Why are so many top advocates fighting a national service dog standard?


Followers of the cute and cuddly probably know a service dog is a special animal, trained to help a person with a disability. Guide dogs are the best-known example, but the past couple of decades have seen a sharp rise in the use of service dogs for many other kinds of disabilities. These furry creatures help their people get out in the world and do things many of us probably take for granted.

A quick look at the field nowadays shows there are so many people with disabilities who want a service dog, that demand far outstrips supply. With service dog use on the rise, some North Americans have been concerned that things could get out of control.

Enter the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB). A government agency tasked the CGSB to produce a national service dog standard (link below). The result has disability rights advocates wondering why the agency didn’t first ask the question of whether there should even be such a standard.

Two such advocates are happy with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations in the US, but are soured on the notion that their Northern neighbors would go so far beyond that model.

Brad Morris, of Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, and Jenine Stanley, of Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America’s VetDogs, paired up in their opposition to Canada’s proposed standard. They say it focuses microscopically on the minutiae of creating and working with a service dog, rather than on the important aspects of the big picture, like the ADA does.

“There are innumerable ways to responsibly create and work with a service dog—some well-established, some as-yet unimagined,” Morris claims. “With this incredibly detailed standard, Canada would essentially be saying there’s only one right way to do things.”

There’s no disputing that at 61 pages, the authors of the standard tried to produce guidelines on every aspect of service dogs. Guidelines range from requiring service dogs to be “fixed”, to explaining in painstaking detail how to measure a dog so it can be classified according to size, to proscribing specific training methods. Some of these guidelines are controversial, some are confusing, and some may actually have a certain kind of support within one service dog training program or another.

In fact, Stanley points out that many service dog users like herself may actually like some (not all) of these guidelines—but that can hide a basic problem. “My friends and I may think method X is the best way to train a service dog. But if we tell everyone else they have to use method X, we could inadvertently mess things up for dogs that learn differently.”

“Thinking more long-term,” Morris chimes in, “telling folks that this is the one true way would not only shut down tailored training, but would put a moratorium on creativity in training.”

Morris and Stanley both worry these factors would harm many different groups.

They say this is invasive “government overreach” in the lives of people with disabilities who use or might use (or train) a service dog. In particular, they worry that the standard was written using a “medical model of disability”, which “disenfranchises the disadvantaged” by putting unseemly burdens on those in our society who need the most help.

Surprisingly, though, Morris and Stanley think the standard would be bad for professional dog trainers, service dog programs, and the general public. They point out the “detailed standard hobbles innovation”, and they explain that it’s a common illusion that more rules in this area equals more safety for the public.

Apparently, several groups agree with Morris and Stanley.

Under the banner of “United Service Animal Users, Supporters, and Advocates“, they wrote an open letter to the CGSB (link below) detailing why the standard would set back disability rights in Canada. Representatives from 14 other organizations signed on to show their support.

These groups include myriad service dog programs like the well-known Seeing Eye, service dog user advocacy groups like IAADP (International Association of Assistance Dog Partners) and Guide Dog Users, Inc., and titans of the disability advocacy world, such as NDRN (National Disability Rights Network), Autistic Self Advocacy Network, National Association of the Deaf, and American Council of the Blind.

The real question may not be why so many advocates are fighting this proposed standard, but how CGSB could spend so long with this issue in a committee and then propose something that is so forcefully opposed by the stakeholders.

The deadline for public comment on this has been extended to July 14th (link below). Morris advises that “Anyone can comment, whether you’re Canadian or a prospective visitor, a service dog user or just care about disability rights in the world. This has effects that reach beyond Canada, and they rely on your input to proceed.”

Stanley adds, “We’d love it if you take a few seconds right now to say you agree with USAUSA’s letter. But even if you disagree with us or just want to share your own ideas, you should definitely comment and help change things while you still can.”



Comment to the CGSB:


USAUSA letter:


Proposed CGSB standard: