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Service dog

The proliferation of service dogs over the years has, apparently, led to a sideline business: Fake service dogs.

In an e-mail message received today from a regular service dog training center (Guardians of Rescue in New York), the claim is that there is a growing number of non-trained dogs in the United States.

I've never run across any "fake" dog, but I understand fully-trained service dogs are quite expensive. That might explain why high numbers of "fakes" are turning up. Also, many dog lovers just love to take their furry friends any where they wish.

Last week, on the Q-C Times Health page that I write for, I had a story from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on a dog that helps its owner who has a severe case of diabetes. The dog cost about $20,000, and it can sense when its owner is in a bad way, close to being in a coma.

Dogs are also effectively being used for soldiers who have been diagnosed with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Many service dogs are credited with giving the soldiers their lives back.

Here are 5 things to know about "fake" service dogs:

  • Simplicity. Part of the problem is that there is no standard certification that dogs must go through to become a service pet. Because there is no official certification or process, people are able to obtain fake documents easily. One quick search online provides thousands of fake service-pet vests, leashes, patches, and 'certification.' For approximately $250, people can buy an entire kit that turns their dog into a fake service dog. For just a couple of dollars, people can buy individual pieces, such as fake documentation to carry with them.
  • Behavior. There is a big difference between the behavior a real service dog will display and that of a fake one. Real service dogs are trained to assist the person, not protect them. They are trained to be quiet, not bark or growl, and they are never disruptive. On the other hand, the fake service dogs have a hard time holding back. They can be disruptive or even pose a threat to those around them. Also, service dogs will never get on the person’s lap or on a chair; they are trained to stay on the floor by the person. They also will not go after other dogs to fight, as some fake service pets will.
  • Training. The training difference between a real and fake service dog is what truly sets them apart. Real service dogs undergo a great deal of training, and that is a costly procedure. Service dogs are considered a medical cost that has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service. They are trained to help with various disabilities, including diabetes, seizures, autism, and epilepsy, among others. It is estimated that the cost to train a service dog can total as much as $50,000.
  • Limitations. Part of the issue at hand, and why so many people are getting away with taking their fake service dog everywhere with them, is that businesses are limited on what they can ask the person. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the only question someone can ask is whether the dog is a service dog. Questions regarding proof of certification or proof of a disability are not allowed, under current disability laws.
  • Exclusions. As mentioned, real service dogs have been trained not to be aggressive. The DOJ reports that a business owner can exclude a service dog that is displaying aggressive behavior toward other people, including growling, acting vicious, or posing any threat to others.