I get a lot of questions about how clients should go about getting a service dog. Most ask for a recommendation for an organization that will pair them with a dog, thinking that this is the first step in their quest. It isn’t. The first stop you need to make on your journey will be the doctor’s office. Handling a service dog is often considerably more difficult than simply taking your dog with you everywhere.
The law requires that you consult with a medical professional to determine the best method to mitigate your disability. With all the inherent challenges of handling a service dog, another method is frequently the most efficient form of therapy. Handling a service dog takes a great deal of effort, dedication, and work. After you’ve spoken to your medical authority and have jointly determined that a service dog is the best course, it would be a good idea to have your doctor write a letter of recommendation or a prescription for a service dog, explaining your disability. THIS IS THE ONLY FORM OF LEGALLY RECOGNIZED SERVICE DOG IDENTIFICATION.
The next step is in finding a trainer! You have choices! (Yay choices!) A trainer is necessary to help you understand and identify how a dog might reasonably be expected to help you mitigate your disability. Doctors and other handlers often do not fully understand the capabilities and limitations of a service dog. Trainers are the best resource for identifying which tasks might be most helpful to you and which tasks might be too much for a dog.
- Consider the benefits of a program-trained dog. These trainers have lots of generalized experience in training common types of service dogs. Most programs are specialized for one or two types of service dog and train the dog using standardized methods. Programs often have scholarships and waitings lists. The direct cost of program dogs is usually highest.
- Privately trained service dogs are usually acquired through an individual trainer contacted privately by the person in need. Private trainers can provide a variety of services and specialize the dog’s training to the unique needs of the client. The cost of a privately trained service dog varies considerably between trainers.
- Owner trained service dogs are a legal option in the United States. According to the ADA, there is no specific TYPE of training or testing that a dog must adhere to in order to be considered a legitimate service dog. We won’t argue the benefits and detriment of that law here. We WILL say that you MUST be medically disabled, your dog MUST mitigate that disability, and your dog MUST represent service dogs favorably. Owners are permitted to privately train their own service dogs with or without professional help. The cost of owner-training is largely dependent on the owner’s past experience, dedication to learning training methods, and planning. It bears mentioning that owner training is NOT always the least expensive method.
After you’ve decided on your method of training, find a trainer! I have another post that details things to look for in a trainer.
Lots of our clients adopt or buy a dog well in advance of finding a trainer. While I don’t advise this, many private trainers will evaluate a prospect before training as a service dog. The evaluation itself can be accomplished before adoption or purchase of a dog. We offer free service dog evaluation services. Please call, email, or message us for more information. Adoption or purchase of a prospect should be the last step before training begins. Due to the “wash out” rate (the prominence of wonderful dogs who are unable to succeed as service dogs), I highly recommend considering a foster-to-adopt if a client is considering adopting a prospect.