How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog

how-to-make-your-dog-a-service-dog

Service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs can be of enormous benefit to many people with mental and physical disabilities and disorders. However, most are still unaware that they qualify for a service canine or another kind of assistance animal. Many are also unaware of the fact that dog owners are allowed to train their own pet to become a service canine. Additionally, many people are confused about the specific requirements to register their dog as a service dog and the laws governing assistance animals. If you think you or a loved one could benefit from having an assistance dog, this article will show you exactly how to make your dog a service dog.
 

Everything You Need to Know About Service Dogs

What is a Service Dog?

A service dog is a dog that has been trained to assist and perform specific tasks for its handler, both in public and in private. These canines are trained to perform a variety of jobs depending on the needs of the individual, and they assist many people with various disabilities to perform such daily tasks as opening and closing doors, using ATMs, and paying for groceries. Service animals help individuals with mobility challenges, deafness, blindness, multiple sclerosis (MS), epilepsy and other physical/mental disabilities. Any breed, size, age or sex of dog can become a service animal.

Probably the most common service canines you may have seen are guide dogs to assist the blind and the visually impaired, hearing dogs to help the deaf and hard of hearing, medical alert dogs and mobility assistance dogs.

A service dog is a working dog and is given unrestricted access to all public places and businesses in the United States. The Americans with Disabilities Act (The ADA) is the law that governs assistance animals in the US. Service canines are legally allowed to travel on any airline and stay in any apartment building regardless of that building’s pet policy.

The ADA doesn’t list any specific requirements about how much training a dog has to undergo to be considered a service canine. It also doesn’t have any rules or regulations about carrying and displaying identification for the animal. This can be confusing for dog owners and the general public.

 

service-dog-training

Service animalss assist people with a variety of mental and physical disabilities

Psychiatric and PTSD Service Dogs

Service animals can also be trained to assist individuals with various mental disorders, as well as adults and children with autism and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

 

What’s the Difference Between a Service Dog and an Assistance Dog?

The terms “service dog” and “assistance dog” are generally used interchangeably. An “assistance dog” is any dog that has been trained to assist its handler by doing specific jobs and tasks. The ADA defines a service dog as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities”, meaning that a service dog is an assistance dog and vice versa.

 

What are the Requirements to Qualify for a Service Dog?

what-is-a-service dog In order to qualify to have a service animal, you must have a mental or physical disability that in some way limits a major aspect of your life. While this is a fairly vague definition, most people who have a service animal have either a major physical disability that requires the need of a companion animal to assist them in public or a major mental disability that prevents them from living a normal balanced life.

However, you aren’t required by law to disclose the details of your disability, nor is a member of the public allowed to ask for proof of your disability (such as medical papers or a doctor’s letter). Additionally, you aren’t legally required to prove that your service animal is trained, nor are you required to carry or display an identification card or any kind of official paperwork. This is to protect the privacy of individuals with service animals and to avoid embarrassments and altercations in public.

US federal law also prohibits the discrimination of any service canine, whether that be by breed, size, training level or age. This therefore means that any dog can become a service dog, with complete access to all public accommodations, taking precedence over both state and local laws.

 

Can I Take a Service Dog with Me Anywhere I Go?

assistance-dogsLegally a service animal is not a pet, so you are allowed to take a service canine with you everywhere you go, including into public spaces and businesses that display “No Dogs Allowed” or similar signs.

You are legally allowed to take a trained service animal to all public places including hotels, apartment buildings and condos, airlines and all other businesses. No business or airline can deny you entry or charge you a fee for having a service animal. Businesses that don’t allow dogs are required to allow service animals and their owners the same entry as non-dog owners (many businesses these days display “Service Animals Only” or “Assistance Dogs Only” signs to avoid confusion).

However, you can be asked to leave if your dog is misbehaving, being disruptive to others or if the handler is unable to control the animal. Employees have the right to request that your service animal be left outside the premises if there is a justifiable reason to do so.

 

Service Dog Training

Will My Dog Make a Good Service Animal?

While any breed of dog can become a service dog, the most commonly seen breeds are golden retrievers, labradors, collies and german shepherds. These larger breeds are excellent for performing all kinds of work, and their size makes them ideal for providing mobility assistance. Other dog breeds such as beagles and chihuahuas are sometimes used for other work, such as for seizure alerts and cardiac alerts.

