Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How To Get Your Dog To Be A Service Dog

What is the process for training my dog to become a service dog? What sort of programs are available?
I foster strays and am interested in training them as service dogs. I would be interested in therapy, guide dog training, service dog training, or anything else along those lines. Does anyone know any resources?
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If you are not in the U.S., then generally you would have to work for an ADI recognized program. In the U.S., private trainers are permitted, but are uncommon.

Most dogs aren't suited for service work. Paws with a Cause did a study showing that among rescues only one dog in a hundred was able to complete screening and training.

Before you start training you have to temperament test. Service work is extremely stressful and requires a very very sound dog. Most rescues are going to come with some baggage. It wouldn't be fair to put a dog with baggage into a highly stressful career.

Then you do health clearances, including OFAs on hips, elbows, thyroid and cardiac, plus a CERF. It takes two years to train a service animal and the investment in time and expenses runs into thousands of dollars. It just isn't practical to start training a dog without the health checks and risk putting all that training into a dog who has to retire early because of a health issue. These aren't pets, they are working dogs. They have to be healthy enough to work.

If you really want to learn to train service dogs professionally, there is no way around it. You have to apprentice with a good program under trainers already experienced in training service dogs. It is significantly more involved than training pets to have good manners or even training a dog for obedience competition.

Individuals with disabilities may choose to train service dogs for themselves, but those who would train them for others really need the credentials and those only come from real experience with an established program.

Guide dogs are probably the most difficult to train and there are so many really good schools out there, like the Seeing Eye or Guide Dogs for the Blind, that private trainers of guide dogs aren't really sought out. In fact, in some states it is illegal to train guide dogs for others without a special license.

You mentioned therapy. That's really different. It's more achievable. More dogs would be capable of doing it because there are no health clearances and the training is minimal. Note: therapy dogs are pets who visit facilities like hospitals or nursing homes to cheer up the residents, while a service dog is partnered with a person who is legally disabled. So you'd either have to do it with your own pets, or start a local program to help others get their dogs certified and coordinate visiting programs for the group.

I'll tell you what is really needed, that would fit beautifully with rescue dogs. Emotional Support Animals. You'd have to become an advocate as well, but the training is basic. They just need good manners, like not barking all night or pooping everywhere. Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (in the U.S.) people with disabilities and the elderly are permitted to keep well-behaved pets, called emotional support animals, even if their landlord has a "no pets" rule. We know how much an animal can give to people in isolation or chronic pain. They can be lifesavers. All that is needed is a letter from a doctor recommending the person have an Emotional Support Animal.

Start with some therapy dogs doing visits to skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes, as well as psychiatric wards, to establish yourself with the medical providers of potential recipients of your emotional support animals. Let the doctors, etc., see first hand just how beneficial interaction with an animal can be to their patients, then suggest you are prepared to help individual patients find a suitable partner for an ESA.

I don't know of anyone specifically targeting that market. It seems ideal to me, though, because both the animals and the humans are being rescued in such a situation, by each other. It can make for some really incredible bonds.

If you still want to pursue the service dog thing, enroll at the Assistance Dog Institute ( or apprentice with an ADI (Assistance Dog International) accredited program. You can find a listing of ADI members here:http://www.assistancedogsinternational.o…

If you want to learn more about therapy dogs, try one of these sites:

If you want to learn more about emotional support dogs, try wikipedia or Service Dog Central (…

Pit Bull service dog tricks and tasks (Tauri). Purchase book to train your dog at

how to get your dog to be a service dog

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