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How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog

To make your dog a service dog, start with basic obedience training, teaching commands like sit, stay, and heel. Then, gradually expose the dog to various environments and distractions, reinforcing desired behaviors, and finally, provide specialized training based on the specific needs of the individual who will benefit from the service dog's assistance.

Susana Bradford
April 11, 2024
February 4, 2023
10 minute read
Updated By
Kristi Carignan
April 10, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:
February 4, 2023
August 18, 2021
10 minute read
April 10, 2024
A service dog can be invaluable for those who live with a mental health or physical disability. This guide will teach you how to make your pet a service dog.

Millions of Americans live with a physical or mental health disorder that affects their everyday lives and makes everything from work to recreation a struggle. However, many individuals find great benefits in having a trained physical or psychiatric service dog. Dog lovers with disabilities might be surprised to find out that they can train their canine companions to fill the role of service dog, strengthening the bond between them in the process.

Let’s learn how to make your dog a service dog so you can start experiencing an easier and more fulfilling life.

Can I Make My Dog a Service Dog?

Yes, as long as you have a mental or physical disability that can benefit from a service dog you can train it to be a service dog. It's a good idea to get confirmation of your eligibility from a licensed medical professional to document your need for a service dog. Afterward, simply seek out training for your service dog, there are lots of options out there, even ones that enable you to train a service dog on your own!

How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog

Understanding how to make your dog a service animal involves careful consideration of your eligibility, thorough training, and adherence to legal guidelines. Here are the essential steps to guide you through the process:

  • Determine Eligibility: Ensure that you have a qualifying disability recognized under the law. This may include physical, sensory, psychiatric, or other impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities.
  • Assess Your Dog's Suitability: Evaluate your dog's temperament, trainability, and physical capabilities to determine if they are suitable for service work. Service dogs must exhibit calmness, focus, and willingness to learn.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: Consult with professionals experienced in service dog training. They can provide valuable insights into the training process, assess your dog's potential, and offer guidance on selecting appropriate tasks to mitigate your disability.
  • Choose a Training Approach: Decide whether you will self-train your dog, enroll them in a professional training program, or adopt a hybrid approach combining both methods. Each approach has its advantages and challenges, so choose based on your preferences, resources, and the needs of your dog.
  • Train Your Dog: Implement a structured training plan tailored to your dog's abilities and your specific disability-related needs. Focus on teaching tasks that directly assist you in overcoming limitations imposed by your disability.
  • Socialize Your Dog: Expose your dog to various environments, people, and situations to ensure they remain calm and focused in different contexts. Socialization is crucial for service dogs to perform effectively in public settings.
  • Understand Legal Rights and Responsibilities: Familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations governing service dogs in your area. Understand your rights as a handler and the obligations that come with having a service dog in public spaces.
  • Maintain Ongoing Training and Care: Service dog training is an ongoing process that requires consistent reinforcement and practice. Continuously reinforce desired behaviors and address any challenges that arise during training.

Confirm Your Eligibility with a Medical Consultation

Before making your dog a service dog, confirm your eligibility by obtaining a formal diagnosis of your disability from a medical professional. While not mandatory, a letter from your healthcare provider can strengthen your case. If unsure about your eligibility, seek a medical consultation for clarity. Pettable offers medical consultations to assess your eligibility and provide tailored guidance. This step ensures you meet the criteria for obtaining a service dog, laying the foundation for a successful partnership.

Train Your Service Dog

Once eligibility is confirmed and you've decided to proceed with making your dog a service dog, training becomes paramount. This involves teaching specific tasks such as retrieving items, providing mobility assistance, alerting to sounds or changes, and offering emotional support. Training focuses on positive reinforcement to ensure reliable performance in various environments. The next section will delve into training specifics, including key considerations and techniques to meet your needs.

Educate Yourself on Local and Federal Laws

Understanding legal rights and responsibilities when making your dog a service dog is crucial. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) grants service dogs access to public spaces, while other federal laws like the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protect air travel rights. State and local laws may also apply, covering service dog-in-training regulations and penalties for misrepresentation. Familiarizing yourself with these laws empowers you to advocate confidently as a service dog handler.

No Service Dog Registration/Certification is Required

No official government registration or certification process exists for service dogs in the US. While organizations may offer these services, they aren't legally required and don't grant extra rights. The ADA prohibits businesses from asking for proof of certification. Service dogs are defined by their training, not registration. Focus on training your service dog instead of seeking unnecessary credentials.

