How To Spot Assistance Dog Scams

Posted on May 14, 2021May 14, 2021Categories Assistance Dog Skills, Featured, Please ShareTags , , ,

Everyone knows about fake service dogs – dogs who have a vest that says “service dog” but pull on the leash, bark, and generally act like your average pet.

But what people don’t know is how often the person holding the leash is the victim of a scam, and they don’t even know that their service dog is not legitimate.

Sometimes people contact us after they realize they’ve been scammed, and they are looking for help.

Sometimes we have to gently break it to people when we realize they have been scammed.

It’s never fun.

It makes me angry that there are people willing to prey on disabled people who are looking for help. I hope this article helps save a few people from these common scams.

Scam #1: Fake Service Dog Registration.

If I google “service dog registration canada” I come up with a long list of scam sites. They urge you to pay them money now to “register” your dog in return for fake IDs, fake letters from fake doctors etc. But of course they don’t say that it’s all fake. They make themselves look as legitimate as possible.

My personal favourite is the one which clearly displays its address in the USA while urging me to choose them because they’re based in Canada.

hope you don't fall for this!

So, how do you spot these sites?

It’s easy.

If it isn’t a government website, then they have no right to make any kind of declaration about whether or not your dog is registered or certified in your area.

If no one has asked you for a doctor’s note and checked to see if your dog behaves itself, then they have absolutely no authority whatsoever.

If they’re asking you for money, be suspicious.

It is important to understand that random organizations on the internet have no authority over whether your dog is a real service dog.

While service dog laws vary from province to province, here is a summary of the laws here in British Columbia:

Scam #2: Selling You A Fake Service Dog

leash manners are just the beginning...

Even worse than bilking people out of a couple of hundred dollars for a false service dog ID is selling a false service dog. A fully trained service dog can sell for anywhere from $5,000-$15,000. Are they worth that? Absolutely.

…IF they are actually well trained.

Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who will put a head halter on any dog and sell it to you as a service dog.

42 people have filed fraud complaints against one “trainer” in North Carolina.

Another outfit has been sued for selling poorly trained dogs for as high as $30k.

These high profile cases are merely the tip of the iceberg. Fake service dog scams can be found all over the world, including here in Canada.

Hope you know assistance dogs shouldn't do this!

Here’s how you spot a service dog scammer:

They are not on any lists posted by reliable institutions. Self-Regulating organizations such as Assistance Dogs International will list approved members.

Their dogs pull on the leash or require frequent corrections.

A trained service dog should walk next to their handler calmly and on a loose leash. That means the leash should be hanging down in a J or U shape and the handler does not seem to need the leash in order to direct the dog. In fact, the handler should be able to drop the leash and keep walking, and the dog acts just the same.

Their dogs need special equipment.

A well trained service dog behaves the same off leash as on leash. A trained service dog should not require a prong collar, a shock collar, or any other form of extreme control. Some service dogs may wear head halters, because their handler is in a wheelchair or is frail and even an accidental tug on the leash could result in injury. But most fully qualified service dogs only require a simple harness or flat collar.

The dogs do not perform specialized skills.

Service dog scammers don’t know how to train dogs, only control them. You can use scolding and punishment to stop a dog from yanking on the leash, but it takes a lot more skill to train a dog to fetch medications, find a lost possession, or carry their own poop bag and put it in the garbage. Your service dog should be able to perform several advanced skills designed to assist you in daily life.

A dog who can just heel nicely and sit-stay is a well behaved pet, not a service dog. Check the organizations social media channels – skilled trainers delight in showing off what their dogs can do and they’ll have the social media posts to back it up!

They have the dogs’ names on their service dog capes.

There’s a reason that big service dog organizations don’t embroider the dogs’ names on their capes, and it has nothing to do with cost. It would be easy to find a nice volunteer to embroider a special cape for each graduate. No, the reason they don’t do it is because they know that you don’t want the public to know your dogs’ names. Some of my clients even have “stage names” for their dogs that they’ll give the public when someone asks for their dogs’ names. It’s extremely annoying to have people calling your dog from across the room when you’re trying to keep him under your chair in McDonald’s.

So I raise my eyebrows at any organization that does this, because to me it practically screams “lack of experience”.

Their trainers don’t have any certifications.

Experience is not a substitute for education. I have learned immense amounts from my dozen plus years of hands-on experience training dogs, but just as vital has been active pursuit of education on the subject of dog training. A dedicated dog trainer invests in their career, and will be able to list courses or apprenticeships they have taken and certifications they have achieved, and will be happy to refer you to the schools that trained them.

