Service Dog Training: Questions and Answers
7 min read
Our pet dogs are a crucial part of our lives. But service dogs have a much more important role to play. Their duty is to perform various life-critical tasks for people with disabilities and this is the main reason why it’s absolutely necessary to train the service dog properly.
However, not many people understand the basics of service animal training. If you too don’t know where to start, be sure you’re not alone. Luckily, it’s not difficult to get a knack of service dog training rules. All you will need is gathered below. See our Q&A section to find the answers to the most common questions of future service dog owners.
FAQ: Essence of service dog training
Training of a service dog requires specific actions and approaches.
Service dog ownership has become a widespread practice among people with disabilities but the problems associated with the lack of service animal training are just as numerous. The next FAQ will explain why proper preparation of a service dog is a vital consideration for every disabled person.
Can any pet dog become a service dog for a person with disabilities?
Service dogs may have different backgrounds. Some of such companions are raised and trained specifically for this particular task, while others may be tasked to learn the necessary things only when such need arises. Still, other dogs are initially taken as pets and start their service work only after specific training.
Nevertheless, what you should understand is that not all pet dogs are suitable for the role of a service animal. On the contrary, the odds that some pet dog (even a well-mannered and good-natured one) will become a great service animal are minimal.
And even after continuous training, such dogs simply won’t be able to perform the necessary tasks appropriately. They are just not fit for this duty and that’s the key reason why such things as dog breed and temperament can make all the difference when you want a dog to become a service animal.
What kind of skills should a service dog learn during training?
There are no identical dogs, so the range of performed tasks and commands may differ.
Every service dog owner is different. Therefore, what works for one person may not be necessary for the other, so the range of tasks and commands your dog should perform may differ from case to case.
Although the ADA doesn’t have any particular demands for service dog training, it would come in handy if your dog can reliably fulfill the next essential tasks. It must be able to:
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- Respond to such tasks as “stay”, “wait”, “sit”, “down”, “look”, “come”, “leave it”, etc.
- Compensate the person’s inability to do some daily duties on one’s own by performing various basic everyday tasks.
- Help you find something that you have lost which makes it impossible for you to carry out usual daily tasks.
- Behave appropriately (know good manners and show affection for its owner).
What is just as important is to train your dog to behave properly in public places. In this regard, it’s critical to make your dog learn basic patterns of acceptable behavior. And before you give your dog a special status of a service animal, it might first be necessary to check if it has learned everything it needs to live up to its new role.
The most important part, however, is to make sure your dog can meet your specific needs depending on what impairments you have and what kind of assistance you require.
Do you need to get a license to perform training of a service dog?
Federal law of the United States presupposes that a service animal is the one that provides support to a person with disabilities by performing certain life-critical tasks. However, the law doesn’t mention how this animal is to be trained. As a result, it’s not impossible to train a service dog even if you don’t have a certificate or license.
Nonetheless, in some districts of the country, you might not be granted a right to access a full range of privileges if your service dog isn’t sufficiently trained. Therefore, to find out whether you’ll have access rights as a private service dog trainer, you need to learn more about the exact regulations in your particular state. If your rights in the given region are limited, it might be necessary to first get legal permission (license) before you start the service dog training program.
What behavior is out of bounds for a service dog?
There are limitations that do not allow all the dogs to undergo training and work after it.
If you want your dog to be accepted in all public places without causing disruption in these areas, you as a service dog owner should know which patterns of behavior are allowed and which ones are prohibited. The limitations to your dog’s behavior may include the next things:
- Showing aggression or violence towards strangers
- Too much barking
- Biting passersby
- Snapping or growling in public areas
- Jumping on people around
- Begging something
- Smelling other people.
In basic terms, the training of your service dog must include three basic steps:
- Teaching obedience
- Teaching your dog to perform specific tasks
- Teaching your service animal to behave in public.
Only after these stages of training are completed, you’ll be able to give your dog a new title – a well-trained service animal.
How long does it take to train a service dog?
In most cases, service dogs can be fully trained for their new role within a period of 1-2 years. Guide dogs, for example, typically start training at a young age – 7-8 weeks old. And when they get a bit older and reach the age of 14-18 months, they can move on to more advanced training programs.
Overall, the exact length of training may differ from case to case depending on the age of your dog and your specific needs. On the whole, a year or two is an average period throughout which a service dog can learn all the things it will need during its career.
How much does it cost to train a service dog?
If you are a private service dog trainer, your costs will be significantly lower than those paid for program training. The list of expenses that you’ll need to cover throughout 2 years of training includes:
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- $100 purchase cost
- $2,000 for veterinary services
- $2,000 general training costs
- $100 to get proper equipment for a service dog
- $1,000 for feeding and treats
However, these are only basic expenses while the total costs will be many times higher. You should therefore be prepared to pay a high price for the privilege of service dog ownership.
And it’s also true that it might be equally expensive to get a service dog from a professional breeder. That’s exactly why many people prefer to take a dog from shelter and then train it to perform specific tasks on their own. In any case, you should make your final decision based on what works best for you in particular.
Keep in mind that a great portion of expenses would go to professional puppy raisers who are supposed to teach your dog specific manners and commands that it will need throughout service work.
On the other hand, some service dog training programs are supported with charitable donations. This might give you a chance to pay a much lower price than usual.
Why is service dog training so important?
The importance of service dog training cannot be overestimated.
If you want to enter all public places with your dog without exceptions, you should make sure it doesn’t misbehave in public areas. This could be challenging so this is where proper service dog training comes into play.
The need to train your dog is based on a simple fact – the legal rules say that if your service dog is disobedient, the public facility can reject you the right to enter the place with your dog. In fact, they have a legal excuse to deny you such a privilege and that’s why you should know your responsibilities very well. They include:
- To ensure proper supervision over your animal
- To keep your service dog under control at all times
- To guarantee that the dog doesn’t display unacceptable behavior like barking or jumping on people
- To make sure your animal doesn’t pose a direct threat to the safety and wellbeing of other people
- To use a harness or leash to keep your animal under control
- To make sure your dog is vaccinated properly according to the state laws.
If you know your responsibilities, you’ll hardly face any problems throughout your life with a service dog so don’t ignore the need to learn more about the existing rules before you enroll in the training program.
It's always good to have your service dog trained by professionals.
Summing up everything we have told you earlier, a candidate for the role of a service dog must:
- Be calm and well-mannered even in unfamiliar environments
- Be watchful and always alert
- Have a desire to please its handler
- Be willing to learn new things and use the learned skills
- Be susceptible to training and socialization
- Act reliably and be ready to perform different tasks repetitively.
And although the Federal Law doesn’t oblige you to train your service dog professionally, it’s always a good idea to enroll in a professional program rather than do everything on your own. This will guarantee that your dog is fully trained and can perform its duties flawlessly in all situations.