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Dogs in Elementary School?
What makes a dog a service dog?

[Editor's Note: A few days after Karen posted this blog about parents fighting against dogs in schools, the Star-Telegram reported on the big success of therapy dogs at a Fort Worth elementary school. The reporter's timing was perfect.]

The family of an autistic boy wants their dog to accompany him to school to ease the transition to a new place and to help keep him safe from traffic and other dangers. Service dogs are allowed in his school. However, opponents claim that this dog is just a source of comfort rather than a true service dog. A trial is scheduled for November 2009 to determine if the dog can accompany the boy, but thanks to a judge’s order in July, when the boy starts school, his dog will go with him.

What constitutes a service dog? Is it the old-fashioned definition of being a guide dog for a blind person or are we as a society ready to wholeheartedly expand our definition to dogs who alert people with diabetes or epilepsy to impending problems, dogs who provide people with emotional stability that they cannot achieve on their own, dogs who support people physically in case of loss of balance, dogs who protect impulsive children from running towards the road or other perilous situations and dogs who allow children to handle school when they might otherwise be incapable of doing so?

How do we distinguish between service dogs and dogs who are merely helpful but not in any official capacity?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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