Training A Service Dog: What Are Your Options?

Training A Service Dog: What Are Your Options?

If you’re living with a disability, a service animal could save your life.

While you may consider your dog to be your best friend or a member of the family, a service dog is much more. 

Service dogs can perform any number of tasks to help their humans navigate life more easily, such as opening jars, turning on light switches, etc. But before your dog can work for you, they need proper training.

If you’re in need of a service dog to help you navigate a disability, it’s crucial that you put intensive time and care into training a service dog.

Think about it, if you expect a service dog to work hard for you, you need to put in the effort to provide it with quality training.

Read on to discover how to train your own service dog!

1. Qualities of a Good Service Dog

Not every dog is cut out to be a service dog. Service dogs need to be smart and trainable, but they also need to be prepared for all of the responsibilities that come with the job title.

For example, service dogs need to be comfortable in social environments, as they will likely need to go out in public with you and may encounter other people, animals, and children.

Dogs that are too anxious, aggressive, or reactive typically do not make good service animals, as they won’t be able to focus on doing their job. 

If your dog is calm, focused, and social, they may make strong service animals. 

Service dogs also typically begin training at a young age, sometimes when they’re less than 3 months old. If your dog is above the age of 5, it may be more difficult for them to absorb the training that they need.

2. Professionally Training a Service Dog

If you aren’t sure where to start with training your service dog, outsourcing your training to professional dog trainers may be the way to go.

Professional service dog trainers will be able to assess your dog to see if they’re a good candidate to become a service dog. 

From there, they’ll be able to work with your dog and train them using tried and true training methods and techniques.

Additionally, professional service dog trainers can even work with you to personalize your dog’s training to meet your specific needs.

While the cost to enroll your dog in this training will vary highly depending on location and other factors, $150-$250/hour is an average number that you can expect to pay.

3. Individually Training a Service Dog

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are not legally required to be trained by a professional.

If you prefer to train your own service dog, you definitely have that option. While this option may be more budget-friendly than outsourcing to a professional dog trainer, it can also be more difficult and time intensive.

Training a service dog requires a lot of research and patience. Below, we’ll go over the first few steps to begin your training.

4. Start with the Basics

If you want to train your dog to work as a service dog, you of course, need to start with basic dog training that any dog should know.

For one, make sure that your service dog is potty trained and can use the bathroom on command.

Other basic or foundational skills that your dog should know are not reacting to other people or animals, not pulling on the leash, and not barking or being loud in public.

Once your dog has mastered these skills, you’ll be able to add on skills specific to assisting you with your disability.

5. Socializing A Service Dog

Another crucial step to training your service animal is to socialize them. Socializing a service dog encompasses a lot of different skills.

Taking your dog into public and “people-watching” with them is one way to socialize them and familiarize them with busy surroundings. 

Once your dog is comfortable with being in public situations, you can start to introduce them to other people and work on their manners. This is where we want to ensure that your dog doesn’t react to their surroundings by chasing things or approaching people.

Introducing your dog to other dogs is another essential step, but one that should be done cautiously to ensure the safety of all of the animals.

Your dog needs to be comfortable around other dogs without being overly reactive.

6. Specific to Your Disability

When training your dog to perform specific tasks that will help you with your disability, there are several training methods that you could use. 

If your dog is highly food-motivated, using lots of treats will help you teach them. Certain trainers use training collars (shock collars, prong collars) to help train their dogs, but others believe that this can be a damaging practice.

Begin by identifying what types of tasks you want your service dog to be able to perform. From there, break those tasks into smaller steps for your dog. Repeated training, reinforcement, and reward will teach your dog to perform these behaviors on its own. 

Service dog training duration is highly specific to your situation, but there is no specific length of time that your dog is required to be in training. 120 hours of training over a period of about 6 months is considered standard but not required in order for certification.

Training A Service Dog Takes Work

For anyone, a pet may take on a lot of roles in their life. Best friend, family member, playmate, and confidant, just name a few. 

If you’re training a service dog to assist you with your disability, they’ll become even more important to your daily life.

A service dog has a very serious job, and it’s only fair that you are just as serious about preparing them to do it.

Click here to look into our professional service dog training programs to ensure your dog learns everything that they need to know!