Before partnering with a Service Dog, there are several important points to consider. While many individuals with a disability benefit greatly from partnering with a Service Dog, it’s definitely not the solution for everyone. If you or a loved one is considering full-time Service Dog partnership, please ask yourself the following 5 questions before making a final decision.
You must know beyond a shadow of a doubt the benefits of partnering with a Service Dog will outweigh the disadvantages before venturing any further down the path of becoming a Service Dog handler.
Before beginning, you must understand there are no wrong answers to these questions – only answers that help you make the best decision for your needs and disability. The questions are designed to help you think and they’re not meant to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Partnering with a Service Dog is a huge step, and every person’s needs, desires, disability, abilities and situations are unique. Each set of circumstances deserves due consideration. However, it’s up to you to be honest with yourself. Frank and candid analysis/examination of you, your needs, your home life, your family and your disability is a requirement for ensuring you’re not making a choice that could set you back or hurt you, your relationships, your independence or the Service Dog community.
Give yourself plenty of time to muse, think and explore your feelings and thoughts concerning partnering with a Service Dog. Don’t make a decision hastily, and try to involve someone you trust in the brainstorming and soul-searching process. You must know beyond a shadow of a doubt the benefits of partnering with a Service Dog, for you, will outweigh the disadvantages. If, at the end of this post and at the end of your self-exploration, you’re not certain a canine partner is for you, it’s probably best to wait before beginning the process.
1) Am I financially able to take on the costs of caring for a dog for 10 to 15 years?
Whether you decide to apply for a Service Dog via an established program or you opt to owner-train your partner, Service Dogs (or any dog, for that matter) are not cheap. The old saying, “there is no such thing as a free puppy,” is completely true.
Costs of Partnering With a Service Dog Via a Program
If you’re applying to an Assistance Dog or Service Dog program, costs can vary widely. There may be application fees, travel, room, and board costs, equipment fees, and then, there’s the actual cost of the dog. Many Service Dog programs charge upwards of $5,000.00 for a dog, and costs of $20,000 or more for extremely specialized or dual-trained Service Dogs are not unheard of. There are very few grants or scholarships available to defray those costs, but fundraising is always an option and if you dig deep enough, you might find some assistance available. Service Dogs of America and the Assistance Dog United Campaign occasionally have Assistance Dog/Service Dog grants and scholarships available. However, you can’t count on receiving assistance, and must carefully consider the costs of each program you interview.
Costs of Owner-Training a Service Dog
If you decide to owner-train a Service Dog partner, you’re responsible for the cost of the dog, all veterinary costs and testing, temperament testing, transport, initial training, advanced training, any necessary titling/certifications (like CGC or C.L.A.S.S. or the ATTS Temperament Test, should you decide to obtain those), all gear and equipment, and any other required supplies throughout the training process, like food, poop bags, medical supplements and other “incidentals.”
Additionally, it’s not as simple as merely getting a dog from a shelter. Service Dogs must possess a specific temperament and trainability in order to succeed at the demanding work placed before them, and not just any dog will do. Finding the right dog for your partner can take months, and oftentimes, the only reliable solution is to obtain a well-bred puppy from a breeder known for producing Service Dogs in their lines. Well-bred Assistance Dog candidates, depending on the breed, can range from $800 to $3,000 dollars in purchase price alone. However, included in that price is the near-certainty that your potential partner is extremely likely to succeed, is physically, mentally and genetically sound and you have breeder support and backup, as well as access to resources, should you need them.
If you obtain a dog from a rescue, you must be CERTAIN he’s been thoroughly temperament tested, socialized, possesses the trainability necessary and is medically sound. Hip and elbow certifications via PENNhip or the OFA is never a bad idea, and should be considered mandatory for any dog who’s going to be doing brace/mobility support or any kind of weight-intensive task work like pulling a wheelchair or carrying heavy loads. On top of basic hip and elbow certifications, you should determine if your rescue dog is free of genetic illnesses common in their breed or breeds. Nothing is more painful or costly than spending thousands of dollars training and bonding with your partner only to find he’s going to be forced to retire years too soon due to genetic, temperamental or structural unsoundness. All in all, it’s not unreasonable to expect to spend $1,500 to $2,000 finding, transporting, testing and vetting a rescued Service Dog candidate, and that’s before any of the training begins!
