Best Practices for the Use of Courthouse Dogs
The Evolution of Best Practices in the Field
Our first concept of how dogs could provide emotional support to others in the legal system included incorporating pet therapy dogs and their owners in the investigation and prosecution of crimes. However as we began to investigate the practices of the therapy dog industry, we discovered that children were not permitted to touch the dog during the evaluation process and that these teams were registered to work in public settings without that important safety evaluation.
In response to this discovery, in 2009 Celeste wrote an article, The Need for Standard Behavioral Screening for Therapy Dogs Working with Children for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers magazine to bring this matter to the attention of dog trainers with a call to action to develop a screening procedure that adequately tests a dog’s ability to remain calm despite a child’s unexpected and intrusive behavior.
As of this date, the therapy animal industry still has not changed their evaluation process to address these concerns. In addition, there are no national standards for the testing of therapy animals. For this reason and because involving therapy pet owners in the investigation and prosecution of crimes can result in them being subpoenaed to testify in a trial or create legal issues that could result in a mistrial or an create an issue on appeal, we promote best practices in this field that calls for the use of only facility dogs that are graduates of assistance dog organizations that are members of Assistance Dogs International and are handled by professionals in the legal system.
Read our white paper which outlines in detail the issues associated with incorporating therapy animals and their owners in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.
Standards for a Successful Courthouse Dog Program
- Dog is a graduate of an accredited service dog school
- These nonprofit organizations are accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI). ADI standards for organizations, dog trainers, and graduate dogs can be reviewed on the ADI web site. A list of accredited service dog organizations can also be found on this site.
- A graduate dog that assists a professional in his/her work is termed a “facility dog”. The term “courthouse dog” or “courthouse facility dog” is used for a dog that works in any area of the legal system. Please see the training standards for facility dogs.
- The dog’s handler is a working professional in the criminal justice field. Examples of suitable handlers include victim advocates, detectives, forensic interviewers, and assistant prosecutors.
- Involved staff members have been trained in handling/use of the dog by professionals knowledgeable in the work that the dog will be doing about the legal aspects of incorporating a facility dog in the investigation and prosecution of crimes as well as handling/use of the dog.
The courthouse dog is not a service dog, as it does not assist a person with a disability, nor does it have public access. As a type of facility dog, it assists professionals by improving the quality of their work. Examples of other venues where facility dogs are used include special education classroom, occupational therapy clinics, and veterans’ hospitals.
As a graduate from an accredited service dog organization, the dog will come to your office after approximately 2 years of training. It will have passed the same public access test that is used to insure that guide dogs are safe in public as they work with their visually impaired owners. The Department of Veteran Affairs has ruled that only graduate dogs from ADI accredited organizations meet the high standards to work with disabled veterans – please see the VA’s statement in the Federal Register. The same high standard should be applied to dogs that will be interacting with vulnerable crime victims.
Jill Felice, founder of Assistance Dogs of the West, explains what canine temperament and training are necessary for this type of work.
A facility dog will require a primary handler who is employed by your office. The dog will live with the handler and this person will be primarily responsible for the dog’s care. The dog will consider this person to be his or her owner. The handler is usually a victim advocate or a forensic interviewer because the dog will be assisting this person most of the time. In addition to the primary handler there should be one or two other people who are trained to work with and care for the dog when the primary handler is unavailable.
Request a DVD for criminal justice professionals about the use of courthouse dogs. This free video is made possible by the generous support of the Seattle Police Department and the Seattle Police Foundation. Please note that we can only mail this DVD to individuals working in the field of criminal justice. Please include information about your professional position and agency when making this request.
Email us with any questions you may have. Our nonprofit organization provides unlimited free consultation via phone or email.