Let me explain what an Assistance Dog (AD) is, particularly in Australia, according to the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 section 9.2:
*ADs are trained for specific tasks (at least 4) that help their disabled Handler perform activities their disability usually prevents. It’s important to note that not all dogs are suitable for the rigorous training required to become certified. Even with a purpose-bred dog, failure rates average 70%.
Public Access Rights and Proof of Certification
A fully qualified AD has the same public access rights as a Guide Dog for the blind because they undergo public access testing (PAT). An AD can accompany their Handler anywhere, including public transport and areas where pets are prohibited. It is illegal for any place of business to refuse entry to a certified AD. However, any staff member may ask the Handler to provide proof of PAT certification, which the Handler must always have on them.
Assistance Dog Tasks and Categories
ADs can perform various tasks and behaviours, with some knowing more than 50 tasks to assist their handlers. Tasks fall under 13 categories: Retrieve, Tug, Paw, Nose nudging, Carry, Deposit, Bracing, Guide, Alert, Interrupted, Social, Block, and Assistance in an Emergency. Specific tasks may cross categories, and the actual disability only limits possible tasks. Additionally, like all dogs, ADs provide therapeutic and emotional support to their handlers through companionship.
Emotional Support Dogs and Alternatives
The term “Emotional Support Dog” is American, and no such certification exists in Australia. A dog must not be an AD to provide emotional support or companionship. The time, training, and expense required to certify an AD are considerable. If you cannot navigate your daily life without assistance, consider other alternatives, like a human support worker.
An AD is not a Therapy Dog (TD); we will look at TDs in the next post.