Service Dog Training: What Does it Take?

Work for dogs can come in a variety of ways, but one of the most common pooch professions is working as a service dog. We see them out on the streets and in stores but have you ever wondered what goes into service dog training? Today we are taking a deeper look into what it means, the requirements and the process of becoming a service dog.

What is a Service Animal?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Service dogs actually fall under the umbrella term of being assistance dogs. Service dogs themselves, assist anyone with a disability other than blindness or deafness. Other types of assistance dogs include; Guide, hearing, therapy, facility, and emotional support dogs. According to the ADA standards that have been set, the only dogs that are covered under federal law to enter public places are service, guide, and hearing dogs as they all are trained to perform specific tasks to mitigate the effects of someone’s disability.

What are the Requirements?

Although there is no official legal certification to service dog training, there are still some guidelines that are strongly recommended. Overall, any breed is able to become an assistance dog, although some breeds are preferred for their trainability. Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are a few of the more common working breeds thanks to how easy they can be to train. Smaller breeds are still able to be trained, but larger dogs are usually needed to effectively and conveniently provide assistance to someone with a disability.

Age and Health also play a major role in whether or not a dog will be a good fit to provide service. Typically it is recommended that dogs be at least 6 months old and past their initial puppy phase before enrolling in a service dog training course. Health, just like in people, can affect how well a dog is able to work. Any health conditions your pet may have, such as arthritis, could put extra stress on them when working responsibilities are added to their daily lives, and as such, isn’t usually recommended. Having your pet neutered or spayed before becoming an assistance dog is also ideal to regulate temperament and prevent female dogs from working while in heat.

Time to Train

Training can be accomplished in a variety of ways. If you have the time and dedication you can conduct the training yourself, although, due to the in-depth nature of the training, it is usually recommended to find an accredited trainer. How much time usually goes into service dog training? International standards among the service community say a minimum of 120 hours over a period of 6 months, where 30 of those hours are spent in public spaces to ensure that your pooch is able to follow commands around distractions. In these programs your dog will typically go through obedience, public access, and assistance task training, as well as work on socialization and handling.

Once the minimum number of training hours has been met, most programs will put your pup through a certification assessment, or public access test, to make sure they are able to perform the tasks that will be required of them in public. The U.S. is self-regulating when it comes to service dog training. As a result of this, having a certification showing you have passed the public access test, as well as video documentation of your pet’s performance can help make it easier for your pet to do their work.

Get Registered

Once all of your pup’s training is complete, the next step will be to get him registered. Although not a requirement, as the U.S. is self-regulating, registering your dog with a reputable service is one more step that can help to protect your pet and their handler while they are in a public space. Although the ADA is in place to protect those that need it and has made it possible to legally have service dogs in public places, extra documentation can help to easily clear up any misunderstandings.

Even though you now have a dog that is trained as an assistance animal that doesn’t mean that you can take them to anywhere you’d like. The individual handling the dog must have a disability in order for the ADA to legally cover being accompanied by an assistance animal in a public place. If you are looking to take your pup out on the town with you, there are plenty of pet-friendly places in Tucson.

Service dogs are a great asset to any person with a disability. Making sure that our dogs are healthy and happy is imperative to beginning the service dog training process. Schedule a visit with your veterinarian today to help keep your pet at their best.

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