Here is a jump-to table of contents. In this article I will discuss:
- How Do I Make My Dog A Service Dog
- Service Dog Training Manual
- Service Dog Temperament, Personality and Demeanor
- Why Service Dogs Fail
- Service Dog Certification
- Public Access Test (PAT)
- Service Dog In Training (SDIT)
- Service Dog Training Los Angeles FAQs
“How to train a service dog?”, “How can I make my dog a service dog?”, and “How to get a service dog?” are some of the most common questions we receive daily in our service dog training Los Angeles facility. There’s not one exact path, but all service dogs require a tremendous amount of expert training and behavior modification work and a great working temperament, personality and demeanor.
When you are contemplating, “How do I make my dog a service animal?”, you must consider many factors, from your dog to your own abilities.
Your service dog needs to:
- Be public access tested (PAT)
- Be obedience trained to a very high level
- Have impeccable behavior and manners in all environments and levels of distractions
- Have a goldilocks personality, temperament and demeanor
- Be task trained for your specific disability
You need to be:
- Disabled as defined by the ADA
- Extremely knowledgeable about dog training, behavior, health, nutrition, laws, canine ethology, psychology, cognitive ethology, evolution, physiology, neurobiology, sociology, learning theory, animal husbandry and all things canine and service dog related
- A responsible and humane pet parent and service dog handler (pass a Canine Good Citizen test)
Service dogs as well as emotional support dogs, therapy dogs and all working assistance animals all share the same traits of having impeccable manners, behavior, obedience and foundational training needed to become a working animal.
It may help to think of service dogs as Olympic athletes or top doctors in their fields. It takes years of continuous work, dedication and natural skill/genetics to become an Olympic athlete.
There is a very high failure rate, and even though you may practice and dedicate your life towards that lofty goal, spend a tremendous amount of resources, and try your best, most people won’t become Olympic athletes regardless of how much money or time they spend.
This isn’t meant to turn you off from trying to make your dog a service dog. You should! Even if your dog doesn’t become a service animal it’s a win for both of you bringing out the very best dog training and behavior in your dog and educating yourself at the same time.
But if you understand the risks involved and you and your dog have what it takes to become a service dog team, here’s a handy service dog training guide to help you stay focused on what you need to do.
When you are searching for a how-to train a service dog manual, you will need a guide to work through the many skills and behaviors a service dog needs to know.
All service dogs are trained to the highest level of obedience and behavior regardless of the type of service dog you require.
This can serve as a Service dog training Manual, and/or guidelines for minimum competencies. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a PTSD service dog training manual, or a mobility service dog training manual.
A dog’s foundation behaviors, training, temperament, dog characteristics and criteria are mostly the same across all service dog and working animal categories.
Tasks trained for your specific individual disability to help you in life will come at a later stage in the service dog training process.
Though it’s tempting, you don’t want to begin task training first, because even if your dog can perform a task to calm you during a PTSD episode or retrieve a bottle of medication if your dog doesn’t pass the public access test part of the service dog training process your dog won’t be able to accompany you in places that don’t allow pets.
Here are some of the many items a dog needs to know (generalized, proofed and fluent) in order to become a service dog.
At a minimum, a service dog must master the following “basic” behaviors to become a service animal. If your dog doesn’t master these, they won’t even move on to task training.
- Down (Lateral and Sphynx)
- Stay (in each of the above respective obedience positions)
All of the above must be performed for a long duration, in any position and proximity to you (parallel, 180 degrees, at a distance, with lots of distraction [kids, dogs cats, squirrels, etc.], while you and/or your service dog are in motion and still, etc.)
In addition, they must master the following:
- Loose Leash Walking
- Leave it
- Drop it
A dog must perform all of the above reliably with novel stimuli present, and heavy distraction for duration, and at a distance.
They must also have the following:
- Flawless cue discrimination (for example, when you ask your dog to go Down, you ask the cue one time, and your dog goes Down and doesn’t go into a Sit first or cycle through behaviors, go into sequences or perform a different behavior). Your dog should know behaviors through both verbal and gestural cues (if you have the ability)
- Impeccable manners in all environments and situations (hospitals, playgrounds, dog parks, airplanes, public busses, vehicles, restaurants, shopping centers, food stores, etc.) A service dog must be friendly, calm and confident.
- Potty trained It may seem obvious but there are specific goals of potty training a dog. A dog should be able to do all of the following for many months before you consider them potty trained.
