We receive many inquiries from people wondering if we can train their dog to be their service dog. Our process is extremely selective, and for good reason!
A service dog is given full public access rights, so they must be safe, non-disruptive, and helping their handler as needed even in the face of stress and high distraction. Very few dogs, especially those that weren't selected from puppyhood for this purpose and did not start training right away, fit this high criteria.
If you're interested in training your dog as a service dog, your first question needs to be this:
"Am I a candidate to have a service dog?"
A service dog is not a free ticket to take your dog everywhere. It's a responsibility and a privilege designated for those that truly rely on their canine partner to assist them.
Do you have…
- An ADA-recognized disability?
- 12-18 months to commit to the training process?
- A home conducive to keeping the training in place? (Example: if you have multiple other dogs in the home that bark excessively or display aggressive behavior, you run the risk of your service dog picking up unwanted behaviors.)
- The financial means to afford training, or a commitment to fundraise for some or all of the cost?
If your answer to all of the above is yes, it's time to look at your dog. This article is specifically for those of you interested in training an existing dog in your home; it's worth noting that in many cases, we recommend starting from scratch with a carefully selected puppy.
Is my dog a candidate for service dog work?
So, you've determined you're a candidate to train your dog as a service dog. Is your dog cut out for the job? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Is my dog…
- Outgoing and friendly with all people?
- Friendly or neutral towards other animals?
- Healthy and with good physical structure?
- Comfortable around loud noises, traffic, and distraction?
- Quiet, even when excited?
Is my dog…
- Suspicious of strangers?
- Easily startled?
- Overly excited or frustrated when in the presence of other dogs?
- Prone to aggression in any circumstance?
- Fearful of new places, people, or animals?
There are certain issues that training can mitigate, such as excitability seeing people or other animals, inappropriate sniffing or item snatching, or pulling on leash.
But if you have a dog that's generally predisposed to being fearful, suspicious, or aggressive, it's unfair to you, your dog, and the public at large to attempt to fit that dog into the mold of a service animal.
This is why it's critical to involve your trainer in the puppy or dog selection process before you acquire your future service dog, whenever possible. They can help you select a breed that's appropriate for your lifestyle and training goals, as well as select the right puppy from a litter. It's one of the best ways to maximize your chances of success.