Every dog has a unique and individual personality, so you should determine whether your pet is a good candidate before starting training. A service animal needs to be patient, extremely well-behaved in public and able to learn to do complex jobs while its handler is under stress or while there is a great deal of background noise and distractions. Additionally, your dog should be in good health with no genetic problems, be neutered/spayed, and be up to date on all shots.

 

training-a-puppyTraining a Puppy

Who can resist an adorable puppy? Buying a puppy may be a good choice if you want to put your new companion through a full training program from an early age, but raising a puppy can be very stressful and time-consuming, and the work or raising a puppy will be in addition to the service animal training program.

Another factor to consider is that when getting a new puppy, you won’t know what his or her personality will be as an adult dog. You can get a rough idea by observing the puppy’s parents, but you won’t be able to easily determine if that puppy’s future disposition will be suitable to become a service animal.

 

How to Train a Service Dog

In order to make your pet a service dog, your pet will have to undergo an extensive training process to be able to perform the required tasks needed to help you with your physical or mental condition. In usually takes anywhere from six months to two years to fully complete training, depending on what tasks the dog will need to do. It can be a very complicated process, and will require you to teach your dog how to act and react under a variety of different situations.

how-to-make-my-dog-a-service-dog

To be considered “fully-trained”, a service dog will typically be required to:

  • Have had at least 120 hours of instruction, with at least 30 hours of schooling to prepare the dog for the kinds of work it will be required to do in public spaces
  • Have gone through obedience training to master the Sit, Stay, Down, Heel, and Come commands, as well as the ability to respond obediently to verbal commands and/or hand signals without a leash
  • Behave with excellent manners in public, including walking calmly on a leash, not displaying aggression, not begging for food, not sniffing food or drinking water, and not reacting to unfamiliar sounds, sights or odors
  • Perform tasks related to its handlers disability, such as opening doors on command, alerting its handler to the presence of certain food products or dangers or pulling a wheelchair

Service canine trainers should be experienced and able to complete the all above training. Due to the complexity and the large amount of time investment necessary, many disabled dog owners will unfortunately not be able to complete the entire process themselves. In most cases, getting a professional dog trainer is a must.

Your trainer should:

  • Know and understand applicable canine laws (including leash laws and public access laws)
  • Ensure the dog-in-training is healthy, up-to-date with all vaccines and kept well-groomed
  • Make sure the dog displays courtesy and respect to members of the public, as well as to public and private property
  • Only use humane training methods (such as clicker training) and provide the animal with rest breaks and time to play in between sessions
  • Take the time to bond with the animal outside of “working” time
  • Clean up after the dog if it gets stick or eliminates in a public places
  • Display courtesy to members of the public and to educate them about service dogs and their legal rights

After completing training, your trainer should be able to get your dog to pass either the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Test (if your live in the US) or the IDA’s Public Access Certification Test (PACT) if your live outside the US. This isn’t legally required to make a dog a service dog, but serves as an excellent guideline to see if a dog is ready to graduate from the “in training” phase. These tests are intended to determine if a service animal and its handler are ready to be in public places without a trainer, regardless of what the animal’s specific tasks are.

Tests are intended to evaluate the handler’s control of the dog and the dog’s obedience in a variety of situations, including:

  • Safely entering and exiting a vehicle
  • Entering and exiting public buildings
  • Navigating across car parks while ignoring distractions
  • Remaining in the stationary if the handler drops the leash
  • Performing Heel, Sit Stay and Down Stay commands with distractions and noise
  • Ignoring food, people talking and petting the dog

Passing either of these tests does not certify your dog as a service canine in the US. There is no official certification process, but this test is a good way to determine a dog is ready to be the working companion of someone who needs an assistance animal.

service-dog-requirements-in-united-states

As you can see, training a service animal involves a great deal of work, takes a lot of time and requires patience, dedication and experience. Unless you have experience as a dog trainer, it’s a good idea to work with an organization that specializes in training assistance animals or hiring get a professional trainer to help you with the instruction process.

 

Finding a Trainer to Assist You

You can decide to train your dog yourself, but it is much more advisable to work with a qualified and experienced trainer to make the training process much easier and less stressful. There are many creditable and conscientious organizations that exclusively prepare dogs of different breeds to meet the needs of their future owners.

