What is a service animal/dog?
A service animal is an animal trained to do work or perform tasks that mitigate their disabled handler’s disability. Most areas that I am aware of only recognize dogs, but the United States recognizes miniature horses in some cases and other animals if their specific state defines other animals as eligible.
What are tasks and work?
Tasks are trained behaviour that the dog does on command that helps to mitigate the disability of their handler. Work is generally more passive in the sense that the dog picks up on subconscious queues that the handler give, or is always looking for their sign to alert their handler to their medical condition.
Comfort is neither a task or work, it is a bonus of having the dog is not cause alone to bring a dog in public. Tasks and work have to also benefit the disabled handler, not the person accompanying the disabled party. What I mean by this is that things like tethering and finding a child that has run off are not considered task, as it benefits the parent not the child.
Can a service dog be protection trained?
Block and Cover are considered protection by some handlers because they train their dog to look like it is watching for danger, when in fact it is trained to stand there prevent people from crowding the handler. But that is fine because it is a non-violent form of protection. Bite work and the protection training most people talk about is not protected under the ADA or any laws that I am aware of. If you were brought to court you could be charged for concealing a weapon and as a result you may not be able to use the dog anymore. Generally it is best to stay away from bite sports with your service dog to protect you from that scenario.
Does a service dog have to come from a program?
No. While I would recommend going through a program for your first service dog if you have little to no prior dog training experience, you can and may be in a circumstance where that is simply not possible. Programs tend to train for certain disabilities, and only accept applicants from an even smaller section of that disability because their supply cannot keep up with the demand. If you have PTSD and are not a veteran or first responder than you are probably out of luck. If you are Autistic like me and are over the age of 15 you are likely out of luck. Programs tend to have a huge upfront cost and train dogs for one specific disability, meaning if you need help with more than one you will likely have to hire a trainer and work on it yourself. Some also prefer the bond that forms from spending hundreds of hours training with the dog. However please note that I speak mostly about the States and Canada, as that is where my knowledge has gotten to at this point.
Does a service animal have to be registered or certified?
That depends on your local laws. I know in the United States there is no legally recognized certification. However British Columbia has a legally recognized PAT and ID that while technically not required makes the handler’s life easier. Check your local laws to find the answer.
Do service animals have to be marked by a vest or other gear?
Generally no. I know in Ontario if the dog is not marked then you can be legally asked to show a letter of recommendation for the dog. But otherwise I do believe you are free to work your dog with or without specific gear, though a vest does generally cut down on the number of questions you get asked.