This article is regularly updated with new, relevant information as needed.
Who is eligible to get a service dog in Florida?
Anyone with a disability, which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities, is eligible to use a service dog. One can have a record of such an impairment, or be regarded by others as having one. It is then up to the individual to seek out an organization and follow the application process.
What organizations should clients look at for different kinds of service dogs?
It depends on the type of assistance dog a client needs. If you are not looking specifically for a mobility assistance dog, Genesis will typically, suggest people research Canine Companions for Independence, Southeastern Guide Dogs, Assistance Dogs International, and K9s for wWarriors. Genesis Assistance Dogs, Inc. ONLY provides mobility assistance dogs. If you’re not a candidate for a mobility service dog, we encourage you to do your own research and read reviews before contacting a service dog organization that is set up to fit your needs. It can take months or longer to complete the process, so be sure to ask about timelines and expectations as you apply.
How long does it take? How much does a service dog cost?
Different organizations will take different amounts of time to match a client with a service dog. Most reputable service dog organizations in Florida have a wait list of 2-5 years for service dogs. A client may be matched earlier or later than the date provided to them by the organization.
How to get a free service dog
Genesis Assistance Dogs, Inc. and most other non-profit organizations place our dogs at no charge to the client. You are encouraged to explore other organizations to see how they handle placement fees, etc.
What types of service dogs are available?
Service dogs exist for assistance with mobility-related disabilities, blindness, autism, PTSD, emotional support, and medical alert.
What are service dogs capable of?
Below are some of the examples, included in the ADA 2010 Regulations, of work and tasks that a service dog can perform, but is not limited to:
- Guiding the blind or those with low vision
- Alerting the deaf or hard of hearing
- Assisting an individual during a seizure
- Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens
- Retrieving items
- Helping those with psychiatric or neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors
- Calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack
What are a client’s responsibilities towards an assistance dog?
The client is responsible for feeding the service dog, cleaning up after the dog, and identifying appropriate locations for dog use.
The client is responsible for veterinary care, including vaccinations, heartworm prevention and flea and tick prevention is also the responsibility of the client. Clients must also be able to provide adequate exercise for the health and well-being of the dog.
The assistance dog’s behavior must be under the control of its partner while working. If the client cannot control the service dog and they are posing a threat to the health and safety of others, they may be asked to remove the assistance dog from the premises.
A client is never required or responsible to disclose what their disability is in public, nor is anyone allowed to ask about the disability, require the medical, training, or other special documentation of the service dog, or ask that the service dog demonstrate its ability to perform a task.
Can younger clients take service dogs to school?
Although the ADA technically permits service dogs to go wherever their partner goes, in practice, different schools have different policies regarding service dogs.
Usually, a student in Florida requires an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a 504 plan in order to have a service dog with them. If another student in the classroom is allergic to dogs, consideration will typically be made to mitigate the circumstances. Proof of shot records and health records may be required by individual school districts.
Other than this, there are no definitive federal guidelines, and clients should reach out to the school or school district in question to determine what their policies are regarding assistance dogs.
How long will a client keep a service dog?
Most organization of this nature provide service dogs for life, but for specific information please contact the organization directly.
What are service dog requirements in Florida? What is required for service dog certification?
In Florida, there is no legal requirement to register or certify a service animal. The federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws apply and mandate that a handler and a service dog are allowed to access public spaces simply by stating that the dog is a service animal.
What is the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal?
An emotional support animal fewer privileges than a service dog. Emotional support animals are not trained to perform a specific task for their owner, and due to that they are not qualified as a service dog, nor do they have public access rights.
Can service dogs be any breed?
Yes – your service dog can be a breed of any kind. However, certain breeds are more easily trained and more apt to perform certain tasks than others. At Genesis Assistance Dogs, Inc., we train Golden Retrievers from championship bloodlines. Our dogs are typically more structurally sound than dogs who are bred to be family pets. It is vital that our dogs are able to tirelessly perform their important duties. Health clearances are sought for: heart, hips, eyes, and elbows. All dogs selected for training and placement are temperament tested.
Is it okay to let strangers pet a service dog?
Not without permission. These dogs have been trained to perform certain tasks and are not considered pets – they should not be approached.
What is the proper etiquette when greeting a service dog, when appropriate?
- Do not pet or approach a service dog without permission.
- Do not try to give the dog treats.
- Do not ask questions about why the individual needs the dog.
- Do not speak to the owner about any issues regarding the dog – for example, if you feel that the dog is in your way when walking down the sidewalk.
Is a service dog allowed everywhere that their owner is?
Yes. A service dog is required to be allowed to go anywhere that their owner normally would go.
Are service dogs required to wear identification?
No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness. However, wearing a vest is incredibly useful for identification purposes to strangers.
