Think You Want A Service Dog?

Questions to consider if you want a service dog?

When considering these questions, remember there are not right or wrong answers.  The answers will help to determine which organization is the best match for you.


What can a dog do for me?

Remember while these canine partners are amazing, they are not TV dogs with super powers.  Service dogs work with hard tasks like retrieving objects, or identifying sounds.  They can often do skills from more than one work style, such as hearing sounds and retrieving items for someone who is hearing impaired and uses a wheelchair.  However, there are limits, and you should prioritize the skill you wish to have.  It is important to remember that these animals are NEVER allowed to be protective or aggressive.  They cannot prevent someone from taking your child or stop your child from leaving the house.

 Am I getting a working service dog?

Service dogs are defined and protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Many training programs which train service dogs also train therapy or companion animals.  It is important to know what you are really getting.

Service animals have protection for public access when working; therapy animals, companions or other assistance animals do not.

According to the ADA a service animals is a dog, or miniature horse, which has been individually trained to perform task for a person with disabilities and that the trained task must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Note: comfort and emotional support do not qualify as skills under the ADA for service animals.  Just because a dog can do something (fetch an item), it does not mean this is a trained skill for your service dog.  The trained skill must be directly related to your disability.

Be sure you know what trained skill; your dog will have and how to use it to help you overcome aspects of your disability.


How to I pick a training organization?

There are several things you should consider when evaluating which training organization to work with.  Here are some questions to ask the organizations before choosing:

  •  Do you work with my disability?

Not all organization work with all disabilities

  • Do you work with my state?

Not all organizations work with all states or countries

  • What age group do you work with? 

Some organizations only work with adults or people over a specific age

  • Are you a member of Assistance Dogs International, Guide Dogs of America or the International Guide Dog Federation? (Remember to ask about the group that services your service type)  If not why?

These memberships are voluntary and show that the group is working to uphold and set high standards for the industry.  There are some training programs that are good who are not members of these groups.  You should understand why they have made the choices they have to help you know if this is a group you want to work with.

  • Who owns the dog after placements? 

Some organizations keep ownership of the animal and will later determine retirement of the animal and may reclaim the animal at retirement.  Other organizations put ownership with the client and allow the client to determine the retirement time and allow the client to keep the animal in retirement, if desired. All reputable organizations will assist in determining when retirement is best and in finding a suitable home for the retired dog , if requested by the client.

  • Are other pets allowed in the home with the service dog? 

Some organizations say yes to all other pets, while others say no to any.

  • What are the travel requirements? 

Travel is required by someone, either the client or staff of the training organization.  Find out what travel is expected for the interview of the client and or the training.  Find out about retesting travel; teams are retested on a regular schedule, will the staff travel to you or must the client travel back to the training organization

  • What is the cost? 

There is always a cost and this will range significantly.  Most organizations ask the client to fundraise on their own behalf (donations being made to the training organizations by third parties are tax deductible if the organization is a 501c3 non profit).  Smaller costs often mean larger wait times.  Please be assured fundraising is only hard if you are not willing to tell people you are raising funds.

  • Do you work with facilitation?  Why or why not?

Some training organizations are comfortable working with a parent / child team      and others feel it is important to have independent teams – meaning no 3rd party to oversee the team

  • If not a member of ADI what public access test is being used?

Check it out.  A public access test is not about the skills the dog uses to help its human partner, it is about the human partner being in control in public places and having appropriate behavior from both the human and the dog in those places

  • How many dogs have your trained for people like me?  Can you talk to some of them?

5 is the number we recommend

If this is a new program the organization should be upfront about that.  If this is an established program with a new style of service ask to talk to other clients.  Remember an organization is going to recommend you talk to happy clients but it is still valuable to talk with them and get a feel for their experience – ask for the good, the bad, and the ugly

  • What happens if we raised the needed funds and the dog does not work out?

Some parents have been told they have to raise money for each try – reputable organizations credit the money to you – not the dog – so until a good match is made they keep trying

  • Dogs in school?

Some organizations promise that their dogs can go to school with young children because an aid can be responsible for the dog; some even require families to get an agreement with the school prior to matching a dog with the child.  Be advised – according to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Department of Justice, facilitates are not responsible for the tools used by the people entering the facility.  This means the school does not have to provide an aid or staff person to be responsible for the dog.  The child should have the dog in the school if the dog is expanding the child’s independence and the child can be fully responsible for the dog in public spaces

**Please see our page on this topic for details—important for parents and schools to know