What are the National Standards for PTS/TBI service dogs?
National Standards for Service Dogs Assisting Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress
American Humane’s goal was to collaboratively establish rigorous standards that ensure veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS) have access to properly trained, lifesaving service dogs and improve access to public spaces. Based on the work of nearly 40 industry thought leaders and stakeholders convened in September 2016, American Humane’s independent Scientific Advisory Committee, comprised of leading service dog experts, mental health providers and veterinarians, drafted and approved the following standards for selecting, training, and assessing service dogs for veterans with PTS.
- Canine Breed and Size
Many service dogs are larger breeds, especially when the dog is used for mobility. However, a service dog must perform reliably, regardless of the size of the dog, and for some veterans, a smaller dog would be more suitable, such as a veteran who commutes on a subway or has other lifestyle aspects that would make a smaller dog more suitable. The need of the individual is the priority and as such, service dogs should not be restricted by breed or size.
- Canine Selection and Health
Evaluation of overall health is essential when selecting a service dog. When possible, breeds and lines within the breed should be carefully evaluated to ensure a long service life for a working animal. All animals that are candidates to be service dogs must have a thorough examination performed by a veterinarian. While an animal’s longevity is never a guarantee, certain parameters can be observed when considering animal selection. Hips and elbows are wear points and can become trouble spots as an animal ages. To help minimize this risk, each animal should be radiographically evaluated to ensure that their hips and elbows are properly developed in order to predict future joint and arthritic issues. In addition, each animal should be assessed to ensure they do not have any vision or hearing impairments.
Service dogs must receive regular wellness exams and vaccinations as recommended by their veterinarian, must be on year-round internal and external parasite control, and should be spayed or neutered.
In addition to health, it is critical that a service dog have a stable, calm temperament. While working with their handler in public environments, service dogs may encounter a wide variety of stimuli including strange noises, smells, people, or other animals. The dog should be calm and focused in all environments and remain responsive to their handler even in the presence of distractions.
- Canine Training Tasks
A full range of service dog tasks exists, from simply placing a paw on the veteran’s lap to interrupt behavior to turning on lights, opening the refrigerator, retrieval of medication, etc. A comprehensive task list is available on American Humane’s website that describes all the tasks that a service dog may perform for his/her owner. Service dogs must perform at least two tasks that directly relates to mitigating their handler’s disability.
- Canine Training Method and Equipment
Service dogs must be trained using humane training methods and may not display any signs of fear, aggression, or abuse. Service dogs must perform their tasks with alacrity and show a desire to work. Similarly, training equipment used must be appropriate for the specific dog and the tools must be fitted and used correctly. Electronic collars are not acceptable as a humane training tool.
- Handler Training
Handlers must be educated on the fundamentals of dog care, humane treatment of animals (such as adequate healthcare, nutritious diet, regular exercise, and absence of physical pain and stress), and their legal rights regarding service dog-related legislation including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Air Carrier Access Act, and Fair Housing Act.
- American Humane Service Dog Assessment
The best way to assess a veteran/service dog team is to observe them in action in a public setting. A public setting provides common distractions that a dog will be exposed to, such as food, noise, crowds, and other animals. American Humane has developed a three-scenario assessment designed to assess a service dog’s ability to support their veteran and the dog’s appropriateness for public access. See American Humane’s Service Dog Team Assessment for more information.
- Assessor Role
The Assessor’s role is to support and coach the veteran to successfully partner with his/her service dog. Assessors will have a background in service dog training and evaluation, as well as experience working with persons with PTS. The assessment is designed to be a positive learning experience with suggestions for additional training and techniques as warranted.
Although an Assessor’s role is to positively support the team, they are also in a position to judge the appropriateness of a team. Not all dogs are appropriate for service dog work and in some cases, an Assessor may determine that a dog is not temperamentally suitable for the work.
- National Credentialing
In order to receive a national service dog credential, veterans will need to submit the following documentation: 1) certificate of successful assessment completion; 2) proof of diagnosis/need from a master’s level or higher health care provider; 3) a note from a mental health provider that the veteran is recommended to have a service dog; 4) a copy of the dog’s vaccination records with a note from a veterinarian that the dog is healthy enough to be a service dog; and 5) a list of tasks the dog performs that are directly related to the veteran’s mental health diagnosis.
What is Operation Service Dog Access?
Operation Service Dog Access' goal is to improve the mobility and welfare of veterans. Operation Service Dog Access credentials veteran-service dog teams against a national standard. Successful teams meet ADA and/or ACAA requirements and are given credentials and entered into a searchable national registry. Businesses can then search and confirm the status of a service dog in one place. Operation Service Dog Access' credential is the "Gold Standard". Veterans can now get on with their lives without fear of confrontation.
