While most people who need a service dog purchase one that has already been trained, it is possible to make your current dog a service dog. A lot of people feel more comfortable training their own dog, whom they already feel comfortable around. With this guide, you will learn about the steps involved in training your dog to become a service dog.
Definition of a Service Dog
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service dog as a dog that has been highly trained to perform specialized tasks for a disabled person. According to the ADA, only dogs can serve as service animals.
Training your dog to become a service dog takes a lot of dedication. Service dogs typically begin training when they are a few weeks old. They are not assigned to their handlers or the service dog owners until they have gone through vast training.
What Characteristics Make a Good Service Dog?
Two main characteristics make a good service dog: intelligence and trainability. A service dog must be highly trained and reliable. Service dogs could place a disabled person’s life in danger if they are not trained for the job.
Service dogs help people with day-to-day tasks they cannot do for themselves. Those with physical and mental disabilities sometimes require a service animal to keep them safe.
What Breeds Make the Best Service Dogs?
While any breed can make a good service dog, some breeds seem to just be made for the job. Some are excellent emotional support dog breeds. The following breeds are those that typically become highly trained service dogs. If you do not see your dog’s breed listed in the following, do not despair. Even a mixed breed dog can offer a high level of intelligence and trainability.
- Great Dane
- Saint Bernard
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
- German Shepherd
If you plan on purchasing a puppy to train as a service animal, you should consider one of the breeds above. All of these breeds typically produce hard-working service dogs for the disabled.
Is a Service Dog Required to Wear a Special Vest or Collar?
You have likely seen service dogs that are wearing a vest or some type of collar that distinguishes them as service dogs. Although the ADA does not include wearing special garments, collars, or ID tags as service dog requirements , some disabled owners choose to use these so others will know their dog is a service animal and should not be approached without permission.
Guide for How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog
Making your dog a service animal is going to take dedication and a lot of patience. It also takes time. The length of time it will take will depend on the intelligence and trainability of your dog .
Understanding Service Dog Laws
One of the biggest misconceptions about service dogs, is they are not the same as support animals. While many dogs and other animals can serve as emotional support animals, service dogs are of the highest caliber in rank. Not all dogs can serve in this capacity.
Unlike other animals, service animals have the right to enter any public place so they can assist their disabled handler. Service dogs are even allowed in restaurants or areas where other animals are strictly prohibited.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is against the law for any public establishment to deny service to a disabled person with a service dog. An owner or staff member cannot ask questions about the dog or ask for proof the dog is a service animal. If you have a service animal, the owner or a staff member is only allowed to ask you two questions by law.
Is this a trained service dog that is assisting a disabled person?
What is the service dog trained to assist with?
If the owner or a staff member asks any other questions, including those about a person’s specific disability, they are breaking the law. A disabled person could have grounds for a lawsuit if they are interrogated in any other way.
As you can see, service dogs perform a highly needed service to the disabled community. You cannot claim a dog is a service dog unless they have been through full training.
Should You Buy a Service Dog or Train Your Current Dog?
If you are disabled and need a service dog, it is certainly easier to purchase one that has already been trained. It takes a lot of time, patience, and skills to be able to make a dog a service dog.
One of the biggest drawbacks of purchasing an already trained service dog is the cost. These dogs range from several thousand dollars to $50,000.
Some people try to cut costs by buying a puppy and working with a certified trainer. Certified service dog trainers can also be expensive. They charge significantly more than a regular dog trainer, which makes both of these options unattainable for many people.
Many people have decided they will train their dog to become a service dog. Training your pup at home is no easy task, but it is rewarding and highly beneficial. Not only will this training ensure your dog can assist you, but it will also help the bond between the two of you to grow.
Qualities Your Service Dog Must Have
Before you begin considering training your dog to be a service dog, you need to know some qualities your dog should possess. If he has the following qualities, he may make a good service dog.
- Your dog should be able to remain calm in new environments and around unfamiliar people.
- Your dog should have the ability to learn and retain information quickly.
- Your dog needs to be able to adapt quickly to various social situations.
- Your dog needs to be able to reliably and repeatedly perform specific tasks.
- Your dog should be able to retain its focus on you at all times.
