A Guide Dog Candidate

It’s been nearly a year since Bradley, my previous guide dog retired. In that time, my life has changed profoundly in several ways. Most significantly, my husband and I welcomed our first child into our family. Our six month old daughter is the center of our world.

During my pregnancy and for several months after my daughter’s birth, I put my plans to train a successor guide dog on hold. I’m so glad that I did because it allowed me to dedicate 100% of my attention to my newborn daughter’s needs.

After many waking hours of reflection, I’ve concluded that I’m ready to begin the process of obtaining my next guide dog.

I’m starting out by launching fund raising campaigns to assist with the initial purchase of a dog who will be my service dog candidate.

The first campaign is a t-shirt fundraiser via Teespring. The theme is “Where there’s a dog, there’s a way.” This is not only a reference to the amazing impact service dogs have on the lives of the disabled, but also to the incredible versatility of the species. Dogs have been enhancing civilization for thousands of years. Whether you have a dog who contributes to your livelihood or have a pet who amazes you on a daily basis, we can all think of myriad examples of dogs making our lives better.

Please consider purchasing a shirt to support my journey with my next guide dog. You can purchase a shirt with this design through February 4th. If enough shirts aren’t ordered, Teespring won’t print them and you won’t be charged- So be sure to share this with your friends to make sure enough are ordered for you to get yours!

Click here to see the t-shirt









How the Idea of the “Fake Service Dog Epidemic” is Hurting Service Dog Handlers (Part I)

In September of 2013, I had my first (and only, to date) access challenge. Everything ended on a positive note, because I was prepared with printed information for the business and did not engage anyone in a confrontational manner. I recorded the exchange and it’s on my YouTube channel. 

Of course, my access challenge video gets far less attention than its more sensationalized counterparts, which usually consist of handlers losing their composure and the confrontation escalating…because, which is more emotionally charged?

Earlier today, I stumbled upon a comment on my video, made by a person who questions the legitimacy of my service dog and speculates that there must have been red flags that gave the business cause for concern. Further back and forth with this person goes on to reveal that the person is very anti-owner trainer and pro-nationally recognized certification system.

If it weren’t such a troubling state of affairs that we now live in a reality in which service dog handlers have to contend with a general public, who, in the interest of protecting “real service dog teams,” jumps at the opportunity to make presumptions and accusations first and ask questions later, I would find it funny that someone could happen upon a video devoid of drama, which clearly demonstrates a service dog handler who is dedicated to non-confrontational education and associate the handler with those who misuse the system.

You can view the aforementioned comments on my video on YouTube.

(After asserting my positions on various issues and identifying that this is an individual who is not interested disagreeing in a constructive or civil manner, I’ve decided not to engage the person any further.)

My First Serious Access Challenge

This past Tuesday was the first time I experienced an access challenge that went beyond something along the lines of, “We don’t allow dogs in here.” “He’s a service dog.” “Oh, ok.” Or, “Is that a service dog?” “Yes.” “Ok, just checking.”

I was pressed to present “paperwork,” for my dog. Here’s a video of how things transpired with the second employee who approached me.

(Video description on YouTube: Before recording this, I had an initial interaction with a different employee, who insisted I present papers/documentation for my service dog. After quickly asserting my rights with her, she opted to have me talk to someone else, who I was told would be a manager.

This video reflects the entirety of my interaction with the second and final employee who I dealt with.)

My biggest Achilles Heel in this situation was the degree to which I was caught off guard. I’m lucky in that I’ve become accustomed to a partnership devoid of experiences like this one. Business employees rarely give me a second glance- at least not a scrutinizing one- when I enter with Bradley. So, when I was immediately approached in a somewhat hostile manner, being commanded to present documentation that was not legally required of me to either possess or present, I was very taken aback. I’ve experienced a myriad of access challenges, vicariously, through my friends in the service dog community, but it’s entirely different to experience it first hand. This was an invaluable learning experience just as much for me as it was for the employees to whom I asserted my rights and offered an education of theirs.

I do worry how much differently this experience would have been, had I not been prepared with the relevant educational resources about the applicable laws. Of course, I would have continued my effort to remain calm, well spoken and assertive, without compromising any of my rights or responsibilities as a representative of the service dog community. But I’m not sure that, in the absence of printed out educational material, the employees would have been as receptive to what I would have had to say.

This experience validated my position on the use of ID cards for service dogs, whether they’re from scam registries, fake certification companies or even the presentation of a legitimate certification ID for the purpose of gaining access to a place of public accommodation, during a public access dispute. Whoever was there with a dog, legitimate service dog or not, had presented something of that nature, which further cemented the impression in the eyes of management at that business that such documentation is required of service dog handlers. In an effort to make things easier for herself, that person directly affected how much more difficult things were made for me. I have no one to thank but myself, for my preparedness to deal with the ramifications of her decision.

The Quest for My Next Service Dog

As anyone who has been following this blog for quite some time knows, Bradley and I haven’t been partnered with each other terribly long.  I brought him home when he was 11 weeks old and started his training shortly after.  He’s now five years old.


Looking Ahead to the Future
For the past few years, my plan has been to acquire a puppy candidate to train as his successor.  There are a number of reasons I came to this conclusion.  Foremost is that I want Bradley to be able to retire at his own pace and to be able to ease into it.  That’s a luxury that many service dogs, unfortunately, are not afforded.

