject to all of the normal requirements of any other tenant, such as keeping the domicile clean, using designated potty areas for the dog, cleaning up after the dog, maintaining the dogs health, etc. There are many other caveats to the law as well, so again, please consult a lawyer regarding any specifics. THE CONTROVERSYSo what is all of the fuss about these different classifications of dogs, and why should you care? There are many imitators and impersonators out there that are hurting the image of these classifications of dogs. This is having a negative impact on legitimate teams, that are already having to conquer tremendous difficulties on a daily basis. I have met people at stores that have a dog with a vest prominently advertising "Service Dog", but the dog is acting unruly and the handler is ignoring them - like they would a pet. Sometimes I'll speak with individuals that fit this description to talk about their dog and find out they don't have a disability, but they have a "service dog" with them in a store that is acting out. This creates a bad image and addition scrutiny of those with legitimate service dogs and ESAs. An ESA does not have ADA access, and therefore should not be allowed in stores or restaurants. If the ESA has been trained to perform individual tasks to benefit the disabled individual, than you should label this dog as a service dog, and not an ESA on your equipment. Doing otherwise is a injustice to teams and misguides other individuals who would like to have their pet accompany them.In addition, there are many website set up to sell prescription doctors notes and service dog/ESA/Therapy dog IDs, vests and the promise of adding you to an arbitrary registry. These scams blur the line of reality for people, that are being fed misinformation while trying to perform the proper steps, and defrauding people in bulk. If you were sent an ID, doctor's note, service dog vest and had your registry information from a seemingly legitimate company, you would think you had done everything legally needed for a service dog. You can even purchase them on Amazon and eBay! But how can a doctor you have never met or seen in your life prescribe you anything? In addition, you must suffer a disability that cannot otherwise be mitigated with a different form of equipment. Anyone can buy these kits, but that doesn't make you or your dog legal. At the same time you cannot know if the handler has a disability you aren't able to identify. This leaves businesses is a predicament. Legally businesses can ask two questions:1. Is this a service animal?2. What tasks does the Service Animal perform?Businesses cannot:1.Require special identification for the animal (remember that aforementioned scam?)2.Ask about this persons disability(s)3.Charge additional fees because of the animal4.Refuse admittance, isolate, segregate or treat the team less favorably than other patronsA disabled person cannot be asked to remove their service dog from the premises unless:1.The dog is out of control and the owner does not take effective action to control it2.The dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of othersSome people would ask at this point why isn't this a more strictly regulated law? Why is there no national standard or certifying body for service dogs? The answer is simple. The average cost to train a service dog is $100,000 and it takes approximately 2 years, per most non-profit service dog organizations. Many people with disabilities are on fixed incomes, with little chance of being placed with a dog in a reasonable time period (if at all). The ADA encourages disabled people to train their own dogs to perform necessary tasks to mitigate their disability. If you are training your own service dog, but have not proofed their training completely yet, please place an "In Training" identifier as well. This helps people understand why your dog may exhibit behaviors not commonly seen in finished service dogs. The services provided by these dogs are of great benefit to many disabled people, and everyone should do their part to keep these sacred relationships pure.