You can search for an experienced dog trainer at The Certified Council for Professional Dog Trainers’ Website or The Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

 

Purchasing a Fully-Trained Animal

finding-service-dogs-for-sale-onlineAnother option to consider if you don’t want to train your pet to become a service canine (or have reason to believe that your own dog wouldn’t be able to complete the training) is to look for service dogs for sale. A trained assistance dog can be expensive, costing anywhere from $5,000 to more than $25,000.

It’s recommended that you only buy from a reputable and established assistance canine training organization rather than from an individual or a website which claims to sell trained animals at very cheap prices.

Before making any purchase decision, you should search for reviews of that organization and if possible ask other assistance dog owners for their recommendations.

 

How to Get Your Service Dog’s Certification

In the US, there is no legally required service dog certification or registration process. But it is highly recommended (after putting your dog through a complete training process) to register and certify your dog with one of the various companies that offer this service, and also to purchase some accessories to make your working animal easy to identify in public.

 

How Do I Register My Dog As a Service Dog?

In order to register your pet and get a certificate and ID, you must undergo the following registration process, which can be easily done online. There are many websites that allow you to get your dog certified as a service dog. By completing an online form, you and your service canine become registered with that company’s US service animal registry.

These online forms usually ask a few quick questions such as the current training status of your dog, specifics about name and breed, as well as your own name, address and contact details.

You can purchase a complete package of service dog ID, collars, tags, a vest, a harness and leash, a certificate and informational brochures about assistance animal regulations. You should receive your documents, ID, and other accessories in the mail promptly after ordering them.

You can also purchase any of these items separately from third party websites such as Amazon and eBay, although the quality of the products varies by manufacturer. It’s advisable to thoroughly read through the reviews for a product before making a purchase.

service-dog-harness

Below are the products we recommend you purchase to make your dog’s status as easily identifiable as possible:

 

Certificate/I.D.

After you have filled out the online registration form, you will be sent a certificate and identification for your new working dog. These will prove and identify that fact that your dog is a service animal, and question of your dog’s status shouldn’t come up while in public.

 

Collars and Tags

Collars and tags will ensure that your dog is easily identifiable at all times. These tags include such information as your name, your phone number, and the fact that your dog is a trained service animal and not a pet. We recommend not having your dog wear ordinary collars and tags intended for pets when in public to avoid confusion.

 

Service Dog Vest and Harness

You can also purchase a high-visibility dog vest and harness, which should easily show to the casual observer that your dog is not a pet. This should eliminate any confusion while you are out and about. This vest will allow you easy access to all public spaces, hotel accommodations, airports and businesses. Make sure that your dog’s vest can easily be seen by others, which will allow you access in most instances without question.

service-dog-vest

Service Dog Packages

If you decide to get your complete your service dog registration and certification with one of the many websites that offer this service and purchase a complete kit from them, there are usually a couple of options you can choose from depending on your needs.

 

Starter Kits

For an untrained service canine, or a dog currently undergoing training, a starter kit provides the owner with directions on how to train your service canine yourself, as well as how to get your dog trained by a professional trainer. It should also includes tips and tricks on how to make your dog as useful as it can be to you in helping you to deal with you disability and how to maximize your outdoor and indoor activities with you new trained dog. A starter kit is highly recommended for anyone who wants to make their dog an assistance dog or is looking to work with a trainer to train a new animal.

 

Complete Kits

For a completely trained service canine, this package will include all the necessary accessories and a brochure on how to live with, care for and control your assistance canine, whether you trained your own dog, worked with a professional trainer or purchased an fully-trained animal. It will also provide a general guide of the laws and regulations about the use of your service animal in public, as well as in providing legal information on the subject of maintaining the privacy of your disability. For example, it may provide information about the regulation stating that it is illegal for anyone to inquire about your disability or why you require the use of a service animal. This can be useful not only for your personal study, but to educate family, friends and others you meet about the various laws and practices.

a-service-dog-in-training-with-child-in-hospital

Please note that it is not legally required according to the ADA to purchase any carry ID or have your dog wear a vest or collar that identifies it as a trained service animal, nor is anyone allowed to ask about the handler’s disability or have the handler provide proof of having a disability (such as medical documents). Additionally, no one is allowed to ask the dog’s handler to provide proof that their service animal is trained and can perform its required tasks and duties.

However, it is highly advisable to purchase a complete canine dog kit, including a harness, vest, leash collars, ID and tags to prevent any misunderstandings that could arise if you try and take a dog that isn’t visibly showing any identification or wearing a service canine vest into public places and business. Please also note that any website you choose to get your dog registered with will be an independent organization and not affiliated with the ADA or any other government organization.

service-dog-certification

Taking Your Service Animal Out in Public

Congratulations! If you followed the steps above you now have a fully trained and qualified service animal!