Training itself can vary widely in costs, but you must include a professional, Service Dog-saavy trainer in your plans, even if it’s only every now and again. Trainers typically charge per class (which can range from $65 to $200 for 4 to 8 week sessions, depending on your location) or per hour (which typically runs $60 to $125, depending on your location).
Finally, are you prepared to accept full financial responsibility for your potential Service Dog for the rest of his life? Whether you’re going to train him yourself or you’re receiving an Assistance Dog from a program, you and you alone are responsible for vetting, quality food, toys, any additional/necessary training, emergencies, working gear, preventative medication (heartworm, fleas/ticks), grooming, joint or other supplements if necessary, bedding/crates/home stuff, doggy proofing, and many, many, many other incidentals. The price adds up quickly, but many trainers and experts estimate costs run between $1,200 and $1,600 a year at a minimum, every year for the rest of your dog’s life, not including initial vetting, testing and purchase. You must be willing and able to fully accept the financial strain of acquiring, living with, training, caring for, loving and partnering with a Service Dog for a period of at least 10-15 years.
2) Are you prepared to care or arrange for care for a dog every single day?
Partnering with a Service Dog is akin to having a toddler. Every day, without fail, your dog must be cared for. This means he’ll need taken out several times a day, cleaned up after, fed a nutritious meal at least once a day, ongoing training maintained or improved, mental or physical exercise/stimulation, groomed if necessary, and treated as a companion and living creature, not merely as a tool or object.
There Are No Exceptions
Service Dogs, like all dogs, are living, breathing animals with unique personalities, needs and requirements. They require constant upkeep and no matter what, you must be prepared to meet their needs. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, you’re having a “bad day,” there’s 4 feet of snow on the ground, you’re in the hospital or there’s a family emergency — your Service Dog MUST be cared and provided for.
Carefully consider how a Service Dog would fit into your lifestyle and family. They’re not an inanimate piece of equipment that always works flawlessly, and caring for them isn’t always convenient. Nonetheless, even when it’s difficult, hard, or stressful, you must be willing to accept full responsibility for your canine partner at all times. Partnering with a Service Dog can have many advantages, but receiving the full benefit requires a degree of dedication many individuals can’t provide due to their unique situations, busy lives, personality or a plethora of other reasons.
Additionally, you must have plans in place in case of an emergency. What happens if you’re sick? Your Service Dog is ill? You’re unexpectedly hospitalized? You must have back-ups in place to ensure your partner always receives the necessary care.
3) Are you prepared to always be the center of attention?
Working with and partnering with a Service Dog places you smack in the center of the public eye. Everywhere you go, people will stare, point and gawk and you and your canine partner. When partnered with a Service Dog, you will never be invisible. People will stop and engage you in long-winded conversations, ask tons of questions, many of which will be very intrusive or personal, tell you stories about how their dog would be just perfect for this kind of work or how their uncle has a dog JUST LIKE YOURS, except everything is different but the fact they’re both black.
Partnering With a Service Dog Can Be Stressful
Going places will take twice as long, and you must forget about ever being able to “just run in and get out quickly” again. The interruptions will be constant, and at times, downright offensive or rude. People will judge you, especially if you have an “invisible” disability, and you must be prepared to calmly assert your rights and the rights of your Service Dog. Expect a great degree of conflict and to have to educate more people than you ever thought possible.
You will be challenged, denied access and forced to assert yourself for not only your benefit, but that of the entire Service Dog community. You are an ambassador for the whole community, and your Service Dog might be the first people every come into contact with. You must ensure your partner is always presentable, behaving well, on task, and an excellent example of what a Service Dog should be. Partnering with a Service Dog carries responsibilities not only to the dog, but also to every other team in existence who may follow in your footsteps. You must always ensure you and your Service Dog leave an outstanding impression behind you no matter how many times you’re interrupted, challenged, judged or stopped.
