Service Dog Training
UPDATE: We are no longer training service animals. We are available to any previous client who needs assistance, but we will not be accepting any new clients for service dog training. However, please read this page, as it may give you valuable information.
The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. They are like a piece of medical equipment for their handler. Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, bracing, retrieving for those with mobility issues, interrupting behaviors related to autism, PTSD or anxiety attacks, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.
If you are interested in a therapy dog or emotional support animal (ESA), that is not a service dog, but still requires training. Dogs as a pet or companion can provide an amazing therapeutic benefit to individuals with depression, anxiety, autism or Aspergers, PTSD, or other psychiatric challenges. However, they may not have full public access like a service animal. These “therapeutic pets” may give you benefits at home, and may do tasks for you at home.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about Dynamic Dogs service dog training:
- Can you train my dog to become service dog? Service dogs are typically selected for the job. Not every dog has what it takes to be a service dog. Most service dogs are selected from breeders. Some are selected from rescues and shelters. Read this article on selecting a service dog puppy. Health and genetics are important, and ideally, you want a puppy or dog from a breeder who has produced successful service dogs. You cannot start with the wrong “raw material” when trying to train a service dog. It would be like trying to make a Golden Retriever into a police dog.
- CHARACTERISTICS OF A SERVICE DOG CANDIDATE: A few positive characteristics: Social, reliable, stable, praise-motivated, affectionate, not bothered by anything, safe around strangers and children, safe around other animals, not overly interested in other dogs, sound structure.
*Some traits that will most likely eliminate a candidate: fearful, nervous, shy, protective, independent, headstrong, dominant, stubborn, easily stressed, not motivated by praise.
*Some of the traits that will definitely eliminate a candidate: excessively fearful, shows aggression, has bitten any person, has bitten any dog. Has health issues that may cause early retirement, such as (but not limited to): hip dysplasia, arthritis, immune system disorders, vision problems, chronic disease, etc.
- I have depression and/or anxiety, if my dog comforts me when I’m anxious, does that make him a service dog? NO. Dogs must perform a task related to a disability, such as navigating a vision impaired individual. Providing comfort is a function of any dog. All companion dogs provide comfort and ease depression. This may be considered a therapy dog or emotional support dog, but not a service dog. If a dog mainly provides “emotional support,” this means they can help you at home, but they are your pet, and do not have public access rights.
- I want a psychiatric service dog, I have PTSD, anxiety, or various psychiatric or mental health related disabilities: Please discuss this in-depth with your therapist or psychologist. For many people, a service dog may not be the answer. If the service dog becomes a way to avoid uncomfortable situations, clients may not make progress in facing their fears and being able to fully function. You also need to be aware that having a service dog in public will draw a lot of attention to you, and this can cause some individuals to experience anxiety. You will be questioned, you will be stared at, pointed at, and you will have to interact with people and answer questions. Legally, a business may ask you two questions: 1) Is that a service dog for a disability? 2) What tasks does the dog do? Part of passing the public access test is demonstrating that as a service dog handler, you can answer these questions clearly to people in public, while sharing your knowledge of the ADA laws. Unfortunately, due to the many “fake service dogs” out there, business owners often question legitimate service dog handlers, following proper federal legal guidelines.
- Fake service dogs are a real problem! The law is set up to allow for folks with disabilities to maintain their rights– they may self-train their dog. No vest is required, and no licensing. There is no true certification for service dogs. This leaves a loophole for fakes. People who want to take their untrained pet dog in public and fake a disability make things worse for everyone. It’s just like someone taking a handicapped parking spot when they don’t have the right to, and it’s unfair to those with actual disabilities. Untrained dogs bark, pee on things, and can act aggressive to other dogs or people. Legally, if a service dog is disruptive to a business or menacing, they can be asked to leave. Trained service dogs do not cause a ruckus in public, they are calm and under control, and unobtrusive.
- How much do service dogs cost? Cost can vary depending on: the price of the (untrained) dog itself, the length of training, the number of tasks required. It can take 6 months to a year to train a dog. A fully trained young adult service dog averages $15,000. Depending on the tasks and training program, dogs can cost up to $20,000. Keep in mind that a service dog typically does not start working until age 1.5-2, so two years of daily care, plus training work has gone into the dog.
Here is an example:
Puppy purchase price: $2,000
Puppy classes: $200 (age 8-16 weeks)
Beginner classes: $200 (age 16+ weeks)
Private lessons: $85 a week
Board and train: $4000-8000
Food, veterinary care, health clearances: $500+
- What breeds are the best? It depends on what disabilities the dog will be assisting with. In general, you will need a dog with high desire to work for praise, and biddability, so you will be looking at modern breeds that were bred to work side by side with humans. Not hunting breeds, sighthounds, nordic breeds, hounds, or protection types. The most popular choice in general is Labrador Retriever, but not just any Lab. As the most popular dog in the USA, there are many types, and it’s best to obtain a dog who is bred for the work and comes from health screened parents.
Generally, we do not recommend giant breeds for service dogs. But in some cases where mobility support is the task, or wheelchair pulling, a larger dog may be needed, but not giant. Dogs that do mobility work have to be physically sound and pass x-rays, as well as have a properly fitted custom bracing harness. Great Danes are unfortunately known for having a shorter lifespan, and that’s a drawback. Avoid giant breeds like Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, and Mastiffs, as they can drool and be cumbersome to travel with. Most people are going to always have their dog with them. If you have a huge dog, it’s cumbersome to fly on a plane, travel in cars, sit in crowded restaurants, etc. It’s also a big job to groom these dogs. Service dogs must be cleanly groomed, with no excessive hair or odor. Protective or guardian breeds are also not popular choices. Some herding breeds can also be too reactive or overly protective, especially if the handler ever becomes ill or passes out, for example, the dog will not let EMS near them, a dangerous situation. A service dog must be safe for public access, and should pass a public access test (PAT). Of course it depends on the individual dog. Not every German Shepherd is protective, for example.
What is the best breed for a service dog?
- Labrador Retriever, from a breeder who has produced successfully working service dogs, and does all health clearances. Start with the breed club of the breed you’re interested in. For example, if you want a Lab, go to the Labrador Retriever Club of America: FIND A BREEDER
In order to begin training a dog as a service animal, you will need several things, including:
- A disability that interferes with your ability to live your life
- Specific tasks that the dog will assist you with, directly related to your disability. Discuss this with your doctor.
- A letter from your doctor recommending a service dog for specific tasks
- A dog who is well-suited for the job
- Long-term private lessons