The Americans with Disabilities Act is clear that certification and registration are not needed for service dogs to have access in no-pets-allowed locations. However, service dog programs usually provide some type of certification, and they often document the dog’s progress via training logs and assessments. Documentation may be needed for various reasons, for instance if a team encounters a legal challenge*, if the individual wants to bring their service dog to work or if the owner wants to deduct service dog expenses from their taxes. Additionally, documentation can be important for the training process itself. Training journals and videos can help owners and trainers monitor progress and set appropriate training goals. Trainers working with owner-trainers may recommend that their clients document their dog’s training in several ways:
- A written training journal. An example log is provided on the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
- Copies of training lesson receipts.
- Training handouts, training lesson notes, and any awards or certificates related to specific training accomplishments.
- Videos and photos of public access and task training.
- Medical documentation of the person’s need for the dog and notes documenting communication with a health care provider regarding the service dog.
Record-keeping does not need to be onerous. When I worked with owner-trainers, I often used simple “old school” strategies myself. If I thought of something that should be added to a client’s record, I sometimes scribbled a note on a sticky to jog my memory later when I was typing an email to that client. I then saved my email in the client’s file so I could refer back to it in the next lesson or whenever I needed it.
There are phone apps that can be used to scan handwritten training notes for clients so you can save a copy. Other apps can help with both note-taking and organizing the notes. Evernote is an example of an app that can be used to for notes in various formats such as voice, photo, video and typed. Make sure any electronic system you are using is being backed up such that the failure of one device won’t result in the permanent loss of the information.
Be especially careful with records about the client’s health. Make sure any information you are storing that concerns the client’s medical condition and care — your own notes or those from a health care provider — is secure and protects the client’s privacy. An attorney familiar with privacy laws and HIPAA guidelines can help you with this.
Some trainers who work with owner-trainers may choose to give their clients additional documentation, such as a letter about the dog’s training or results of specific assessments like a public access test. Given that documentation might be used in a legal context, it is important for trainers to discuss documentation with an attorney who is knowledgeable in disability and animal law.
Keeping thorough records should be part of every trainer’s business, but the additional documentation needed for service dog training may seem daunting at first. It’s worth taking the time to set up an organized system that works smoothly and easily for you. Your efforts will benefit you and your clients, both human and canine.
*This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult a qualified attorney.