- Eliminate when on-leash
- Eliminate with a dog collar, harness, backpack, etc., attached
- Eliminate on-cue, (where and when to potty)
- Urinate and defecate in front of you and in proximity to other people (not isolated)
- Eliminate in a distracting environment
- All of the above, in any combination or at the same time
- Task trained to mitigate a person’s disability. Your dog must be attuned to you and be able to help you in all of life’s scenarios and environments.
Above are some of what a service dog must know however it is just as important for the handler/person with a disability to also have a much greater knowledge and understanding of dog behavior, body language, health, local laws, understanding the laws of learning, gentling, husbandry, how to properly care for a dog, and making sure the service animal is healthy medically, nutritionally, physically, emotionally and cognitively.
Each one of the bullet points above must be performed in so many ways and so many environments. During a public access test, your Certified Service Dog Trainer. will elaborate greatly on each of the bullet points once you start the training program.
A public access test (PAT) warrants its own blog post. In short, during a public access test, a service dog must thrive in all areas of life, indoors and outdoors, in big cities, suburbs and rural areas alike. For example, in Los Angeles, California, a dog must train in downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades. Dog training near you can’t just take place around your specific neighborhood.
What are the qualities of a service dog? They vary from dog to dog and we must be mindful of asking or expecting too much from a service dog or a working dog of any type. All animals are sentient beings and deserve to be happy and have the right to the 5 freedoms.
Obedience training (task training) related to performing tasks to mitigate a person’s disability are just one small piece of the service dog training puzzle and are usually taught at a later stage of the process.
To become a service dog, a dog must also have a goldilocks temperament, personality, demeanor and genetics and be well suited for the work you are asking of your service dog.
In addition, a dog’s morphology (and to a lesser extent breed) must match what you are looking for them to assist you with. For example, a Saint Bernard may not be suited for PTSD service dog training if a person wants a dog to apply tactile pressure to a part of the person’s body. A very large dog might crush a person or injure them.
On the other hand, a Chihuahua or any small breed dog can not effectively stabilize a person who needs stabilization to walk or has a disability where the size of the dog is critical.
Besides the more obvious qualities and factors that make up a service dog here are some additional temperaments, personalities, and demeanors that are necessary for a service dog working animal.
Qualities that make a great service dog are:
- An aloof manner to external stimuli while still staying focused and attentive on you when working.
- Cool, calm, collected and confident in all environments and around all stimuli
- Gentle that tolerates strangers interacting with you and your dog. Including getting petted (by children and all people), receiving attention, etc. Doesn’t show fear, anxiety or stress (FAS). A service dog should be neutral and disinterested in others.
- Easy-going and energetic. Likes going for walks and finds new environments and adventures healthy and fun.
- Eager to please and looking to work. Sensitive to your needs.
- Highly bonded and connected to a parent. Prefers you over all others. Checks in all the time may seem intuitive and attuned to your needs.
- Ignores other people and animals.
- Gentling and husbandry procedures are positive and non-stressful events. Touching, grooming, bathing, nail trims, ear cleaning, hygiene and health procedures are easy, fun and non-stressful. Your dog can be handled and touched anywhere and everywhere.
A Service Dog Can NOT Be Or Display:
- Too friendly – your dog should pay attention to you on cue and not pull on the leash to approach dogs and/or people
- Reactive/Impulsive to anything and/or anyone (from food on the floor to squirrels, dogs or kids running by)
- Aggressive towards anything or anyone (dog, cat, squirrel, or person)
- Territorial aggression
- Fear aggression
- Dominance aggresssion
- Too young or too old – This varies somewhat depending on dog breed however general guidelines are 2 – 7 years are the most common years a service dog can work. Service dogs that are younger than 2 years old are typically too young and service dogs older than 7 (depending on breed) are generally too old or reaching the end of their working life. Remember, service dogs need to retire just as we do.
- Behavior disorders issues, quirks (fear, anxiety or stress towards anyone or anything)
- Anxious – A working dog can’t have separation anxiety or general anxiety. Dog anxiety is incompatible with service dog work, training and obedience.
- Prey drive – If your dog likes to chase, lunge, and/or bark at squirrels, cats, kids or adults they can’t be a service dog
- Resource guarding
- Protection/guard dogs
- Demanding of attention (barking, jumping, pawing, muzzle punching, temper tantrums, whining, crying, wheezing, howling, pacing, etc.)