Once again, check their claims at the back end. If they say they are CPDT-KAs, for example, you will find them on the CCPDT website.

They don’t have a good relationship with similar organizations nearby

There’s not much competition in the service dog charity world. The demand far outstrips production, which exactly why these service dog scammers are able to do so well. Service dog schools swap training methods, breeding dogs, and anything else they think will help each other succeed. If the organization you are looking into doesn’t seem to have good affiliations with similar organizations, nearby or abroad, it’s worth calling those other schools to find out why.

They don’t screen applicants carefully.

A true service dog organization wants its dogs to go to good homes and worthy recipients. They will want reports from your doctors, they will check your finances to ensure you can provide food and vet care to the dog, they’ll ask for references, and they may even run a criminal record check on you to make sure you aren’t an animal abuser.

They’ll ask you about your schedule, your pasttimes, your home life, and your recreational activities so they can match the right dog to the right person – they don’t want to pair a slug-dog to someone who does marathons, or hand a canine athlete to someone who rarely leaves the house. Since demand is so high, service dog schools can be very picky about matchmaking to ensure that the paired teams are ideal.

They don’t treat their clients well.

Service dog organizations exist to help people, and they are run by people who love people. They should be educated on the nature of your disability, they should not express ableist beliefs, they should demonstrate genuine care and consideration for their clients and their needs, and they should be willing and able to accommodate your disability.

They don’t behave professionally.

Professionals behave like professionals and care how they and their dogs are perceived by the public. They require their clients to behave professionally as well and will coach them in how to handle difficult situations (such as being questioned about their service dog) with grace. They will coach their clients on ways to be discrete with their dog in public and to ensure their dog is not a nuisance to others. They will respect their clients’ privacy and human rights.

It should go without saying that they will not try to take advantage of their clients, or offer you discounts if you recruit more clients for them as if they were Mary Kay.

Their fee for the dog is non-refundable.

Most of the big charities do not charge their clients for the dogs, but instead choose to retain ownership and “loan” the dog out to the client. But some do permit the transfer of ownership for a fair price. Usually the client is expected to fundraise for the dog, rather than pay out of pocket. None of these things are, by themselves, suspicious.

However, if papers you are signing commit you to paying a non-refundable fee, with or without ownership of the dog, please ask more questions. What if the dog isn’t a good fit for you? What if you realize you don’t actually like having a service dog? You should always be able to return the dog without ending up out-of-pocket if things aren’t a good fit.

Some scams will sell a dog to someone, or charge application fees in the thousands, only to give out an aggressive, untrained or otherwise unsuitable dog. When the dog is ultimately returned, they refuse to return the money – usually while deflecting responsibility onto the recipient – then turn around and sell the dog to someone else.

Don’t let this happen to you. Read the fine print on any contracts you sign, and make sure it includes guarantees regarding the dog’s behavior, and allows for refunds if the dog is aggressive or unsuitable.

Buyer Beware

The dog training industry is completely unregulated by the government. While voluntary certifications exist – such as the BC AnimalKind program, and the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers – the government has no legal definition of what constitutes a “dog trainer”, and anyone can go to PetSmart, buy themselves a shock collar, and set up a business training dogs.

We are plagued enough by people who think that punishing a dog into submission is “training” and sell it as such to innocent people and their dogs. It’s ten times worse, though, when a family with a disabled child is faced with the grief of a badly behaved dog who cost them hundreds or even thousands.

When it comes to predatory website scams, our justice system is helpless, as these websites are usually based out of the U.S. and therefore not answerable to British Columbia laws.

Please check things out carefully. Be very wary of buying things online, or getting information about service dog laws online. I’ve lost count of the number of clients who think the American Disability Act rules apply here in Canada.

Be safe out there.

Dog Walk a Drag?

Posted on February 3, 2015April 6, 2021Categories Dogs, Training MethodsTags , , , , , , , , , , ,

Follow this one rule:

Don’t follow your dog.

Loose leash walking really is that simple but if it was that easy, no one would have invented the choke chain–and your dog wouldn’t still be pulling. It is easier to teach a dog to fetch beer from the fridge than to remain at heel while a cat runs across the street but it is well worth the effort, and here’s why:

  • Collars can damage the trachea when a dog lunges and will damage the trachea over time spent pulling on leash.
  • A dog that pulls on leash won’t look back to their owner as much and will continue to move forward if the leash is dropped.
  • A dog who pulls on leash is much more likely to break or destroy their collar or leash and is much more likely to run away.

