Unfortunately, the call I received on Tuesday morning was not unusual. A dog owner started the conversation by telling me her dog had recently passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test.
“Congratulations,” I said, “That’s wonderful!” Before I could say more, with a sense of determination and urgency in her voice, the dog owner interrupted me. “Now,” she said, “where can I get a vest so I can start taking my dog on the plane and in restaurants?” I asked her who had evaluated her dog. She told me. I asked her if the evaluator had also taught the CGC class. He had. I asked her if the evaluator explained during the 8-weeks course that CGC was a test of good manners. He had. I asked her if the evaluator suggested at any point in the class that dogs who passed the CGC test had the same special access rights (to public places) as service dogs. “No, he never said that,” said the insistent owner, “but I want to take my dog with me when I go places and if you could just tell me where to get a vest, I’ll be able to do that.”
We had a long conversation. I talked about ethics and being responsible and how when a dog owner abuses the system, everybody loses sooner or later. I told this dog owner that AKC removes the evaluator status of evaluators who so much as suggest to students that passing the CGC test gives a dog the same rights as a service dog. In the end, I think I convinced her to do the right thing, but sadly, there are many more people alleging their dogs are service animals when in fact, they aren’t.
Years ago, service dogs had to be trained by a service dog agency. A person with a disability who desperately needed a dog could be on a waiting list for years. It was a crying shame, because in many cases, there was a dog trainer right in the person’s city who could train a dog to perform the necessary tasks in a matter of months. So, with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the standards were relaxed. This solved some problems (such as making dogs readily available) while creating others (making it easier for non-disabled people to abuse the system for their own convenience).
In CITIZEN CANINE, here’s what we said about Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs:
Service dogs are dogs that assist people with disabilities. Earning the Canine Good Citizen award does not give your dog the same special access rights to public places (restaurants, planes, stores, etc.) that service dogs have. People with disabilities have struggled for decades for the right to have their canine helpers with them in public places, and it would be absolutely unethical to use the CGC award for the purpose of alleging that a dog is a service animal.
Having said this, there are a number of people with disabilities who want their service dogs to pass the Canine Good Citizen Test. Even though these dogs have very advanced skills, such as opening refrigerator doors, holding and giving a check to a bank teller, and picking up a dropped cell phone, many service-dog owners want their dogs to pass the test of good manners best known to the general public—the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test.
Each year, tens of thousands of therapy dogs and their owners visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, developmental-disabilities programs, and numerous other settings to make people happy and, in some cases, teach new skills. Many therapy-dog programs require CGC testing as a prerequisite for participation in their programs. Therapy Dogs International (TDI), the largest therapy dog group in the country, has used the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test as a component of their screening for therapy dogs for a number of years.