Nothing is guaranteed, and when a service dog is suddenly no longer able to work, it’s devastating to both the handler an the dog.  While I can’t predict the future, there is no way to deny that reality or, short of optimal medical care and maintenance, to guarantee against it happening.

My hope for Bradley is that he will live a long, healthy life and maintain his willingness and capability to perform his job for years go come.  That being said, I have established a timeline that I have committed to following, in regard to Bradley’s retirement.  Just thinking about Bradley retiring is enough to stir up painful emotions.  It’s a reality I have to face, though, and it’s better that I do that now than when my hand is forced.

I have chosen to begin the process of retiring Bradley at age eight.  In many cases, handlers choose to work their service dogs as late as ten or more years old.  In Bradley’s case, however, his job is not only mentally demanding but also physically demanding.  It is my belief that he should not be expected to perform his job as he does now, well into his senior years.  I want to provide Bradley with a long, happy retirement, as a very special pet.

The Plan
It takes about two years to train a service dog, from puppyhood.  My goal is to acquire a puppy service dog candidate by the time Bradley is six years old.  He just recently turned five.  This would allow me to take two years to train a puppy into young adulthood, with the hopes that he would be ready to take over for Bradley by the time Bradly turns eight.  Ideally, I would ease Bradley into retirement, working each dog alternately, until Bradley was ready to fully settle into life as a retired service dog and active pet, who would remain a major part of my life.

This means I need to acquire a young puppy within the year.  While that sounds like a liberal amount of time, once one takes into consideration the research that goes into finding a suitable breeder and then waiting until that breeder expects a new litter of puppies, which often only happens once a year, the clock ticks faster and faster.

There are a myriad of breeds that I have researched and have added to my list of breeds to consider for my future service dog candidate.  There are so many factors to take into consideration that there are few who fully meet my criteria for a partner.  Here is a list of some of my top choices of breeds:

Golden Retriever
A Golden Retriever is certainly a safe choice for a service dog candidate.  I have fallen head over heels for the breed.  Right now, however, is the time to explore my options and that is what I’m doing.  If the option presented itself so that I could acquire a suitable Golden Retriever from a compatible breeder, I would jump at the opportunity.


German Shepherd Dog (European Working Lines)
The GSD, while a common breed used for service work, is not quite as “safe” a choice as a Golden Retriever.  I’m perfectly comfortable with that.  I’m ready for a dog with more drive,  who is handler oriented, yet capable of thinking independently.



Belgian Malinois
These dogs are SMART.  Like the GSD, they are pumped full of drive and require a handler who can keep up with them.  I’ve reached the point in my dog handling experience that gives me the confidence that I am capable of a successful partnership with a dog who needs a job and the right handler to meet his needs.


Doberman Pinscher
I’ve been dreaming of the day I could call a Doberman my own for over half my life.  This is another highly intelligent breed who thrives with a job.  They can be independent thinkers but are closely bonded to their handlers and sometimes learn faster than their handlers can teach them!


Siberian Husky
Yes, I did say Siberian Husky.  This breed is quite unlike any of those listed above.  Aside from the Golden Retriever, they are also the only breed of those listed that I have actually owned.  My experience with my Siberian Husky, Sydney, was one of the best experiences I’ve had with a dog in my entire life.  They are notoriously hard-headed, independent thinkers and almost at the opposite end of the spectrum from Golden Retrievers, when it comes to ‘trainability.’  This is actually a ‘selling point’ for me.  I enjoy working with dogs that command creativity in training and I understand what makes these dogs tick.

Other breeds I’d gladly consider:
Rough Collie
Pit Bull- provided the dog were large enough.  Many are small.
Border Collie
Cane Corso
Norwegian Elkhound

Coming To Terms
This is a position I veery much wish I did not find myself in, but it is par for the course, as an owner trainer.  Not only does the search for compatible breeders present a unique challenge, but it also serves as a very real wake-up call that Bradley is not going to be my service dog forever.

I know that, unlike many working dogs, deep down, Bradley does not have the soul of a die-hard working dog.  He has been a phenomenal partner to me, an eager worker and a fast learner.  I can’t ask for much more than that.  Yet there remains the possibility, as there does with any service dog who is transitioning into retirement, that he will prefer his working life to that of life at home- especially when his position has been filled by another dog.  I plan to do my best to set him up for all the happiness in the world, in his life as a retired service dog.

Undoubtedly, I’ll experience my own type of grieving process, along the way.

Asking For Help
For both our sake, I’ll spare you the details of the circumstances which have contributed to me ending up in a position in which I’ve decided to ask for help from others to fulfill my goal of acquiring a service dog candidate during a very specific window of time.

If you’ve ever visited this blog before, you may have noticed that there is a link to the right that will bring you to a fund raising page.  That fund raising page is an effort to raise money to support the purchase of my next service dog candidate.  I ask that you consider supporting me in this endeavor by making a donation, no matter how small.

However, what I could most benefit from is finding a breeder who would be willing to consider donating a dog to me to train as my service dog.  I realize that this is asking a lot and I hope that you’ll continue to bear with me for just another minute.

