Do I Get a Service Dog?

For many people with disabilities, service dogs are essential. These animals make everyday life more manageable and enjoyable. However, because of their high costs, getting a service dog can be a daunting and stressful task. With adoption costs, training, vet trips, and more, obtaining and caring for a service animal can cost thousands every year.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. This can be a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Only dogs (and in rare cases, miniature horses) are legally considered service animals. Other domestic animals are covered only as emotional support animals or therapy animals.

emotional support animals

A service dog is trained to take a specific action whenever required, to assist their handler with a disability. The task the dog performs is directly related to that person’s disability.

  • Guide dogs help blind and visually impaired persons safely navigate their environments.
  • Hearing alert service dogs help alert deaf and otherwise hearing-impaired persons to critical sounds.
  • Mobility dogs assist individuals who use wheelchairs, walking devices, and who have balance issues.
  • Medical alert service dogsmay be trained to signal the onset of a medical issue, like a seizure or low blood sugar, or alert the handler to the presence of allergens
  • Psychiatric service dogs assist individuals with disabilities such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post–traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions. Work performed by psychiatric service dogs include:
    • Laying across handler to provide deep pressure therapy during panic attacks
    • Providing tactile grounding via nuzzling or licking
    • Applying gentle teeth pressure to forearm to interrupt dissociative episode
    • Alerting handler to episodes of rage or strong emotion
    • Interrupting repetitive self harm
    • Retrieving self care kit
    • Waking up handler having nightmares
    • Interrupting flashbacks
    • Searching the house
    • Providing “reality check” so handler can verify hallucinations aren’t present
    • Stabilizing handler’s routine
    • Interrupting crying
    • Interrupting dissociation
    • Interrupting flashback

Qualify for a Service Dog

Qualifying for a service dog is simple. Actually getting one is a bit harder. To qualify for a service animal, all you need to do is get written documentation from your healthcare provider that you have and are being treated for an emotional or psychiatric disorder or disability and require the assistance of an animal because of it. The work a dog has been trained to do must specifically relate to your condition. Training a service dog yourself can be difficult and can take years. Usually you would get a service dog from someone else who has already trained it.

Service Dogs Can Be Very Expensive

According to National Service Animal Registry in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the cost of obtaining a trained service dog ranges between $15,000 and $30,000 upfront. Some service dogs can cost as much as $50,000. Along with these initial costs, many pet owners spend between $500 and $10,000 every year caring for their dog. These yearly expenses cover things like food, veterinary checkups, vaccinations, toys, and additional training.

There are many national and local organizations and businesses who train and even provide the dogs for purchase. These nonprofit and for-profit enterprises work closely with the buyer/handler to deliver the ideal breed, specifically trained for the individual needs of the buyer.

Why Are the Initial Costs so High?

Service dogs require much more training than other dogs do. This extensive training and additional care usually take place during the first few months of their lives. The amount a person pays goes toward adoption costs, puppy vaccinations, spaying or neutering, and trainer’s fees. The initial costs can be decreased significantly by a person training his or her own dog with or without assistance from a certified dog trainer. Though it costs less in the short-term, this method usually takes longer and may actually end up costing more in the long-term.

emotional support animals

Costs to have Your Own Dog Trained to Be a Service Animal

If a person already has a dog that that is able to be trained to become a service animal, there is obvious savings, in terms of time and initial cost. The amount this route will cost depends on the dog, how much it already knows, the specific tasks it must learn, any trainer’s fees, and how much time the trainer can dedicate to the dog. If the dog has already received some obedience training, it can take between four and six months to train them for a task service. The precise amount of time it will take depends on the task the pup must learn and the pup’s aptitude.

Additionally, service dogs are expected to be able to perform these tasks in different environments. It can take up to two years to become fully trained for public access. The hourly fees professional dog trainers charge varies greatly from region to region, although you can expect to pay around $150-250 per hour. These expenses can also add up very quickly.

Training Your Pet Dog to be a Service Dog

The ADA doesn’t require service dogs to be professionally trained – they can be trained by anyone, including the disabled handler.  A person with a disability has the right to perform the training of a service dog him or herself.

If a person trains his or her own dog to be a service dog, the following characteristics should be emphasized during the training process.

  • Be calm, especially in unfamiliar settings
  • Be alert, but not reactive
  • Have a willingness to please
  • Be able to learn and retain information
  • Be capable of being socialized to many different situations and environments
  • Be reliable in performing repetitive tasks
  • Be able to pass the Canine Good Citizens exam

Aside from socialization and basic obedience training, a service dog must be trained to perform individual to assist a person with a disability. Tasks must be identified as necessary and then the individualized training should begin.