Frequently Asked Questions about Service Dogs
Q: What is a service dog?
A: The American with Disabilities Act (28 CFR 36.104) defines the term "service animal" as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability."
When people hear “service dog,” they generally think of Guide Dogs. However, service dogs fall into a category all of their own within the realm of Assistance Dogs. There are three types of Assistance dogs:
Guide Dogs - aiding the blind or visually impaired
Hearing Dogs - aiding the deaf or hard of hearing
Assistance Dogs - aiding those with disabilities other than those listed above, including but not limited to Mobility Assistance, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Autism Assistance, Diabetic Alert and Seizure Response/Alert.
Q: So I can just put a jacket on my dog and call it a service dog, right?
A: Wrong! You can only have a service dog if you qualify as a disabled American under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is against the law to pass a dog off as a service dog if you do not have a disability. It is also against the Federal law to claim your dog as a service dog if it is not trained to do tasks that specifically aid your disability.
Faking a service dog can damage the positive reputation registered service dogs provide. Since pets and emotional support animals are not trained to the level of service dogs, their behavior in a public setting can be disruptive to businesses and the general public. Our dogs are trained in basic obedience and begin socialized around 8 weeks old to behave when they are out in public. Service dogs are trained to be focused on their partners and perform whatever live-saving tasks are necessary. Other animals entering buildings could also distract working service animals when they should be focused on their partners.
Q: I have a therapy dog, can I bring him/her wherever I go?
A: No, therapy dogs do not have the same public access rights as service dogs do. They can only go into buildings that they have specifically been given permission to enter. Therapy dogs visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, and sometimes schools as part of a program or organization.
Q: How can you tell if it’s actually a service dog?
A: Legally, you are allowed to ask two main questions about a service dog in question:
1) Is that a service animal?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
When a service dog team enters a building, the dog should remain focused on its partner. Keep in mind that some disabilities are not physically seen. You cannot base someone's disability solely on their mobility. An individual may have disabilities that are invisible from the outside.
Q: What should I do when I see a service dog?
A: The best thing you could do in the presence of a service dog is to ignore them. The environments we take our dogs into are already incredibly distracting. Service dogs work very hard to remain focused on their partners' needs. We train our dogs to ignore these distractions so they become desensitized, but it is easier for them to work with less distractions to begin with while in jacket. You can help make the dog’s job easier if you refrain from doing anything to break their attention from their partner.
Q: The jacket says please do not pet…does that actually mean I can’t pet him/her?
A: Yes, unless given permission from the handler of the dog. When our dogs are in jacket, they are working. Although the puppy in jacket is not a registered service dog yet, it is simulating them actually performing a future task. Always ask before you pet or do anything (call, bark at, or gesture towards) to distract a service dog. If you engage in a “drive-by-pet,” as we call them, you could potentially be reinforcing a bad behavior.
Q: What is the difference between a Phase I and Phase II Training Organization?
A: Phase I Organizations train dogs in basic obedience and general tasks to prepare them for Phase II training. In AGS, our dogs must pass the Canine Good Citizen Test before moving on to a Phase II organization. In Phase II, the dog is trained to perform a specific task(s) for a disabled individual. The Phase II will pair the trained dog with its forever partner for future assistance.
Q: What is the Canine Good Citizen Test?
The Canine Good Citizen Program, or CGC Program for short, was established in 1989. Its goal is to promote responsible dog ownership and to encourage the training of well-mannered dogs. The test administered is open to all dogs, including purebreds and mixed breeds. Dogs who pass the test may receive a certificate or title from the American Kennel Club. CGC is considered a good beginning step for any advanced training with dogs including service work.
To learn more about the CGC Test, you can visit their website at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/training-for-the-canine-good-...
Q: How can I join AGS?
A: AGS is a student-run organizations made of of Texas A&M University students, Blinn College students, and is open to the Brazos Valley community. Prospective members only need to attend meetings and pay dues to become a member. To be considered an active member, you must pay dues and accumulate 12 points a semester by attending our events.
Q: What type of service dogs do you train?
A: AGS trains dogs in basic skills all the way through to advanced commands. AGS has had dogs go on to be Mobility Assisstance Dogs, PTSD etc.
Mobility assistance dogs help partners who have limited mobility. Our mobility dogs learn tasks like touching handicap buttons, picking up dropped items, turning lights on and off, and even handing a debit card to a cashier.