I appreciate that giving dogs away may be a hardship on breeders.  However, there are a myriad of reasons why, in the long run, donating a dog for service work can work in a breeder’s favor.  Aside from putting titles on dogs, the pride that would undoubtedly result from producing a dog who successfully made it through training to become a service dog would speak volumes for one’s breeding program.  What better way to assure future puppy buyers that your dogs are of sound temperament than to have an active, working service dog who is enriching the life of a person with a disability?

So here is my plea to breeders, whether you produce a breed that I mentioned above or not: Please consider this tremendous act of kindness while fulfilling your dedication to better your breed to the best of your ability.

Assistance from Service Dogs for People with Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2013

We are currently in the midst of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2013 (Feb 24-March 2nd). The message NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) is promoting is, “Everyone knows someone.” The unfortunate reality is that this holds true with far more prevalence than most people are aware; According to NEDA, “30 Million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder during their lifetime.” Don’t think you know someone with an eating disorder? If you know me, you do. I’ve lived with an eating disorder for the past ten years.

In honor of ‘NEDA Week 2013,” I’d like to dedicate this post to exploring the potential for assistance that service dogs may offer to those struggling with eating disorders.


A Brief Review of the Role of Service Dogs
Service dogs are dogs who receive individual training to do work or perform tasks which mitigate their handlers’ unique disabilities. It’s safe to say that, in most cases, the exact nature of the assistance a service dog offers is distinct from the manner in which a service dog assists another individual with the same or a similar disability.

In defining the role of a service dog, it’s also necessary to understand what is meant by the term, “disability.” A disability is a condition that affects an individual in a manner that significantly affects or limits one or more major life activity.

A service dog is *not* a dog whose sole purpose is to provide comfort through companionship, whether that means a person is less depressed because of the therapeutic benefit of having a pet dog or a person feels safer having a pet dog whose presence may serve as a potential crime deterrent.

Two factors must be simultaneously present for a dog to be considered a service dog: A person with a life-limiting disability and a dog who has been individually trained to mitigate the manifestation of that person’s disability.

Alternative Uses of Dogs to Benefit Those with Psychiatric Disorders
There are two additional roles dogs may play in the lives of people with medical conditions or psychiatric disorders. These additional roles, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) are often confused with service dogs but it’s crucial to understand the differences between the roles. Later on, I will reference potential uses of ESA’s to benefit those who live with eating disorders. If you’d like to learn more about the differences between service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals, visit the page on the subject at the Please Don’t Pet Me website.

An emotional support animal does not need to be a dog- although dogs will be the focus of this post. Emotional support animals, unlike service dogs, do not need to undergo any individualized training to mitigate their owners’ disabilities. The primary role of an emotional support animal is to provide a therapeutic benefit through companionship and the inherent comfort of having a dog around. They are permitted to live in housing that prohibits pets, as a reasonable accommodation to a person with a disability and may travel in cabin with their owners during air travel, per the discretion of their owners’ medical and mental health care providers. People with disabilities do not have the right, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to be accompanied by ESAs in places of public accommodation, as they do with service dogs.

Physical Health Implications of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are psychiatric in nature and have tremendous ramifications to sufferer’s physical health. Detrimental consequences are both short term and long term. Each type of eating disorder affects individuals differently but any eating disorder can carry a risk of mortality; this can be the result of heart failure caused by electrolyte imbalance or low blood pressure, kidney failure, caused by dehydration and esophageal rupture. Other negative health implications associated with eating disorders pose a threat of serious and lasting harm to those affected.

Comorbidity of additional psychiatric disorders among those diagnosed with eating disorders is prevalent, with some of the most common comorbid conditions including: Depression, Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorders, like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Linking Effects with the Benefits of Assistance from a Service Dog
It is not uncommon for service dogs to have ‘job descriptions’ that involve behaviors that can be the difference between life and death for their handlers on a regular basis. While not every individual who lives with an eating disorder is facing imminent risk of death on a day to day basis, the effects of some eating disorder behaviors can inch sufferers closer to a point at which that may change, as the eating disorder behavior becomes more extreme or cumulative effects of ongoing behaviors begin to affect the individual.

Independent of life-threatening or long term effects, some eating disorder behaviors can result in undesirable and unsafe short term effects, like fatigue, dizziness, headaches and syncope.

Keeping the degree to which they affect a person in mind, all of the aforementioned effects of behaviors associated with eating disorders have the potential to interfere with one or more major life activity, rendering an individual disabled. With the right forethought, it is certainly possible for an affected individual to benefit from the assistance of an individually trained service dog.


How Can Service Dogs Help Those with Eating Disorders?
Taking into consideration that the individual is affected by his or her eating disorder to a degree at which it meets the criteria to be considered a disabling condition, it’s important to remember that each disability manifests itself uniquely from one person to the next. Eating disorders are no exception. I’ll discuss just a few ways a dog can be individually trained to mitigate the disabling nature of various eating disorders. Most will be familiar to those who are familiar with the types of behaviors psychiatric service dogs assist people with various conditions and disorders that are not related to eating disorders.