Key Considerations Before Making Your Dog a Service Dog

If you're considering turning your existing canine companion into a service dog, there are a couple of important steps to consider. Firstly, you'll need to be diagnosed with a qualifying disability. Secondly, your dog will need to undergo training to perform specific tasks related to your disorder. With assistance from trained professionals, like those at Pettable, the process of transitioning your furry friend into a working dog can be made simpler and more efficient.

Do You Have a Qualifying Disability?

One consideration before getting a service dog is whether you have a qualifying disability. Service dogs are trained to assist individuals with various disabilities, such as:

  • Mobility impairments, including those who use wheelchairs or have difficulty walking
  • Visual impairments or blindness
  • Hearing impairments or deafness
  • Psychiatric disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, or depression
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Diabetes, where the dog can detect changes in blood sugar levels
  • Epilepsy, where the dog can alert to seizures

These are just a few examples, but there are many other disabilities for which a service dog can provide invaluable assistance. 

Is Your Dog Fit to be a Service Dog?

How to make a dog a service dog involves confirming eligibility, training diligently, and understanding relevant laws and regulations. Here are key factors to consider:

  • Trainability: Service dogs require extensive training to perform specific tasks reliably. Assess your dog's willingness to learn and follow commands consistently.
  • Size: The size of your dog can impact its suitability for certain tasks and environments. While there's no specific size requirement, larger dogs may be better suited for tasks requiring physical assistance, while smaller dogs might be preferred for tasks in confined spaces.
  • Temperament: A service dog must have a calm, patient, and adaptable temperament. They should remain focused on their tasks even in challenging situations. Evaluate your dog's temperament and behavior in various environments and social settings.
  • Health: Ensure your dog is in good physical health to handle the demands of being a service dog. Regular veterinary check-ups and proper nutrition are essential for maintaining your dog's well-being.

How Will You Train Your Service Dog?

When considering training for your service dog, it's important to explore the various options available. Here are some potential approaches:

  • Self-Training: Some individuals choose to train their service dogs themselves. This option allows for a strong bond to develop between the owner and the dog. However, it requires dedication, time, and knowledge of proper training techniques.
  • Professional Training Programs: Enrolling your dog in a professional training program conducted by certified trainers can provide structured and comprehensive instruction. These programs often offer personalized training plans tailored to the specific needs of you and your dog.
  • Hybrid Approach: Combining self-training with professional guidance can be an effective approach. You can learn foundational training techniques on your own while seeking guidance from experienced trainers for more advanced tasks.
  • Online Resources: There are numerous online resources, including tutorials, videos, and forums, that offer guidance on service dog training. While these resources can be helpful supplements, it's essential to ensure they come from reputable sources and are based on positive reinforcement methods.

How to Train Your Dog to be a Service Dog

If you have experience in dog training, you might have an advantage, but anyone can train their dog to be a service animal. In-person training programs might be good for dogs who need extra attention, but they can be a bit more expensive than other options. Online service dog training is typically more cost-effective and convenient, and offers additional benefits to both humans and canines.  

Online Service Dog Training Programs

Choosing an online dog training program has many benefits. In addition to being more convenient, it can grow the bond between owner and dog, taking their relationship to another level of connection. It’s also a great option for anyone who has trouble leaving the house, whether due to physical disabilities or mental health challenges.

At Pettable, our online psychiatric service dog training program is built for flexibility, so you can take the course at a pace that fits your dog and your lifestyle. The video service will train your dog to perform the tasks that you need to improve your day-to-day life and to intervene in the case of an emergency. You can trust our trained professionals to give your dog the training it needs to support you in any way you need. Plus, we offer a 100% money-back guarantee, so you have nothing to lose!

In-person Service Dog Training

In-person service dog training may take place in a dedicated dog training facility. Some dog trainers will also come to the owner’s home and work with them and their dog one-on-one. This type of training can often teach a dog to perform as a service dog faster than other methods, however, it is often costly and some dogs may not be able to keep up with the pace of in-person training. Additionally, some dogs may benefit from learning commands directly from their handler and be more apt to perform when needed as opposed to those learning from a separate trainer.

Did You Know?

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and are legally granted access to places where pets are prohibited, such as airplane cabins, storefronts and restaurants. Find out more

What to Expect from Service Dog Training

Over the course of both virtual and in-person training courses, the dog owner will start with basic obedience, such as proper sitting behavior and how to avoid barking. From there, the dog will be trained in more specific tasks related to alleviating symptoms of mental disorders, such as performing deep pressure therapy during the onset of a panic attack.