- Soliciting attention – Staring at people or dogs and walking up to them to interact.
- Bribed, intimidated, yelled at or forced to offer any cue or behavior.
- Trained with aversives and punitive equipment. Electric collars (remote collars, shock collars, choke chains and prong collars are not only inhumane but unacceptable for any service dog [or any dog] to be wearing or trained with)
- Unaltered – 99% of service dogs are spayed and neutered. While it’s not required by all laws to be altered I have never heard of any reputable service dog training company allowing the placement of a service dog prior to spay/neutering.
- Lunging, biting, growling, snarling, etc.
If your dog has any of the aforementioned issues it would benefit you to speak to a Certified Dog Behaviorist to assess the severity and intensity of the behavior and to provide you with a proper diagnosis, time frame and realistic expectations as to the chances of your dog becoming a service dog.
In any event, a dog with behavior and/or training issues will likely not be a service dog without extensive training and behavior modification. Even a dog without extensive behavior and/or temperament issues requires hundreds of hours of professional dog training by an experienced service dog trainer.
Remember the Olympics analogy? To that point., on average less than 25% of dogs become service dogs, even after a parent expends a tremendous amount of resources, and practices vigorous, dedicated and arduous training and behavior modification work.
Even 50% of seeing-eye dogs that are specifically bred for service dog work in the tightest and most controlled breeding programs with a highly selective process with regards to lineages, genetics, traits, personalities, demeanors, health, etc. fail to become service dogs.
The failure rate for service dogs is due to many factors but generally falls into three categories:
- Health – mental, physical, cognitive, biological and emotional“defects” (hips, elbows, eyes, ears, thyroid, heart, dermatitis, separation anxiety disorder, general anxiety, etc.)
- Behavior and training deficiencies (a dog is too easily aroused, scarred, excited and/or lacks resiliency, lacks emotional “intelligence” and can’t regulate effectively, slow learner, weak retention, etc.)
- Temperament, demeanor and personality “defects”. A dog doesn’t want to work, doesn’t have enough energy, is unfocused, requires more social interaction and play, easily startled, too confident, too sensitive, easily distracted, lack of focus, interest, etc.
Each day, we get questions about service dog certification and “How to get a service dog certificate?”, and “How to get my dog trained as a service dog so they can fly with me?”, and “How do I get a service dog vest?”
The good news is that the laws intentionally leave the door open for skilled, qualified and experienced parents to train their service dogs themselves.
The not so good news is that you have to have a tremendous amount of canine understanding with regards to ethology, cognitive ethology, learning theory, husbandry, gentling, mechanics of dog training, body language, biology, nutrition, behavior and training to be able to successfully train a service dog.
What is a service dog certification or certificate? When it comes to getting service dog certification or service dog certificates, there is more to understand than ordering one from Amazon or a service dog company selling bogus doctor letters, service dog certificates, service dog vests and/or service dog registration.
What you should know is that ALL of the aforementioned are not legally required by federal law and/or the ADA laws. That’s right, service dog certification and registration licensing and vests are not required by federal law under the ADA. Your local city or state laws may differ but federal laws typically trump all others.
If service dog registration or certification is not required by the ADA what should you do?
The first, thing to know is your dog’s BEHAVIOR is 9/10ths of what matters most when a business wants to detect if your dog is a certified service dog or a fraud. It doesn’t even matter whether you have a disability, a doctor’s letter, a service dog training vest, harness or any other equipment or device.
If your dog’s behavior is not impeccable and does not represent that of a service dog any business can and will ask you to leave and or sue.
Service dog certification is NOT NECESSARY but your dog behaving like a service dog is mandatory!
It’s worth repeating by federal law you do not need to get any certification or registration to have a service dog accompany you in places where no pets are allowed.
The government purposefully (and thankfully) allowed this loophole to enable parents with limited resources to train their own dogs to become service dogs and hence there are no licensed service dog trainers, and or certifications needed.
Ironically, I still provide clients with service dog certifications/certificates in Los Angeles because doing so often makes it easier for a person with a disability not to get bothered as much when flying or out in public. But it’s not legally necessary regardless of what the myriad of online businesses would like to sell you.
Don’t bother buying a service dog certification, registration or doctor’s letters stating you have a disability if your dog isn’t trained a trained service dog as they aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. Instead invest in dog training and behavior work to make your dog qualified to be a service dog.