  • Posted on December 1, 2016 7:31 am

    This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed in a realistic manner. Trainers need to take responsibility for techniques they misguide the public with and the subsequent damage they cause.On average, 4,500,000 people are bitten each year. Keep in mind these are reported bites and not the total number of all incidents. That is roughly 12,328 bites a day. Of these bites, 885,000 (over 2,400 a day) require medical attention. Despite kinder, gentler training methods dog bites have not decreased. Roughly 1.5% of the population is affected each year.​Aggression is one of the most misunderstood behaviors, even amongst canine professionals. Roughly 1 out of every 20 dogs I evaluate for aggression is actually aggressive. I apply the frustration-aggression theory (explained below) to work backward from triggers and shape behaviors. By taking control of the situation and being proactive, we can eliminate virtually all frustration and avoid any aggression.This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed in a realistic manner.On average, 4,500,000 people are bitten each year. Keep in mind these are reported bites and not the total number of all incidents. That is roughly 12,328 bites a day. Of these bites, 885,000 (over 2,400 a day) require medical attention. Despite kinder, gentler training methods dog bites have not decreased. Let us examine a scenario to include viable outcomes when we change the stimuli of a reactive vs. proactive owner/handler:Scenario: We are walking down the street when all of a sudden our dog runs out to the end of the leash and begins pulling and barking. There is someone walking their dog the opposite way, on the opposite side of the street. Some people may say this behavior is aggressive, but I think we can all at least agree that it is definitely out of the ordinary for a properly socialized dog. We fail, in that split second that we have to react, to comprehend all the different scenarios that could have brought about this particular conflict. The other dog could be in heat, could have a toy or treat, or it may even be the owner is behaving suspiciously to our dog. Even though we can't comprehend all of the outside influences creating the problem, we have to intervene immediately.The Reactive Owner/Handler Solution: Most people's natural reaction is to react, not necessarily to the behavior offered by our dog but, to the social pressure from other people to exhibit control over our animal. The reactive owner/handler chooses to intervene verbally and aggressively. We yell at our dog to stop and calm down, or yank on the leash while telling them "No". This brings our dog up in drive and aggravates the situation. Our dog learns over time to be aggressive because of the way these natural instincts have been reinforced. Not because our dog gets any enjoyment or gratification out of it.The Proactive Owner/Hander Solution: If we were to respond with body language by sitting on the ground while slowly and calmly petting our dog while whispering in a barely audible tone positive reinforcers, then our dog will begin to come down in drive and will allow our dog to be more comprehensive of our communication. We calm our dog and lower the frustration levels. Over time this dog will become desensitized and ignore other dogs, their smells, possessions and owners. Instead, redirecting to us for positive reinforcement.There are important differences between frustration and aggression. In my experience, people that don't work dogs in high drives fail to understand these natural dog instincts. And that is a key difference - instinct versus learned behavior. Frustration is instinctual, a preprogrammed response to being kept from changing or achieving something. Aggression is a learned behavior triggered by a specific stimuli. Aggression means the dog intends to be violent and attack. Frustration is the dog attempting to communicate that they are upset or annoyed.The Frustration-Aggression Theory has been around since 1939.There are several key factors to consider: It states that frustration leads to aggression. Frustration is "the state that emerges when circumstances interfere with a goal response". In some situations, frustration does augment the likelihood of aggression. Research indicates that frustration is more likely to lead to aggression if aggressive behavior helps to eliminate the frustration. The amount of frustration and subsequent aggression depends on how near the individual is to the goal when they are blocked. Frustration does not inevitably result in aggression. It is important to identify the circumstances under which frustration will end in aggression. Berkowitz revised the theory later to contend that aggression is the result of an interaction between an internal emotional state and cues that are available in the environment. Frustration alone is not sufficient to produce aggression. A frustrating experience creates a readiness to aggress. Whether aggression will occur depends on stimuli cues.The frustration-aggression theory specifically states "human or organism", meaning this is a universal theory of aggression that applies to canines as well. Now if this is true of humans, with supposedly much more complex mentality than that of a dog, would this not also be true to for dogs? I am not anthropomorphizing, but trying to show the scientific proof and logic that go into my training theory. If humans with "more evolved" brains cannot elicit aggression from frustration alone, then how can dogs?Example: A large dog that has never had exposure to a small dog may elicit a response from the stimuli of the small dog. If that response is to stop, freeze, stare and then take off, chasing after the small dog - some people may mistakenly label that as aggression. This is a natural response to small prey like objects moving quickly. Our dog naturally wants to go investigate and is stimulated to chase it. If the