Don’t Fake Service Dogs

Fake service dogs: The Social Effects of Faking A Disability

Fake service dogs are not new, but the massive increase in numbers and media attention is frightening. Faking service dogs is not a crime that has no victims. It is not only illegal; it is a moral and social crime.  Here’s a trendy article on some real jobs service dogs do.

As someone who has ties to service dog organizations and training groups, this issue is personal to me. There might also come a day when I (or anyone else) might need a service dog, and I will need the law and community to support me as a handler. So yes, I have strong feelings about this and so should you.

I’m not going to reiterate the problems outlined in others article like this onethis article, and this article.  I’m going to talk about this as a long-term social problem.  Social change happens all the time, and it doesn’t always have a positive impact. The behavior of being glued to a phone 24/7 is considered normal now, whereas you didn’t see it ten years ago.  Whether or not that is positive or negative is debatable. *Note: According to ADA, an emotional support animal is not classified as a service dog.

By pretending to have a fake service dog and / or faking a need for a service dog has these detrimental social effects.

1. It is making a mockery of people who need service dogs. Service dogs are being used for a variety of conditions that may not have visible cues including epilepsy, mental/emotional disorders, and diabetes. I have heard of people claiming to have these conditions when defending their fake service dog status, and it isn’t funny.

It is not funny to be physically immobilized, lack your sight, or hearing ability  It is also not funny to live in a state of constant alert in case you have a seizure, panic attack, or fall into a diabetic coma.  You should think long and hard about what it is like to live with a disability before you even think about pretending you have one. Making a joke out of serious condition(s) is downright rude and unacceptable.  

This is my beloved late trainer, Dick Shumer, and his service dog, Buddy.  Buddy is a Newfoundland.  

2. Faking service dogs is dangerous. Literally. In most cases of alleged fake service dogs I’ve consulted on, the dogs are downright dangerous. These are dogs who are ill-behaved, aggressive, and uncontrollable. Leave aggressive dogs at home. An ill-behaved dog only gives all dog in public a bad rap; it can also be a dangerous public nuisance. Yes, I do believe in Keep Austin Dog Friendly, by training dogs to behave in public. If your dog isn’t a good canine citizen, then it can stay home.

As if having to manage daily life with a condition isn’t enough, service dog and handler teams will experience increased scrutiny or biased attitudes and behaviors. Even when it is obvious why someone is using a service dog, these people still encounter the unwelcoming looks, eyerolls, snide comments, and snickers.No one deserves to be treated like a second class citizen.

Service dogs and their handlers should be treated with respect. Making it difficult to distinguish a real service dog from a fake service dog only creates a cloud of suspicion on top of the social biases that already exist.  Don’t make it harder for people with service dogs by making people leery of dogs wearing a vest. Here’s an post I wrote on how restaurants can provide better service to service dog and handler teams.

This is a photo of my late trainer, Dick with Chase and Buddy, his service dog.  During water rescue training, Dick would throw his cane overboard.  Buddy would jump into the water, retrieve the cane to the boat, tow the boat into shore, and help Dick get out of the boat.  They were an amazing team to watch.  

I don’t have the right answer for what to do if you encounter someone with a fake service dog. I’m just here to tell you that it is not acceptable to try to pass your pet off as a service dog.  It is illegal, rude, and behavior that has long-lasting detrimental social effects on others. Let’s maintain a culture where faking a service dog is socially unacceptable.  

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