“Can I train my own service dog?” Was the question I started asking myself after I saw the cost of buying one.
Probably the biggest hangup I had with getting a service dog for my anxiety was that cost of the whole thing. I kept looking at different websites who offered already trained service dogs. Every time I’d feel that drop in my stomach when I saw the price or the hoops I had to jump through to get a dog.
Most service dogs were $20,000. While I know there’s a good reason for that, I didn’t know where I would ever get that kind of money. I’m not the kind of person who has $20,000 hanging around.
And while I could have technically asked friends for help, I just couldn’t stomach the idea of telling everyone about what was going on. It’s too scary to deal with the judging that happens with that. And $20,000 feels so overwhelming.
Some places had service dogs for cheaper, but they wanted me to submit all kinds of documentation. And the wait list was long. It was too much.
So I wanted to know, can I train my own service dog instead? When I read through all the laws and stuff, it was kind of exhausting. That’s what led me to create this website. To help other people who also wondered if they can train their own service dog.
Can I Train my own Service Dog?
The short answer to the question of “Can I train my own service dog?” is Yes! Yes you can!
Let’s talk about the law, so you know your rights when it comes to training your own service dog. Then, I want to explain the steps to getting a service dog and training it.
ADA Requirements for Can I Train my own Service Dog
At the ADA website it says:
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
“When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.”
In the text of the ADA, it says:
“Service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
And then the fantastic page Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals, which I highly recommend reading, says:
“Q5. Does the ADA require service animals to be professionally trained?
No. People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.”
So the ADA allows for me to train my own service dog. The law specifically forbids public places from asking service dog handlers for certification or documentation.
What are the Requirements to Train a Service Dog?
The ADA allows a good amount of leeway for service dogs. The requirements for a dog to be a service dog in public are as follows:
- You must have a disability.
- The service dog cannot be out of control (occasional lapses are ok as long as the handler gets the dog back under control).
- The service dog must be housebroken.
- The service dog must be trained to do at least one task/work that helps reduce a symptom of your disability. (Cannot just provide comfort or just do a behavior naturally.)
This does not mean that you should take your dog to two basic obedience classes and then train your dog to do one task and take them into public.
Training a dog to be consistently well-behaved in a busy store without stressing them out takes time. Usually about 2 years of intense obedience training is done before taking a dog into public to help with your disability. Many dogs cannot handle the stress and focus that this takes.
How Can I Train my own Service Dog
The second thing to look at is getting a doctor’s note for a service dog. A doctor’s note is important in case you ever need to go to court because of a business treating you badly or a business trying to prove your dog isn’t a service dog.
It is also important to have if you ever need to go on an airplane or if you rent from a place that has limits on pets.
The third thing you’ll want to look at is finding a good dog to be your service dog. This is the most important thing you can do. Having the right dog is absolutely critical to your success with service dog training. Most dogs will not make good service dogs, so you will want to really make sure that you know what to look for in a dog.
After that, you will want to do consistent training for your service dog. I like to train a task near the beginning, so the dog can start helping with your disability right away at home. But you’ll also need to do consistent, positive obedience training. So that your dog can get comfortable with working in public.
If you want to know more about how to train your own service dog, I want you to sign up for my free newsletter (and get a free sample doctor’s note!) I write about training your own service dog on a regular basis and offer courses on occasion. See you there!