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Pitbull Service Dog - Everything You Need to Know

Pitbulls have the potential to make great service dogs. Find out how you can have a pit bull service dog and your protection under the ADA and FHA.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

Service dogs have an integral role in managing their owners' needs. While service dogs typically come from certain breeds, many unexpected breeds can be an excellent choice to provide these essential services. Owners of pitbulls have long been advocates of this breed's gentle and loyal demeanor and advocate that they are an excellent choice to function as service dogs.

This guide will provide essential information on service animals and specific information about having a pitbull service dog.

The Bottom Line

  • What are service dogs? - Service dogs receive specialized training to assist their handlers with disabilities or difficulties, whether emotional, physical, or mental. 
  • Why pitbulls as service dogs? - Pitbulls are powerful, intelligent, and caring animals that can efficiently perform many tasks.  
  • How to get a pitbull service dog - You will need to meet with a qualified healthcare professional to ensure you qualify. 
  • What's the difference between a service dog vs. ESA? - Service animals receive special training to perform specific tasks, while emotional support animals do not receive extra training. 

What Are Service Dogs?

A service dog is a highly trained animal that can assist people with various physical or mental disabilities or impairments. A service dog learns to perform tasks specific to the person they will serve. To be designated as a service dog, their tasks must be directly related to their owner's disability.

Why Pitbulls Make Great Service Dogs

While some breeds, such as German shepherds and golden retrievers, are frequently seen working as service dogs, it is a misperception that only a few breeds are fit to provide these services. Though certain characteristics are common to specific breeds, dogs have individual personalities, just like people. Any dog breed can be a service dog, including pitbulls.

People have concerns that because some pitbull breeds have been fighting dogs, they have innately aggressive behavior. However, pitty breed advocates would argue that any animal raised with aggression will respond with aggression. There are many reasons that pitbulls can make great service dog candidates.

Physical Strength

There are many pitbull breeds, including the American pitbull terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier, and all have an impressive, muscular physique. They are powerful animals. Some pitbulls, such as the American Staffordshire Terrier, were initially bred to work on farms. This work ethic can make a pitbull service dog an ideal choice for people with a disability that results in mobility issues or reduced strength.

Intelligence

Most pitbull breeds are known to have average to above-average intelligence. All pet owners know how challenging it can be to train a dog to perform simple tasks like sitting on command and coming when called. Service dogs must perform tasks that are infinitely more difficult to learn and require a high level of intelligence.

Perhaps the most challenging task a service dog learns in its training is to perform is what is known as intelligent refusal. An intelligent refusal is when the dog must learn to recognize situations in which they need to refuse a command that a handler is directing them to follow. For instance, a handler instructs a service dog to walk forward in a situation that would make that action dangerous for them.

Ease of Motivation

Pitbulls are notorious for their willingness to do anything for a snack. Pitbull owners often have to be cautious with food allowances, or the animals will tend toward obesity, especially as they age. This high level of food motivation makes training these animals to be service dogs easier to handle. Combined with its intelligence, a pitbull's responsiveness to food rewards allows it to learn even more complex behaviors quickly.

Pitbull breeds are also well known for having deep attachments to their owners. They naturally seek affection and approval from their handlers. Trainers often find that dogs of this breed only require positive affirmation and praise.

Moderate Size

It is vital that service dogs accompany their handlers anywhere they go as they perform essential tasks. Despite their heavy musculature, pitbulls tend to be moderately sized service animals. Their size permits them to accompany their owners to public places and on various modes of transportation unobtrusively.

There are several pitbull breeds, and they vary in size. The Staffordshire bull terrier is one of the smaller pitbulls, weighing between 24 and 38 pounds. The American bully and the American pitbull terrier range between 30 and 60 pounds. The most substantial pitbull is the American Staffordshire terrier, weighing as much as 70 pounds.

Emotional Intuition

Pitbull owners are quick to point out the emotional intelligence of the breed. They report that these canines seem to intuit their emotional state and respond accordingly. This trait gives pitbulls the potential to be effective service dogs for those with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. A psychiatric service dog must recognize when its handler's emotions or mental state begin to alter to engage in behaviors that alert the handler to imminent instability.

Pitbull Service Dog

What Tasks Can a Pitbull Perform?

A pitbull can complete any tasks required of a service animal. Its moderate size makes it especially helpful in performing tasks that require strength and body weight.

Carrying and Retrieval

While fetching is a skill many dogs learn, a pitbull service dog can learn to retrieve items specific to its handler's unique needs. Trainers can also teach the dogs to fetch critical medication, necessary medical devices or even people to help their handler in an episode.

A pitbull is strong enough to pull a wheelchair for its handler or carry heavy items such as a backpack or a bag of groceries.

Bracing

A pitbull's strength allows it to provide various bracing services for its handler. This muscular service dog can withstand enough weight to allow a handler to lean on it to go up a flight of stairs, get out of a bathtub or regain their balance while walking.

Guiding and Blocking

Pitbulls are tall and heavy enough to guide their handlers by applying pressure to their body. A pitbull service dog can effectively move a person out of the path of moving objects. They can also block their handlers from wandering into unseen dangers, such as open stairwells or busy intersections.

Alerting

Pitbulls have excellent hearing and can be the ears for handlers with hearing impairment. Trainers can teach them to wake their handlers when the alarm goes off in the morning, let them know when the phone is ringing, or alert them that someone is at the door. Highly trained pitbull service dogs can even let their handler know when someone is calling their name or if another person has entered the room.

Providing Deep Pressure

Pitbulls are physically affectionate dogs and very comfortable with touch. Their moderate weight makes them a good choice for handlers with disabilities that are helped by applying deep pressure. Many psychiatric service dogs provide deep pressure to handlers dealing with PTSD or extreme anxiety to assist them in calming themselves. Pitbulls also use their body weight to help people in dissociative episodes to reconnect with reality.

