What a Service Dog Is and Is Not

serviceanimalsI’m frequently asked to give training estimates for converting family pets into service dogs. And I always turn them down.

There are a multitude of dog trainers who will claim they can train your dog to be a “service dog”, and most of them are either ignorant of the regulations and legal requirements to title a service dog or are outright scam artists.
Service dog training can easily take two years or more, and requires an immense investment of time and money. Training dogs that are part way through their lifespan as service animals is typically a poor investment due to the few years of life remaining for the animal once the training is completed and official certification is obtained.

For example, if your dog is already four years old when you begin service dog training, and his/her total life expectancy is around 12 years, your dog may be six years old or more by the time you achieve a certification title. From that point, you have about six years of use left as a service dog, and in order to maintain a service animal you have to start over with training another dog within four years so it is ready by the time your first dog retires or moves on to the great pet resort in the sky.

We love our dogs, and many of us would love to be able to take our dogs with us everywhere we go. Many people assume that getting a service dog certification is the ideal way to gain government mandated privileges to take their dog into restaurants, on commercial airline flights, into hotels that otherwise ban pets, etc.

If that’s your reason for wanting your dog trained as a service dog, you are “barking up the wrong tree”.

Service dogs are animals that are medical necessities for people who have conditions that would otherwise limit there ability to leave their homes or engage in normal self reliance. They are dogs with specific jobs, to alert their masters or master’s caretakers of impending seizures, prevent anxiety, help persons with conditions like autism cope with social challenges, etc.

Seeing eye dogs are service dogs. Imagine the training time and expense that goes into one of those!

servicedogClaiming service animal status for a dog that is not a certified service dog is typically a violation of the law in most jurisdictions, and can be punishable by fines and even incarceration.

If you or a loved one have a dog that is relied upon for emotional support or other needs that do not rise to the level of the requirements for a service dog published by the ADA, you should check your state and local regulations regarding therapy or assistance animals.

Click here to read an excellent booklet from the ADA National Network that details the requirements for service animal designation, along with descriptions of other types of assistance animals such as therapy dogs which are not “service dogs” under the ADA regulations but may gain you access with your dog to some areas and businesses that allow these types of qualified dogs but otherwise ban pets.