Service Dog Training
Do you want to train your own service dog? Read on to learn what service dogs do, how to choose the right dog for the job, and what our service dog training program looks like.
What is a service dog?
A service dog is trained to perform a specific task (or tasks) that meets a medical need related to a diagnosed disability. Service dogs go through rigorous training and, when their training is complete and they pass a Public Access Test, are legally permitted to accompany their handler into public places.
Service dogs are often confused with other types of specially categorized dogs, so it’s important to note the difference:
Emotional support animals provide emotional support (comfort) to their handler with a mental health condition; they do not perform a specific, identifiable task. Emotional support animals require no special training or certification. Because emotional support animals are considered companions or pets, they are not legally protected to enter public places. That protection is solely reserved for service dogs. However, emotional support animals do have protection under the Fair Housing Act so they may be permitted in homes where pets are usually prohibited, and no separate pet deposit is required.
Therapy dogs provide comfort to others. They are brought into hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, or schools to interact positively with patients, students, or residents. Therapy dogs have excellent obedience skills, enjoy social interaction, and have an innate temperament appropriate for regular, calm, and therapeutic interactions with strangers. Like emotional support animals, therapy dogs do not have legal protection for unrestricted public access.
What does a service dog do?
A service dog is trained to perform specific tasks that assist a person with a disability with activities of daily living. Some service dogs have one task, while others can perform 30 tasks or more. Some examples include:
Medical alert tasks:
Psychiatric care tasks:
Can any dog be trained to be a service dog?
Not all dogs can be service dogs. A dog that successfully learns their “job” and passes the Public Access Test is the result of both rigorous training AND natural temperament. One of those things is within handler control, while the other is not.
Some breeds are naturally more predisposed to being successful as a service dog. These include labs, retrievers, and standard poodles (“doodles” are not included in this list due to genetic unpredictability during the breeding process). However, it’s important to note that even among dogs that are specifically bred and trained to be service dogs, only 25%-50% actually succeed.
Because of this reality, if you choose to train your own service dog it’s critical that you work with a trainer who understands the requirements of service dogs. A trainer must be willing to communicate honestly and openly with you about your needs, your dog’s performance, and your likelihood of success. At Pet Coach to the Rescue, we commit to clear & honest communication throughout the training process so that you get the most value out of your investment.
Why train my own service dog? Can’t I just buy one?
The process to get a professionally trained service dog is lengthy and expensive. Waitlists can be years long as it takes about two years to train a service dog. Even after a handler receives their service dog, there is an additional training period (up to 18 months!) in conjunction with the original trainer to solidify the trainer-handler relationship and ensure they can perform the necessary tasks. Not to mention that trained service dogs cost tens of thousands of dollars. For many people, both the timeline and the cost are prohibitive. For these individuals, training a service dog on their own makes sense.
Ideally, you’ll begin working with a trainer before you purchase or adopt a dog. Your trainer can advise you about the best breed for your needs, and can help you begin the training process as early as possible.
How do I train my own service dog? How much does it cost?
At Pet Coach to the Rescue, we have a three-phased approach to training service dogs in partnership with their handlers:
We offer two options for service dog training; the one you choose will be based on your dog’s age.
FOR DOGS UNDER 6 MONTHS:
FOR DOGS 6 MONTHS OR OLDER:
Schedule a two-hour evaluation with Shawna. During this time she will discuss your needs and observe your dog to help you determine whether your dog has the appropriate temperament for service dog training. Some things she will look for include:
Following your evaluation Shawna will give her recommendations for next steps. If your dog is a good candidate but still needs to work on fundamentals, she may recommend puppy/adolescent classes first. Or, if your dog is a good candidate and ready to begin training, you may begin the all-inclusive SDiT program ($500/mo).
How long does it take to train a service dog?
It takes about two years to fully train a service dog. After training, the average service dog works for about 5-7 years before retiring due to old age and their own physical restrictions.
It’s also important to know that most service dogs must be re-homed after retirement. If the handler needs a new service dog to help them with their activities of daily living after their first dog has retired, the first dog must be removed. Two service dogs cannot live in the same household as they will compete with each other and, ultimately, degrade the performance of the working dog.
What other things do I need to think about when considering a service dog?
Service dogs are amazing, but they’re not a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. If you’re thinking about training a service dog, here are some things to think about:
Are you prepared for your invisible disability to become visible? A service dog is a clear sign that its handler has a disability, and some individuals are more comfortable with that publicity than others. While businesses cannot ask, “What is your disability?”, they can ask “What task has the dog been trained to perform?” or “Is the dog a service dog required because of a disability?” before allowing them into a public space. Make sure you are prepared for and comfortable with questions of this nature.
Does the breed, size, and temperament meet the needs of the tasks it will perform for you? When it comes to service dogs, size matters. If your dog will accompany you everywhere, you probably don’t want a giant breed that will take up a lot of space in a restaurant or a toy breed that might get stepped on in a crowd. Medium-sized breeds tend to be ideal, and breeds that are known for a calmer temperament tend to be more successful in completing service dog training.
Are you ready for the work? Dog ownership is a big responsibility; service dog ownership is no different. Having a service dog also means ongoing training to ensure they have good obedience and task skills. If your family is helping you, make sure they’re on board with the work as well.
How do I sign up for Service Dog Training?
All clients interested in our Service Dog Training program should schedule a FREE phone consultation with Shawna. Shawna will determine the best training sequence for your dog.
*Please note, ideal service dog candidates are less than one year old at the start of their training.
Welcome to the family!
Once you’re enrolled in any of our training programs, you’re part of the Pet Coach to the Rescue family! You can now request to join our Facebook Training Group; within this group you will have access to all of our handouts, videos of training exercises, fun contests, and be able to connect with other pet parents.
As a Service Dog in Training candidate, you're also eligible to join our SDiT Facebook Group to connect with other handlers on a similar journey. We hope to see you there!