Is Toki an Actual Service Dog?

This is a question I get a lot with Toki and usually I reply with “Yes, she is.” It seems the public believes that only dogs coming from organizations are “actual” Service Dogs.  I am here to put that myth to rest and let everyone know that any dog can be a trained Service Dog no matter what the size or breed.

JD Serada Photography

All breeds can be trained to be a Service Dog if the dog fits the right demeanour. Just because a certain breed has a bad reputation does not deem them unfit to work or define their ability to perform in public. Toki looks a lot like a Jack Russell so people automatically assume she is a hyper mess. Well not all Jack Russells are crazy when trained properly and Toki is not even a Jack Russell; she is a Rat Terrier. She is a dream to train as Rattie’s are very trainable and she also has a very docile personality which was perfect for myself as her handler and trainer. She has been trained in obedience and the services she provides me with. Small dogs are usually used for tasks that do not assist with mobility or standing. This is because they are low to the ground and require the handler’s ability to crouch down to them. Toki is not used to assist me with my mobility so being small is not an issue for myself. She can still jump up if she is needed and I can get close to her when I need to.

On numerous occasions I have been asked if Toki is a “real Service Dog” and i have always been so confused as to what a “real Service Dog” was.  Toki is a “Service Dog” so I am unsure what people are defining as “real”. I would never ask anyone with a medical device if it was real and it is actually quite rude to ask.  It does get very annoying to have to explain to people she is a trained Service Dog and that Service Dogs do not have to come from a special organization. Toki is used to assist me and what she does for myself is really no one’s business. She is used to help me with my daily living and that is all you need to assume when you see us.

Please know that any dog big or small and any breed can be used as a Service Dog and what they do for their handler is very personal and not really anyone’s business but their own. As people we should not be asking about medical history or diagnosis’ when we see someone with a medical device; which is what a Service Dog is. Just know that when you see a Service Dog they are helping to make their handler’s daily life a much better experience.

Any dog can be a Service Dog no matter the breed or size. 

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Toki’s Service Vest

A Service Vest is crucial to any Service Dog as it allows the public to understand that the dog is on duty and working. For Toki, her vest also indicates work-time much like a uniform to us. She knows when her vest is on that it is time to go out and assist me with my day.

Service vests come in many styles, colours and fabrics and it really is up to the handler to find one that is most suited for their service dog. I have noticed that a better quality vest is not questioned as much when in public as people seem to see them as “authentic”, which really there are no official vests for all service dogs.  Heavy duty and good quality vests seem to be the best option for many.  Better quality vests can be quite pricey and this is why I initially  had a blue hand-sewn vest for Toki. It was sewn by a friend and wasn’t the best quality and I was stopped a lot with Toki because her vest didn’t look “authentic“.  This is why I mention the service vest in this post, because society doesn’t seem to know that any vest will do. They do not come from a company or organization specific to my dog and training (although vests for some Service Dogs can come from organizations, they do not HAVE to). I have since updated Toki’s vest and have had very little questions about her vest now.

Toki’s current vest (pictured above) was made by The Raspberry Field and the quality is amazing. I chose the colour purple for her vest as it is the colour that represents my condition and it is one on my favourite colours too. Some people choose colours based on medical conditions and awareness but really it does not matter and does not necessarily define what the dog is used for. Really, the colour is up to the handler and what they prefer.

Patches are used to identify what the dog is used for and usually “Service Dog” or “Guide Dog” will do but I chose to be more specific as I get tired of explaining what “type” of Service Dog Toki is.  I think when people see PTSD, they don’t really want to ask further questions and I am comfortable with people knowing.

A common patch to see is the “DO NOT PET”, which is usually in the shape of a stop sign. The patch may also indicate not to staretalk to or distract the dog as they are working. Toki is not easily distracted so the no petting patch was good enough for us. I notice that even though this patch is large and red; some people do not see or completely ignore it. I have heard parents teach their kids about the stop sign patch and how it means to not pet my dog because it is working. I wish all people were educated on this and paid more attention to the vest than my cute dog. The stop sign does work in most cases and it does help identify that Toki is a working dog.

There are many options for service vests and what the handler decides to put on it is really up to them. Toki has her name embroidered on hers, a pin and some charms. Reflective tape helps in dark lighting for visibility. There are also two pockets sewn into her vest to carry her paperwork and other important things. Buckles hold up a lot better than Velcro and I know this from experience with Toki’s last vest. Heavy water resistant fabrics are better than light weight fabrics like cotton which absorb sweat, get smelly and dirty easily.

A service vest helps a dog doing a job and their handler too. It provides identification and allows the public to know the dog is working. As a handler you can chose any vest you wish and the options are really up to you. However, a vest does not mean a dog is a qualified Service Dog and paperwork from the handlers treating physician or forms from an accredited organization are needed*. Buying and putting a service vest on any dog is a crime and it also makes people with trained Service Dogs have a harder time in public. Remember a service vest is only for a working dog and not to let your non-working dog in a store with you. Service Dogs have years of training and are medical devices for their handler. Travelling in a wheelchair when you do not need one is the same as posing a non-Service Dog in a working vest.

*Check your local laws for what is needed for accessibility.

I would love to see more examples of other vests used by Service Dogs because there are so many options!

Toki’s old vest
Toki in her new vest

A Service Vest Helps Identify a Working Dog.

Children & Service Dogs

I decided to write this post because of an incident I had recently while out at a fast-food restaurant. Let me begin by telling you my experience.

It was dinner time about a week ago when my fiance and I decided to go for a bite to eat at a local fast-food restaurant. Toki was put in her vest and we proceeded inside where I found a seat that was out-of-the-way and in the corner where I was most comfortable. Staff members acknowledged Toki as I sat down and got her into a comfortable position under the table. As my fiance left me to order our food I noticed a young woman standing in front of the washroom, waiting for someone. She looked at me and said, “I am surprised they let your dog in here.” which I then explained that Toki is my service dog. After I explained myself to the woman, she than started calling out loudly to her son to come see my “puppy”.  She then started talking to my dog as if I was not even there. Thankfully, as her son came over; so did my fiance with my food.  It stopped the woman from distracting my dog and calling out to her son.  She then left towards the table she was dining at.  I was left in shock and having to explain to my fiance what the woman did. He was quite upset about it too and we both wished children were taught more about Service Dogs and that they are working.

So here I am now writing the post I wanted to write to let parents know that teaching their kids proper etiquette is the best thing they can do. I always feel bad having to tell another person’s child that my dog is working and they can not pet her. It makes me feel better when I hear parents explain to their kids that my dog is working and to leave her alone. It really doesn’t bother me if a child sees my dog and acknowledges it. What bothers me is when a parent lets their child come up and just pet or distract my dog. It also makes me feel terrible when parents get upset when I say “no” to their kids with my dog.

Please parents teach your children and friends that Service Dogs are meant to work and perform a duty for their handler. Know that not all dogs are for kids to pet and play with. Just kindly let them know that the dog is working and to not distract them. I have even seen parents make a game of being quiet around my dog; which I really appreciate. Please make it fun and a learning experience for your children.

Illustration by Samantha-Jeanne
Illustration by Samantha-Jeanne

 Teaching the younger generation about Service Dogs, makes a brighter future for the handlers who use Service Dogs.