Can I Train My Dog To Be A Service Dog? (Hint: You Certainly Can!)

There are a myriad of reasons as to why you may want (or need) a service dog.

From allergy detection dogs, to diabetic alert dogs, to mobility assistance dogs- there’s a service dog to suit nearly every circumstance you might be in.

Sure, you can apply for the services of such an integral, helpful canine at various organizations across the country, but have you ever wondered to yourself, “Hey, can I train my dog to be a service dog?”

Perhaps to the surprise of many, it is actually possible for you to train your own (talented) pooch to be a service dog!

However, just like with humans, not every dog is right for the job.

The best service dogs have an essential combination of both high intelligence and good temperament.

Not to slander anyone’s precious pup, but since they could literally be the difference between life-and-death for their human, this is one requirement that you’ll want to take seriously!

Once you’ve decided that your dog likely meets those standards, it will have to go through extensive training with numerous costs involved.

The type of training will of course be different based on its eventual role, but expect the period of learning to take anywhere from six months to a year.

Finally, your service dog-hopeful will have to pass a test at the end of it all in order to be recognised officially.

This is important since only then will they be able to accompany you on flights and in other locations as necessary. At that point, you will have yourself a fully-qualified, ready-for-duty service dog!

So, Can I Train My Dog To Be A Service Dog?

Woman with dog ringing bell
Service, dog… get it?? HA

The short answer to this question is yes- provided your dog is capable of meeting certain minimum requirements, and it has the proper temperament to be a service dog. Teaching your dog to be a service animal involves training it to perform specific tasks.

The American Disability Act’s definition of a service dog is any dog that has been trained to perform certain tasks to assist disabled persons.

Usually, when someone hears the word disability they think of physical disabilities, but the definition can be extended to mean mental issues as well, like PTSD.

Naturally, a dog will have to undergo extensive training and meet certain requirements before it can be certified as a service dog.

The following is a list of some of the things you will have to do to get your pup certified as a service dog. You will have to:

  • Make sure that your dog has excellent intelligence and temperament;
  • Find a trainer, or train it yourself if you have the skills and experience;
  • Have it pass a public access test; and
  • Get him certified and registered.

Obviously, the tests that are required will vary depending on the particular type of service dog you need. If you have experience training a dog, it may be easier for you to effectively train a service dog on your own.

It’s also important to remember that ease of training is often affected by things like dog breeds, the work or task the dog is being trained for, and type of service involved.

There is nothing wrong with training the family pet to be a service dog, provided it can be done safely and effectively.

How Do I Get My Dog Trained As A Service Dog?

Dog shaking hands with owner
You make a deal, of course

As previously mentioned, you may have the option of training your dog on your own in order to meet service dog requirements- provided you have plenty of experience with dog training and you thoroughly understand the ADA requirements and training process.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is not required that a service dog go through any particular training process. As such, various trainers can be used.

The end goal is to have a dog that is capable of working as a guide dog or as some other type of service dog, such as an emotional support animal.

For a person with a disability, it is imperative that they be able to trust the dog in question. Therefore, effective training is a must.

That said, there is no specific program or training regimen that must be utilized, as long as the required results can be met.

In addition, almost any dog breed can be trained to be a service dog. From Labradors to Golden Retrievers, and Shepherds to Pit Bulls, every dog can potentially satisfy the requirements to be a service dog.

One breed may naturally be more adept at providing a specific service than another. However, ADA rules do prohibit discrimination against any service dog based on the breed of dog, or on how big or small it is.

Despite this, the breed of the dog can provide you with critical information about the animal’s temperament and instincts, so you will know what to be on guard about.

Overall, each animal should be assessed by its unique mannerisms, strengths, and weaknesses to determine whether or not it can be the right service dog for you.

Another important thing to consider before attempting to train your dog to be a service dog is its health.

Is your dog healthy enough to undergo the training, and provide the continuous service you’ll need? Just as importantly, is it too old? You won’t want to put your dog under too much strain if it will be detrimental to its health.

In any case, basic obedience training must be mastered. The dog will then go on to master additional tasks that are more specific to the needs that are at hand in order to become a registered service animal.

Is It Too Late To Train My Dog To Be A Service Dog?

