by Claire Nakazawa
Going to college is scary and stressful. Going to college with a service dog can be even scarier and more stressful. Whether this is your first service dog or your first time away from home, here are the laws and a bit of advice that hopefully makes your transition just a little bit easier. Of course, I’m just one person, and these are things that I’ve personally found to be true…so if you have any experiences you want to share, please do so!
This article has been written in tandem with my new Youtube video about having a service dog in college. The link can be found here.
Know Your Rights
All colleges and universities funded by the government fall under the ADA, meaning that they are only allowed to ask the following two questions: “Is this a service dog?” and “What tasks do they perform?” Your college may not require you to present any additional documentation, doctor’s note, vaccinations, proof of training, or other similar paperwork.
In addition, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects you and your service dog by ensuring your right to an education as well as housing.
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service. (29 U.S.C. 794)”
If you will be in campus housing, Section 504 also protects your right to a residence under the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), which is a part of the government’s Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
General Courtesies: These Are Not Required and Completely Up To You!
Letting the School Know
The best way to do this is by directly calling or emailing the Office of Disability/Accommodations at your college. You may be asked to fill out certain paperwork, as well as your PCP and/or specialists. The earlier that you notify your college, the easier it will be for you to work out any issues that may arise.
Letting Your Professors Know
Contacting your professors before classes start is a nice gesture to introduce yourself and offer to meet with them, as well as answer any questions they might have. I like to tell my professors a little bit about my SD so that they can better understand how important she is to my wellbeing, as well as assure them that she is specifically trained and well-behaved. This also gives you the chance to talk to your professor before class even starts, which can be helpful no matter what throughout the semester.
Letting Your Roommate/RA Know (If you live on campus)
If you have a roommate (or multiple), you might want to contact them introduce yourself and your SD. This is an opportunity to cover any necessary rules that you will want to enforce for your SD, as well as any information that you feel like sharing to help your roommate better understand your SD’s job. This applies to your RA as well – feel free to let your RA know about your SD and any needs they should be aware of. After all, your RA is there to help you!
Before You Get to School…
Gather necessary supplies/gear
Whether you’re on or off campus, it’s important to be prepared with any gear or supplies you might need. This includes service dog specific gear of your choice, but also general dog necessities such as poop bags, water bowl, and weather appropriate gear. If you will be staying in a dorm, remember that the average college student has a tiny room that barely fits enough inside. Add on all that “dog stuff,” and things can get a little cramped. I recommend raising your bed and putting a few storage drawers beneath to hold supplies. You can check out my Dorm Tour video here, which shows how I keep my things, and Percie’s things, organized at college.
Train specifically for college situations
You can’t perfectly simulate college settings before you get there, but you can definitely practice things you might experience in college and that might be new to your SD. A service dog should be already socialized to multitudes of people, sounds, and environments, but it is imperative that training continues on a regular basis, no matter how seasoned or skilled they are. Just like us, they can get rusty without practice. Here are some things you can train for in the college setting:
- Long classes. This requires a “tuck” command, a reliable down-stay, extended time without potty breaks, and remaining quiet and unobtrusive.
- Distracting people. Ability to ignore distractions and listen to “leave it” command. Common people distractions include, but are not limited to: crouching down, making kissy noises, squealing, screaming, drive-by petting, taunting or offering food. While an SD should be able to ignore these distractions, they are not always perfect and it is also your job as a handler to advocate for yourself if someone is attempting to distract him/her from their job.
- Dropped food. Again, the “leave it” command is important here. The dining hall and surrounding areas will always have food on the ground, especially after the main meals of the day. Things like chicken, ice cream, and suspicious piles of somebody’s stomach contents (that’s usually on the weekends..) can all look like yummy snacks.
- Navigating large crowds. Whether you’re going through the lunch rush or trying to get through any of the numerous crowds you might find during a campus event, your SD should be able to keep a tight heel and focus while weaving in and out of people in your way.
Find a vet close to your campus
If you’re going far from home, find a vet preferably within the immediate area of your college. While this wouldn’t be replacing your vet at home, it’s a safe bet to have a vet to go to in case your SD gets hurt or sick (which they will, like us). If you can, visit the vet beforehand and introduce yourself and your SD. That way, in the case of an emergency, they will already know who you are and be hopefully able to work you into their schedule or refer you to an ER clinic.
