How Do I Explain Service Dogs to My Children?

Service dog

Q. How can I explain a service dog's job to my children? I want them to understand that these dogs are not there to play with them but to help their owners.

A. I’m so glad to have the chance to address this important issue. There’s a lot of confusion over the definition of a service dog, what they do, and what rights the people who use them have under law. And that’s before you get to the matter of how people should treat them in public.

In other words, it's often not just children who need to learn about the crucial work these animals do.

What Is a Service Dog?

Under federal law, as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is one who is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. With a limited exception for miniature horses, only dogs are protected as service animals under the ADA, a recent refinement to the law. Starting with canines trained to assist the vision-impaired after World War I, the use of dogs to assist people with disabilities has expanded to include work providing aid to hearing-impaired people and those who use wheelchairs, among others.

To qualify as service dogs, the animals must be trained to actually do tasks. This sets them apart from dogs who provide comfort or emotional support just by being, well, dogs. The distinction is important when it comes to access to places where animals typically are not allowed, such as businesses where food is sold or served, or public transportation.


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