A common challenge that service dog trainers encounter is a person with a disability who has selected a dog for service work that is not suited for public access. Generally, by the time the owner sees the trainer, the owner has already fallen in love with the dog. The sad reality is that very few dogs are suited for public access service work. Common behavior problems like reactivity to unfamiliar dogs or fear in new environments can rule a dog out from this type of work.
However, many of these dogs can be trained to perform tasks that can help in the owner’s home. In fact, for some people with disabilities, this is really where they most need their service dog’s help. Tasks like assisting with dressing, opening doors, or helping with laundry are usually performed at the owner’s home. Also, if the owner works from home, as more and more people do, public access work may not be needed. However, at-home-only service dog training is not right for all dogs and owners, and there are some important caveats to keep in mind.
Is the owner committed to not taking the dog into places pets are not permitted?
Trainers need to make absolutely sure the client understands why public access work is inappropriate for the dog. Trainers should be sure to consult with an attorney regarding appropriate documentation and contracts for at-home-only service dogs, just as they would for any other service dog.
Is the dog behaviorally suited for at-home-only service dog work?
Not all dogs are appropriate for service dog work, even if they will only be working in the home. If a dog has a serious behavior problem, addressing that issue takes priority. Some behavior problems may be exacerbated by service dog task training. For instance, training alerts can trigger attention-seeking behavior. Prolonged time spent learning complex behavior chains can make some anxious dogs even more anxious. Also, tasks that require dogs to check in frequently with their owners may exacerbate separation anxiety. The dog’s behavioral needs must always be considered and fully addressed before beginning any type of service dog task training.
Does the owner have support in the use of the service dog from a health care professional?
Even though the dog will be working in the owner’s home, service dog trainers should still treat at-home service dogs as they would any other service dog when it comes to task selection and training. Documentation of need for the dog and working in collaboration with a human health care professional is important to make sure the tasks are selected and trained appropriately.
The work of an at-home-only service dog can be critically important. The dog may help the owner live safely and independently at home, may reduce the need for personal attendant care and can improve the individual’s quality of life. At-home-only service dogs may not be working in places pets are not permitted, but they are still valued and important helpers for their owners.