Instructors often recommend luring with treats and using a clicker to mark particular behaviors during service dog training.

This approach helps train service dogs because it creates more clarity (it reinforces behaviors the owner wants the dog to perform) without relying on punishing behaviors that can potentially harm the dog or damage its relationship with the owner.

Purchasing a Service Dog

Another way to get a service dog is to purchase one from a breeder.

Some dog breeders specifically breed dogs with the intention of training them to be service dogs.

These breeders use ethical breeding practices to increase the chances that their dogs will be healthy and have a good temperament. They will also handle the training process before selling them. Unfortunately, this option is often too expensive for many in need of a service dog (typically ranging between $10,000 and $50,000) and may not be ideal for someone who already has a dog in their life.

Service Dog Qualifications

To qualify for a service dog, you must have a mental or physical health condition that limits at least one activity in your life.

According to the ADA, service dogs do not have to undergo a specific professional training program or be certified by a particular organization but they must be trained to perform in the event of a mental health crisis and must be obedient enough to not cause any disruption or harm to people or property when in public. Service dogs do not need to wear a vest or another type of identification showing they’re service dogs either.

States and cities may have laws that require service dogs to be licensed and vaccinated. They may also offer voluntary service dog registration programs. However, they cannot require service dogs to be certified or registered, nor can they ban them because they’re a specific breed.

Service Dog Tasks

A service dog helps its owner manage the symptoms of their mental or physical disability. The following are some examples of service dog tasks:

  • Remind people to take their medication or even retrieve it for them
  • Provide support for a physical disability
  • Act as a guide dog for people with vision impairments
  • Lick someone’s hand to let them know they’re about to experience a panic attack
  • Use deep pressure therapy (DPT) — applying pressure with its body — to help someone with anxiety calm down
  • Nudges someone with their nose to prevent them from engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Circling someone to create personal space around them

Service dogs are often trained to assist those with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. However, they can also help with other diagnosable mental health conditions.

What is a Service Dog?

In simple terms, a service dog is a working animal that’s been trained to help its owner navigate life. Whether it’s providing physical assistance or helping relieve mental and emotional disorder symptoms, a service dog can do more than the average pet. For those struggling with their mental health, a psychiatric service dog can make a great difference through performing tasks and providing love and affection. Many individuals living with physical disabilities can find their lives made a bit easier with the assistance of a service dog, which can pick up objects, guide a visually impaired owner, or intervene in case of an emergency.

What Is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a working dog that helps its owner perform specific tasks related to their mental health condition. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a PSD can make everyday life, both at home and in public, easier. These working dogs are permitted to accompany their owners in places where pets aren’t typically allowed, such as restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and medical facilities. They are also allowed to live with their owner in housing that has a “no pet” policy, and in many cases, accompany them in air travel.

Psychiatric Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Animals (PSD vs. ESA)

A psychiatric service dog differs from an emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs help people feel more relaxed or comforted with their presence and also require a handler’s qualified diagnosis from a mental health professional. However, they aren’t legally protected the same way PSDs and other service dogs are. 

In regards to housing, both Emotional Support Animals and Psychiatric Service Dogs are protected by law to live with their handler in spite of property rules, provided they do not pose an unreasonable disruption to other tenants or cause property damage. Emotional support animals, however, are not typically allowed to travel in a cabin on an airplane with their handler, per the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA.) Psychiatric service dogs are also required to undergo more intense training than ESAs and must be able to assist their handler in the event of a mental health emergency while remaining well-behaved at all other times.

How to Certify a Service Dog

Many online and in-person trainers offer service dog certification programs. Once you and your dog complete one of these programs, you will receive a certificate or other document showing that your dog has been trained to perform a specific task for you. It is important to note, however, that no official certification is required to possess a service dog. It only must undertake service dog training and have learned tasks related to the betterment of its owner’s mental or physical health.

How to Register a Service Dog

Legally, you do not need to register a service dog to have one and take them with you in public spaces. However, one may opt to receive a letter, ID card, or additional documentation describing their dog’s training and their mental health qualifications to set them at ease when in public or traveling. Beware of sites online offering registration or certification that guarantees service dog status, as that's simply not the case. These websites are often illegitimate and pose as federal service dog registration sites. Know that there is no official federal service dog registration, as it is not a legal requirement.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

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