How to become a service dog

The Service and Therapy Dog forum is for all service and therapy dogs regardless of whether or not their status is legally defined by federal or state law, how they are trained, or whether or not they are "certified." Posts questioning or disputing a person's need for a service or therapy dog, the validity of a person's service or therapy dog, or the dog's ability to do the work of a service or therapy dog are not permitted in this forum. Please keep discussions fun, friendly, and helpful at all times.


What dont kill- you only makes- you strong
Barked: Sat Mar 15, '08 2:46pm PST 
Was curious what you have to do to become a service dog I have anxiety bad and it would help to have drake around. im ni northern CA about an hour from Sacramento. I saw a pretty pitbull on the bus the other day wearing a backpack labeled service dog didn't get to talk to them tho. Id love to get drake to be a service dog. Help
Sabrina- 2000~2012

To break- injustice we- must break- silence
Barked: Sat Mar 15, '08 3:17pm PST 
A service dog is a dog that has been trained to mitigate their handler's life limiting disability and to not cause a disturbance in public. There are three things involved in that definition that need to occur for a dog to be a service dog. First, the handler must have a life limiting disability. Second the dog must be trained to do something that mitigates that specific disability. And third, the dog must be public access trained.

To find out if you have a life limiting disability, you can always talk with your doctor. This would be a good idea, because you can discuss what your dog can be trained to do to assist you and how a service dog would fit into your treatment plan. Many people can have the same diagnosis, but not everyone may be considered disabled by it. For example, I am bipolar and have panic attacks which are disabling. But I have several friends with either (or both) of these disorders who are not disabled by them. So it is a good idea to get your doctor to confirm that you have a life limiting disability as described by the ADA.

The next thing you should do is talk with a trainer. Not every dog is cut out for service work, and it is important that the dog both wants to work and has the right personality to put up with the challenges and situations involved with being a service dog. A professional trainer can give your dog a temperament test and can help you with public access training and with training to assist with your disability.

Another thing to consider at the beginning of your journey is how a service dog fits in with your lifestyle. It is not always easy having to bring a dog with you everywhere. A disability that was previously invisible suddenly becomes visible-- people stare, people ask intrusive questions, some people yell at you to get out of stores and you may even have to call the police if you are denied access. You have to schedule feeding and potty breaks into your day, and some people find the stress of having the dog with you all the time isn't worth the benefits the dog can bring. So think seriously about the commitment before you start training and talk with others about how a service dog would be able to help you and about the drawbacks to having a service dog.

Some resources you will probably want to look into are:

Answers to FAQs for people considering a service dog

The Psychiatric Service Dog Society

Public Access behavior

Part I and Part II of Sabrina's test for an example

Words of caution that are important to read before starting

So in summary, do a lot of reading, talk to a lot of different people, and ask a lot of questions. I and others will be happy to help you figure out if a service dog is right for you and to answer any questions you might have. Good luck at this start of your journey!

Edited by author Sun Mar 16, '08 8:30am PST

Sabrina- 2000~2012

To break- injustice we- must break- silence
Barked: Sat Mar 15, '08 3:29pm PST 
Oh, and I forgot to mention two more things that are specific to your situation. Before starting training as a service dog, you should get your dog checked over by a vet to make sure they are fit for work. A service dog walks a LOT on hard surfaces like concrete and pavement and it is very important to make sure their joints are healthy and can take that kind of strain. You don't want to cause a service dog to have to retire early or to be in pain due to structural problems like this. I remember Drake has a twisted front leg, so it is important to get a vet to check that out before starting with any training for service work and clear him specifically for service work. His joints need to be very good for him to be able to work pain free, concrete and pavement are hard on joints!

Also, while there is no age limit to starting a dog with service training, it usually takes 1-2 years to train a dog. Most service dogs seem to retire by the age of 10, which means you'll want to start training a replacement service dog when your current service dog is about 8 or 9. If Drake is 6 now, that means he won't be fully trained until he is at least 7 or 8 years old. That means as soon as he is fully trained you'll need to be getting a new dog to train to replace him. So it might be more cost and time effective for you to start with a younger pup (under 2 years seems to be preferable).

I have personal experience with starting training late. I started training Sabrina when she was about 4.5 years old. She passed her public access test when she was about 6. She's been working as a full service dog for two years and in a couple of months I'm bringing home a new puppy to train to take her place when she retires. Two years is an awfully short time to be working a dog before retiring, personally I won't do that again and I don't recommend others to do it, either. It is a lot of time and money invested for a short working life. I'm not saying it can't be done, but talk with your vet about your dog's health and with a trainer about how long realistically it will take you to train Drake and discuss with them what your options are and what would be best.

I think Discovery Dogs is close by you, and they run an owner-training program. If you want to travel to the SF area, my trainer Nancy Frensley can also help train. I know that there are several other SDs in California who might also be able to provide names of trainers for you to talk with.

Edited by author Sat Mar 15, '08 3:30pm PST