PTSD dogs learn behaviors to assist those suffering from PTSD, usually Veterans, with integrating back into society. Such behaviors include alerting their partner of someone approaching from behind, waking their partner up from nightmares, and providing reality affirmation in situations when their partner may be experiencing a flashback or situational overload. Because PTSD can be more psychologocal than other disabilities, the dogs trained for this service form a bond that goes beyond a partnership. They become best friends, and as such, it becomes like taking their best friend, or battle buddy, wherever they go. It makes the world a far less scary place.
Q: What kinds of dogs do you use in your program?
A: We have trained Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Goldendoodles, Labradoodles, Borderdoodles (Border Collie/Poodle), Standard Poodles, and Double Doodles. We primarily train labs, poodles, and doodles.
Q: Where do you get your service dogs from?
A: AGS gets their puppies from donated reputable breeders. Reputable breeders breed their dogs without compromising the breed. We partner with breeders that specifically breed their dogs for service work without having a history of physical and mental developmental problems. Some examples are hip dysplasia, muscular dystrophy, and heart disease. We do not get our puppies from shelters and pounds because there is no way of knowing these dogs' genetic background or history.
Q: How do you train your dogs?
A: Our dogs begin training from the moment they are placed with their Trainer. We use a method of training called operant conditioning – where the consequence of the behavior determines if it’s done again or not. We believe in positive reinforcement and practice this by using a clicker. When the puppy does what we ask them to, we mark the action or behavior with a click and follow that with a treat.
Q: Do your dogs get to have any fun?
A: Of course! Most of our dogs are eager to work and enjoy learning new tasks, but at the end of the day, our dogs are still dogs! When they are not in jacket, they get to play around like any other goofy pup. They get to play fetch, swim, and run among other fun things. Playtime is a fun way to get out their extra energy. They get to have fun with toys their trainers provide and often have play dates with other dogs in the program. On the other hand, we recognize that our dogs are puppies and need plenty of breaks. Both puppies and trainers alike get tired and need some down time to relax. We want our dogs to love what they do, so ensuring downtime is just another step to training successful service dogs.
Q: How long are the dogs in the program from start to finish?
A: There is not a set time for how long a dog remains in our program because every dog is different and progresses at a different rate. Puppies typically go through our program anywhere from a year to a year and a half.
Q: How can I become a Puppy Trainer?
A: The process to become a Puppy Trainer begins each semester. There are 3 mandatory weekly classes that last about an hour and cover everything from rules and methods to insights and advice. Following this, Potential Trainers (PTs) are required to complete 8 hours of clicker training at a local animal shelter. Once these hours are completed, a clicker test administered by the Puppy Trainer Supervisors. If this is passed, the PTs must then attend at least two Campus Trainings and practice handling our dogs, so that we can see them in action. If this goes well, the PTs will be given the AGS training manual to read and study so that they can take a written test. If passed, the PTs are now considered sitters and are able to work with AGS dogs when the trainer is unable to. Once this is completed, PTs may now go through two interviews. The first is with just with the Puppy Trainer Supervisors. The second is with the Trainer Supervisor Team, AGS President, and our faculty advisor Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon. PTs are now eligible to receive a puppy to train. There is no specific amount of time from when a PT completes our PT process and when they receive a dog. It is dependant on the availability, breeder donations, compatibility, etc. This may seem like a daunting and extensive process, but it’s how we ensure that our trainers are ready to take on the task of preparing a puppy for its highest level of success through our organization.
Q: How can I become a sitter?
A: The process to become a Puppy Sitter is much less extensive than becoming a Puppy Trainer, but equally significant. In order to become a Puppy Sitter, you must attend all three Potential Trainer classes and handle at least once at a Campus Training. This means you have received jacket privileges. Puppy Sitters are crucial to our program because at some times, the dog cannot be with its trainer. These times include Aggie Football games, wet labs, the Rec Center, and if the trainer needs to go somewhere that the dog does not have jacket privileges to.
Q: What is the difference between a Puppy Sitter and a Puppy Trainer?
A: Puppy sitters are crucial to our organization because they watch over our puppies in training when a trainer cannot be with them. A puppy sitter with jacket privileges is someone who has passed the manual test. This PT is allowed to go anywhere that the dog has earned its jacket privileges. For example, if the dog only has campus privileges, you cannot take said dog into a restaurant. These rules ensure a more successful training experience for the dog. It also protects the service dog community as a whole by ensuring dogs that are ready to enter into public places preform their tasks successfully rather than distrupting the public and creating a bad name for actual working service dogs. A puppy trainer is someone who has passed both of the interviews and has received a puppy to train.