Not only is it not safe, it sucks:

  • Your dog doesn’t care for the crying about your shoulder injury. This was supposed to be a nice walk in the park.
  • Your dog doesn’t understand why you are pulling on their leash either. It is especially confusing when they are trying to relate to other dogs and people. A dog that greets with tension in the leash and a tense owner will grow tense, anxious, and ultimately reactive.
  • Yes, I just said that. Dogs that pull on leash are more likely to have other problem behaviours, including the dreaded ‘aggression,’ and the ever un-popular ‘OMG is that a (insert chicken bone, anti-freeze, condom, or otherwise disgusting thing) your dog pulled you off your feet to gulp down?’ -Yes, that too.
  • Your walks will be less frequent. It isn’t pleasant and your friends and family don’t want to walk them either. This lack of stimulation completes the cycle and here we are again, at the end of our rope.

Always follow the rule; never follow your dog. From now on, each step you take will be together.

“Let’s Go!”  Teach Walking On A Loose Leash

Step 1: Increase Exercise

This is step 1, no matter what behaviour problem you may have. Increase exercise in general, and also just prior to training sessions to ensure the dog isn’t climbing the walls when we want to work on a skill that requires self control. Balance physical exercise with mental stimulation. Teach something new, go somewhere new, make a treasure hunt; train them! Tricks aren’t just a great way to give your dog the one-on-one attention they deserve, it is time well spent; 10 minutes is equal to 30 minutes of physical exercise when your goal is to create a calm, biddable dog. Try playing fetch or working on a fun trick before trying the exercises below.

Step 2: Practice Walking

  • Walk around the house or yard and say “Yes!” when your dog happens to look at you, in the eye.
  • Pair “Yes!” with a treat, delivered right next to your leg
  • Name this command – “Let’s go!”

Practice giving the treat as you walk, with your fingers glued to your leg, at your dog’s shoulder height. Even if you dog jumps up or forges ahead between your perfectly timed ‘yes’ and when they came to that perfect heel position to eat the treat, you will still be rewarding the eye contact and 4 paws on the floor that occurred at the moment you said ‘yes,’ so make sure your timing is good and make sure your treat delivery is in the right place. If you dog is on your left side, you should use your left hand to deliver the treat.

Treat delivery options

If your dog is snapping at your fingers, simply place the treats right next to your heel as you walk. Continue to say ‘yes’ for eye contact, then place the treat on the ground next to your heel. You might need to point the treats out at first, but soon they will focus downward–making this “hansel and gretel method” helpful in distracting environments. If you have a particularly athletic or fast dog, you can bowl an extra treat even farther away and they can have fun racing back to the heel position. If your dog is slow or not paying very much attention to you–be more animated and interesting.

Step 3: Practice Stopping

  • Say “yes!” and reward your dog for stopping with you
  • Or say “whoops’” (to mark ‘no reward) as your dog passes you
  • Turn, and repeat
  • Don’t forget to release them when you’re done

Note: If you are training your dog for public access, you’ll want to practice the automatic sit instead of the stopping exercise above.

Introducing the leash

Getting the hang of it? Dog glued to your side as you walk around the house or yard? Let’s introduce the leash. I want you to use a 4-6ft leash, and a secure collar or harness. Wrap your leash around your thumb, and then hold the rest tightly in your grip, keeping your hand held at your right hip if your dog is on your left. There should be enough slack to create a J shape. Soon, you’ll have your other hand free to hold the leash and you’ll swing that arm naturally as you walk, but for now you need to hold treats and it will actually be helpful to hold the leash across your body. The length of the leash should remain relatively constant, resist the urge to gather up the leash or wrap it around your wrist. You’ll end up walking your dog like a marionette, with constant tension in the leash and zero leverage to fall back on should your dog lunge powerfully.

Cut out Crossing in behind

When your dog moves to cross behind you, keep holding the leash at your hip and ensure your dog learns that crossing behind you is like walking on the wrong side of a pole–it doesn’t work–the leash gets in the way and they end up having to come back around. When needed, move your dog to your other side by having them cross in front of you, never behind you.

‘Better Hurry’ Teach the sniff cue

Stop to smell the roses–no, really stop–and stop often. Don’t expect your dog to walk too far before you stop dead and tell them to sniff here. There ought to be a very clear release to your ‘let’s go/heel’ cue. Make sure your dog knows when to stop and sniff and pee. Your dog might stare up at you at first, but soon they will learn that this is the pattern of the walk–we walk together–and then we stop to sniff. If they try to pull you off your spot, keep your leash at your waist and your weight back in your heels. Sit back and don’t let that dog pull you one measly step. Hopefully, if you aren’t in a hurry, you can let your dog sniff each spot for as long as they want. You’ll find yourself covering far less ground than you might expect, especially at first. It is important to keep walks short and to stop often for sniff breaks so that it is easy for you to keep your dog’s attention and for your dog’s energy to last you all the way home. Your dog must also come to realize that looking you in the eye leads them to all the places they were pulling you to before. Soon, your dog will come to realize that simply going and pulling to somewhere they want doesn’t work, but looking at you does, your dog will think that they are training you! You’ll get more attention, not less, when faced with distractions. It sound like a magical miracle but it is possible, it is just not easy at first, so take it easy on yourself, take it one tree at a time.

