Training a Service DogFuriday

The Ultimate Two Birds - One Stone Scenario

You get a best friend for life and you get a life-saving companion. For those with disabilities, life can be significantly altered due to the precautions necessary for managing a medical condition. Fortunately, service dogs provide an opportunity to not only allow owners to live a more normal life, but also to attain a life-long friend in the process. Clearly if you’re reading this, there must be a need for a service dog in your life or in someone’s close to you. So let’s get to the basics regarding the options in training your future service dog.

Owner-Trained, Program-Trained, Already Trained

Ultimately, the best way to develop a relationship between you and your dog is to struggle through the training experience together. This takes incredible discipline and patience on your end in order to train consistently and effectively. Not all owners will have the touch or knowledge needed to have their dog meet all necessary requirements for certified service dogs, and not all dogs will ultimately be capable of becoming service dogs. Learning the necessary training techniques and requirements for a service dog is critical to achieve proper progress and skill sets. On the plus side, conducting training with the dog makes it more able to recognize emotional and medical deviations from the owner’s standard baseline. This is critical when the dog will be a psychiatric service dog, since it must recognize an owner’s changing state in order to alert properly. Regardless of the type of service dog seeking certification, it is still recommended that owner-trained dogs utilize a professional trainer at some time through the training process. Although it’d be nice to do it all alone, having a second set of eyes and a second knowledge base for proper training is a priceless resource.

Program-Trained dogs have the advantage of training being conducted by professionals (as long as they’re certified). Veteran trainers will have years of experience dealing with many dog breeds, behaviors, and personalities. For troubled candidates that still are seeking certification as a service dog, this option definitely provides much-needed expertise in behavior correction. Clearly there are two options for programs: 1. You participate in the training with your dog. 2. You do not participate in the training with your dog. Keep in mind programs that provide training without you present will still require at-home reinforcement of the training. The preferred method is obviously that you actively participate in a training program with your dog. Instructor-led sessions in which you are the main commander of your dog will yield results that transfer over to real-world situations more accurately. Since the trainer is essentially training you to train your dog, you’ll learn how to become a better owner and trainer. For those that can afford it, program-trained dogs that have you present during sessions is the most reliable option for attaining service dog status.

Dogs that are “Already Trained” are not simply handed off to you after purchase. There is a transition period in which the dog is acclimated to your lifestyle and trained further in the necessary skills to attend to that user. There are incredible benefits to this method of obtaining a service dog. The dog usually has been bred specifically for the task at hand, it has been trained since being a puppy, and it is typically quicker to adapt to its owner’s needs. Clearly the disadvantage is the cost, as these service dogs typically run around $20,000 according to Canine Assistants. An alternative breakdown for other methods of training a service dog can be found here on psyhdogpartners’ website. Future service dog owners who have severe disabilities that are in need of dogs with the ability to perform complex tasks certainly would benefit the most from “Already Trained” service dogs since they are bred and raised for the task at hand.

Clearly each dog and owner is a unique situation and might experience completely different circumstances. At Casual Furiday, we always recommend rescuing a dog if it’s a viable option for you, but ultimately we love all pups. That’s why we like to remind you that rescued dogs of all ages can be just as capable as privately bred dogs if enough time and training is put into them, but ultimately do what fits your needs!

The Details of Training (Length, Tasks, Work, and Skills)

The typical service dog takes approximately 1 to 2 years to train before meeting service dog requirements. Each state in the US has different laws regarding companion animals and service dogs. For your individual state, you can visit this page and read the official laws. For general laws regarding service dogs, the Americans with Disabilities Act covers many different areas. The following links specifically pertain to service dogs:

Training your service dog also has various stages when it comes to preparing it for action. Initially, the dog will learn its skills, then its tasks, and then its work. The complexity from one classification of activities to the next increases as it requires more critical thinking on behalf of the dog. After the dog is at an acceptable level of performance for skills and tasks, it can begin to have public access training while also practicing its work. While an owner does not have as many rights in public while the service dog is in training, there are still retail stores and locations you can bring your service dog in training to practice its public behavior and concentration. Slowly getting the dog more accustomed to behaving in public with you is a critical, lengthy, and patience-intensive part of the process, but also the most critical.

So what’s the difference between tasks, work and skills? According to Service Dog Central, a task is:

“1. An intentionally trained behavior, not a natural behavior of dogs in general. Choosing a dog that is not naturally affectionate so that you can train it to act affectionate is a very obvious ploy to try to get around real task training and does not qualify a dog as a service dog.

2. Something that the handler cannot do for themselves because of their disability and that mitigates their disability. For example, if you are able to pick up items off the floor yourself, then retrieving dropped objects is not a legal task for you because your disability doesn't prevent you from doing it for yourself. You are certainly free to teach your dog to do any extra things you like, whether you need them because of disability or not, but understand these extra things are bonuses and do not qualify the dog as a service dog.”

A skill meanwhile would be defined as the dog conducting a specific action after the owner gives it a command (e.g. “Sit”, “Stay”, etc.). This command and action isn’t outside of the scope of typical dog behavior. This means the difference between a skill and a task is that a task would be a more complex behavior (such as retrieving a pair of glasses from another room), while a skill would be something a dog would normally do (growl, sit, come, etc.).

Comparatively, work is a trained behavior or action that the dog conducts without commands from the owner. This could mean alerting the owner of an oncoming seizure or panic attack, or something of similar nature. These subtle but clear differences between skills, tasks, and work are important classifications that distinguish the necessary behaviors for a dog to be required a service dog.

This post is simply meant to further your understanding of service dogs so you can make a more informed decision, but definitely do additional research since it never hurts! We provided some links below if you’d like find out more about training service dogs.

 Resources for Service Dog FAQ
General Service Dog FAQ and Canine Assistants FAQ:
Detailed Required Behaviors for Service Dogs:
Non-Profits and Sites Related to Service Dogs
National Service Animal Registry:
Freedom Service Dogs:

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