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How to Get a Service Dog: The Ultimutt Guide
By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 06/18/2020, edited: 08/10/2021
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If you have a mental or physical disability, you might be wondering if you're eligible for a service dog. Service dogs are close companions to people with disabilities, helping them perform a wide range of essential tasks. Here's everything you need to know about getting a service dog and finding out if you qualify for a furry little helper.
What is a service dog?
As mentioned, a service dog is specially trained to assist people who have disabilities. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) states that any action performed by a service dog must be directly related to the individual's disability. For example, a service dog for someone with OCD might be trained to disrupt repetitive behavior. A guide dog for a blind person will help their owner navigate their surroundings.
There are several differences between an emotional support dog and a service dog. Individuals train service dogs to help people with disabilities perform specific tasks, while emotional support dogs only offer companionship and usually have no specialized training. Service dogs also have different legal protections than emotional support dogs. You can take your service almost anywhere you go, and most places can't legally deny access to your helpful pup. Meanwhile, the legal protection offered to emotional support dogs only covers living arrangements and air travel.
Common service dog breeds
Different breeds are better suited to specific tasks, so if you're buying a new furry friend for service training, you should check which breed fits your needs. Large dogs like Great Danes are perfect for wheelchair assistance, while Poodles are all-rounders who can be taught to sniff out low blood sugar levels, making them ideal for anyone with diabetes. If you're unsure what pup is best for you, the most common breeds of service dogs include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. These breeds are caring, quick learners who can master a variety of tasks.
Registration and certification
You might be surprised to learn that your pooch doesn't need to be registered or certified to be considered a service dog. If you have a service dog, you may find it worthwhile to register your woofer with an organization like USA Service Dogs or the United States Service Dog Registry as additional proof your pooch is properly trained.
To register your dog with one of these organizations, you'll need a doctor's certificate stating your disability and need for a service dog. Some people try to pass off their household pet as a service animal, causing issues for those who actually require help. By registering your animal, you'll have a much easier time traveling and entering public places. One "pawticularly" great way of helping others identify that your pooch is a service dog is by getting them a fluorescent vest stating their helper status.
Training a service dog
The cost of training is one of the biggest challenges of getting a service dog. For basic tasks, service dog training can take anywhere from 4 to 6 months. If your pooch needs more complex training for disabilities like blindness, the training process can take over 2 years. Most dog trainers who specialize in training services dogs charge between $150 and $250 an hour. Expenses can rack up fast, and depending on the required training, it could cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000.
If you can't afford the cost of training, you can always have a go at training your four-legged friend yourself. Firstly, you'll need to make sure your pup has the right temperament and doesn't get easily distracted or flustered. They should also be solely focused on their owner and should be able to retain information on different objects quickly. If you're unsure whether your canine compadre is suitable, use the AKC Canine Good Citizen training course as a guide.
Buying a service dog
In case you're short on time, or your current dog isn't a suitable candidate for training, you can also buy a service dog. Unfortunately, buying a service dog isn't any cheaper than training one. Purchasing a service dog is usually more expensive and can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 depending on your needs.
These mutts are more costly because they have to go through extensive training from puppyhood. Plus, these pooches tend to be more rigorously trained than older dogs and are in high demand.
Financial support for a service dog
Most people can't afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a service dog. Thankfully, there a few initiatives to help reduce this financial strain. Some nonprofit organizations like Assistance Dogs and Service Dogs of America provide people with grants to help pay for purchasing or training a dog.
Occasionally, non-profits will even provide a service animal free of charge. Some states, like California, offer assistance through programs like the Assistance Dog Special Allowance, which gives people with disabilities $50 a month to help keep costs down.
If you find you're not eligible for a grant, look into taking out a small loan, so you spread your payments out without having to spend thousands of dollars in one go.