What temperament makes for the best service dogs?
Many different service dog skills can be taught, but there are a few key mannerisms that make for a well-trained dog. Some of these key mannerisms that make for a well-trained service dog include; a dog that is:
- Seeks to please their partner
- Good at performing repetitive tasks
- Alert but not reactive
There are some behaviors to look for in a potential service dog that are negative and need addressing before they can be fully functional as a service animal. Some of these negative behaviors to look for in a potential service dog include; a dog that:
- Shows aggressive tendencies toward other dogs or people
- Barks in public or at other animals/people
- Uses the bathroom inside or tugs when walking on leash
How are service dogs trained?
Training a service dog can take years depending on their owner’s needs and the required skill set of the dog. The Association of Assistance Dog Partners estimates that it takes a minimum of 120 hours of in-home training and 30 hours of in-public training for a service dog. This amount of hours is usually spanned somewhere around a year to a year and a half. Once the dog is said to be fully trained, they must pass a number of tests to ensure that they are capable of repeatedly performing the tasks that their owner needs. Below are some steps that are usually required before a dog goes into training to be a service dog:
- The dog is housebroken. They are potty trained, and some dogs are even trained to use the bathroom on command in various locations.
- The dog is socialized. They are taught to be calm and non-reactive when in a variety of different locations, around different people, different dogs, different smells, sights, sounds, etc. All service dogs must be well-socialized as they need to be focused on their owner’s specific needs at all times regardless of their surroundings.
- Along with being socialized, the dog is also desensitized. This ensures that the things in their surroundings are completely ignored by the dog to allow for full focus on the owner and their needs such as other dogs, people, sights, smells, food, etc.
- The dog is trained to perform specific tasks based on what their owner’s needs. For example:
- Hearing dogs may be trained to alert their owner when a fire alarm sounds.
- A dog for someone with PTSD or anxiety is trained to recognize the person’s first sign of an attack, whether that be shaking their leg or playing with their hands. The dog is then trained to seek out their owner and provide comfort and distraction.
- Dogs for individuals with epilepsy are trained to sense an oncoming seizure and alert their owner of what is happening.
- Sight dogs are trained to guide the blind anywhere and everywhere.
- Assistance dogs are trained to retrieve items or assist those with a loss of mobility in whatever capacity they need.
There are many different methods of training dogs depending on their trainer. Some of these different training styles include high-reward, positive reinforcement, clicker, electronic, relationship-based, the scientific method and more. The styles of training vary based on various circumstances. A few, but not all circumstances, include the opinion of the trainer, the type and behavior of the dog and the needs of the owner. The key to service dog training is to identify the owner’s main disability, whether mental or physical, and then train the dog to perform tasks that assist with that disability.
How do you bond with your new service dog?
Once a service dog is trained, the next key step in the assistance relationship between the handler and the companion is bonding. A great bond between the two is crucial to ensure that the tasks needed to be performed are being executed. Here are some steps to achieving a great bond:
- Spend quality time together. The owner should spend time with their dog both training and playing. This allows the dog to get used to the owner and their personality, and same with the dog. During this time of practicing techniques, it is important to address any training issues with patience and calmness.
- Play together! While the relationship between owner and assistance dog is very serious and full of work, it should also be full of fun. This can remind the dog that their owner cares for them and loves them, and in turn motivate them to assist even more. However, during play the owner should still be sure to show and assert their leadership.
- Use food and treats. Not only are dogs trained by using high-reward foods, but food and treats can also be used to help establish a bond. Some people even say that in the first few feedings of the new relationship, a greater bond and trust can be achieved through hand-feeding the new dog. This is something that is only done for a short time, but can make a difference in the bond between the assistance dog and the owner.
Mobility Assistance Dogs
When requesting a mobility assistance dog, the law requires that the person has a developmental, physical, or psychiatric disability. Medical conditions such as these that cause a person to not be able to live independently are considered reasons to give access to own a mobility assistance dog. These can range from:
- Brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Coordination problems
- Gait difficulties
- Impaired balance
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Neurological, cardiac or metabolic disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spina bifida
- Spinal cord injury
Each dog is individually trained and matched with their owner to perform the exact tasks that the person needs based on their situation. Dogs are matched based on size, temperament, ability to learn and perform, etc. These are the kind of things mobility assistance dogs can help with:
- Providing support/stability while walking and going up and down stairs
- Support during dressing and undressing
- Retrieving a phone
- Hitting elevator buttons
- Opening and closing doors, drawers, cabinets and closets
- Pressing automatic door openers
- Retrieving dropped items
- Turning the lights on and off
- Carrying bags and small objects
*****lists taken directly from https://k94life.org/mobility-assistance-dogs/
Additional Info & Sources: