Service Animal Do’s and Don’ts


Dogs just make life better. They provide unconditional love, and companionship but some dogs do much more for their human.

You’ve seen them, right? In those cute little vests, they’re hard to mistake. Seems like everywhere you go now you see someone with their dog in places where it used to be taboo to take your pet.

  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Malls
  • Airplanes

But what exactly is a service animal? The term is often used cavalierly by people to describe their pet when they want to bring it somewhere pets usually aren’t permitted, like in this video.

In case you’re wondering, none of those are service dogs.

The term service animal has a specific legal definition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This animal must be a dog, that is specially trained to assist a human who has a disability. Examples would be:  guide dogs for the visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, dogs that pull wheelchairs or manipulate objects for their human, like doorknobs, refrigerators, light switches.

This specifically excludes emotional support animals, or therapy dogs. From the ADA’s website:

“Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.”

This means that if a facility is subject to the laws of the ADA, it must allow the handler/dog team access. They’re not allowed to ask what the person’s disability is, but they can ask two, very specific questions (again, from the ADA site):

1. Is the animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

Although, if the answers are obvious – visually impaired person, person in a wheelchair – don’t ask.

When I first started training in the early ’90’s, the regulations were more lax. It was an open secret in the dog training/handling/show world. “Get your dog registered as a therapy dog.” They’d whisper, “Then you can take them anywhere.” Finding a hotel that accepted dogs was sometimes challenging on the show circuit. I’m not even going to go into the horror stories I heard about airline shipping back then. So handlers (who were already good at training) ran their dog through a therapy dog certification course, got their vest and certificate and -voila!- instant voucher for their dog to fly in coach with them, go into restaurants, stay in any hotel…

But… just because they had that vest didn’t mean the dog was a stellar example of training and dog manners.

I vividly remember sitting in a session at a pet conference in San Diego back then, and listening to one of the speakers absolutely blister the audience for the deplorable manners of their dogs. “And some of these are service dogs!” She spat into the microphone. Eliminating in the host hotel’s rooms was only one infraction on her very long list.

I know. Ick! Sad but true, not everyone is a responsible dog parent. And just because you put a vest on your furkid, that doesn’t make it a service animal. Sorry, it doesn’t. That makes you one of the people in the video up above. And yes, airlines, hotels, restaurants are covered by the ADA.

So lets cover the definitions. We’ve gone over service animal, but there’s also:

Emotional support animal – provides companionship and helps reduce or eliminate symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, etc. NO special training is required of an ESA. ESA’s live with their handlers.

Therapy animal – provide comfort and emotional support in situations that humans often find stressful – hospitals, long-term care facilities, disaster zones. They are brought to the people needing comfort, then go home with their handler.

Each type of animal provides an important service. I am not dissing emotional support or therapy critters. I’ve seen first-hand the good they do. If you require an ESA, it’s probably a good idea to discuss this with your healthcare provider so they can document your need, and how the animal provides support. Although it does not grant you the access that a service animal gets (sorry, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., don’t have to accommodate) it can open doors when you’re looking for housing.

If your therapy electric eel, in it’s 40-gallon tank, is the only creature that makes you feel warm and fuzzy in an otherwise bleak world, and your physician, therapist or other mental healthcare worker writes a letter detailing how Sparky helps you like no one else can, then finding housing just became a little bit easier. Under the laws of the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must accommodate and adjust their rules for you and Sparky.

Um, don’t laugh. I’ve seen people claim their snake, iguana, or tarantula was their ESA. Whatever floats your boat, I’m certainly not one to judge.

"I have nothing but love to give."
“I have nothing but love to give.”

So what’s the moral of the story here? Don’t be a jerk. Please.

There are plenty of people out there who legitimately need their service or ESA. Every person who buys a vest, or pays a bogus “registry” then drags their poorly-behaved “service dog” around is a nuisance and delegitimizes true service and ESA’s. Don’t be that person.

Because you don’t need to. Dogs are becoming more accepted in society, some restaurants allow dogs on outside patios, major hotel chains now accept pets nationwide.

In my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS, I cover aspects of training your dog so you can take your furkid out and about, and give resources to help you find dog-friendly establishments.

Don’t fake it. Be real. Be glad you don’t need a service or ESA, and don’t make it harder for those who do.


My Dog Asked To Wear His Thundershirt


I’ll admit I was skeptical of these. None of my previous dogs were sound-sensitive, and I doubted that tight swaddling would have the same effect on a dog that it does on a human. Turns out I’m wrong, as I found out from direct experience.

Xander is my Great Pyrenees/Lab mix. Isn’t he just adorable? I bought him a Thundershirt last year, and had it on him a few times. It seemed to have only limited success from what I saw, but Xander apparently felt different about his anxiety-reducing garment.