  • Preventing and Interrupting Maladaptive (Eating Disorder) Behaviors
    With some creativity, there is virtually no limit to the manners in which a service dog can be trained to perform behaviors that are incompatible with something the handler struggles with resisting strong urges in which to engage. In regard to eating disorders, this can include anything from ritualistic eating (or exercise) habits to purging after eating. One example of how a service dog may prevent his handler from engaging in purging behavior may be to physically interrupt the individual’s efforts toward purging by doing something like persistent pawing at the handler or pawing at the door if the handler has shut the dog out of the room. The dog may also be trained to alert members of the handler’s family to the handler’s behavior by barking or using another trained cue to communicate with others who are actively supportive of the handler’s recovery. A service dog may also be trained to perform similar behaviors to interrupt a binge eating episode.
  • Reminding the handler to perform important daily tasks
    Service dogs can be trained to remind their handlers when it’s time for something important to happen. In the case of eating disorder behaviors, this may be something like a reminder to eat a meal or a snack. An effective way to condition a dog to remind the handler to do something at the same time every day is to create a daily routine that involves doing something the dog will look forward to and come to expect, each day at the same time. The service dog will need to be trained to perform a specific behavior that will serve as the reminder, in order to make the ‘payoff’ happen. The payoff can be something like a high value treat, a meal, a walk, a game of fetch- anything the dog loves. Ultimately, what will be most important is that the dog is persistent in his reminding behavior. It should be something that the handler cannot easily ignore.
  • Medical Alert and/or Response
    There are a wide variety of medical conditions for which service dogs can and often are trained to perform alerting and response behaviors for. Alerts are behaviors the dog performs before the onset of a medical crisis (or before the handler is aware of it), to warn the handler that it is coming. This gives the handler the opportunity to take appropriate action to either prevent the medical crisis or get into a safe situation in which to experience the oncoming crisis. Responses are behaviors that a service dog is trained to perform after a medical crisis has started to take place. A response can be anything from keeping the handler safe while the crisis takes place to alerting someone else that the handler is in need of assistance. Because some individuals with eating disorders experience effects like syncope (fainting), a service dog who is trained to detect a syncope episode and alert the handler to it can be tremendously helpful. If the dog isn’t capable of detecting it before it occurs, and many are not, the dog can be trained to respond by doing something like seeking out another person for help.
  • Providing Trained Support During Times of Distress
    This type of assistance is typical of most service dogs who are trained to assist people with psychiatric disabilities. The types of tasks service dogs may perform to be of such assistance vary significantly from one team to another. Some handlers can benefit from a service dog providing Deep Pressure Therapy, when anxiety levels rise. In the case of an eating disorder, it’s not at all uncommon for heightened anxiety to be a major factor in the individual’s experiences. This can be of particular prominence directly before, during and immediately after meals. Service dogs can be trained to perform any combination of behaviors to alleviate their handlers’ distress.

Of paramount importance to stress is that, similar to any other use of a service dog, this assistance is never to replace or conflict with effective medical treatment. The role of a service dog in the life of an individual with an eating disorder must be one that promotes steps toward the individual’s recovery- not providing assistance in a manner that supports the destructive nature of life with eating disorder behaviors. This unique partnership should allow the handler to build mastery in effective coping behaviors and ongoing progress, on the road to recovery.

Techniques for Using Pet Dogs or Emotional Support Animals to Manage Eating Disorder Behaviors

-Use training sessions to treat yourself along with your dog: Set up your training environment so you can enjoy a snack while rewarding your dog for his work. Each time your dog earns a reward to reinforce a behavior, treat your dog and be sure to take a bite of your chosen snack immediately after. (Make sure that you are not touching food or treats intended for dogs with the same hand you’re handling your own food with, to avoid contamination. Using eating utensils for your own food is recommended.)

– Eat with your dog: Schedule meals like breakfast and dinner at the same time you feed your dog.

This is a picture of Bradley holding his leash, taken in May 2009.

– Walk away from purging: Plan the longer walks of the day with your dog for times after you eat. Not only will you be physically distancing yourself from your typical purging environment, but you will also be putting space between the time you consume your meal and the window of time you are most likely to purge. Any anxiety about purging is likely to subside, the longer you’re out on the walk. Make sure to make it a restorative, peaceful bonding experience for you and your dog.

IMG_2522– Incorporate your dog’s exercise into your own exercise routine: Keeping your dog’s physical welfare in mind, most young, healthy dogs will happily become your outdoor workout buddy! Just as people need to train before they can become regular joggers or runners, dogs require conditioning, too. Make sure not to push your dog too hard, too fast. Once your dog is walking, hiking, jogging, biking, swimming or participating in other recreational activities with you, you can develop a balanced routine that keeps your dog’s happiness and safety in the forefront of your mind, while establishing healthy habits for yourself. (If it’s enough exercise for your active dog, it’s certainly adequate activity for most people.)

– Learn about nutrition: There’s a wealth of information available online about canine nutrition. Admittedly, some sources of information conflict with others, but there is a lot to learn. You’ll be putting yourself in a position to learn more about how to optimally fuel your dog’s body to provide him with the opportunity to be in prime health. Armed with your newfound knowledge and understanding of nourishing your dog, do yourself the same favor. Meet with a nutritionist and do your own research about what makes your body tick. Knowledge is power.

Bradley and I embracing with a colorful Autumn scene in the background

– Treat yourself as compassionately as you treat your dog: You would not want your dog to be without what he needs to be healthy and happy and he certainly wants you to show the same care to yourself. Balance is healthy for both of you and neither of you will judge the other for your imperfections.

