You’ve probably seen it, a dog barking in a restaurant or dragging their owner down the hallway of a hotel or even lunging at other dogs; they have a vest, maybe one that looks just like a PSD vest, but they don’t have the training to go with that responsibility. Once you’ve met a fully trained service dog or even a puppy in service dog training, it’s easy to spot a pet in a vest.
The dogs barking or lunging in these situations are not to blame, their people are. As service dogs have become more common to see in daily life, more people have taken advantage of the laws protecting service dog teams. It might seem like a harmless bending of the law to “pass off” a pet as a service dog, but real service dog teams—including our veterans—are paying the price every day.
Why People Buy Service Dog Vests For Pets:
There are two types of people who take advantage of the laws protecting service dog teams: those who know they are bending the law and those who don’t understand the law.
Those who know what they’re doing do so for pretty obvious reasons, they want to take their dog to places where they aren’t allowed, and they don’t want to pay extra for the privilege. Even as more hotels become pet friendly, most hotel chains still charge high pet fees which can make safely traveling with a dog very expensive. Flying with a dog is expensive and stressful if the dog must travel as cargo in the belly of the plane. And sometimes, folks just want their dog with them. These people are usually dog lovers, but instead of doing their research to find dog-friendly places, they are taking advantage of laws meant to protect service dog teams.
The second group of people is harder to explain. Some people don’t understand the rigorous training that goes into a service dog and mistakenly believe that their well-behaved pet counts as a service dog. They don’t realize that they’re bending the law. This problem is exacerbated by a common misconception that any dog who passes a Canine Good Citizenship test (CGC) is qualified to be a service dog.
CGC certification does require an owner and their dog to pass a high level of obedience testing, but it does not require the dog to perform any service dog tasks like opening cabinets, bracing for balance, or picking up dropped car keys. In fact, many of the rescue dogs we have trained in our WOOF adoption program have passed their CGC tests. The certification helped them find a new family, but it didn’t make them service dogs. A service dog has to provide specific tasks for their person, not just behave in public.
In both of these cases, we believe that most people who bend the law are not doing so with malicious intent, but that they don’t understand how their actions affect others. A lack of public education about service dogs creates the problem.
How Fake Service Dogs Effect Real Service Dog Teams:
Who does it hurt if you buy a service dog vest online and put it on your pet to avoid a $50 hotel pet fee? Well, everyone with a trained service dog, their families, and puppy raisers.
Every time a hotel, restaurant, airline, or grocery store sees a pet in a service dog vest cause some disturbance in their business, those business owners become more suspicious of all dogs in vests and less welcoming to their people. They are more likely to stop and publicly question real service dog teams about the tasks their dog provides or to simply deny the team entry (this is illegal, but hard to fight without taking a business to court). These stops are often embarrassing and intrusive. Imagine you and your family quickly running into the grocery store to grab milk and being stopped in the middle of the aisle by a manager to explain your service dog. Unfortunately, some of our veteran/service dog teams have experienced this first-hand.
This problem is particularly difficult for people who do not have an easily identifiable need for a service dog, like a veteran with a traumatic brain injury or a person with a seizure disorder. For veterans with PTSD, these intrusive interactions disrupting their normal life can be a trigger on their own. The problem also trickles down to puppy raisers in public with dogs in training. So, someone might save themselves $50, but the price will still be paid.
What is Being Done to Help?
After years of dealing with untrained dogs and other animals (even ducks and kangaroos) on their planes, airlines are leading the way in stopping the rise of fake service dogs. Patriot Service Dogs has even developed a relationship with a team member at Frontier Airlines whose entire job is to handle fake service animals and check that the real ones have reputable training. Soon, we are expecting the airlines to require all service dogs on board to come from an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI). This policy will sharply cut down on pets in service dog vests, but unfortunately, it will make it more challenging for credible but small organizations, who don’t have accreditation and privately trained service dogs. If people stopped bending the law, this policy wouldn’t be necessary.
At Patriot Service Dogs, we believe that public education is key to solving the problem. Many people don’t realize the harm they cause when they put their pet in a vest. Some people who have never interacted with a fully trained service dog might not even know the difference. So, we make sure that our dogs provide good examples to the public and we do our best to educate our community of weekend raisers, volunteers, and donors. We encourage you to do the same! Together, we can help the public understand that a vest doesn’t make a service dog.
If you know someone who likes to take their pet dog to restaurants, hotels, events, etc., you can introduce them to dog-friendly resources like Bringfido.com.