Do you have a disability, and have you been tossing up the idea of getting a service dog? Maybe you know someone else who has? Perhaps you just have an interest and would like to know how to make your dog a service dog for curiosity’s sake. If you already know what a service dog is, this post will provide a quick overview of what’s involved in getting there, step-by-step. Be sure to follow the relevant links if you would like to learn more about a particular topic.
How To Make Your Dog A Service Dog
Seeing your doctor, or similar medical professional, allows you to verify your disability if you haven’t already. This documentation can be used later if legally required. In addition, you can ask some important questions, like whether (in their professional opinion) a service dog is really for you, and how having one would impact your current lifestyle. Furthermore, you can discuss what sort of tasks should be taught, and how they can mitigate your disability. Chances are, your doctor has other patients with disabilities and would have a good understanding of how well a service dog could fit. In addition, they may know the laws associated with keeping one in your state.
Step 2: Assess your dog’s suitability for service work
Not all dogs have what it takes to be a service dog, in fact, most don’t. A huge part of making your dog a service dog actually comes down to having the right dog to begin with.
Start by looking at their temperament
Is your dog calm and confident in most situations? What is their reaction when you accidentally drop a frying pan, or if they hear fireworks? Do they have a history of aggression – towards people or animals? Service dogs need to have bomb-proof temperaments – nothing should get them overly bothered, and they should be quick to recover when something startles them. Any ssignof aggression is an immediate no-no. Keep in mind that service dogs are granted access to busy public areas, where anything could happen. A child could run up and hug him without warning, a car could backfire and someone could step on his tail – all at the same time! Being a service dog can be incredibly stressful, especially to a dog who has a naturally anxious or fearful disposition
Perform the exercises used by experts to evaluate puppies and adult dogs. While not 100% accurate, these tests can predict a dog’s aptitude for service work. Be fair to your dog, and truly ask yourself: would he flourish or would he flounder?
How easy is your dog to train?
Making your dog a service dog requires extensive training, and having an eager student will make the whole process much smoother. Some dogs naturally live to please their owners, and others have their own agenda. Both can be wonderful pets, but one is more suited to working with a disabled handler than the other.
How old is your dog?
Most people take 6-24 months to train their dog to be a service dog. Service dogs tend to be retired before their golden years, and if your dog is already middle-aged, you may not have much time left with them. As a result, it is best practice to choose a younger dog (under 2 years old) to start the process with.
Speak with a trainer
Have your dog evaluated by an experienced trainer to verify that they are a good candidate for service work. This will also give you a chance to discuss what tasks your dog could learn, and how to train them. Your trainer should be able to aid you through any bumps along the way, and help get your dog to the standard he needs to be.
Speak with a vet
Take your dog to a veterinarian. You want to get the thumbs up that your candidate is healthy and physically able to do the things you’d need him to do. In addition, you want to keep your vaccinations up to date, and on record, as you’ll be in public with your dog on a regular basis. If your dog will be doing physically intensive work, such as bracing or heavy pulling, consider deeper tests to ensure their hips and elbows can handle it.
Don’t have a dog?
If you want to be able to take your dog into public spaces, they need to be safe and under control. This requires a monumental amount of training and exposure to different situations. While the minimum recommended time is 120hrs, most service dog handlers clock in much more training than that before they feel their dog is ready for the real world.
You want to master your dog’s manners and obedience for public access. This involves slowly working up towards busier, more distracting environments to train in. At the very least, you want your dog to reliably sit, down, stay, recall, heel and leave it through verbal and/or hand signals. They also need to be neutral and indifferent to their surroundings, which will require gradual exposure to novel things in different environments. Your dog needs to feel like he’s seen it all and done it all – nothing fazes this cool cat. Read our post on How To Train A Service Dog for more details, as this is an area that is critical to get right.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to join a training club if you can, as this way you are able to work with your dog in a highly distracting, but well-controlled environment. Trainers can help you with any troubles you’re having, as well as goals you’re working towards. Look for a club that offers Canine Good Citizen (CGC) training. If your dog can pass the CGC test, you’re doing great.
Step 4: Take a public access test
Find a public access test, such as this one from Assistance Dog International and print it out. Contact a trainer (or friend if using a trainer isn’t an option) and ask them to help with the evaluation. It is highly recommended that you film the exercise, as proof that your dog is verified for public access. Having a written document from a trainer could work too.
If you would like to register your dog as a service dog, be sure to read Making it Official. You may be able to find organisations that allow you to voluntarily register with them, but by no means is registration required. It is absolutely not something you pay large amounts for, so be careful of scam sites.
While we’ve given a basic overview of your rights as a service dog handler in a separate post, some states are more service dog-friendly than others. Part of learning how to make your dog a service dog is knowing how to legally protect yourself. School up on the laws and regulations of your particular state to prevent added drama.
You’ve just learned how to make your dog a service dog, step-by-step, well done! Remember to use the experts at your disposal – your doctors, your trainers, your vet. They’ve spent many years perfecting their trade. If you have any trouble or questions, all you need to do is ask. Good luck!
References and recommended reading:
- HUD.gov. Fair Housing – It’s Your Right. U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved from http://www.hud.gov/
- ADA.gov. Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals. U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. Retrieved from http://www.ada.gov/
- Accessible Journeys. Air Carrier Access Act. Accessible Journeys. Retrieved from http://disabilitytravel.com/
- Pernilla Foyer, Erik Wilsson, Dominic Wright and Per Jensen, Early experiences modulate stress coping in a population of German shepherd dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 2013; 146, 1-4, 79-87
- Appleby, D. Puppy Socialisation and Habituation (Part 1) Why is it Necessary?. Association of Pet Behvaiour Counsellors. Retrieved from http://www.apbc.org.uk/
- Goddard, M. E., Beilharz, R. G. (1986). Early prediction of adult behaviour in potential guide dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 15(3), 247-260.
- E. Wilsson, P.-E. Sundgren (1998). Behaviour test for eight-week old puppies: Heritabilities of tested behavior traits and its correspondence to later behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 58(1), 151–162.
- E. Wilsson, P.-E. Sundgren (1997). The use of a behaviour test for selection of dogs for service and breeding. II. Heritability for tested parameters and effect of selection based on service dog characteristics. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 54 (2), 235–241.
- Assistance Dog International. Standards for Dogs. Assistance Dog International. Retrieved from http://assistancedogsinternational.org/
- Assistance Dog International. Public Access Test. Assistance Dog International. Retrieved from http://assistancedogsinternational.org/
- Miller. P (2006, March). Fun Training Techniques for Your Dog using Shaping! The Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved from http://whole-dog-journal.com
- APDT. How to Choose a Dog Trainer. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Retrieved from http://apdt.com