I often get asked how can you tell if a dog is really a service dog? Can that 4 lb Chihuahua really be helping someone or do they just want their dog with them everywhere they go?
One identifier is the behavior of the dog. A professionally trained service dog will behave accordingly, they will not be aggressive, they will not be seeking attention, no constant barking, no defecating in public. If properly trained it should be fairly unnoticed. For example, I have taken many dogs I am training into restaurants and upon leaving have had people approach me saying they didn’t even know there was a dog with me. Keep in mind, I deal mostly with larger breed dogs such as Doberman Pinschers, Shepherds and Retrievers. These are not easily hidden, but because of their calm nature and training they blend in.
That being said, this does not mean that a smaller dog which has not gone through this level of training can NOT be an actual service dog. There have been several cases where a dog began to alert to certain changes within their owner. Be it high blood pressure alert, diabetic alert, seizure alert, anxiety attack, etc. The dog naturally becomes bonded with that individual and tells them of any changes so they can take the necessary steps to correct the issue or get to a safe place. These are also service dogs, and sometimes their behavior will not be that of a fully trained service dog but their owners need for them and the service they provide is crucial.
This is the definition of a service animal according to the ADA Laws. The dog MUST perform a task specific to a medical need for the individual. Being a service dog owner means you are responsible for the way your service dog behaves in public. Not all people are dog people (sad, I know!) so keeping your dog under control is key. It also keeps unwanted scrutiny to your service dog – if it behaves properly most of the time that within itself deters further questioning and having to prove the dog is a service dog.
So my answer to those questions are: you can’t always tell if a dog is actually a service dog, although proper public behavior is usually a very good sign. And yes, that little 4 lb Chihuahua can be assisting its owner and have even been known to save lives! If you are a service dog owner do your part to be a responsible owner. If you are not then don’t pass judgement based upon the size/breed of the dog.
Enjoy your weekend. Take care.