Service Dogs 101: Everything You Need To Know Before Getting A Service Dog

Service dogs provide necessary aid to persons with disabilities. People who see these heroic animals with their handlers are often in awe of them, especially dog lovers. Below are some pieces of information for those looking for a service dog.


The term service animal only refers to dogs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, only dogs are recognized by the law as of March 15, 2011. The ADA defines these dogs as animals who work and perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service animals perform many different jobs and may be specially trained to aid people with specific disabilities. Service dogs are not synonymous with therapy dogs and emotional support animals. Unlike service dogs, therapy and emotional support animals can be any species, like cats or birds.

Therapy and emotional support animals do not have rights under the ADA. They aren’t trained to perform specific tasks or work for their handlers. The primary purpose of therapy dogs is to provide companionship to people, like children in hospitals or veterans. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, provide support to people suffering from certain emotional or mental states, like depression and anxiety, reported The Huffington Post.

Choosing A Service Dog

Not every dog can be a service dog. Any breed of dog can be a service animal. Choosing a service dog depends on the needs of the handler. The American Kennel Club also has a list of characteristics that trainers look for in a potential service dog. In general, these service animals should be acclimated to different situations and environments. They should be able to stay alert and focus on the task at hand without being distracted by strangers around them. The most important trait seems to be their strong willingness to please, specifically their handlers.

Training A Service Dog

According to Psychodog Partners, training service dogs takes 1 to 2 years. The training of service dogs are split into two significant parts: (a) teaching the dog how to behave in public and (b) preparing the dog for tasks that will aid his/her handler with their disability.

There are different ways to train a service dog. There are many non-profit organizations with programs that focus on training service dogs. For instance, 4 Paws for Ability, trains service animals to aid children with epilepsy, autism, and Down Syndrome. There are also private trainers who prepare dogs for a life of service. Sometimes experienced handlers, who have had a service dog or two in the past, decide to train their own animals, like the YouTuber, Chronically Jackie.

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