Take Note
In the presence of any disability, the decision to use a service dog as a means of mitigating the manner in which an individual is affected is a very personal one. While the assistance a service dog can provide is invaluable, embarking on such a partnership is a tremendous commitment and responsibility. The commitment and responsibility is not only to the service dog who will be one’s partner for upwards of a decade, in some cases, but also a commitment to take care of oneself by doing whatever an individual and his or her medical treatment providers deem appropriate to best manage the symptoms of the medical condition. A service dog is neither a cure nor a band aid, but rather a partner with unwavering dedication to performing the job for which he was trained.

It’s important to emphasize that a diagnosis is not synonymous with a disability. While two people may receive the same diagnosis, that doesn’t mean they are both affected by the criteria an individual must meet to receive such a diagnosis in the same manner. The manifestation of a diagnosis for one person may be significantly life-limiting, while the other is able to manage symptoms and care for himself or herself independently. This is not exclusive to eating disorders; it is applicable to any medical condition, whether it is psychiatric, neurological or physical in nature. (On the other hand, one need not receive an official diagnosis to be affected by symptoms to a degree which renders the person disabled.)

Finally, upon researching the manner in which one may benefit from the assistance of a service dog, it will become clear that not all forms of service dog jobs are created equally under the law. Some tasks or work mitigate a disability to such an extent that a court of law would support the use of a service dog to perform individual tasks or work independent of additional trained tasks or work, while other trained behaviors may be helpful in allowing an individual to maintain safety and independence, yet they may not play a role significant enough for a dog to legally be considered a service dog.

Some of the concepts suggested above may not be strong enough ‘stand-alone’ tasks, yet a dog who is trained to perform a combination of them will make a greater impact on the disabled person’s independence. I recommend reading some task lists, particularly those outlined for psychiatric service dogs, on IAADP’s (International Association of Assistance Dog Partners) website, to learn more about ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ tasks or behaviors, when considering whether such skills would result in a dog being considered a service dog.

Comorbidity Of Psychiatric Conditions with Eating Disorders

As I mentioned above, there is a high occurrence of comorbidity of additional psychiatric conditions, among patients with eating disorders. Each of the most commonly occurring comorbid conditions (Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorders) has the potential affect an individual to such a degree that he or she may be disabled. Combining the effects of such conditions with those of eating disorders can have devastating consequences on the lives of those who are affected by them. The assistance provided by psychiatric service dogs could prove to be invaluable and life-changing, in such cases.

Giving Credit Where It’s Deserved

Public Access. It’s a term that one will come across frequently, in efforts to learn about service dogs. Even major organizations like Assistance Dogs International and International Association of Assistance Dog Partners use the term. How can one argue that it’s not a significant subject, with support like that?

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “public access,” it refers to a service dog gaining entry, with a disabled handler, into a place of public accommodation, which is (most likely) not pet friendly. Public access training refers to the training of a service dog that is to prepare him for such an experience. In the context of this entry, I’ll primarily be referring to factors that affect or relate to owner trained service dog teams; this isn’t because owner trained teams are inherently lacking, in any way, but because the practices of the wide variety of service dog organizations are beyond the scope of this entry.

Bradley practices riding the escalator, which is part of some public access evaluations.

What Is “Public Access Training?”
Public access training is essential to a well trained, sound, socialized service dog in training’s progress. In its absence, we could not expect our dogs to perform the work and tasks we so greatly ask of them, under a myriad of circumstances. It entails intense, calculated socialization, basic obedience training, proofing of basic obedience, fostering a relationship of teamwork and bonding. These are all elements that comprise the recipe for a successful service dog.

This training prepares a service dog in training for experiences similar to that which he will likely be faced with, as a working service dog. It’s a combination of building proficiency in appropriate public behavior and basic manners.

As referenced earlier, many major organizations rely on the term, “Public Access.” When you think about it, the training is primarily for the dog and well-informed service dog handlers know that it is not the service dog who has the right to gain access to public places, but rather a federally protected right that applies to the disabled service dog handler. Because of this, I consider the term “Public access training,” in most contexts, to be a misnomer. A more appropriate term, often used in the final stages of training, as a partnership, with an organization that trains service dogs themselves, is “team training.”

Ultimately, when the term “public access training,” is used, there will be an evaluation of the dog’s skills to follow. This is referred to as a “public access test.”(quite often referred to as PAT) In fact, many owner trained teams tailor their training regiment specifically to meet the standards of the public access test that they plan on taking. Some service dog organizations even endorse this approach toward training. This is a huge mistake!

Bradley demonstrates a very basic “skill” while in training: Riding an elevator. This is on many PATs.

While public access tests are a good benchmark to evaluate a service dog in training’s progress -or even a service dog’s- , similar to the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Test, which helps evaluate a dog’s manners, obedience and socialization, it does not make or break a dog’s ability to work as a service dog. However, it is treated as if it should. This does a disservice to both members of the team. Passing a public access test does not mean that a service dog is prepared to take on the world. In fact, many PATs are so basic that the standards hardly exceed what should be expected of a pet dog- not a dog who will be at his handler’s side for up to 10 years to follow, wherever that may be and whatever it may entail.

The Scope of Assessment
For purposes of painting an accurate picture, I’ll copy and paste an example of a public access test that is encouraged and sometimes regulated, by a major service dog organization. (Scroll down to “END QUOTE” to skip reading this standard for certification.)