He is the least confident dog I’ve ever had. Belgian sheepdogs aren’t known for their shy, retiring natures, and my Lab, well, she’s a Lab; everyone’s her friend and fear is unknown to her. But for such a big dog, Xander is remarkably…timid, especially when it comes to sounds. We no longer host our big 4th of July party – much to our friend’s dismay.

However, I couldn’t hear anything when he woke me up at 4:30 this morning, scrabbling around in the adjoining room. It was early, but not unusual for the dogs to need to go out at this time. So up I got and out they went. The wind was whipping but it wasn’t raining, Xander quickly returned to the door and wanted back in.

Once back inside, his continuing distress was clear; he was pacing, panting and licking his lips. He would sit and lean against me for a time for comfort, but then look off into the distance over my shoulder and growl. I checked, but nope, no ghosts in the house.

Then I saw the flash outside in the darkened sky and it all made sense. He could hear the thunder I couldn’t.

We went into the basement where it would be quieter, and I turned on the TV to help drown out the thunder. Golly ate her breakfast right away, unfazed by the distant storm. Did I mention she’s a Lab? Xander did not, which is not unusual when he’s nervous. What he did next though, took me completely by surprise.

He walked up to his Thundershirt, draped over a nearby chair and nosed it. Then turned at looked directly into my eyes. I didn’t need any psychic animal communication skills to understand what he was asking. I picked it up, held it out and he promptly sat down to let me wrap it around his body. He even sighed with relief.

He may not be the bravest, but he’s certainly one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had.

Within a minute of getting wrapped up in his Thundershirt, Xander had stopped pacing and panting. He sat and leaned against me, then sank down and nudged his way under my feet with another relieved sigh.


He was snoring a few minutes later. Thank you Thundershirt!

Is your dog sound sensitive? Does your friend whine, cower, or try to escape from loud sounds like thunder,  heavy machinery, or fireworks? It’s important to know the behaviors that signal your dog is in distress – Xander paces, whines, pants, and licks his lips, but other dogs may dig, run, hide or bark.

If you see your dog reacting stressfully to loud sounds, what should you do?

The last thing you want to do is try to reassure him or her. Petting, saying things like “It’s okay” or “You’re a good dog” can actually reinforce your dog’s stress reaction, even amplify it. Pet parents sometimes find it difficult to understand this because the behaviors we humans find comforting – hugging, petting  – often do not translate as soothing or calming to our dogs. Try to avoid these if your dog is acting stressed.

Instead focus on projecting calm and confidence. When you do speak, do it in low, gentle tones. Avoid using the voice or cue words that mean “Good dog!” as these are easily interpreted as meaning his stress reaction is appropriate.

If your dog comes and leans against you, it’s okay to put a reassuring hand on a shoulder or hip, but don’t pet or scratch. Let it rest with some heaviness – let your dog feel the weight of your hand and arm – but don’t press her against you.

Try turning up the TV or radio and distracting your dog with a toy. However if your pet is so stressed that they won’t engage with you, you may want to look into a Thundershirt for your pet. You can find their website here. It has excellent information and links to the science behind the Thundershirt’s effectiveness.

Helping your dog to reduce his anxiety will build his confidence in himself and you!

Five Alternative Therapies For Your Pet That Give Real Results


You love your lil’ fuzzball. You do everything together, regular vet visits, good nutrition and plenty of exercise are all part of your furkid’s routine. However, even with the very best care, our pets can fall victim to accidents, or illness. This is devastating to go through. Your vet should be the first one you consult and have treat your pet if he starts to act sick or gets hurt. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate – get your pet to the doctor!

But what if there was something more you could do to help your BFF get better? Would you consider it? What if it was considered ‘silly’ or ‘quackery’ by some, but others had experienced genuine, positive results?

Merriam-Webster online defines alternative therapies as:  “any of various systems of healing or treating disease (as homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, Ayurveda, or faithhealing) that are not included in the traditional curricula taught in medical schools of the United States and Britain.”

Alternative therapies are sometimes frowned upon by mainstream medicine – human and animal. I think it’s funny that there are still doctors today who will roll their eyes if they hear the words chiropractor or acupuncture, despite the multitude of studies showing real benefit, and the thousands of patients whose health and quality of life have been dramatically improved by these modalities.

I have worked in hospitals, both human and animal. I can tell you this, absolutely and wholeheartedly – traditional Western medicine is not the only game in town.

It is very, very good, it can save your pet’s life, extend your pet’s life. It may very well be all your pet needs. However, if you are searching for “something more” because traditional veterinary medicine is not giving you complete satisfaction, then maybe it’s time to look at alternative therapies.

Some alternative therapies that are used to help our animal companions include:

  • Acupuncture – placing needles in the skin at defined anatomic points to achieve the desired results.
  • Acupressure – operates on the same principles as acupuncture but without the needles.
  • Herbal and dietary supplementation – using plants and food to treat disease or injury.
  • Massage – the manipulation of the skin and muscles.
  • Chiropractic – the manipulation of the spinal vertebrae to alleviate pressure on spinal and cranial nerves.

