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How to Train a Service Animal

Updated on June 22, 2014
Service dog in training.
Service dog in training. | Source

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.

Service dogs are not therapy dogs.
Service dogs are not therapy dogs. | Source

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
Security, safety
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
Medication reminder
**Help calm through an anxiety attack
**Emotional Support
**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.
Source: Compiled by Sharyn's Slant through extensive research.

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.

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.

Best wishes!

This is Sharyn’s Slant

Assistance Dogs International, Inc. (ADI)

ADI has been setting standards for the Assistance Dog Industry since 1987.

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    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Kimberly ~ I didn't know that about PSA's. That sucks that you were denied access to a train. Sounds like a violation to me. Thank you so much for stopping by to check out this article. Take care,


    • KimberleyMarshall profile image

      KimberleyMarshall 2 years ago from Detroit, MI

      Thanks for the info. It is good to note that there is specification of "Psychiatric Service Animal" but PSA's are different from Emotional Support Animals. I recently was denied access to an Amtrak train because I had a PSA and they said that they do not allow "Support animals" aboard. However, my dog is recognized under the ADA as a PSA, so they violated the ADA.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Cyndi ~ Yes, it is possible to train your own service dog. It is recommended however that you do use a trainer if needed. So, your yellow lab is CI? I've had one of those too, ha. I love the "fetch syndrome" also, been there! Truly, he sounds adorable. Thanks so much for your feedback!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Kelley ~ Wow that's great. Purchasing a service dog can be quite expensive but I'm sure really worth it. Thank you so much for your feedback.


    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      Oh lordy! I had no idea that you can train your OWN dog to be a service dog. That's really good to know - I always thought they had to be certified in a training program or something. Who knew! That being said, after reading this, I'd probably have to resort to a professional trainer or something. I have a yellow lab, and he's certifiably insane. He has OCDFS - Obsessive Compulsive Fetch Syndrome. Hehehe. Yeah, he's obsessed with 'stick.' He's the American Lab of the Yellow Labs and he's also a nervous nelly. But, we take him on long walks/hikes and he runs free in the country. :) Thanks for sharing this, though, because I definitely learned a lot!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      I have a friend who just bought one of these dogs for her handicapped child. He is such a blessing. Thanks for writing this! Voted up and shared! Kelley

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Oh gosh Paula, I hope you are not literally sick. The video is definitely a tearjerker but it's really about the beautiful love and bond between a service dog and their handler. It's very touching. Sending you a hug, hope you are okay.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hello Poppi ~ I just loved the video too. Daisy Doofus is awesome! And to hear that you are training your Sammy as a service dog is so wonderful. There are a lot of organizations out their like Soldiers Best Friend that can assist with the training. I bet you are so excited for Sammy's graduation coming up. Enjoy every moment and best of luck for many many years of service and love from her.


    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Sharyn....had to come back to watch the video that I didn't have the time to watch when I read your great hub.

      I'm very sorry I came back. I am literally sobbing, with a heaviness in my heart. I cried myself sick.

      There is no warning strong enough for this video......

      omg....this was far too emotional for me.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Steph ~ That is SO awesome to know that a trained service dog can actually sense rising and falling in blood sugar levels. And even before the human has any symptoms. If you do ever check this out further for yourself, I hope you write a hub about your experience. Thanks so much for your feedback and sharing. Take care,


    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Paula ~ I agree, watching a service dog in action is truly amazing to witness. It certainly gives even more meaning to the phrase "man's best friend." Thank you so much for your compliments. I hope you enjoy this Memorial Day weekend.


    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hey Susan (JAS) ~ I appreciate your feedback. Sorry the video made you cry. I thought it was great. I cried too but I did warn you :) Thanks for your votes and shares too!


    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Hi Sue (UW) ~ Thanks so much for your feedback. Service dogs are so awesome!


    • poppi profile image

      poppi 5 years ago

      That you for showing this video, I am in the process of training my Samantha to be My Service Dog through Soldiers Best Friend here in Arizona.

      Sammy is just 3yr old and she is a Golden Lab. It is amazing what she can do in such a short period of time she will be Graduating in a couple of weeks.

      Thank You again

      I loved daisy's video

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Amazingly helpful! I was looking for resources on service animals several months ago. I have Type 1 diabetes and often experience dangerous swings in blood sugar levels. I have read some wonderful things about dogs that can sense when levels are rising or falling and alert their owner before he or she even starts to feel it themselves. Rated up and bookmarking/sharing!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Sharyn....positively excellent. I have actually seen a service dog in action and I want to tell you, it is an AMAZING thing to witness. I don't know if people absorb the real impact of the common phrase, "Man's Best Friend!!" You've done a great job as always! UP++

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very useful hub for anyone wanting to know what a service animal does and all the things to be aware of when training one. The video made me cry. But you did warn us.

      Up, more and sharing.

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Excellent information. I see a couple of service dogs in my apartment building and when I go to the gym.