This test is here as information only. This test was designed to be administered by professional Assistance Dog Trainers.

Administering this test by non members of Assistance Dogs International is not authorized by Assistance Dogs International nor would completion of this test be considered certification by Assistance Dogs International.

Assistance Dogs International accepts no liability for use of this test.

Copyright Assistance Dogs International, Inc. 1997


NAME OF DOG AND RECIPIENT: ________________________________

NAME OF TESTER: _____________________________________________

DATE OF TEST: _____________ DATE OF PLACEMENT: _____________


PURPOSE: The purpose of this Public Access Test is to ensure that dogs who have public access are stable, well-behaved, and unobtrusive to the public. It is to ensure that the client has control over the dog and the team is not a public hazard. This test is NOT intended as a substitute for the skill/task test that should be given by the program. It is to be used in addition to those skill/task tests. It is expected that the test will be adhered to as closely as possible. If modifications are necessary, they should be noted in the space provided at the end of the test.
DISMISSAL: Any dog that displays any aggressive behavior (growling, biting, raising hackles, showing teeth, etc.) will be eliminated from the test. Any dog that eliminates in a building or shows uncontrollable behavior will be eliminated from the test.
BOTTOM LINE: The bottom line of this test is that the dog demonstrates that he/she is safe to be in public and that the person demonstrates that he/she has control of the dog at all times.
TESTING EQUIPMENT: All testing shall be done with equipment appropriate to the needs and abilities of the team. All dogs shall be on-lead at all times except in the vehicle at which time it is optional.
This test is to take place in a public setting such as a mall where there are a lot of people and natural distractions. The individual will handle the dog and can use any reasonable/humane equipment necessary to ensure his/her control over the dog.
The evaluator will explain the test thoroughly before the actual testing, during which he/she will follow discreetly to observe when not directly interacting with the individual on a test related matter. The only things an evaluator needs are a clip board, an assistant, another dog, a plate with food, and access to a shopping cart.
COMMANDS: Commands may be given to the dog In either hand signals or verbal signals or both.

  1. CONTROLLED UNLOAD OUT OF VEHICLE: After a suitable place has been found, the individual will unload the dog and any necessary equipment (wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc.) out of the vehicle. The dog must wait until released before coming out of the vehicle. Once outside, it must wait quietly unless otherwise instructed by the Individual. The dog may not run around, be off lead, or ignore commands given by the individual. Once the team is out of the vehicle and settled, the assistant should walk past with another dog. they should walk within six (6) feet of the team. The Assistance Dog must remain calm and under control, not pulling or trying to get to the other dog.
    The emphasis on this is that the Assistance Dog remain unobtrusive and is unloaded in the safest manner possible for everyone.
  2. APPROACHING THE BUILDING: After unloading, the team must maneuver through the parking lot to approach the building. The dog must stay in a relative heel position and may not forge ahead or lag behind. The dog must not display a fear of cars or traffic noises and must display a relaxed attitude. When the individual stops for any reason, the dog must stop also.
  3. CONTROLLED ENTRY THROUGH A DOORWAY: Once at the doors of the building, the individual may enter however he/she chooses to negotiate the entry safely. Upon entering the building; however, the dog may not wander off or solicit attention from the public. The dog should wait quietly until the team is fully inside then should calmly walk beside the individual. The dog must not pull or strain against the lead or try to push its way past the individual but must wait patiently while entry is completed.
  4. HEELING THROUGH THE BUILDING: Once inside the building, the individual and the dog must walk through the area in a controlled manner. The dog should always be within touching distance where applicable or no greater than a foot away from the individual. The dog should not solicit public attention or strain against the lead (except in cases where the dog may be pulling the individual’s wheelchair). The dog must readily adjust to speed changes, turn corners promptly, and travel through a crowded area without interacting with the public. In tight quarters, the dog must be able to get out of the way of obstacles and not destroy merchandise by knocking it over or by playing with it.
  5. SIX FOOT RECALL ON LEAD: A large, open area should be found for the six foot recall. Once found, the individual will perform a six foot recall with the dog remaining on lead. The individual will sit the dog, leave it, travel six feet, then turn and call the dog to him/her. The dog should respond promptly and not stop to solicit attention from the public or ignore the command. The dog should come close enough to the individual to be readily touched. For Guide Dogs, they must actually touch the person to indicate location. The recall should be smooth and deliberate without the dog trudging to the individual or taking any detours along the way.
  6. SITS ON COMMAND: The team will be asked to demonstrate the Individual’s ability to have the dog sit three different times. The dog must respond promptly each time with no more than two commands. There should not be any extraordinary gestures on the part of the people approaching the dog. Normal, reasonable behavior on the part of the people is expected.
    The first sit will be next to a plate of food placed upon the ground. The dog must not attempt to eat or sniff the food. The individual may correct the dog verbally or physically away from the food, but then the dog must maintain a sit while ignoring the food. The dog should not be taunted or teased with the food. This situation should be made as realistic as possible.
    The second sit will be executed, and the assistant with a shopping cart will approach within three feet of the dog and continue on past. The dog should maintain the sit and not show any fear of the shopping cart. If the dog starts to move, the individual may correct the dog to maintain the sit.
    The last sit will be a sit with a stay as a person walks up behind the team, talks to the person and then pets the dog. The dog must hold position. The dog may not break the stay to solicit attention. The individual may repeat the stay command along with reasonable physical corrections.
  7. DOWNS ON COMMAND: The down exercises will be performed in the same sequence as the sits with the same basic stipulations. The first down will be at a table where food will be dropped on the floor. The dog should not break the down to go for the food or sniff at the food. The individual may give verbal and physical corrections to maintain the down. There should not be any extraordinary gestures on the part of the people approaching the dog. Normal, reasonable behavior from the people is expected.
    The second down will be executed, and then an adult and child should approach the dog. The dog should maintain the down and not solicit attention. If the child pets the dog, the dog must behave appropriately and not break the stay. The individual may give verbal and physical corrections if the dog begins to break the stay.
  8. NOISE DISTRACTION: The team will be heeling along and the tester will drop a clipboard to the ground behind the team. The dog may acknowledge the noise, but may not in any way show aggression or fear. A normal startle reaction Is fine–the dog may jump and or turn–but the dog should quickly recover and continue along on the heel. The dog should not become aggressive, begin shaking, etc.
  9. RESTAURANT: The team and tester should enter a restaurant and be seated at a table. The dog should go under the table or, if size prevents that, stay close by the individual. The dog must sit or lie down and may move a bit for comfort during the meal, but should not be up and down a lot or need a lot of correction or reminding. This would be a logical place to do the food drop during a down. (See #7)
  10. OFF LEAD: Sometime during the test, where appropriate, the person will be instructed to drop the leash while moving so it is apparent to the dog. The individual must show the ability to maintain control of the dog and get the leash back in its appropriate position. this exercise will vary greatly depending on the person’s disabilities. The main concern is that the dog be aware that the leash is dropped and that the person Is able to maintain control of the dog and get the leash back into proper position.
  11. CONTROLLED UNIT: The team will leave the building in a similar manner to entering, with safety and control being of prime importance. The team will proceed across the parking lot and back to the vehicle. The dog must be in appropriate heel position and not display any fear of vehicle or traffic sounds.
  12. CONTROLLED LOAD into VEHICLE: The individual will load the dog into the vehicle, with either entering first. The dog must not wander around the parking lot but must wait patiently for instructions. Emphasis is on safety and control.