Acupuncture/pressure has thousands of years of Chinese medicine standing behind it, validating it’s effectiveness. It is commonly used to treat pain and nausea, but it can also help digestion and gut issues, anxiety (pets can feel anxious!), even diabetes and stroke recovery. But this is only a sampling – a comprehensive list of all the conditions that can be treated is far too long for this post. Acupuncture and acupressure can complement almost any treatment regimen to speed your pet to wellness, but they can also be used solely on their own to achieve the desired result.

Herbal treatments, supplements and specialized diets are likewise large and complex topics, with a multitude of branchings into specialities. It can be as simple as giving your older dog some glucosamine to help ease aching joints to a strict regimen prescribed by a holistic vet to defeat cancer.

Massage feels so good! The therapeutic benefits of massage are undeniable. It improves muscle function, reduces pain, helps with joint stability, aids in rehabilitation from injury…the list goes on and on. Like acupuncture/pressure, massage complements almost any treatment.

Chiropractic adjustments enable the nerves to operate at maximum efficiency by reducing or eliminating pressure put on them by misalignments of the spine. This alone can eliminate pain and increase mobility, but a fully functioning nervous system allows the body to clearly communicate with its various parts. This clear communication facilitates the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

You may find that your vet works in conjunction with alternative therapy practitioners. These practices are becoming more accepted as more people turn to them and discover their benefits. You can even find holistic veterinarians who practice one or more therapies in addition to traditional medicine.

Search for holistic vets through the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. You can refine your search on this site to specific modalities such as acupuncture, herbal, etc.

The National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage has a member listing of certified practitioners.

Find an animal chiropractor at the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

As always, you should do your own research to determine if alternative therapies are right for your pet.

Alternative therapies can help keep your best friend healthy and happy. They are worth investigating to give your pet the best life possible.

All better now! Happy Dog!
All better now! Happy Dog!

Dog Parenting Fail – Dog Aggression

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Aggression in the family pet is a very serious issue.  Sharing your home with an aggressive dog is a liability that puts your family and your finances at risk.

Pet parents may have a hard time admitting that their dog has an aggression problem.  Inappropriate behaviors are often marginalized, especially in smaller breeds. Poorly defined behavioral boundaries that lead to confusion on the dog’s part can easily lead to aggression.  In addition, a lack of experience or knowledge on the part of the dog parent can lead to missing or ignoring warning signs from the dog.

Aggression arises for a number of reasons; individual temperament, personal experience as well as genetics all factor in. Fear is also a strong motivator in dog bites. The good news is aggression can be redirected and greatly reduced or even eliminated.  The bad news is – it’s not easy.  It takes a serious commitment to a slow and deliberate process.

There is no fast, easy, magic pill to eliminate aggression. If you’re reading this because you have a dog that exhibits these behaviors:

  •  Biting
  •  Snapping
  •  Lunging and growling

Were you hoping to find a way to make them stop online? Frankly, no. You need to find a trainer to work with you one-on-one.  If your dog has bitten you or someone else you need professional help. Re-training a dog that is already biting is beyond the scope of simply reading something on the Internet. An excellent resource to help you find a trainer is the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (

When dog attacks make it to the news, what do you typically hear the owner say? “I would have never expected my dog to do this!” Or, “this came out of nowhere!” Typically followed by statements about how loving, how gentle and sweet their dog is, and that this behavior is completely atypical for the family pet.

No. Just no. The owner may not have seen it, but the dog’s aggression was the result of a recognizable set of escalating behaviors.

Animals will always tell you their intentions. Always. Do you know what your dog is saying?

It is far better to stop aggressive behavior before it starts. This applies to every dog, from the most massive mastiff to the tiniest chihuahua. As a dog parent it is your responsibility to recognize early aggressive tendencies and redirect them. To be able to do this, you must be able to read your dog. Not just the basics – tail wag = happy, growl = angry. A dog’s communication goes much deeper than this.

You can become fluent in Dog Talk! But you must take the time to observe and understand what your dog is saying when his ears do this, or his eyes do that. You can have that kind of understanding and bond with your dog. The one that looks like magic to outsiders. Bonus – if you work on developing this bond early you will avoid many unhappy behavioral problems.

I teach you how to develop this bond, to deepen your communication, in my book, Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS. If you follow this link and use the coupon code: dct-ftg at checkout, the publisher will give you an additional 15% off the purchase. Make sure the coupon code is all lowercase when you enter it.

Dogs are our companions, our friends, and we ask much of them at times. Help make your friend’s life rich and happy by taking the time to understand his or her needs. Your dog will is talking to you. Are you listening?