At this point, you’ve heard so much about the service dog training public access test and the importance of beginning your service dog training journey here so I want to cover the basics of what PAT is.
In summary, a PAT shows your dog’s behavior, training, temperament, demeanor and personality in all areas of life (outside of your home or immediate neighborhood)
It also shows how you handle your dog and tests you to see what your level of knowledge is about service dogs.
To pass a PAT a service dog must be safe and effective in a public place and/or vehicle and must be controlled by the primary handler.
Some 501(c)(3) organizations have put together PAT guidelines that will help guide parents through the training process, however even these and all tests fall short at being able to be everywhere you will be with your dog in your life so take them with a grain of salt and expand upon them and adapt them to your lifestyle.
These PATs are the minimum a dog should know.
What is a service dog in training (SDIT)? This is perhaps the most important topic of how to make your dog a service dog.
It doesn’t matter if you are a professional Certified Service Dog Trainer or a parent training your own service dog, you need to understand and know these laws!
Essentially, service dog in training laws extend the service dog ADA legal allowances to NON-service dogs but that are in training to become service dogs.
Regardless if you are a professional service dog trainer or a person with a disability training your service dog yourself, you need to understand and know this or you will not be able to train a service dog effectively.
You must know what the laws are regarding service dogs in training in Los Angeles or wherever you live in the world.
Because how can you effectively work with your SDIT if they are not service dogs yet? You can’t!
Without these laws, you wouldn’t be able to. Effectively if your city does not make an allowance for service dogs in training to be in public where no pets are allowed your dog will never receive the vital and extensive training that needs to occur in those environments.
If your dog can’t train in public spaces where you will likely take your service dog they will almost certainly fail at becoming a service dog.
Every state is different but typically service dogs in training are afforded the same rights under the law to be in areas where no pets are allowed.
Here in Los Angeles, California, service dog trainers are required to register each service dog in training with Los Angeles County Animal Control, fill out an application that you are a service dog trainer (have a business with the SOS and the FTB in good standing, etc. or are a parent with a disability), and pay a fee to have the dog marked as such to have a license to bring a SDIT to restaurants, beaches, parks, stores, airplanes, etc. or to practice in all areas of the public where fully trained service dogs are allowed.
If these laws didn’t exist SDIT would not be able to be tested and trained in public and service dog training would be impossible. Thankfully these laws exist enabling professional service dog trainers and parents to train with their dogs in public where ordinary pets are not allowed.
For registered service dog trainers in Los Angeles and in some other areas of greater Los Angeles, sometimes depending on the animal control official you work with they will also refund you the fee/temporary service dog license you pay for after you the dog leaves your care and gets placed with a family.
Most officials know that most service dog trainers are not training their own dogs so the fees would rack up pretty quickly if they didn’t get refunded. However, if you are a parent training your own service dog you will not get refunded the fee as you will have to get your dog licensed and registered as a service dog in LA regardless if they are in training or an actual service dog.
However, every city is different so make sure to research your animal control laws before starting service dog training or you will likely get stopped by the police and asked for your ID. (I have many times)
Make sure to stay on top of the laws and your state and county for your local laws. One great resource for laws pertaining to service dogs are Michigan states university’s animal legal and historical center table of state service animal laws.
I will cover some of the most common questions I receive daily in our Los Angeles service dog training facility.
I am leaving on a trip next month and need to make my dog a service dog to fly with me.
No. First, you have to have a disability as defined by the ADA in order to have your dog fly with you in the cockpit of the airplane and not as luggage (which I would never recommend doing).
Remember that the ADA defines disability differently than the medical industry. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/ada-questions-and-answers (not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM-5]). Several examples and resources are listed at the bottom of this article.
Second, based on all of the above information that you now know, it takes a long time to see if your dog can become a service dog. It doesn’t happen overnight, in a few training sessions in your home or on the phone. Almost all service dog training happens at Boot Camp board and train or in a professional facility regardless of the levels of training your dog has.
Will an airline call to check if my dog is a service dog?
Yes, and not just airlines! I get calls and emails daily from businesses, lawyers, and airlines verifying that I trained a client’s service dog. They also research my company and me online. A business will contact your service dog trainer company to verify that they trained your dog and certified them as a service dog.
It is illegal and there are significant penalties and personal liability for lying about the title of your dog.
Can I train my own dog to become a service dog?
Yes, but you have to be very skilled and knowledgeable about all of the above.
