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
Service 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 law to claim your dog as a service dog if it is not trained to do tasks that specifically aid your disability.
It's not as much fun to take a dog into public as you might think. You get a lot of attention from the public, and that attention isn't always positive. Our dogs are trained and socialized beginning at 8 weeks old to handle going out into public. It would be a miserable experience for you and the dog if you haven't done the proper training.
Q: I have a therapy dog, can I bring him/her wherever I go?
A: No, therapy dogs can only go into buildings that they have specifically been given permission to enter. Therapy and visitation dogs visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, and sometimes schools as part of a program or organization.
Q: The jacket says please do not pet…does that actually mean I can’t pet him/her?
A: Yes, unless given permission by the handler of the dog. When our dogs are in jacket, they are working. 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 should I do when I see a service dog?
A: Ignore them! Please! The environments we take our dogs into are already incredibly distracting. Service dogs work very hard to remain focused on their partners' needs. We practice ignoring people doing things like talking in baby-talk, whistling, gasping, and offering our dogs food. You can help make the dog’s job easier if you refrain from doing anything to break their attention from their partner.
Q: How can you tell if it’s actually a service dog?
A: When a service dog team enters a building, the dog should remain focused on its partner. Their partner may or may not be obviously disabled.
Q: I, or someone I know, is in need of a service dog. Can I get one of yours?
A: Unfortnately, you cannot. AGS donates our service dogs in training to a secondary organization for placement with a partner. We do not place dogs ourselves, and we don't have say over who our dogs ultimately go to.
Q: How can I join AGS?
A: AGS 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: 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 Power Paws in Arizona, Made in Texas Assistance Dogs in Texas, Paws Assisting Veterans in Oregon 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 - AGS dogs are placed with individuals with varying disabilities, including but not limited to wounded veterans.
Q: How can I become a Puppy Trainer?
A: The process to become a Puppy Trainer begins each semester. Usually starting on the third week of school, 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, the PTs must pass a clicker test administered by the Puppy Trainer Supervisors. If this is passed, the PTs must then attend at least two Campus Trainings and handle our dogs, so that we can see them in action. If this goes well, the PTs will be given a Manual to read and study so that they can take a test. If passed, the PTs will now have jacket privileges, and would be able to handle an AGS dog in jacket if need be. Then the Puppy Trainer Supervisors will set up an interview. From there, it’s just a waiting game for the right puppy to come along. This may seem like a daunting and extensive process, but it’s how we ensure that our Trainers have the dedication necessary to devote a year of their life to their puppy.
Q: How can I become a sitter?
A: The process to become a Puppy Sitter is much less extensive than that of becoming a Puppy Trainer, but no less necessary. In order to become a Puppy Sitter, you must attend all three Potential Trainer classes and handle one at a Campus Training. 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: 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 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, but it’s how we can let them go when the time comes. We don’t love our dogs any less than you do (making it easier to let them go, as some assume), but instead we provide them a lifetime of love in a condensed amount of time. Our dogs will change lives, and though letting them go is incredibly difficult, we’d never want to stand in the way of our dog’s success with their partner.
Q: What type of service dogs do you train?
A: We primarily train Mobility Assistance dogs and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder dogs. We have started some work in Diabetic Alert as well.
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: 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: It’s such a shame that your dog has to work all day and never get to play, right?
A: Wrong! Our dogs are still indeed that – dogs! They get to play fetch, swim, and run among other fun things. They get whatever bones and toys their trainers provide and often get to see each other to play multiple times a week. We even hold gatherings for the sole purpose of letting our dogs out of jacket and off leash to socialize and play with one another. We recognize that our dogs are puppies, so playtime and fun are crucial to their happiness. We want our dogs to love what they do, so ensuring their happiness is just another step to training successful service dogs. Our dogs also love their jobs! They would much rather be out in public "working" than left at home with little to do. They hate to be left behind, and luckily we don't have to.
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. We generally say a year to a year and a half, though this is never concrete. Dogs in training for PTSD tend to remain in our program for 10-12 months so that they can be placed quicker and form the bond with their partner at a younger age. Dogs in training for Mobility Assistances tend to graduate after 12-18 months.
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 ever be placed with a dog. We base our placement on a number of factors, with completing the training as the basic requirements. We do our best to match the dog with the person so as to better the chances of a strong bond and success in the long-run. In addition, there are many wonderful Potential Trainers vying for a puppy to train, but being student-run, we can only bring so many dogs into the program. Don’t be deterred by this.Instead, use it as motivation to work harder – it doesn’t go unnoticed!
Q: What kinds of dogs do you use in your program?
A: In our 20 years, we have trained Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Goldendoodles, Labradoodles, Borderdoodles (Border Collie/Poodle), Standard Poodles, and Double Doodles.
Q: Oodles of Doodles?
A: Doodles make wonderful service dogs. They combine the intelligence and (generally) non-shed coat of the poodle, with the respective positives of their other half (loyalty, drive, calmness, etc.).
Q: I’m interested in donating a puppy to your program, how do I go about doing so?
A: If you are a reputable 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Can I train a dog if I’m in the Corps of Cadets?
A: Yes. However, due to the demanding schedule of those in the Corps, we have never had this happen. You would need to get everything approved by your Commanding Officer.
Q: Does the dog live with me/go where I go?
A: Yes. If placed with a dog, that dog is your responsibility for the duration of their time in the program. They live in your home, dorm, or apartment, and travel with you if you go out of town.
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 anyone handle an AGS dog?
A: No. If the dog is in jacket, only those who have received jacket privileges can handle an AGS dog. This is to ensure that only those who know our rules and that we know can enforce and uphold them, both in private and in public, work with the dogs.
Q: Do you get paid?
A: No. We are a student-run organization that relies on fundraisers and donations to support what we do. Trainers do not get paid, obtain any credit hours, or receive any form of compensation for their work other than the satisfaction of knowing they had a hand in helping change someone’s life.