Getting a dog trained to be a service dog by a professional can be an expensive endeavor. In most cases, it can cost up to fifty to seventy-thousand dollars to get a dog trained to be a service dog. But this does not mean that a handler is doomed to be without a service animal if they cannot afford the training. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require that a service animal be trained by a professional program or service. It is within a handler’s rights to train their dog to be a service animal themselves.
In this post, we will share some tips on how to train your service dog without using a professional agency or training service.
One of the first things to consider when training a service dog is the breed of dog you will use. While any dog breed has the potential to be a good fit for service dog work, there are some breeds that tend to have the right temperament and trainability. Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Labradoodles, Poodles, and others are considered good for service dog work. For more information, please read the American Kennel Club article about popular service dog breeds. You may want to consider these breeds if you have not yet obtained a pup to train.
The next thing you will want to do is identify whether your dog displays the temperament needed to be a successful service dog. In addition, you’ll want to take your dog to the vet to be thoroughly evaluated for any physical conditions that would disqualify them for service dog work. There are many factors to consider when it comes to a dog’s temperament, but the key characteristics a service dog should exhibit are:
- Being calm
- Being eager to please
- Being alert, but not reactive (such as overreacting to stimuli)
- Willing and able to learn
- Being human-focused
Once you have determined that your pup is ready to be a service dog, you can start training. You will want to use a positive reinforcement method which is used by New Life K9s. Check out some good books about positive reinforcement here.
Below are some tips to get you and your service dog trainee ready for service dog work.
Be prepared for the time it will take to train
One thing to keep in mind when training your own service dog is that it will take time, practice, and patience. Typically training a dog to be a service animal takes no less than 120 hours of training in a time span of at least six months. You will also have to spend at least 30 hours training in public. There is no fast and easy solution to training a dog to be a service dog, so remember to work hard and be patient. Your dog is learning so keep training fun and positive.
Get the foundation down
The first training you will want to start with are the basics, especially if your dog is a puppy. The first thing is to get house training down. You want to make sure your dog will not relieve themselves wherever or whenever they like. You can do this by training them to eliminate on command and in various locations.
Socialize them properly
One of the most important aspects of training a service dog is to socialize them. You want to make sure your pup gets accustomed to a plethora of stimuli. Get your dog used to all sorts of sights, sounds, smells, people, animals, and other such distractions. If possible, take your pup to different locations and expose them to different situations. The point of this is to get your pup to eventually be unphased by distractions. This will help the dog focus on the task on hand even if the sky is falling down.
Make sure they behave properly
In order to be a service dog and to be in public spaces where regular pets aren't usually allowed, your pup must be trained to act properly. You will want to make sure that your pup exhibits proper behavior while out in public, including:
- Not being aggressive to people or other pets
- Not urinating or defecating anywhere including marking territory
- Not sniffing items such as merchandise in public spaces
- Not begging for food or staring while people eat
- Not begging for attention or to be pet
- Not barking or vocalizing while in a public place
- Becoming an unobtrusive help-mate
These ordinary dog behaviors need to be under wraps when it comes to your service dog being out in public. It is extremely important for your pup to be well-behaved while he or she is out on duty.
Train them to do work and perform tasks for your disability
The final step and also a vital one is to remember that under the ADA, a service dog is a dog that is trained to do work or perform tasks for someone with a disability. In order to be considered a service animal, protected under ADA law, you must train your dog to perform specific tasks for your disability. The work and the tasks that your dog will perform will be specific to you, so keep in mind what tasks your dog will need to know to help mitigate your specific symptoms.
Of course, we suggest you consult with a professional trainer or canine behaviorist before you begin your journey into training your own service dog. The reason we say this is because training your own service dog is incredibly challenging and will take a lot of work. Before you go out and acquire a dog to start training, talking to a trained professional will help you get a better understanding of what you’ll need to do and whether you are ready to commit to this.
There are also many resources online that will be useful for you. The American Kennel Club website is a wonderful resource for finding advice and resources on training, including a telephone hotline and great articles. Whether you decide to consult a professional or not, remember that training your own service dog will be incredibly challenging, take ample time, practice, and above all, patience.
Want to talk to our partner dog training program for professional dog training advice? Visit their website Gentle Touch Pet Training to learn more!
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- Karetnick, Jen. “Service Dogs 101: Everything You Need to Know about Service Dogs.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 7 Oct. 2021,
- “What Does it Take to Train a Service Dog? Time, Patience and Expertise. Medical Mutts.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the Ada,|
- Bauhaus, Jean. “Most Popular Service Dog Breeds.” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 5 Oct. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/most-popular-service-dog-breeds/