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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.
Can a Pitbull be a Service Dog?
Pitbulls can be great service dogs when properly trained and socialized. It's important to choose a dog with the right temperament and aptitude for the tasks required by their handler. Despite stereotypes and misconceptions, pitbulls are just as capable as any other breed.
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 & an 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To qualify for a service animal, you must meet the physical, emotional, or psychological criteria laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is also recommended to obtain documentation from your physician for physical disabilities or licensed mental health professionals for mental health disabilities.
Getting a pitbull service dog letter can take a while if you take the more typical route of seeing a licensed mental health professional in person. If you are not working with a licensed mental health professional, you must find and schedule an appointment to meet with them. 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.
If your mental health practitioner has already diagnosed you with a condition that qualifies for a service dog, you will need to acquire a dog and ensured it is properly trained to assist you with your disability. Rather than spending upwards of five figures on purchasing an already trained service dog, many opt to train their own dog through an online PSD training program. Pettable offers an online PSD training program that consists of online video lessons led by a certified PSD trainer that are designed to be completed at your own pace. The lessons will walk you through the steps of training a psychiatric service dog and enable you to administer skills-based and obedience training yourself in a sustainable manner. Our online quiz can help determine whether online psychiatric service dog training is the right move for you.
Complete Our Assessment
Your first step is to take a simple assessment to help us understand your current needs.
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.
Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Once you have qualified for a psychiatric service dog, the next step is ensuring your dog is well-behaved in skills that can support your mental health. At Pettable we have created an online PSD training program to assist you in training a psychiatric service dog, consisting of on-demand video lessons guided by a professional dog trainer that will teach you everything you need to know about training your own PSD. Your dog will learn basic obedience skills and how to perform specific tasks that can help alleviate certain mental health symptoms, such as performing deep pressure therapy to help its handler stave off a panic attack.
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. If you wish to self-train your Pitbull as a service dog, you may benefit from taking Pettable’s online PSD training program.
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 is the ACAA?
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) is a law that makes it illegal for travel providers to discriminate against people with disabilities, and it requires that air travel be made accessible. Any accommodations provided to meet that standard also cannot come with an extra charge.
In addition to the ACAA, disabled passengers should also know about the Bill of Rights for Disabled Passengers. This bill of rights includes ten legal protections that passengers have as airline patrons in the United States. This does not expand or restrict any disability rights that have been established already, but rather it summarizes existing law.
Recent Changes in Airplane ESA Policy
In December 2020, The United States Department of Transportation amended its rules on emotional support animals. Effective January 2021, the U.S. DOT no longer classifies ESAs as service animals. The new rules also, similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act, define a service animal as a "dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability."
As of September 2022, there have been no policy changes regarding which animals are allowed to board with passengers.
Airline Pet Policies to Know
If you plan on traveling with a pitbull, there are many things to consider to ensure safe travels for you and your dog. There are some airline-specific rules you should be aware of, but there are some general rules to get you started.
Most, if not all, airlines will require you to pay a fee to bring your pitbull as a carry-on for the flight. This fee may increase depending on the size and weight of your dog.
Some airlines restrict the breed of dogs that can be stored in cargo. Short-nosed breeds will not commonly be allowed because they will likely need help breathing during the flight. Pitbulls are a short-nosed breed, so you may need to make alternate travel arrangements for your dog.
Travel requirements may change between domestic, international, and US inbound, so you should ensure you know the laws and procedures of the country you are flying to or from.
What's the Difference Between Psychiatric Service Dogs and 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.
Another major difference between ESAs and psychiatric service dogs is their right to be in public and private spaces. Because emotional support animals are not service dogs, their handlers must follow the rules set by any private businesses or public spaces. Psychiatric service dogs are service animals, so they can be in “no pet” spaces to remain with their handler.
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. From there, you can begin training your dog to become a psychiatric service dog wither through online or in-person training. Pettable’s online PSD training program is designed to support you throughout the training process and starts at $199.
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. Then, you will need to ensure that your service dog is correctly trained. There is no requirement that a professional trainer be involved in the process and self-training is perfectly acceptable. If you wish to train your own psychiatric service dog then Pettable’s online PSD training program may be a good option for you.
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. Our online PSD training program is self-paced, and can be completed at whatever timeline suits you. Ultimately, the timeline will depend on the dogs ability to learn the tasks it is being trained on.
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. Once you are certified, you will need to begin training your Pitbull as a psychiatric service dog. Pettable’s online PSD training program can aid you in this process if your goal is to train the dog yourself.
Does My Psychiatric Service Dog Need A Vest?
Psychiatric service dogs are not required to wear vests or any identification according to the ADA. You are welcome to buy an identifying vest if you believe that that will make you feel more comfortable being in public with your PSD, but the choice is up to you.
What Can Disqualify A Pitbull From Becoming A Service Dog?
Generally, dogs that display aggressive behaviors in public are poor choices to be service dogs, because private businesses are legally allowed to ask you to leave if your service dog is behaving unruly.
How Many Tasks Does A Service Dog Need To Know?
There is not a specific number of tasks a service dog needs to be able to complete in order to be considered a “real” service dog. They need to be able to complete at least one task related to their condition or illness, and if you want to teach them more, you can!
What Age Is Too Late To Train A Pitbull Service Dog?
There isn’t a specific age that makes it impossible to be trained. As long as your dog is able or has the accommodations to follow you around and provide support, they are the right age.
There are also benefits and drawbacks to training a dog at any age, so it is best to do what works for you and your situation.
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.