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How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog: A Guide

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.

Author
Susana Bradford
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February 20, 2024
February 4, 2023
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5 minutes
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February 4, 2023
August 18, 2021
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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.

How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog

To make your dog a service dog, start with thorough training in basic obedience commands. Next, focus on specialized training based on the specific service task your dog will perform. Remember to provide ongoing socialization, expose your dog to various environments, and maintain regular veterinary care. Lastly, familiarize yourself with relevant laws and regulations to understand your rights and responsibilities as a service dog handler. Be sure to consult with a professional trainer and healthcare professional to ensure you meet legal requirements.

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.

Requirements to Make Your Dog a Service Dog

If you already have a canine companion, you can make them a service dog in just two steps: get diagnosed with a qualifying disability and train your dog to perform specific tasks related to the disorder. With the help of the trained professionals at Pettable, you can convert your furry friend into a working dog quickly and easily.

1. Determine If You Have a Qualifying Disability

First, you must be diagnosed with a qualifying condition, either physical or psychological, by a healthcare professional. At Pettable, our licensed mental health professionals (LMPH) can diagnose your mental health disorder with ease, while a primary care physician can attest to any physical disabilities.

2. Train Your Service Dog

After you’ve been diagnosed and determined eligible for a service dog, the next step is to train your beloved canine companion for the job. You can choose to attend in-person classes, or for an easier experience, you can enroll in an online service dog training program.

Physical service dogs also need to complete training to provide guidance to the visually impaired, retrieve important items, or contact emergency medical services. This can consist of in-person training or online courses, as well.

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, convenient, and offers additional benefits to both human and canine.  

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 in a swift manner, 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 lets 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.

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 own mental health qualifications to set them at ease when in public or traveling.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford
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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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