It is perfectly legal under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Commonwealth) to train your own assistance dog. It is not legally mandated that you join an organisation or hire a trainer. There is a number of case law decisions that support owner training without an organisation or trainer. There are several benefits in doing so though. It would be amiss of me not to mention those. Firstly, what each organisation offers can differ greatly and I have discussed these differences in THIS blog post.
The main benefits of choosing to work with Capable K9s as opposed to owner training without support include:
- Advocacy support in the event of access challenges. Incuding the ability to provide external expert tesimony in the event of an access challange that ends up in a court of law.
- Full training support to ensure you get the tasks you require trained efficiently, even if you have no previous dog training experience.
- Assistance with record keeping ensuring you can meet the burden of proof under the legislation.
However, if you do not require these things you do have the choice to owner train without engaging outside support. If you choose this option, you will need to educate yourself about your rights and responsibilities as an assistance dog handler and be prepared to advocate for yourself in the event of an access challenge. If you struggle with self-advocacy or have a particularly difficult access challenge you can reach out to disability advocacy services and most of the time they can help. It is important you know how to escalate an access issue into a human rights commission (the federal level) or the state-based option in your state. Choosing which commission to lodge your complaint with is important, there are different processes and restrictions on each one and you can not lodge with both.
To meet the legislative requirements under the DDA you must:
- be a person with a disability.
- The individual dog must be trained to mitigate your disability.
- Must be trained to the standards of hygiene and behaviour appropriate for an animal in a public place. The burden of proof lies on you as the handler and gatekeepers are legally allowed to ask for evidence of this, and it is not unlawful for them to discriminate against you if you cannot provide this evidence.
So, what is evidence? The DDA does not define what constitutes evidence, however it must prove both A. That you have a disability and B. The dogs training. Most commonly this is an ID card from an organisation and that is probably what most gatekeepers expect to see. However, you can meet this burden of proof in other ways. It is advisable to have a very generic doctors letter that states you have a disability and that the doctor supports your use of an assistance dog. This proves your disability and that an assistance dog has been recommended to mitigate your disability. But a doctor’s letter is not enough on its own. Your doctor can not attest to your dogs training. That would be like asking a plumber to certify your electrical work.
The next document you should have is a letter from your vet and/or proof of vaccinations and parasite control. This meets the requirement for the standards of hygiene mentioned in the law. You will of course also need to make sure your dog is suitably clean and groomed. This is still not enough; and your vet also can not attest to your dogs training for the same reason the doctor cant.
To provide evidence of training you need to keep training records that can be produced easily. Many people keep a training log. This can be written, diarised, videoed etc. When you are owner training without the support of an organisation or trainer the onus is on you to keep these records to prove that the dog has actually been trained and you didn’t just get a doctors letter slap a vest on it and start going and doing public access.
If you have all those in order, and you also have the dog training experience to teach the tasks you require and public access manners to meet those legislative requirements, then congratulations! You are an owner trainer and perfectly legal to access the community with your assistance dog once it has reached the minimum training levels required.