Plan classes accordingly
When you’re choosing your classes, pay special attention to the length and layout of your schedule. You want to reserve enough time for potty breaks, playtime, and of course for yourself. For example, if you have a long lecture for two hours in the morning, try to plan for only one class later on in the day; alternatively, having a few shorter classes spread out throughout the day with time in-between is a good option.
Once You Get There…Be Prepared to Educate.
“Oh my godddd, PUPPY!! Ohhh I miss my dog so much look it’s SO FLUFFY!!!” Most handlers encounter these kinds of people multiple times a day — they’re loud, they’re usually young adults, and always, without fail, I see Snapchat open on their phone, waving around as they try and get a video. College is a cesspool of young adults, who miss their dogs, and who naturally feel entitled to come up to you and your service dog. Whether they pet without asking or try and sneak a Snapchat while you’re walking through the dining hall, remember that most people aren’t aware of service dog etiquette, and it’s always better to give an assertive yet friendly response to unwanted petting or intrusive questions. I’ve laid out some general scenarios, based on my own experiences, that you might find on a college campus, and how to handle them.
- The over-excited student who, warrantably, misses their dog. “Oh my god can I pet him?!” No, I’m sorry, she’s working. “Oh, okay.” Have a nice day. *I start walking away* In this situation, I give a concise but friendly answer, and walk away before the questions start.
- The drive-by student who fails miserably at being stealthy. *Waiting in line for food when someone bends down and tries to give SD a quick butt pat without my noticing.* It’s not hard to pick up on someone’s behavior when they know they shouldn’t be doing something. Not like the bright vest clearly labeled DO NOT PET is a deterrent, but refusal to make eye contact, ducking and hunching, and trying to make a smooth reach into mine and my SD’s personal space is a clear indication to me that this person knows they should not be touching my SD, and yet does it anyway. I turn around immediately and say loudly, “Really? Was that necessary?” Most likely they will turn red and get embarrassed that, you know, you caught them.
- The inquisitive student who just really, really wants to know why you have a service dog. “She’s working? Wait, I know it’s like invasive but can I ask why you have a service dog?” She’s for a medical condition. *Here you can explain as much or as little as you want to.* Speak firmly and confidently.
- The drunk person who doesn’t understand boundaries even more than when they’re sober. This is the most serious, and the most frightening, out of all the experiences I’ve had with other students so far. You’re walking back to your dorm from a late rehearsal or being with some friends, and you pass by a group of drunk people. Someone rushes out, beelining towards you with their arms stretched out, screaming “DOG!!!!!!!” You don’t know their intention and you certainly don’t want someone drunk and out of control near you or your SD. Quickly move your SD behind you, and say in your loudest, most booming voice “STOP. DO NOT COME ANY CLOSER. THIS IS A SERVICE DOG.” If they’re with their friends (they probably are) you can say something like “Please keep your friend under control.” If the drunk person doesn’t stop moving toward you or tries to touch your dog, then it’s time to call campus security and, if it can be done safely, physically block the person from being near your dog.
Remember: If someone is harassing you or your service dog, you have every right to file a formal complaint.
Can I Have a Social Life at College?
This seems to be one of the biggest questions that I get: Do I still get to go out with friends? Can I go to parties? Does my SD come? How do you have a social life?
The answer is pretty simple. You find a group of people who accept you for who you are, and who understand your needs and medical necessities. It takes a while, but eventually, you’ll find someone, or a few someones, who actually want to be your friend. And not just because of your dog.
When it comes to parties, you should always put your dog’s safety and your health first. If it will be an unsafe environment for your dog, they should not come. If that means you can’t go, so be it. You can absolutely have a social life, but it should never be at the expense of your service dog, or your own health. There are plenty of exciting and fun ways to be involved in college, and not every social event is a party with 100 people packed into one room.
At the end of the day, your college experience with a service dog is going to be a little different than everybody else’s, but there’s no reason why it should be more stressful or difficult. With a little planning, some confidence, and your best friend by your side, there’s nothing that you can’t take on.
Title Image – 1. Late night studying. Credit: @sees_her_dog 2. Puppy raisers at college will have similar experiences, too. Credit: @futureguidedogs
- In front of a campus building. Credit: @dolcetheservicedog
- Emmah the guide dog next to her handler in Chemistry. Credit: @emmahtheservicepup
- Sometimes it is not feasible for your SD to tuck, so other accommodations must be made. Credit: Paige Mullaney
- It is imperative for your SD to be out of the way, though. Credit:@aprincessnherprince
- At the end of the day… Credit: @help_on_four_paws
- It’s all worth it. Credit: Charlotte Devitz