Before I get started on this guide, I must give you a word of caution. Training your dog to become a service dog takes a tremendous amount of work. It is not something you can do in one sitting, and it is certainly not something you can learn from a single guide.
I have worked to train my own dogs and have carried out vast research. To instruct you on all the steps involved in making your dog a service dog would take volumes and a lot of time.
This information is meant to point you in the right direction towards understanding the steps involved in training your dog correctly. Before you delve too deeply into this subject, I must remind you it will not be easy at all.
You are going to spend hours upon hours and may feel like giving up frequently. If you can at all afford to work with a certified trainer, I would highly recommend it. If you cannot afford the costs, allow this article to offer a foundation on which to get started.
If you cannot afford the full classes for service dog training, you may want to consider paying for a couple of classes to help you get started. A certified trainer will help you get on the right track towards making your dog a service dog successfully.
Here is another word of caution. The ADA does not require any service animal to receive specific or “official” training. You do not have to have service dog registration or receive any kind of certificate.
If you see any kind of company advertising to officially certify service dogs, do not contact them! This is a scam and should be avoided! Now, to get started on the steps you should take to learn how to make your dog a service dog.
Online Research Is Important
One of the first things I highly recommend is to start researching online. This is the easiest place to find information, but it is important you seek only reputable sources. There is a lot of false information out there, so you must know where to look.
Service dogs are highly valuable. Scammers will try to take advantage of people who need a service dog. To find the right certified trainer, start with the following resources.
USA Service Dog Registration
National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
You can also ask your vet for a recommendation. Before hiring any service dog trainer, make sure to check their certification and read customer reviews carefully. Learn as much as possible about the specialties of any certified service dog trainer.
Service Dog Training Books Give You Knowledge
If you think you and your dog have what it takes to make him a service dog, you are going to need to educate yourself. You may want to check the best dog training books or add the following to your library.
- The Ultimate Service Dog Training Manual by Keagan J. Grace
- Service Dog Training Guide: A Step-by-Step Training Program for You and Your Dog by Jennifer Hack
- Selecting and Training Your Service Dog: How to Succeed in Public Access Work by Jennifer Cattet
- Training Your Own Service Dog: Step By Step Guide To An Obedient Service Dog by Max Matthews
- Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook by Marcie Davis
I highly recommend you pick up as many of the above books as possible. They contain a wealth of information that will assist you on your journey towards making your dog a service dog.
It is important you do not rush yourself in learning how to train your dog. Certified service dog trainers go through years of training to hone their skills. You are going to need to approach the training process one day at a time and often one step at a time.
As they say, this is not a sprint, but a marathon! In addition to the sources above, you should familiarize yourself with the service dog laws in your state, county, and city. All of these must go by ADA laws, but there may be some slight differences in their approach to adherence.
FAQ About How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog
I am sure your mind is reeling right now with all the possibilities. It is both exciting and a little scary to think about training your dog. If you have already trained using positive reinforcement dog training, you are likely well on your way to starting the process of service dog training.
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding training a dog to become a service dog. I hope the answers will assist you in pursuing training.
1. Can an untrained dog be a service dog?
A service dog is generally considered by the ADA to be a working dog and not simply a pet. While there is no requirement for specific or certified training, you cannot take a pet in public and call it a service dog. Your dog needs to be trained specifically to help you with perform tasks.
2. How can my dog become a service dog for anxiety?
In most cases, dogs that are trained to help people with anxiety are considered emotional support animals. That does not mean a dog cannot be trained to be a service dog for anxiety. You will need to get a letter from a licensed mental health physician to have a service dog for anxiety. You will need to train your dog to react and help you during an anxiety attack.
3. What conditions qualify for a service dog?
Many conditions can qualify a person for a service dog. Blindness, seizures, cerebral palsy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and many more are conditions that may require a service dog. Any physical or mental condition that prevents a person from taking care of their day-to-day responsibilities can qualify them as a service dog.
Get Started Today!
There is no time like the present to get started on making your dog into a service dog. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and start looking for information. It will take a lot of effort and patience, but your dog can be trained to provide services for your disability, no matter their breed or prior training. It only starts with a single step, and you will be on your way.