What is the most effective way to train a service dog?
At a Certified Dog Behaviorist service dog training Boot Camp board and train.
Can I get a service dog certificate after a few training sessions or a phone/video consultation?
Almost always no. There is simply no way to put a dog (and person) through the myriad of public access environments and to adequately and thoroughly assess how your dog behaves and performs task behaviors in each of the respective environments.
We can not do this via phone or zoom. In addition, training in your home with one on one private service dog training service is not sufficient.
At what age do service dogs become service dogs?
We get lots of questions like “Can my puppy be a service dog?”, “Can my 1-year-old dog be a service dog?”, and “Can my 10-year-old dog be a service dog?”.
In most cases, the answer is no to all of those questions. A service dog training program takes into account the developmental periods of a dog and the training process takes months/years of daily work. Hence the reason you can not get a service dog certificate after a phone consultation or private dog training sessions in your home.
The average age a dog becomes a service dog is around 2 – 2.5 years old. This is only if a dog begins training and are working towards that goal since they were puppies and have a goldilocks temperament, personality and demeanor as described in this article.
In many seeing eye dog or strict structured service dog training programs, they will have puppy rearing families that are designed to teach basic obedience and to introduce the service dog in training to various public access components where the dog will be exposed throughout their lives after they are placed as service animals.
Only after a dog is calm, comfortable, relaxed and responsive in all environments, will a dog continue on in their service dog training to task training to mitigate a disability.
The reason for this is that if your dog is reactive, aggressive, or has FAS or is too friendly they are not suited for service dog work.
Regardless of your disability, certification, or doctor’s letters, any business can legally as you to leave if your service dog is causing harm or disturbing the patrons. In other words, your dog’s training and behavior are what dictate if your service dog can be in public where no pets are allowed.
No amount of doctor’s notes, psychiatrist letters or service dog certification or vests you bought online will legally allow you to stay in a business where your dog is endangering the public or acting out.
When To Neuter A Service Dog?
When to neuter a dog and at what age is a very important topic. Age plays a large factor in everything from the behavior of the dog to medical reasons to neuter your dog.
At what age a dog is neutered is very important. When considering at when to neuter a dog it is even more important for service dogs.
In this study of 245 service dogs in a highly controlled service dog breeding and training program, service dogs neutered and spayed between 7 and 11 months of age showed the highest service dog placement rate and lowest service dog dismissal rate than spay and neutering at younger and older ages.
Essentially dogs neutered during the 7 – 11 month window showed the best behavioral results.
How long does it take to become a service dog?
The how long does it take question is asking the wrong question. But nonetheless, we get asked this daily. For example, if you have spent hundreds of hours training your dog very well and they have what it takes to become a service dog It can take a few weeks.
If your dog has very little formal professional training or a temperament, behavior or demeanor issue, it can take many months or years. Regardless of the time frame, there are no guarantees even after you spend lots of money and time that your dog will ever become a service dog.
Just as there are no guarantees your son or daughter will become an Olympic athlete.
Service Dog Training Cost
How much do service dogs cost, and service dog training costs are variable and ever-changing numbers.
It’s an unanswerable question similar to how long will it take to train a service dog. There is no one answer because every individual’s needs (person and dog) are wildly different.
For example, someone who is not able to train their own service dog or contribute significantly to the process would incur much higher fees than a parent who is able to train their own service dog along with the coaching of a professional service dog trainer.
These over-simplistic questions of how much it costs to train a service dog can not be answered.
Because service dog cost depends on service dog TRAINING costs. Every trainer charges different amounts based on many factors and everyone’s business model is different.
Prices for service dogs in Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades are likely to be more expensive than service dog training in Wichita Kansas.
Not only location but economic factors dictate prices as well such as :
- Supply & demand
- The proximity of the service dog trainer to your hometown
- The cost to run a business, taxes, licenses, insurance, workers’ compensation, wage prices, gas, etc. to run a business in that state/city/town.
Also. cost is relative. If you are reading this post 10 years from now it will be even more irrelevant. However, to give you an understanding of what service dog costs, they can run anywhere from free service dog training with some 501(c)(3) organizations and if you get grants, etc. through hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Typically you can expect to spend thousands of dollars on a service dog as a very general rule of thumb for professional service dog training
A universal factor is that the more service dog training you do personally the less expensive it will be to get a service dog. The more your need a certified professional service dog trainer to help the more money it will be to get a service dog.