handler prevents their dog from investigating by keeping them on lead and not allowing them access to the prey object, the dog will become frustrated. The circumstance (presence of the small dog) has interfered with the goal response (walking normally on lead), which is the state of frustration. If this happens repeatedly, then we may have augmented the likelihood of aggression. At this point our dog will escalate their behavior as the frustration level rises, having learned that it can get the attention of the other dog or get the other dog to leave by exhibiting these extreme behaviors. If the owners separate the dogs, the dogs may perceive they scared the other one off. Thus, if aggression helps eliminate the frustration, aggressive behavior is more likely to occur. When we pass the other dog, our dog has peaked in frustration. The closer in proximity, the more likely aggression will occur. Just because your dog is frustrated, does not mean it will inevitably become aggressive. We have control over most circumstances. Using foresight can help eliminate frustration and avoid these triggers. The revision is also important, as it states that whether aggression will occur depends on stimuli cues, which is clearly evident when reviewing the sequence of events. The most important stimulus cue is that of the owner/handler.The worst part is that this behavior cycle, once learned, is self-reinforcing. As we continue to expose them to the same stimuli and situations without properly intervening we are unwittingly perpetuating the problem.Another Example: A dog is limping, and the owner goes to look at it. When the owner approaches the dog avoids the owner. When the owner grabs the injured limb, the dog growls or possibly even bites. The ASPCA would label this as "pain-induced aggression", as per their website. But when people do the exact same thing, medical doctors label this identical human behavior as "guarding". This means we have a sense of self-worth and a personal bubble. Moreover, it is a natural instinct of self-preservation. So let us re-evaluate this scenario using the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis. If the dog is limping, we can assume they are in pain. The circumstance of pain has interfered with the dog's ability to function normally and be comfortable. If the owner grabs the injured limb in a sensitive spot, is unintentionally rough or repeatedly aggravates the injury any other way, this would augment the frustration and may result in aggression. If it helps to relieve the frustration, aggression is more likely. If the dog has tried to convey that it doesn't want us to touch its leg, and we insist on doing so anyway the dog may snap. If we jump back, the dog just learned (from us) that the best way to be left alone is to act out aggressively. But in reality, if the dog were a person, this would be classified as self-defense. But since we see the dog as property, much like slaves throughout history, their emotional needs are cast aside for the convenience of the owner and we use domination if they act out instead of offering support, sympathy and empathy. If the dog has already gone to their kennel for refuge, and we invade the kennel to aggravate their injury we are more likely to experience an aggressive reaction from the dog. This is because they are very close to the goal of being isolated without aggravating the injury. Here’s a couple interesting analogies to consider:If we don't like getting wet, and someone was to pour water over us while we were walking down the street then we'd be frustrated. Some more so than others. If we are sleeping in our home and someone we know pours water on us, would we respond with lesser, equal or greater frustration? The obvious answer is you would be more frustrated by this situation, and even though you know the individual you are more likely to act aggressively than if a stranger hit you with a water balloon on the street.If a child tells someone not to touch their broken arm, is that aggression or defense? What if the child can't speak or is autistic, and reacts with body language like pushing someone away or kicking and screaming to create a safe space? Is it aggression or self-preservation? Is the child that protected their arm in the wrong, or the person who was aggravating the injury? And wouldn't an aggravation of an injury, by pure definition, cause aggression?People and dogs get along so well because we both speak the same natural first language. We can speak to a person for hours online or over the phone and have no true idea about their character. Walking down the street, though, we can tell a suspicious person from 50 yards away without ever exchanging a single word.When we label a dog as "aggressive" it insinuates that the problem is the dog. We fail to take responsibility for our actions, and therefore cannot identify or address the true problem. My favorite trait of dogs is their honesty. If we take the time to read their body language, they will try their best to communicate openly and honestly with us. There is no deceit or motivation for lying.In the end, it is a matter of perspective. I choose to believe that the dogs are not at fault, and with the proper guidance, they can be taught to act the way we expect them to. Some people (like the ASPCA) would disagree, and say those dogs are hopeless or that the social liability is far too great and that humane euthanasia is your best option. I have yet to meet a dog that could not get over their "aggression" problems and have never had a dog put down for them either.Thank you for reading! For more information on aggressive dogs, please see our blog. Don't see what you're looking for? E-mail us your questions so we can get them answered for everyone! Please like and share this pages with friends to help get the word out!Reference: Dollard, L. W. Doob, N. E. Miller, O. H. Mowrer, and R. R. Sears. Frustration and aggression. New Haven: Yale University Freer, 1939.