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How to Get a Service Dog? Everything You Need to Know

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Service dogs help over 80 million people across America. They help individuals who need assistance with different physical, neurological, or mental health needs.

Service dogs perform jobs and tasks in order to help their owners live more independent, fulfilling lives. In this complete guide to service dogs we’ll discuss how to get a service dog, as well as answer common questions you may have.

What is a Service Dog?

What is a Service Dog

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a service dog is a dog who has been trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a physical, mental or emotional disability. Service dogs are working animals that provide assistance related to a person’s disability.

Service dogs are protected under the US Department of Justice. Public places and businesses must not refuse service or reasonable accommodations to a service dog and their handler. Disabled people with their assistance animals must be treated fairly under the guidelines of ADA.

Service dogs are typically trained to excel at performing tasks for a particular disability. Guide dogs for the visually impaired are trained for this monumental job from the time they are puppies. Service dogs for veterans may be trained to provide comfort in moments of stress, or even assist with mobility.

Emotional support and therapy animals are not the same as service dogs. These types of animals provide comfort and have not been trained to perform a specific task. While service dogs are covered under ADA, emotional support and therapy dogs are not.

Service dogs not only assist people with trained jobs but they also lower stress, provide unconditional companionship, and improve overall happiness. 

How Do You Get a Service Dog?

There are a few different avenues you can take to get a service dog. 

1. Train your own service dog

Train your own service dog

Surprisingly, service dogs do not have to be professionally trained, according to the ADA. People have the right to train their own dogs and do not have to hire a professional service to do so. If you have the ability to train your own service dog, it’s definitely an option.

Service dogs do not have to be a specific breed or even purebred. Whether a dog is from a responsible breeder or rescue, they can train to be a service dog.

If you already have a dog that you believe is capable of meeting your service needs, the dog should have an overall calm and alert demeanor, as well as a willingness to work and learn. Service dogs need to be socialized with other animals and humans. They also need to be reliable in a variety of environments.

2. Adopt from a service dog organization

There are several professional service dog training organizations throughout the US. There are also individual trainers who specialize in training service dogs. 

There are incredibly high standards for service dogs who are trained through professional organizations. Dogs start training as puppies so they come well socialized in public situations. Service dog training includes house training, public access skills, and proper obedience.

Service dogs are expensive to train. It can cost upwards of $25,000 to appropriately train a service dog. Sometimes there is a cost for a trained service dog when adopting from a legitimate agency. Other times service dogs may be provided for an individual. 

Some people can apply to be a candidate for a service dog, free of charge. There are specific organizations that train service dogs for veterans, children with autism, or visually impaired. 

At America’s VetDogs, veterans can apply for a service dog who works in the following capacities:

  • PTSD
  • Guidance
  • Mobility
  • Seizure response

Legitimate service dog organizations have an application that the disabled person, or third party representative, must fill out. Applicants must meet certain criteria in order to qualify for a service dog, free of charge.

If you are not a veteran, PAWS With a Cause provides service dogs for people with physical disabilities. PAWS trains service dogs for people who have injuries or conditions which affect a person’s strength and mobility. You must fill out an application to be considered for their program.

There are a plethora of wonderful service dog organizations around the US. If you work with a doctor or mental health professional, they may direct you to an accredited and recommended service dog training agency. 

Each service dog trainer and organization has a different process for reviewing applications and choosing candidates. If you’re curious as to the specific steps for getting approved through an agency, you will need to review the process and guidelines of that particular organization.

Assistance Dogs International is the best place to start when finding a service dog for you or someone you know. They will lead you toward an appropriate organization for your needs.

Do service dogs need to be Registered?

Do service dogs need to be registered

Despite popular belief, service dogs do not need to be registered. If you get a service dog from a professional organization, they may have a registration number associated with that particular agency. However, the Department of Justice and ADA do not recognize any sort of registration number or documentation.

This means that service dog “registration” sites are dishonest and completely unnecessary. For a service dog’s right to be covered under the ADA, the dog does not need to be registered on any website.

The ADA does not require any proof of training or certification. Furthermore, public entities cannot legally ask service dog owners to provide documentation as a condition for entry.

Different Types of Service Dogs

Service dogs can be trained to perform a wide array of jobs and tasks. There is some discretion when it comes to exactly how many different types of service dogs there are, but we do know there are 8 common ones.

1. Guide Dogs

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs are service dogs who are trained to lead the visually impaired. Guide dogs help blind people safely navigate the world. Popular guide dog breeds include Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.

If you are interested in applying for a guide dog, a good place to start is Guide Dogs of America. They pair people with guide dogs to improve the quality of life through confidence and independence. 

