Primarily, he “points” toward unexpected sounds, particularly knocking, doorbells, rattling/jiggling doorknobs. (Ironically most dogs do this to some extent, but he didn’t until I started training for those sounds).
This is useful when I’m sleeping or napping, because a frequent occurrence in narcolepsy is called “hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations” — in my case, as I’m drifting off to sleep, I hear my doorbell go off, or it sounds like someone’s trying to break in. Before I got him, I’d always have to get up and check — mostly a problem when I only have a few minutes to nap before whatever I’m doing next.
He also can navigate to certain locations, especially “let’s go home”. More than once I’ve been so tired that I just kept on walking once I reached my apartment building — I only realized I was already home when I started wondering why he was suddenly pulling the opposite direction.
He sort of helps me wake up in the morning, but that’s not specifically trained behavior — somehow, me worrying he might pee on the bed is more effective at engaging my sleep-drunk brain than anything else. Similarly he keeps me on a schedule and ensures I get a walk and some time outside but those are just side benefits.
So the interesting thing here is, does he need to be in a grocery store with me? Probably not (although he does keep me engaged when I take him, I’m able to shop longer, and he makes getting home easier). But it’s helpful for me to have him, and it helps keep him trained for situations where I do need him, like the airport (since I typically take him traveling with me so I can sleep properly). And it’s legally my entitlement under ADA.
So when someone pointedly tells me I can’t have him unless he has a particular use in “emergency situations”, without even asking the questions permitted by the ADA about what he actually does, it brings up a lot of feelings.
But dog owners in general shouldn’t let their dogs act that way in public!
I have a 20lb ESA as well. When I got him, I had planned/hoped to train him to perform some tasks to help me in public – but then I realized the existence of asshats like the one you encountered today makes me feel even more anxious about bringing my dog places that dogs aren’t allowed, because I don’t want the added attention.
Rather than exacerbate my anxiety to address issues that honestly cause me less distress compared to that, my dog is fine being an ESA, since I don’t want to bring him anywhere he’d have to be an “exception” anyhow.
As someone with an ESA for my depression and anxiety, I look relatively normal. I can hold a nuanced conversation, I can walk just fine. You wouldnt know why I had one unless I felt like elaborating. If you rolled your eyes at me for mentioning I had one it would mess with me. It would screw up my mood for hours and I would be so tempted to cuss you out for judging me.
Please be better about not visibly judging people, you cannot always tell what people are dealing with.
You may not be judging people but an eye roll comes off as dismissive etc. I also guarantee they notice it.
I can forgive a misbehaving dog, but only as long as the owner is cognizant of what is occurring and taking steps to correct it or clearly trying to extricate themselves and the dog from the scenario. If they are oblivious I would be equally annoyed and I’ll admit if I ran into that behavior often enough I would find it very difficult to ignore the pattern.
One of the worst trained dogs that I’ve met belonged to an acquaintance who ran a “turn any dog into an ESA and take them anywhere!”-business.
I did a quick Google and saw that service dogs don’t need to be professionally trained. Under the ADA, it is not even legal to require registration or certification for a service animal to be considered a service animal.
The definition is really just: “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”
That’s true and not true. An ESA doesn’t have to be trained at all. At all. There’s no need to pay for training. Google ESA, pay your fee, get the harness or lease and ta da! All set. Fake ESA.
A Service Dog does need to be trained. As you said, specifically to perform a service for the owner. That dog can be trained by the fancy training program. But it’s cost prohibitive. Most people can train their service animal themselves with the assistance of a coach familiar with service dogs. But they still aren’t “any dog”. A good service animal has a lot of special qualities like focus, the ability to perform their duty (not every dog can tell when their blood sugar drops, are they sociable but well behaved? There’s a lot to developing a service dog.
When the ESA program first began, they were allowed almost everywhere with no issues. I’ve had my ESA for over 10 years so I remember back that far when he was welcome in restaura