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A Papillon performing a sit and stay at the 2018 AKC Obedience Classic.
David Woo / American Kennel Club

Competing in dog sports allows you to bond with your four-legged friend and gives you the opportunity to create friendships with other dog owners. Your canine companion will also sharpen their mental abilities and stay physically active. Dog sports are a deeply rewarding endeavor — and they’re quite fun!

Today, hundreds of people with various disabilities have accommodations that allow them to compete in AKC dog sports of all kinds.

For example, dog athlete Tate heels on the right side of his handler instead of the left. Visually impaired Rally participant Amy Dixon can have judges read the signs posted throughout Rally courses.

AKC dog sports are for everyone.

The Process of Seeking Accommodation for a Disability in a Dog Sport

The first step of the process is to send a request to the American Kennel Club specifying the sport you participate in, the accommodation you need, and which regulation or policy it affects. These requests should be sent via email to Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Heather McManus in the American Kennel Club’s legal department at Heather.McManus@akc.org.

“They need to tell me what the accommodation is,” said McManus. “We don’t force them to a certain accommodation.”

Once all requested information is received by AKC, the department which has oversight of the sport in question will review the request. Each accommodation request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and the AKC will consider whether the accommodation would fundamentally alter the event. The AKC will also determine if the accommodation would provide an advantage or disadvantage to anyone participating in the event.

“The goal is always that we want you to participate. As long as it doesn’t fundamentally alter the event, we want you to be able to present,” said McManus.

The American Kennel Club considers each application for an accommodation in dog sports on its own merits. Many participants know what kind of accommodation they need, but it’s okay if you aren’t sure.

In some circumstances, there can be communication between the participant and someone in the department familiar with the sport you participate in to arrive at an acceptable accommodation.

Amy Dixon, who lost 98 percent of her vision, has someone read the signs to her when she competes in Rally with her service dog, Woodstock.

AKC’s legal department will try to get an initial letter to participants seeking accommodation within 48 hours. The initial letter will confirm that the AKC is looking into your request and will have a form attached to be completed by your healthcare provider.

The AKC requires that a healthcare provider sign a form (that doesn’t require ANY medical information) to confirm that the accommodation is needed in order to participate. AKC doesn’t want or need any specific medical information. Once a healthcare provider has signed the form, scan the document and email it back to Heather.McManus@akc.org.

Once the legal department receives the healthcare form and request for accommodation, McManus aims to make a determination and get an official response to the participant within 48 hours.

If an accommodation is provided, the AKC will provide the participant with an official accommodation letter. This letter will specify the specific accommodation granted and waive the normal rules or regulations so the handler can participate in their dog sport.

Once you have an official accommodation letter, you must provide it to your host club and/or your event’s chairperson, secretary, or judges. You can submit the letter to your club when you submit entries to an event. You can also present the accommodation letter at the beginning of an event. This gives event officials time to make the accommodation and run the event smoothly.

Since accommodations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, you shouldn’t assume that others can automatically get these accommodations without an AKC accommodation letter. Accommodations are always specific to the individual and the sport.

What if I Need Accommodation for a Disability in a Dog Sport Trial ASAP?

If you need accommodation quickly, the event committee at any AKC event can make a one-time accommodation for anyone to exhibit. This accommodation will be for one-time only, and dog sport participants should then seek official accommodation by following the steps above.

Related article: Tips for Getting Started in Dog Agility
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