How to Train a Service Animal
A service animal is specifically trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Even though animals other than dogs have been trained to help a person live more independently, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) only recognizes dogs as service animals. The only other alternative service animal recognized by the ADA under a separate provision is a trained miniature horse.
A Service Animal May Also Be Referred As:
Guide Dog ~ specifically assists a blind person
Hearing Dog ~ specifically assists a deaf person
Service Dog ~ assists a person with a disability other than blindness or deafness
Service Dogs are NOT Therapy Dogs
It is important to understand the immense differences between a service dog and a therapy dog. One main distinction is that service dogs typically do not interact with the public while working. They are defined as working animals, not pets. Whereas, therapy dogs specifically interact with the public.
Service dogs go through extensive training and testing to help an individual disabled person. Therapy dogs go through basic training and testing to be suitable to interact with a variety of people in healthcare facilities, schools, senior centers, etc. for their therapeutic benefit.
Examples of Work Performed by Service Dogs
Guide a person who is blind or vision impaired
Alert a person who is deaf or hearing impaired
Assist with walking/ambulation
Help lift a person up after a fall
Carry groceries, books
Fetch newspaper, slippers, keys, phone
Open a door, package
Press an elevator button, door bell
Pull a wheelchair, help pull clothes off
Stand over person having a seizure
**Help calm through an anxiety attack
**Help alleviate symptoms such as depression
**Dogs whose main purpose is to provide emotional support, comfort or companionship do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
Did You Know?
- Depending on the needs of the disabled owner, the working life of a service dog is typically 8 -10 years.
- Service dogs can be any size, weight or breed.
- Some service dogs are certified or licensed and may have identification papers. However, there are no legal requirements for service dogs to be visibly identifiable or have any type of documentation.
- A self-trained service dog has the same access rights as any other program-trained service dog.
Should I Train My Own Service Dog
Training your own service dog is permitted in many countries including the United States, but it is not an easy task. It involves a lot of hard work, time and long-term commitment. If you do not feel you have what it takes to train your own service dog, hiring an experienced trainer is highly recommended.
There are many reasons people choose to do their own training:
- They may already have experience training dogs.
- There is no waiting list.
- In some cases, existing programs do not meet the needs of the specific disabilities.
- Some disabled people prefer to have the dog in their life from early puppyhood.
- It may be cheaper than obtaining a program-trained dog.
- Training your own service dog may allow for unique customization of their skills.
Service Dog Training Manuals
Guidelines to Get You Started Training a Service Dog
Read and learn ~ gather all the information and advice you can to have the best experience possible in training your own service dog.
Live with the dog ~ before you make a commitment to train a service dog, live with the dog for at least a month. Build a relationship to see if you both have a natural rapport and trust of each other. Take this time to find out if the dog is aggressive with people, children or other animals. Does the dog get carsick? Will he fetch a ball? Does he easily learn basic commands? During this time, you can determine if this dog is a good fit for the job.
Is this the dog for you ~ now that you have taken the time to get to know each other, determine if you wish to commit to training him as a service dog. Keep in mind that he will be your partner in life for the next 7 to maybe 15 years.
Obedience and socialization classes ~ will strengthen the bond between you and your new partner. Whether the dog is already quite obedient and social, this time will be well spent.
What is your objective ~ brainstorm a list of tasks that you would like to train your dog to perform that will help you with your disability.
Train your dog to perform at least one specific task ~ the task performed must directly relate to your (the handler's) disability. According to the ADA, this will immediately qualify your dog as a service dog.
Determine reliability ~ be certain your dog can be relied upon to not poop or urinate in public places or anywhere it is inappropriate. Be certain that your dog is able to obey your commands without hesitation.
Begin traveling with your service dog ~ go places where you may need help to get him used to everything he may encounter out in the public. Be sure to have full control of your dog at all times. He must not be distracted by outside influences.
Use common sense ~ do not put your new service dog in situations where he will fail.
Praise constantly and avoid showing anger ~ praise your dog often when appropriate. If he angers you, try to stay calm and not raise your voice. It is important that you stay in control as the leader.
Train consistently ~ training sessions with your dog should only last 10 – 15 minutes at a time depending on their attention span. Conduct training sessions several times a day, every day. Do not vary the tasks too often to avoid the potential of confusing commands.
Ask for help ~ if training a new service dog becomes too overwhelming for you and/or the dog, be open to asking for assistance. There are many resources that can lead you in the right direction.
Have fun ~ training a service dog requires education, time, love and patience. As a working team, you and your service dog need to be sure to also incorporate fun for the both of you too. Enjoy your new partner.
This is Sharyn’s Slant
Assistance Dogs International, Inc. (ADI)
ADI has been setting standards for the Assistance Dog Industry since 1987.
Click here for their LIST OF STANDARDS.
Service Dog I.D. Patches/Tags
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