How To Get a Pitbull Service Dog

To qualify for a service animal, you must meet the physical, emotional, or psychological criteria laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. You will need documentation from your physician for physical disabilities or licensed mental health professionals for mental health disabilities. Pettable can help you qualify by connecting you to a licensed medical health provider and issuing a certification letter to prove your need. Our helpful website makes the process clear and straightforward.

Complete Our Assessment

Your first step is to take a simple assessment to help us understand your current needs. Let us know if you need a PSD letter to help with housing or travel and your timeline.

Consult With a Therapist

Your next step is to get matched with a licensed mental health professional. This qualified practitioner can assess you to determine that you qualify for a psychiatric service dog.

Get a Psychiatric Service Letter

After your evaluation, your mental health provider issues a formal letter signifying that the services of a PSD could positively impact your health. In most instances, you should be able to receive your PSD letter within 24 hours.

If your PSD letter does not serve its purpose for any reason, we offer a 100% refund of your payment.

Pitbull Service Dog

Can I Train My Own Pitbull To Be a Service Dog?

The simple answer to this question is "yes." The Americans with Disabilities Act does not set specific training requirements for a service dog or an emotional support animal. However, depending on the complexity of the tasks that you need your service animal to perform, you may need the assistance of a professional trainer to achieve the desired behavior.

Where Can I Adopt a Pitbull Service Dog?

There are currently no service dog organizations that provide trained pitbull service dogs. You can, however, have your pitbull professionally trained. If you think a pitbull will serve your needs, please consider adopting one from a local shelter or rescue organization. Due to misperceptions about bully breeds, they make up a large percentage of the canine population in shelters.

What Disabilities Qualify for a Pitbull Service Dog?

The ADA lays out specific legislation concerning the criteria that qualify a person for a service animal. It defines a physical disability as one that affects major body systems, with common qualifying physical disabilities including blindness, deafness, epilepsy, and paralysis. The ADA defines mental disability as a mental or psychological disorder such as mental or emotional illness or learning disorders. The list of recognized illnesses is long and includes PTSD, depression, anxiety, psychosis, and bipolar disorder.

What's the Difference Between Psychiatric Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs?

People often mistakenly conflate the terms psychiatric service dog and emotional support animal. Although both an ESA and a PSD provide essential services to their owners, there are significant differences. An emotional support animal provides comfort to its owner simply by being present. They are not specially trained and do not perform therapeutic tasks. Therapy dogs serve a similar purpose to emotional support animals but within a medical setting, such as a hospital or a therapy session. On the other hand, a psychiatric service dog is a service animal that has learned to perform tasks directly related to its owner's disability.

Pitbull Service Dog

Frequently Asked Questions About Pitbull Service Dogs

People are often confused about qualifying for and getting a pitbull service dog. Here are our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

How Much Does a Pitbull Service Dog Cost?

Some service dog organizations breed service dogs and train them from birth. To purchase such an animal and continue its handler-specific training can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, pitty breeds are not currently on the list of dog breeds typically used by these organizations. You can adopt a pitbull puppy at your local shelter for $100 to $200, complete their basic training on your own, and then consider classes or individual sessions with a professional trainer for task-specific training.

How To Catch a Fake Pitbull Service Dog?

A trained service dog will likely possess specific defining characteristics such as being calm, obedient, and highly focused regardless of breed. Animals that are aggressive, destructive, and easily distracted are not likely to be actual service dogs.

Can You Get a Pitbull Service Dog for Anxiety? 

Anxiety disorders are on the list of qualifying disabilities laid out by the ADA. A psychiatric service dog can help detect oncoming panic attacks and provide therapeutic support to help mitigate anxiety in real-time.

Can Any Dog Be a Service Dog?

Yes, any dog can be a service dog. Depending on your disability, some breeds may be more capable of helping you, but there are no breed restrictions.

Do Pitbull Service Dogs Have To Be on a Leash?

It is stated within the Americans with Disabilities Act that service dogs must be within the control of a handler at all times. Typically, a service dog will need to be leashed and harnessed whenever they are in a public setting. Some exceptions apply to handlers who cannot physically handle a leash or specific tasks requiring the dog to be off its leash. In either of these cases, the handler must exhibit that they can still control the animal without physical restraint.

Does Insurance Cover Pitbull Service Dogs?

Unfortunately, health insurance will not cover the cost of buying or training a service dog. In some instances, you may be allowed to use funds from a health savings account or flexible spending account to pay for your pitbull service dog.

How To Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

To qualify for a psychiatric service dog, you must first receive a diagnosis from a mental health professional who can certify that the presence of a PSD can serve your condition. Pettable has a simple process to help you attain a PSD letter from a licensed professional.

How Long Does It Take To Train Pitbull Service Dogs?

Length of training depends on several factors, including the dog's age and what tasks they will need to learn. Generally, if you are starting when your dog is a puppy, training can take about two years.

Are Pitbull Service Dogs Allowed Everywhere?

Pitbull breeds are subject to a great deal of prejudice, which has resulted in breed-specific legislation that often restricts their ability to live in or travel to specific locations. However, when a pitbull is a service dog, it is protected under the ADA and the Fair Housing Act and must be permitted to be with its handler regardless of breed-specific legislation.

How To Get a Pitbull Service Dog for PTSD?

As with anxiety and other mental disabilities, you can have a service dog for PTSD if you have a diagnosis from a mental health professional who certifies that the service dog can provide services that will benefit your disability. Pettable has a simple process to help you find a licensed professional and get a PSD letter.

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.