Go back and forth on your block until they get it, then move on toward the park but never, ever get lazy and let them pull you, not one measly step. If your dog won’t follow you, you need a hungrier dog, a happier voice, a boring environment, and a better treat. You’ll need to put in a lot of (sometimes embarrassing) effort to keep your dog interested in where YOU are going. Can you be more exciting than the grass and the hydrant? Can you be hotter than the scent of a female in heat? Than a cat running across the street!?

Practice turning suddenly and often. Make tight 360 turns, especially toward the dog–cutting them off as they think of forging ahead. Make your voice as animated as possible, changing tone and volume as often as you change speed and direction. Keep the conversation going the whole way between this tree and the fire hydrant 1/3 of the way down the block. Make it your goal to reward more, not less. Give as many treats as you can. At first you might just get a second of eye contact at a time before your dog looks at the environment again. Say ‘yes!’ and reward each and every glance up with real, stinky meat in that sweet spot at your side. Soon, your dog will hold your gaze for many seconds, then it will become easy to hold their attention the entire way to this spot and the next, and the sniff spot itself will have always been the real “treat” your dog was working for.

The reason your dog pulls is because they are getting rewards. It certainly isn’t because you’re back there jerking their chain, yelling ‘no pulling!’ every few steps. They want to sniff, to explore, to meet and greet, and to pee and play. They may have had many years of practice and received many wonderful rewards for pulling in the past, so this will not stop over night. So don’t be shocked when they ‘pull’ this stunt again and again and again. Your job is to always keep your cool and always follow the rule, not your dog.

If I can’t follow my dog, then what can I do?

You must answer this question for your dog: If pulling won’t work–what does?

Other than following your dog, you can do almost anything else:

Go the other way, just stand there, call them back, talk excitedly, and keep the rewards coming once you get them with you. Your dog needs to know that wonderful things are waiting for them right next to you, where the leash is loose. That is where the magic happens. You could say ‘no!’ every single time your dog pulled and that would be all well and good but wouldn’t teach your dog what they need to know. They need to know how to get rewards. Try giving a treat, a pet, whip out a toy and play tug, take a step toward their favourite pee spot, pick up a stick if they’re into it…whatever you think they might want! Every dog is unique, figure out what your dog wants and have it in hand.

What about the ‘anti-pull miracle’ contraptions at the pet store?

Always follow the rule; don’t follow your dog.

No matter what type of collar, martingale, harness, halter, leash, choke chain or Caesar Milan signature set up you may be using, no matter what the reason your dog is pulling, no matter what. I would rather you carry or drive them somewhere than allow them to take another step pulling you on a leash.

Anti-pull harnesses and head halters can be useful tools if you are struggling with your pulling dog. I recommend a front-clip harness if your dog can pull you off balance, and in extreme cases of mismatch between dog and handler strength, you may require a head-halter. Ruffwear sells a great front-clip harness that tends to fit snuggly, if the harness does not fit properly it will not work to turn the dog back toward you and prevent their full body weight from lunging forward and pulling you off balance. Get help from a trainer and make sure that no matter what equipment you use, you never follow your dog, especially if you choose to use special equipment. To apply punishment when the rules are confusing is cruel. In addition, your dog is associating your punishments with you and/or the dogs/people that they pull towards. I would never recommend a prong or choke style collar. Even the front-clip harnesses and head-halters have greater risks and absolutely require that you follow the training protocols lined out here. Simply slapping any of these on and allowing the dog to still forge ahead at the end of a tight leash looking for something to lunge for will undoubtedly lead to pain at the end of the leash and possibly injury.

Follow the rule. The only thing your dog has ever needed to understand was for the message to be clear. Even if your dog looks like they will finally take a poo if you just let them pull you just one foot to the left. Nope. They can try at the next spot, on a loose leash. It will happen. You can do this. I believe in you! Remember that walking along next to you is a very high level skill for most dogs, this will take months to master.

Do not give up. You and your dog deserve to have that nice long walk on the beach together.