Japan govt to review service dog-certification guidelines

Yomiuri Shimbun file photos
A mobility service dog, left, and a hearing dog

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is planning to review its guidelines for training and certifying service dogs for the first time in 20 years, it has been learned.

The new guidelines will make it possible for certification to be carried out online, while stating that service dogs — also known as assistance dogs — should retire at about 10 years of age.

Service dogs are trained and certified in accordance with the Law on Assistance Dogs for Persons with Physical Disabilities. They include guide dogs that support people with visual impairments; mobility service dogs that locate and deliver objects to people with limb impairments and help them change clothes; and hearing dogs that assist individuals with listening impairments, such as by alerting them to car horns and other dangers.

In accordance with the law, certified dogs are allowed to board public transportation and enter various facilities.

As of last October, there were 61 hearing dogs and 57 mobility service dogs active in the country. Such dogs are certified by organizations designated by the welfare ministry. The nation’s 861 guide dogs, however, are certified by organizations designated by the National Public Safety Commission.

The welfare ministry is thus set to review its guidelines on mobility service dogs and hearing dogs. The current guidelines were compiled in 2002 by a panel of ministry experts. The new guidelines will set the standard age for service dogs at 10 or younger. By clarifying a retirement age, the ministry aims to facilitate a smooth and systematic dog-replacement system.

Mobility service dogs and hearing dogs are trained by 28 breeding companies across the nation, while seven designated organizations certify whether the dogs meet the relevant criteria to provide assistance activities. However, application forms for certification differ within each designated organization, so the latest review intends to unify forms and procedures.

By allowing certification to be carried out online, the ministry aims to reduce the burden on people with disabilities who live in remote areas.

Canines earmarked to become service dogs begin training when they are 1 year old, in conjunction with the prospective owner. Prior to sitting the certification exam, the would-be owner must learn how to give instructions and how to elicit support at commercial and other facilities. Upon certification, the dog and the new owner begin living together.