Scoring Factors of the Public Access Certification Test

A= Always
M= Most of the time (more than half of time)
S= Some of the time (half or less of the time)
N= Never

  1. CONTROLLED UNLOAD OUT OF VEHICLEDog did not try to leave vehicle until given release command.
    __YES* __NO The dog waited in the vehicle until released.*
    ___YES ___NO The dog waited outside the vehicle under control.
    ___YES ___NO The dog remained under control while another dog was walked past.
  2. APPROACHING THE BUILDINGRelative heel position, not straining or forging.
    __A __M __S __N The dog stayed in relative heel position.
    ___YES* __NO The dog was calm around traffic.*
    __A __M __S __N The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.
    ___YES* __NO The dog waited quietly at the door until commanded to enter.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog waited on the inside until able to return to heel position.*
    __A __M __S __N The dog was within the prescribed distance of the individual.
    __A __M __S __N The dog ignored the public, remaining focused on the individual.
    __A __M __S __N The dog readily adjusted to speed changes.
    __A __M __S __N The dog readily turned corners–did not have to be tugged or jerked to change direction.
    __A __M __S __N The dog readily maneuvered through tight quarters.
    ___YES* __NO The dog responded readily to the recall command–did not stray away, seek attention from others, or trudge slowly.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained under control and focused on the individual.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog came within the prescribed distance of the individual.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog came directly to the individual.*
    __A __M __S __N The dog responded promptly to the command to sit.
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained under control around food–not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained composed while the shopping cart passed–did not shy away, show signs of fear, etc. shopping cart should be pushed normally and reasonable, not dramatically.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog maintained a sit-stay while being petted by a stranger.*
    __A __M __S __N The dog responded promptly to the command to down.
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained under control around the food–not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.*
    ___YES ___NO The dog remained in control while the child approached–child should not taunt dog or be overly dramatic.
  8. NOISE DISTRACTIONSIf the dog jumps, turns, or shows a quick startle type reaction, that is fine. The dog should not show fear, aggression, or continue to be affected by the noise.
    ___YES* __NO The dog remained composed during the noise distraction.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog is unobtrusive and out of the way of patrons and employees as much as possible.*
    ___YES* __NO The dog maintained proper behavior, ignoring food and being quiet.*
  10. OFF LEAD
    ___YES* __NO When told to drop the leash, the team maintained control and the individual got the leash back in position.*
  11. DOG TAKEN BY ANOTHER PERSONTo show that the dog can be handled by another person without aggression or excessive stress or whining, someone else will take the dog’s leash and passively hold the dog (not giving any commands) while the dog’s partner moves 20′ away.
    ___YES ___NO Another person can take the dog’s leash and the dog’s partner can move away without aggression or undue stress on the part of the dog.
    __A __M __S __N The dog stayed in relative heel position.
    ___YES* __NO The dog was calm around traffic.*
    __A __M __S __N The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.
    ___YES ___NO The dog waited until commanded to enter the vehicle.
    ___YES ___NO The dog readily entered the vehicle upon command.
    __A __M __S __N When the dog did well, the person praised the dog.
    __A __M __S __N The dog is relaxed, confident, and friendly.
    __A __M __S __N The person kept the dog under control.