Brown boxer with powerdog vest

Surprisingly, there are no maximum age limits in effect to train your dog to be a service dog.

That said, it really only makes sense to train a dog that is still young enough to do the job for a number of years after their training has been completed.

Training a service dog requires a great deal of time. In fact, it’s an investment that you will be making, one that will likely cost you both time and money.

As a result, you don’t want to train a dog that is nearing the end of its life span, or that is likely to become too old to work within the next year or two.

Other than that, you shouldn’t worry too much about age as long as your dog is healthy and has a good temperament!

With that being said, it may all boil down to what behavior patterns are already ingrained in your older dog.

Even older dogs that have never undergone any formal training can still grasp obeying commands to receive a reward. The trick in training an older dog is to reprogram his understanding of what constitutes a rewardable act.

So, contrary to the old axiom, you can teach an old dog new tricks! However, there are some things you do need to consider before proceeding.

For example, some older dogs might not be able to perform tasks that require a lot of running or strength- even if they would love nothing more than to please their master.

Also, older dogs’ cognitive abilities tend to decrease with age, so they might not be able to understand complex commands.

If you’re adamant on your older dog becoming your assistance animal, you might want to ask your vet about adding more fatty acids to its diet which may help to prolong healthy brain function.

Lastly, don’t just assume your older dog is capable of undergoing the training without consulting your vet first. It is possible that it could have some underlying health issues you may not be aware of that could hinder both its effectiveness and health.

How Much Does It Cost To Train A Dog To Be A Service Dog?

Black lassie service dog

The cost involved in training a service dog can vary a great deal. This is because various training programs can be utilized.

Clearly, it’s going to cost you much less if you’re capable of effectively training your own dog as opposed to hiring a professional for training.

It also depends on the length of time that is involved with the particular type of training needed.

If you’re purchasing a dog to be trained as a service animal, the amount of money involved will also depend on the type of dog you purchase and where you purchase it from.

There are a lot of agencies and organizations that can provide service dogs. In most cases, all you need to do is tell them about your needs and expectations and fill out a simple application.

The agency or organization will then use this information to determine the size and specialization for the dog that best fits your needs.

The waiting period will vary from agency to agency, and you may be required to pay a deposit or other related fees in the meantime.

Dogs that are typically used as service animals include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds.

Of course, virtually any dog is capable of making a good service dog candidate if it has the right personality and a solid training foundation to build upon.

People with mental and physical disabilities benefit greatly from their service dogs. They alert them to danger and help them perform tasks that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

However, because of things like temperament, age, and aggressiveness, some dogs won’t make the cut. This reduces the number of viable candidates and increases the price of service dog training in some instances.

Buying a fully-trained service dog does have the advantage of saving you time, but the costs can be prohibitive depending on your ability to shoulder the cost burden. The price of purchasing a service dog for physical disabilities can range from $15,000 to $50,000.

However, if the service dog you’re looking for is to provide emotional support and medical alerts, the costs could be a lot lower since they won’t have to go through the specialty training required for disability service dogs.

Buying a fully-grown service dog may also take some time getting used to, as it will need to familiarize itself with the peculiar sights and sounds of its new home.

How Long Does It Take to Train a Dog to Be a Service Dog?

Border collie puppy on red leash

The amount of time involved to train a service dog can vary based on the specific type of service he or she is being trained for.

For example, a seeing-eye dog requires a different training timetable than an emotional support animal. Typically, you can expect training to take somewhere in the neighborhood of six months to a year.

Regardless of the type of service the animal is being trained for, basic obedience training must be mastered.

Once that is completed, more difficult obedience classes are likely to be involved, followed by more specific training that the dog will need to master in order to perform the required service.

As such, the exact amount of training time can vary from one dog to the next.

It’s also worth mentioning that the training time can vary between each specific animal, as some dogs have a tendency to pick up on training faster than others.

For some, it only requires being shown something once or twice in order for them to master it. Others take a bit more time.

It should be noted that the intensity and duration of the training can affect the outcome as dogs, like people, can become overwhelmed at times.

Should the training become too intense, it can have the adverse effect of instilling fear into the dog’s personality.

You have to be able to rely on your service dog in all types of circumstances, so it’s important that the appropriate amount of time and patience is spent in training to ensure that occurs.