But there are a couple of simple rules that the ADA has provided for you follow when taking your dog out in public:

  • You must either: keep your service dog on a leash or keep the dog completely under control by hand signals or voice commands
  • When you leave your animal in public you must tether it to a secure object such as a bicycle rack or a lamp post

These rules apply unless the prevent the animal from assisting the handler or interfere with its ability to perform its trained duties.
service-k9-training

Beware of Fraudulent Service Dogs

Unfortunately, there are some people who abuse the service dog registration process. Some dog owners pay for a service dog certificate and ID without having an emotional or physical disability that requires the use of a trained animal or putting their dog through any training at all. They simply pay to register their own pet dog as a service animal and buy a labeled vest with the aim of being able to take their pet into restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and other public places that ban dogs. This is abusing a system designed to protect the rights of those people who do need an assistance animal.

This regrettable practice also happens with other kinds of assistance animals. Because there are no clearly defined US service animal registry laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t have any official requirements for what a service canine must be able to do, this practice goes largely undetected and unchallenged.

This practice is further escalated by the fact that many genuine assistance dog owners do not have their dogs wear clearly-labeled vests and collars in public. Additionally, many disabilities are not clearly visible. As it is not allowed for anyone to inquire about another person’s disability, to ask to be shown proof that someone has a disability or to prove that a service animal is actually trained, this practice is likely to continue.

 

Therapy Dogs

What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog is a dog that provides comfort, affection and support to individuals and groups, usually in hospitals, nursing homes, on military bases, and in special needs education schools. There is no specific list of disabilities that therapy dogs assist in helping to treat, but therapy dogs are a great aid to many people recovering from traumatic events and life situations, as well as individuals suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and other emotional challenges.

There are many therapy dog organizations that travel with their dogs to different different hospitals and schools to provide support and comfort to many people with facing many unique challenges.

Also, therapy dogs are frequently used after highly traumatic events such as bombings and plane crashes to help victims and their families cope with the situation they find themselves facing.

therapy-dog-with-solider

Where Can I Take a Therapy Dog?

There is no law protecting therapy dogs in the US and they don’t get the free access to all public places and businesses that service animals do. Therapy dogs are not allowed into public spaces, businesses or apartments that don’t allow dogs, nor are they allowed to fly on airlines for free or stay in a hotel for free (unlike service animals and emotional support dogs, which are allowed to stay for free).

If an airline, apartment or hotel charges a fee for having a pet dog and you have a therapy dog, you will have to pay that fee. Also, if an airline, apartment building or hotel has a “No Dogs Allowed” policy, that also applies to your dog.

However, many institutions and businesses will allow you to bring a therapy dog if you contact them in advance and ask them courteously if you can bring a therapy dog with you (even if they don’t ordinary allow pet dogs).

 

What are the Requirements to Get a Therapy Dog?

therapy-dog-with-a-childThere are is no law in the US or any formal requirements for what an individual or institution needs to do to get a therapy dog. Most therapy dogs are brought in by companies or organizations when they are needed along with their handlers.

Also, there isn’t a list of disabilities or conditions that therapy dogs are qualified to assist, but they commonly help patients in hospitals suffering from various mental and physical conditions, adults and children with learning disabilities and special needs, victims of disasters and traumatic events, and soldiers in active combat situations or returning home after active duty.

 

Therapy Dog Training and Certification

Therapy dogs are usually not trained to do a certain job or to perform tasks. However, as therapy dogs typically travel to provide comfort and affection to groups of people rather than a specific individual, they generally undergo a basic training program to make sure they are well-behaved in public.

A therapy dog should have a friendly and calm temperament and be able to meet many different people who are likely to pet and show give affection to the animal. A dog of any age, sex, breed or size can become a therapy dog, but some breeds are more suited than others due to their natural characteristics. Golden retrievers, labradors and collies are some of the most common breeds of therapy dogs due to their good-natured and friendly temperaments and medium-size, as well as their attractiveness and their widespread availability.

Since therapy dogs are not given unrestricted access to all public places, if you are taking a therapy dog into a hospital or nursing home, your dog should be very well-behaved and well-trained, as the staff can ask you to leave your dog outside if it is misbehaving.