The team must score all ‘Always’ or’ Most of the time’ responses on the A-M-S-N parts of the test.

The team must score at least 80% “yes” answers on the “yes” “no” portion of the test

All questions marked by an asterisk must be answered by a “YES” response.

Were there any unique situations that made any portion of this test not applicable?


A service dog should be able to work in all types of environments, regardless of where one expects to spend most of her time. Life circumstances can change beyond our control.

Upon first impression, this public access test does appear to be rather thorough. However, as I noted before, I do not believe it is representative of real life situations that a team will find themselves in. Of course, there are few ways to determine how a potential service dog will react in the more extreme situations. But they do happen! Unsupervised children get on service dogs and ride them. Individuals who are terrified of dogs may react aggressively toward the team, as a knee jerk (sometimes literally) reaction. Service dogs will inevitably become spooked by something, at some point during their career. Access challenges can become hostile and the police may be involved. A team may encounter an aggressive dog, rather than one who is under control. A handler may lose consciousness and require medical treatment, during which time a service dog must allow first responders to approach and assist the handler. Handling a service dog is not exempt from Murphy’s Law.

What’s wrong with this picture? Using an inadequate standard sets a bad precedent and ultimately sets the individual team, as well as the reputation of service dogs, as a whole, for failure. We shouldn’t be assessing dogs based on unrealistic, ideal circumstances.

PATs Are Not Gospel
Not only are public access tests used as a manner of assessing a dog’s potential to work in public, but, as you may have noticed by reading ADI’s public access test, passing it is a prerequisite for certification with the organization. However, there is no required standardized form of certification in the United States.

Despite what would be an appropriate nature of a PAT: An assessment to gauge where the dog is in his training, and nothing more, organizations like ADI and others encourage the practice of using the PAT -whichever one the particular organization has either developed for themselves or prefers- as a means of determining whether a dog can transition from service dog in training to a service dog. Using an inadequate system of evaluation to arrive at one of the most significant conclusions in a team’s partnership reflects skewed perceptions of reality.

One organization, in particular, comes to mind, as I think of the mentality that endorses the thinking behind PATs reflecting a service dog in training’s readiness for full time work as a service dog. When I was in the early stages of getting involved with the service dog community and lifestyle, I was under the impression that once Bradley could pass a public access test, it would mean that he would then “graduate” from “in training” to “service dog,” status. That was likely neither true of Bradley nor many other service dogs in training; it’s entirely possible for a service dog to pass a PAT and still not be ready for full service dog work, because of the inadequacy of the standards.

Changing Our Standards

Bradley maintains his composure, in the presence of some very excited Lemurs. Reactions to non-domestic animals should be considered, when assessing where a service dog is, in his training.

The service dog community is desperate for higher standards. I don’t believe that nationally recognized certification is the answer but I also believe that public access tests are detrimental to striving toward realistic yet high standards. Novice handlers must be educated about how they can determine when their service dogs in training are ready to be considered service dogs. Simply manifesting the ability to pass a public access test is not the answer. There’s nothing wrong with using it as one tool, among a combination of periodically evaluating a dog’s strengths and weaknesses. However, there are plenty of other options in our toolbox of assessing our service dogs in training, which, combined, are far more reliable and give us more information that we can use to our benefit. We must not lose sight of the bigger picture. If a dog in training is ready to transition to a new “status” (remember- training never ends!) he’ll tell you. If he’s not ready, he’ll tell you and it’s your responsibility to listen.

Is your service dog in training prepared to accompany you in the event of a medical emergency?

Bradley reacted perfectly to a squirrel who literally almost jumped on top of him when he was guiding. He took the surprising experience in stride.

Owner Training a Service Dog: Expectations vs. Reality

The Novice’s Expectations vs. Reality of Owner Training a Service Dog

Adequate Resources for Learning About Training and Handling

Expectation: The Internet

Reality: Experienced Mentors

Announcing Your Endeavor to Family and Friends

Expectation: Support

Reality: “But there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Choosing Your Service Dog Candidate

Expectation: The right one will easy to pick, with an aura around him, halo, flashing neon sign or something to that effect, indicating that he’s “The One.”

Reality: There are a lot of dogs available and very few have what it takes.

Many “career changed” service dogs in training go on to do other jobs, that they are more suited for, like bomb sniffing dogs.

Bringing Your Puppy Home

Expectation: Puppy will be a perfect fit into your lifestyle and you will bond immediately

Reality: Puppy needs to learn house manners

Beginning The Training Process

Expectation: Bringing a well-behaved, young puppy to the store with you as soon as you bring him home

Reality: Basic obedience doesn’t come naturally

Finally Bringing Your Service Dog In Training Into Public

Expectation: A well-mannered pup

Reality: A lot of effort on your part to make progress

Amount of Time It Takes To Graduate Your Dog From “In Training” Status to “Service Dog”

Expectation: Within a year

Reality: About 2 Years

It took about two years for Bradley to transition from “in training” to my standards of “service dog” status.

Having A Full Time Service Dog

Expectation: Support from family, friends and society


My best friend’s brother visits with Bradley at her wedding.

Reality: Some Will Refuse To Accept Your Service Dog Partnership

How The General Public Sees My Service Dog