Do Service Dogs Have To Pass A Test?

Dog with glasses and yellow tie reading a book

Yes, you will have to test your dog in order to allow him or her to become a registered service dog.

The test can be rather stressful and somewhat complicated, hence the reason for prolonged and highly intensive training.

Your dog will have to demonstrate that he or she is capable of following any and all basic commands that would be found in both primary and advanced level obedience classes.

Furthermore, your dog will also have to perform a minimum of three tasks that are specific to the type of service dog it has been trained for.

Once these tasks have been successfully completed, it is then possible to have your dog registered as a service dog from a legal standpoint.

This is important if you plan on traveling with your dog, as you may not be able to board a flight or go certain places with your dog unless you can prove that he or she is a registered service animal.

One example of a test that a service dog can take is called the Public Access Test (PAT). A PAT test is designed to determine whether or not a service dog has the minimum behavioral characteristics to serve its owners properly.

This includes whether it displays any unacceptable behavior, how obedient it is, and how it behaves in unfamiliar surroundings.

The PAT test attempts provide a snapshot of how the animal can be expected to perform without more rigorous training.

Consequently, handlers are not allowed to give the dog treats during the test. Nor are they allowed to make corrections to things like leashes or other physical adjustments while the test is in progress.

By the same token, the PAT forbids handlers from using devices designed to cause the animal pain as a means of controlling it.

Non-invasive collars and harnesses are permitted if the handler has a disability necessitating such a device. However, it cannot be used to exert control over the animal during testing.

Man kneeling with central asian shepherd dog

A PAT test is usually administered by experienced service-dog handlers at the Psychiatric Service Dog Convention (PSDC), but some people choose to hire local professional service-dog trainers to administer the test.

However, there are no absolute qualifications set aside for people who can administer the tests.

The important thing is that the tester understands the criteria and knows how to properly evaluate the results. Therefore, the person should have some knowledge of dog training and dog mannerisms.

Consequently, a PAT test is only as good as the qualifications and accuracy of the person administering the test.

Therefore, it is a good idea to have someone document the test by recording it. This can serve as a reference for future training, and, should legal issues arise, you’ll have a video record of everything that went on during the test.

It is also a good idea to keep a log of any training that took place before the test, as this is also useful for legal purposes. It is recommended to consider the PAT test and training as part of a record.

Not all service dogs are required to go through the stringent PAT tests. The following are examples of the type of service dogs that do have to go through testing:

1. Autism Service Dogs:

Autism dogs are service dogs that are often paired with children to help them navigate social environments.

Many people with autism have difficulty interpreting social cues and connecting with their peers. Dogs are the perfect candidate for breaking the ice and being a source of predictability for children with autism.

2. Diabetic Alert Dogs:

These dogs are specially trained to alert their owner of potentially high (or low) glucose levels.

When the dog signals his owner that something is amiss, he knows to check his blood sugar and adjust it accordingly.

Diabetic service dogs, therefore, provide their owners with a sense of independence and security they might not ordinarily have.

3. Guide Dogs:

Guide dogs are probably the most common and most recognizable service dogs out there.

Guide dogs help people whose vision has been compromised, for one reason or another, to navigate the world around them. They are usually outfitted with a harness for their owners to take hold of.

Unlike other service dogs, however, guide dogs are taught to disobey. This means that they are trained to make choices for their owner, and to prevent them from putting themselves in harm’s way.

In Summary

The answer to the question, “Can I train my dog to be a service dog?” is “Yes!”

It is definitely possible to train your current dog to be a service dog- whatever the breed-, though this possibility is subject to a few different factors.

For one, the dog has to be sufficiently intelligent, good-natured, and obedient. It should also be young enough (or at least young-at-heart) so that it can perform its duties for at least a few years after extensive training.

Speaking of extensive training, the prospective service dog-to-be will have to train to meet certain requirements and even pass stringent testing in order to be officially certified and recognized as an assistant animal.

These requirements will differ depending on the type of service dog you are after. For example, guide dogs will have to go through PAT testing, while emotional support dogs won’t be subject to such strict conditions.

If training your own dog to be a service dog seems to be too much of an insurmountable task, the alternative option is simply to apply for and purchase one! A variety of different organizations provide assistance animals, though costs will vary and can be expensive.

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