Hearing Dogs

Service dogs trained for the hearing impaired assist their owners by altering them to noises. Hearing dogs will do this by gently nudging the person toward the noise.

Smaller dog breeds are often chosen to be trained as hearing dogs. Common breeds include terriers, Poodles, Lhasa Apsos, and Chihuahuas. The temperament and demeanor of these breeds make them wonderful hearing dogs.

2. Seizure Response Dogs

Seizure Response Dogs

Seizure response dogs are trained to assist a person who is experiencing an epileptic seizure. Dogs trained to respond in such a situation are generally taught to press an alarm button or retrieve help if their owner is having a seizure.

Seizure response dogs can also be trained to get medication or a cell phone for a person who is coming out of a seizure. These types of service dogs are different from seizure detection dogs, which are said to be able to detect seizures before they occur. There is currently no solid scientific evidence to determine whether or not dogs can reliably detect incoming seizures.

3. Mobility Assistance Dogs

Mobility assistance dogs are trained to offer support to people who have physical challenges. These dogs can generally perform a wide range of tasks in order for their owner to live a more independent lifestyle.

Mobility assistance dogs are large breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers and Great Danes. Strong, athletic, sturdy dogs are best suited to assist humans with physical tasks. 

Common jobs that mobility assistance dogs may perform include opening doors, bringing objects to their owner or helping to pull a wheelchair.

4. Diabetic Alert Dogs

Dogs are incredible animals. So incredible, in fact, that they can be trained to alert a human with diabetes, hypoglycemia, and hyperglycemia if there is a change in their blood sugar. 

Diabetic alert dogs will let their owner know if blood sugar has changed substantially. Then, the owner can test their blood sugar and take necessary steps. These special service dogs also get trained to retrieve help or push a button in case of an emergency.

5. Autism Service Dogs

Autism Service Dogs

Children with Autism often find comfort and stability from canine companionship. Autism service dogs are trained to provide children with routine, predictability, and friendship.

Service dogs are becoming more mainstream for children with Autism, as the canine and human bond have been shown to tremendously improve quality of life. 

6. Allergy Detection Dogs

Just like dogs can be trained to detect blood sugar fluctuations, they can also learn to sniff out gluten and other allergens in food and on surfaces. Allergy detection dogs will alert their owner when a specific substance is present nearby.

Gluten detection dogs fall under this category of service dogs, and they have been amazingly helpful for people with severe Celiac Disease.

7. Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Service dogs can be of immense help for people who battle depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Psychiatric service dogs provide comfort and stress relief for veterans and people who have experienced trauma.

Psychiatric service dogs often perform tasks such as reminding their owner when to take medication or flipping on a light when you return home. They can also provide a physical barrier for people who quickly become overwhelmed in chaotic public situations.

Service Dog Breeds

Service dogs can be any breed, including loveable mutts! Although there are certain breeds that have an affinity for service dog work, you can train any dog to be an assistance animal.

Dogs who are training for service work must have calm and collected personalities. They should be alert, loyal, and have a willingness to learn. Intelligence is also a key factor when choosing a service dog breed.

Some of the most common and popular service dog breeds are the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, and Pomeranian. See the full list here!

The ADA will recognize any breed as a service dog, as long as they meet the training and behavior requirements to perform tasks for an individual.

Frequently Asked Questions About Service Dogs

Does my service dog have to be registered or certified?

No. Under the laws of ADA, service dogs do not need to be registered or certified. However, service dog owners are required to following state guidelines on licensing and vaccinations.

Is an emotional support animal the same as a service dog?

No. Emotional support animals (ESAs) are meant to provide comfort to their owner. Service dogs are specifically trained to perform a certain job. ESAs are not covered under the laws of ADA.

Does a service dog have to be professionally trained?

No. The ADA does not require service dogs to be professionally trained. A person can choose to train their own service dog. Furthermore, the ADA does not require proof of training.

Do service dogs have to wear a special vest or harness identifying their status?

Service dogs are not required to wear any vest, harness, patch or ID tag signifying that they are a working animal. The ADA does not require a special service dog vest or identification, and the decision is completely up to the owner.

Can a public place ask to see documentation to admit a service dog?

Entities may not ask a service dog owner to view documentation. It is against ADA law for a service dog’s admittance to a public place be denied, unless the dog has become disruptive.

Do airlines have to comply with ADA?

Commercial airlines do not have to comply with ADA. Disabled persons are separately covered under The Air Carrier Access Act in regards to air travel.


Dogs require a lot of maintenance, and it’s important to keep that in mind when looking into adopting a service dog for yourself or someone else. Service dogs need plenty of mental and physical stimulation to thrive, just as household pets do.

Service dogs are terrific companions and helpers. Seek out a partner near you to get started on a service dog application.

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