International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners

The World of Assistance Dogs

At the founding of IAADP in St. Louis in 1993, the term assistance dog was incorporated into the organization's name because it was envisaged as a cross-disability consumer advocacy organization. It was assumed that the common factor of partnership with a canine assistant would be the cement holding the group together. Dog-related concerns such as training, public behavior and health care remain central issues to members. Common public experiences such as denials of access and negative public attitudes continue to plague members.

As our membership has grown and the assistance dog movement has matured, an increasing awareness of the expanding role of assistance dogs in their disable partners life has emerged. From its origin, IAADP members partnered with assistance dogs have fit into one of three categories:

1. Blind and visually impaired partners rely on their guide dogs to safely negotiate the unseen environment.

2. Deaf and hard-of-hearing partners rely on their hearing dogs to alert them to unheard sounds in the environment.

3. People with disabilities other than blindness and deafness rely on their service dogs to mitigate the disabling condition in a variety of ways. Service dogs are trained to perform many physical tasks including but not limited to pulling a wheelchair, lending balance support, picking up dropped or requested objects or providing assistance in a medical crisis.

The common experience of those choosing partnership with assistance dogs is that they increase independence, safety and improve the quality of life of their disabled partners.

The Basis of Access Rights

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights bill passed in 1990. Although the term used in the regulatory language developed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) is service animal, IAADP only accepts as partner members those disabled people working with assistance dogs, and therefore uses that term exclusively.

Under the ADA, disabled Americans have the right to be accompanied by their assistance dogs in all places of public accommodation. Three elements define this right:

1. The disabling condition must be severe enough to substantially limit one or more major life activities, such as the ability to see or hear, speak, breathe, learn, work, think or take care of oneself.

2. The dog must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks which serve to mitigate the disabling condition. (Seventh Circuit decision, Federal Court of Appeals in Bronk v Iniechen)

3. The dog must be well behaved and under control. Business owners and other representatives of places of public accommodation have the legal right to exclude any dog who displays aggressive behavior or is out of control. They may also exclude any dog whose behavior disrupts the provision of goods or services, such as a dog barking in a movie theater.

The Expanding World of Service Dogs

IAADP supports the responsible development of new tasks for service dogs. These include alerting people with seizure disorders to the onset of an episode, making contact with a person immobilized as a result of Parkinson's disease, obtaining help in a medical emergency and a variety of tasks for individuals with psychiatric disabilities.

In all these cases, it is the performance of disability related tasks which enable assistance dogs to empower their disabled partners by increasing their safety, mobility and independence. It is how IAADP differentiates an assistance dog from a pet or therapy dog.

IAADP respects the benefits of pet based mental health and physical health facilitation. However, we are not an organization for pet owners or therapy dog handlers. We are assistance dog partners by choice and we take pride in what can be accomplished through teamwork with a trained guide, hearing or service dog. IAADP also recognizes that federal and state laws provide legal rights only to disabled people partnered with assistance dogs.

In keeping with IAADP's mission to educate the public, health care providers, and future consumers about assistance dog issues, IAADP has posted a report to its web site identifying approximately 30 physical tasks that a service dog for a person with a psychiatric disability could be trained to do. A number of these tasks were suggested by early pioneers of the psychiatric service dog concept. The list is not exhaustive and should be viewed as a springboard for further discussion, research and development.

In addition, a report on traditional kinds of assistance dog work has been prepared for the website. This panoramic view of the the mutually beneficial ways dogs and disabled people work together may be periodically updated as new tasks are brought to our attention. We envision the development of disability specific tasks for an ever widening circle of mental and physical impairments in the years to come. We shall be sharing this good news through our quarterly publication, "Partners Forum," the annual conference, our website, and future projects.

IAADP Board of Directors

Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disability

Traditional Assistance Dog Tasks

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