What Is a Service Dog?

Service dogs are defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act and are dogs that are specifically trained to help people with disabilities.  As a Service Dog Coach (SDC), we help people with disabilities train their own dog to assist them as a service dog.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Training – ESA’s are not afforded the same rights as service dogs. ESA’s are not allowed in places that pets are not permitted including the cabin of a plane; however ESA’s are still allowed in some types of housing where pets are not allowed.

We can help you train your ESA by teaching them basic manners and life skills  if they are living in non-pet housing. .

What is the difference between a service dog, an emotional support dog, and a therapy dog?

A service dog (SD) is a dog who is trained to perform tasks to mitigate his handler’s disability. They have public access with their human partner and can go anywhere the public is allowed.

An emotional support dog (ESD) helps with issues like anxiety disorders, and while they do provide a benefit to their partner and have more rights than a pet dog, they do not have full public access. They are not allowed on planes (as of this writing) however; are allowed in apartments with proper documentation.

A therapy dog (TD) is trained to go places such as hospitals and nursing homes to provide comfort to a variety of people (instead of just one partner, which is the case with a service or emotional support dog). TD’s do not have public access except to places they are invited to come and visit.

Requirements for the Owner

  • You must have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Have support from your licensed healthcare provider for use of a service dog.
  • Age requirements – Owners should be 18 years old or older or have a dedicated handler to work with them that is 18 years or older.
  • Be able to attend training lessons for 1.5 years or longer. Sessions are held in your home (within our travel area), at our training center, and in public places. We also offer drop-off day training options.
  • You must be able to commit daily time to practicing with your dog between our training sessions.
  • Be aware that you may end up with a dog that can only help at home or in places pets are allowed. Up to 50% of service dog candidates in programs are not able to complete training and work in places pets are not permitted.
  • You will need to be willing to wait until we evaluate your dog’s suitability and help you train your dog’s fundamental skills before putting service dog identification on your dog, and before taking your dog to places that pets are not permitted.
  • Have a support network and/or a co-trainer as well as have support from your entire household.

Requirements for the Dog

  • Your dog must have no history of aggression towards dogs, people or other animals.
  • Your dog must have no history of any serious behavioral problems like fear or separation anxiety.
  • Your dog should be easily trainable. Each dog is assessed as an individual but some breeds are more likely to exhibit characteristics suitable for service work than others, such as a Labrador or Golden Retriever.
  • Your dog should be under the age of 4 and physically healthy.

How long will this take?

The length of the program depends on a variety of factors including:

  • The age of the dog: Expect 2 full years of training for a puppy to become a service dog.
  • Past training experience (quantity and quality): A dog who has already passed the Canine Good Citizen test – between 6 months and 1 year.
  • Dedication of the owner/trainer: Time spent training is directly relational to the success of the service dog team.

What’s the process?

Step 1:  We begin with a phone appointment where we discuss your needs, identify tasks that would be helpful to train, review your dog’s behavioral history, educate you on reputable service dog informational resources and give you some training recommendations.

Step 2:  We conduct a 60 minute in-person evaluation of your dog. This is where we look at how your dog responds to some minor stressors and in a new situation to see if it is appropriate to begin training him or her for service work. These evaluations will typically done in the training center.

Step 3:  Training for service work if your dog is suitable. Process can include private training, group classes and/or drop-off day training. This process usually takes 1 – 2 years but can take longer.

  1. The first milestone for a service dog team, after have basic obedience training, is passing the Canine Good Citizen test. By this time, we will have a very good idea if the dog is suitable for service dog work. If they can not be a good citizen, they will not be a good candidate for a service dog.
  2. After the CGC test is passed and we have the basic ground work, we will concentrate on special skills that mitigate your disability and focus on the Public Access test. After a certain point, all the work will be done in private lessons.

Step 4:  Follow up support. On going brush up training throughout your service dog’s working career.

Public Access vs Home Helper

If you have a need for public access with your service dog, keep in mind that just a small percentage of dogs are suited for this difficult task. A service dog in public must be perfectly behaved, ignore all sorts of distractions and completely focus on his handler. Even with the most carefully chosen puppy and all the right training, a dog may not be suited to this work. If this is the case, consider ways that a dog can be helpful at home –retrieving objects, notifying another household member that you need help, opening doors, etc. A greater number of dogs can be trained for these tasks.

What if I don’t have a dog yet?

We can help with putting you in touch with reputable breeders and evaluate potential candidates for service dog work.

How do I get Started?

If you are looking for more information about Service Dog training, please call 847.235.2263 or contact us. We would be happy to answer any questions you have.