Who is eligible to participate in this program?
U.S. military veterans with a clinical diagnosis relating to mental health disorders such as PTS and TBI. As part of their treatment program, a service dog has been recommended and obtained.
If the ADA doesn’t require this type of assessment or credential, why would I participate?
Think of TSA-Precheck. It’s not required to fly but it makes flying easier. If you’ve had trouble going to places of business with your service dog, this new credential can help.
What are the expected benefits for veterans?
Once certified, veterans can now move on with their lives without fear of confrontation.
What’s involved in the application and assessment process?
Veteran-service dog teams apply for certification through Operation Service Dog Access' secure portal. Once accepted, our staff members will set up an in-person assessment. The veteran-service dog team will be assessed against the national standard. Passing veteran-service dog teams are then entered into the national registry. Veteran-service dog teams receive their credentials by mail in one to two weeks.
How long does the process take?
The entire application and assessment process takes around 30 days.
What forms are accepted by OSDA to prove someone's military service?
DD Form 214/215
NGB Form 22/22A
DD Form 256 (Honorable Discharge Certificate)
Military Retiree ID
VA ID Card (VIC)
What does the program cost?
Nothing. The program is free thanks to our sponsors.
What happens during the assessment?
The purpose of Assessment is to ensure the veteran’s service dog is safe and appropriate for public access, the dog is being treated humanely, and the veteran is benefiting from the dog’s task performance by having his/her symptoms mitigated. This will be accomplished by observing the veteran and dog in typical public places and through a demonstration of trained tasks the dog performs.
In order to prepare for the Assessment, you must ensure your service dog is healthy, at an appropriate body weight and well-groomed. You must use a leash no longer than 6 feet – no flexi/retractable leashes are permitted. If you use a training tool such as a harness or training collar, it must be fitted and used appropriately. Electronic collars are not permitted.
You will be asked to have your dog demonstrate one of the tasks s/he performs that directly relates to your disability. During the Assessment, you will be observed by the Assessor in three different public places to ensure that your service dog is under your control and you treat your service dog humanely. Skills evaluated in the Assessment include: disembarking safely from your vehicle, standing in a food service line, walking through a crowd, exposure to a loud noise, exposure to another dog or small animal, riding an elevator, ignoring food on the floor, staying in place, coming when called, and dealing with an interruption from a stranger.
You may bring a family member to the Assessment, with the understanding that the person will serve as an observer and not a participant. In addition, the Assessment will be video recorded in order to document the sessions and provide footage to additional assessors as needed. The Assessor may evaluate up to three veteran/dog teams at one time.
The Assessor’s role throughout the Assessment is to support the veteran and ensure the dog is comfortable, mobile, and not under duress at any time throughout the Assessment. The Assessor should take as much time as is reasonable to achieve a comfortable rapport with the veteran and ensure that s/he understands the expectations of the Assessment and is comfortable proceeding.
The veteran handler is expected to perform tasks without the help of the Assessor, i.e. the Assessor will not hold doors or take actions to assist the team in any way, barring emergencies, in order to assess the team’s ability to operate independently.
Assessment Locations: Three locations will be selected by the Assessor, based on the veteran’s lifestyle/location. Interactions at these three locations can be assessed in one continuous session, or in multiple meetings over the course of one month. At least one location must include exposing the dog to food, riding in an elevator, and exposing the dog to other animals.
Potential locations may include: café, restaurant, hardware/home improvement store, feed store, office/business building, hospital/healthcare facility, department store or mall, public transportation center/vehicle, public park, etc.
Who is involved in this effort?
Operation Service Dog Access is an innovation brought to veterans by the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations and American Humane.
What are the expected benefits for businesses?
Businesses can now search and confirm the status of a veteran-service dog team in one place.
Rest assured. Operation Service Dog Access certification meets the ADA and/or the ACAA requirements*
How were the national standards developed?
American Humane assembled a Scientific Advisory Committee. Leaders from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor, philanthropy, the Service Dog industry and academia participated. The Committee developed the first-ever national standard. The standard focuses on the training and assessment of veteran-service dog teams.
What problem does it address?
Veterans are often challenged in public about the validity of their service dog. Businesses do not have a good way to search and confirm the status of a service dog in one place. Operation Service Dog Access is the "Gold Standard" to confirm the status of a dog. Operation Service Dog Access credential meets all ADA and/or ACAA requirements.
This program seems helpful to all persons with a disability that has a service dog. Why are only veterans eligible in this pilot?
We're proving the program’s value with this pilot. Our hope is to expand the pilot to all persons with disability who might benefit.