Q: Can anyone handle an AGS dog?
A: No. Only individuals who have been trained with AGS and passed the criteria outlined above to handle our dogs in public can. This is done for the sake of consistency with our dogs.
Q: I’ve joined and gone through training, when can I expect to be placed with a dog?
A: There is no guarantee that you will be placed with a dog. We base our placement on a number of factors, with completing the training as the basic requirements. We try to keep roughly 10 dogs in our program year-round to keep things running smoothly. This can vary with the amount of generous donors and secondaries. We do our best to match the dog with the person so there are more successful dogs leaving our program. Another factor has to do with the amount of available potential trainers we have at any given time. At the beginning of the semester, there are always a significant amount of students that are interested in training a dog through AGS. Don’t be deterred by this. Instead, use it as motivation to work harder – it won't go unnoticed! If you are determined and motivated to train one of our dogs, you have a higher chance of receiving a dog to train! We have had freshman all the way to 5th year seniors train dogs, so don't think you're ever too early or late to train!
Q: How time consuming is training a dog through AGS?
A: The time committment to train a dog through AGS is dependant on you. Keep in mind that the dog is majority your responsibility. You have to be committed to raising a young puppy to a phase II-ready service dog in training for approximately one year. The dog needs to be ready to move onto Phase II training by the time they leave our program. This means you will have to find a balance between training and other activities such as school. At Texas A&M, you must maintain a GPR of 2.0 to continue being a student at this university. Make sure you don't fall behind in your studies!
Q: Does the dog live with me/go where I go?
A: Yes. After you are about to receive a dog, you must get approval from wherever you live because they will come to live with you for the duration of their time in AGS. They will live in your home, dorm, or apartment, and travel with you if you go out of town or home for breaks.
Q: I live in a dorm room, can I still train a dog?
A: Yes! We have had multiple dogs that have had some or all of their training take place while their trainers lived in a dorm on campus.
Q: Can I train a dog if I’m in the Corps of Cadets?
A: Yes! Any student at Texas A&M is eligible to raise and train a dog with AGS however, because of the immense time commitment of both activities you would need to be excellent with time management, additionally, You would need to get everything approved by your Commanding Officer first.
Q: Do you get paid?
A: No. We are a student-run, service organization that relies on fundraisers and donations to support what we do. Trainers do not get paid or obtain any credit hours. This being said, there is no better reward than knowing you had a hand in helping change someone’s life.
Q: How do you let the dogs go when it’s time for the phase II training?
A: This is probably the toughest question to answer because just as every dog is different, every trainer and their relationship with their AGS dog is different. We all handle it in our own way, but we know from start to finish that our dogs have a bigger purpose. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier or the road less of a roller coaster. However, knowing they are going on to bigger and better things is the greatest joy. We provide them a lifetime of love in a condensed amount of time, and they do the same for us in return. Our dogs will change lives, and though letting them go is incredibly difficult, we’d never want to stand in the way of our dogs' success with their future partners.
Q: I, or someone I know, is in need of a service dog. Can I get one of yours?
A: AGS donates our service dogs in training to a secondary organization for placement with a partner. We do not place dogs ourselves. However, we are partnered with nationally recognized phase II organizations who are responsible for partner placement that we would love to get you connected with if you email us.
Q: I’m interested in donating a puppy to your program, how do I go about doing so?
A: If you are a breeder and would like to donate a puppy to our program, you need to contact our Trainer Liaison. They can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Q: How is Aggie Guide-Dogs and Service-Dogs different from Patriot Paws of Aggieland?
A: Aggie Guide-Dogs and Service-Dogs is a student run organization that was founded on the Texas A&M campus in 1997. Patriot Paws of Aggieland is a satellite branch of the national organization, Patriot Paws, that is based in Rockwall, Texas. When AGS dogs graduate, they are donated to phase II organizations around the country, such as Made in Texas Assistance Dogs in Dallas, Texas and Assistance Dogs of the West in New Mexico. Patriot Paws of Aggieland's dogs go to the Rockwall headquarters for their phase II training and placement. In regards to placement, Patriot Paws' dogs are placed with wounded veterans while AGS dogs are placed with individuals with varying disabilities.