Many of the best therapy dog organizations put their dogs through very extensive training and have to pass difficult tests before they can become therapy dogs.

therapy-animals-helping-at-school

If you think your dog would make an excellent therapy dog, you can decide to train your pet yourself, or you can get training from one of the many organizations that specialize in training therapy dogs. The American Kennel Club provides an extensive list of organizations that train therapy dogs here.

It’s highly advisable to seek the services of a reputable company that has a track record of producing excellent trained animals. If you are looking for a company to help you to train your own dog or to fully train your own pet, we suggest starting with the above list and then doing your own online research to find the best organization in your area.

You can also access many online training videos and books to assist you with the training process.

Also, before deciding to make your dog a therapy dog, you should consider whether making your dog a service canine would be more appropriate for your needs.

As with service dogs, there is no official government-sponsored therapy dog certification or registration process. However, there are many websites that allow you to register your therapy dog with them and to purchase a therapy dog certificate and ID, as well as high-visibility vest, harness, collar and leash. You can also purchase these accessories on other retail sites like Amazon.com and Alibaba.com.

 

Emotional Support Dogs

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional support dogs provide support, comfort and affection to someone who is suffering from a mental or psychological disability. These dogs are companion animals and haven’t received any specific training to assist their owners, so in that respect they are similar to pet dogs. These animals are not legally working dogs.

A dog of any breed, size or age can become an emotional support dog, but the temperament and traits of some breeds make them more suited to this role than others.

An emotional support animal can provide unconditional love to someone suffering from a very difficult and painful mental disorder.

emotional-support-dog-certification

How Do I Know if I Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal?

If you have been diagnosed as suffering from a mental disorder by a medical professional then you qualify for a support dog. Many people suffering from mental disorders such as chronic depression or severe anxiety will likely qualify. Other conditions that can qualify an individual for an emotional assistance canine include: manic/bipolar depression, panic attacks and severe phobias.

Also, military combat units use emotional assistance dogs to ease the stress of active duty soldiers. These dogs are often provided for soldiers returning from home to help with making the transition back to everyday life, which can be very difficult after traumatic combat experiences.

 

Emotional Support Dog Registration

In order to get an emotional support dog, you may be required to provide some medical paperwork about your mental or emotional disorder. Usually, you will be asked to provide these documents to prove the legitimacy of your condition and that you have been receiving treatment from a qualified medical professional.

You may also be required to provide a doctor’s letter stating he believes that your condition could benefit from having an emotional support animal.

There is no official government registration or certification process for emotional support dogs, but it is nonetheless wise to purchase some ID and a labeled dog vest to allow others to easily see and identify your animal in public.

Any size, breed, sex or age of dog can become an emotional assistance dog, although certain breeds have inherent characteristics that make them more suited to becoming emotional support animals.

family-pets

How Do I Get an Emotional Support Canine?

Most people choose to make their own pet an emotional support animal if their dog can give the help and support that they need. There is also the option of purchasing a dog that has helped people with the same or similar disorders as yours.

Most people suffering from a mental disorder will benefit from buying a dog that has already been an emotional support dog or therapy dog, rather than purchasing a puppy and having to go through the entire obedience training process or adopting a dog who’s personality is unknown to you (however, some people find the process of raising a new puppy a kind of treatment in itself, despite all the hard work it involves).
 
 Emotional Support Dog

Emotional Support Canine Training

Emotional support dogs do not undergo any specific training and there are no formal requirements for what an emotional support do needs to be able to do, other than being able to provide support in everyday life for its owner (something which is not easy for others to quantify or measure). However, emotional support canines need to be house-trained and be kept under control while in public.

 

Can I Go Anywhere with an Emotional Support Dog?

No, unfortunately emotional support dogs do not receive the same unrestricted access to public places and businesses that service animals do. However, you are legally allowed to take your dog with you onto an airplane, providing that the airline is given sufficient advanced notice.

Also, you are legally allowed have emotional support animals in apartment buildings and condos that do not allow dogs, providing you provide some kind of proof of your dog’s legitimacy.

The Air Carrier Access Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act are the two laws protecting emotional support dogs in the United States, which allow these dogs to travel for free in airplanes in be kept in all apartment buildings and condos respectively.


5 Comments

  1. Moises Hespen

    Thanks!

  2. Virgilio Frohock

    great post

  3. Flora Suchecki

    Thanks!

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