If you’re not prepared or you’re unable to accept the stresses that accompany working or training a Service Dog in public and being a constant ambassador/spokesperson, you may wish to consider alternatives to partnering with a Service Dog.
4) Are you willing and able to accept the training and socialization obligations accompanying a Service Dog?
Partnering with a Service Dog is not a “one and done” deal no matter where or how you get your partner. If you receive your Service Dog from an Assistance Dog program, you’re going to have to work very hard to bond with, learn to communicate with, and maintain your partner’s training. If you owner-train a Service Dog, you must accomplish a feat trainers work years to perfect and build training and socialization foundations from scratch, and then maintain them.
Service Dogs possess highly trained, intricate and specialized skills and degrees of training. You must be willing to provide the practice time, boundaries and training to ensure your Service Dog won’t backslide in his training, public access or level of socialization. The more your Service Dog knows or must know in order to work for you and mitigate your disability, the more vital it is that you work on maintaining and enhancing his skills as frequently as possible.
Service Dogs Aren’t Always Perfect
Service Dogs are not robots — you can’t program them and then leave them to run. Sometimes they have bad days, and some days are just truly awful, trying and exhausting. You must be prepared to be mom, dad, teacher, coach, mentor, troubleshooter, judge, jury, principal, friend, partner and sometimes, even an impartial observer. Being too emotionally invested, especially if your Service Dog is struggling or is pushing back, means you likely will miss the real issue and won’t be able to fix it. You have to provide the structure, guidelines and boundaries necessary for your partner to thrive and be able to serve you to the best of his ability.
You must commit to upholding your Service Dog’s training, skills and behavior for the rest of his life, and to be willing to admit when you need professional help.
You cannot be a pushover, and you cannot worry about “hurting his feelings.” Service Dogs must uphold very stringent standards, and sloppy or ill-behaved Service Dogs wreak havoc on the Service Dog community as a whole. You must commit to upholding your Service Dog’s training, skills and behavior for the rest of his life, and to be willing to admit when you need professional help.
Training Service Dogs Requires Specialized Skills
Another consideration concerning training and socialization involves owner-trainers in particular. Professional Service Dog trainers spend YEARS learning to train, socialize, ensure success, document and work with Service Dog candidates, prospects and partners. Not everyone possesses the training background or ability necessary to teach, perfect and hone the behaviors, skills, and tasks required for working Service Dogs, both in and out of the public eye. However, an easy solution for owner-trainers who don’t have the necessary training, documentation or socialization experience is to partner with a professional trainer willing to help guide them on their journey to partnering with a Service Dog.
5) Are you prepared to deal with conflict?
While many people understand there will be access challenges while training, working and partnering with a Service Dog, many individuals are not prepared for the other areas of conflict they will encounter. You must be ready to lose friends or possibly even the support of family members, especially if you have an invisible disability. Not everyone is able to understand WHY you’d need or want a Service Dog and some relationships may suffer.
Additionally, you may encounter strife at work, at school, online and anywhere else you frequent. Business owners with whom you had an excellent relationship with may begin to resent you and your Service Dog, even though they allow you access, as is required by law. You may receive, even though technically illegal, varying degrees of treatment or services ranging from merely rude to outright abusive. You must be able to remain poised, professional and unflustered when faced with conflict.
Are you mentally and emotionally able to not only handle those blows, but to respond professionally, with courtesy and with poise? If not, partnering with a Service Dog may not be the best option for you.
Partnering With a Service Dog: Final Considerations
When it comes right down to it, no one can ask all the right questions. You and you alone know whether or not a Service Dog is right for you and your lifestyle, and at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s going to have to dig deep and accept responsibility for your choices. Service Dogs bring peace, independence, security and a new degree of ability to thousands of people, and if you’re going to be one of them, congratulations, and welcome to the Service Dog community. If you’re not, though, that’s ok — Assistance Dogs are not right for everyone, and we’d even hazard to say partnering with a Service Dog is not right for most people.
We hope to have stirred your thoughts up a bit, though, and helped you to recognize Service Dog partnership isn’t as straight-forward as it can seem.
Are there any questions, considerations or concerns you wish someone had raised with you before you partnered with a Service Dog full time? Is there anything you feel should be added to the list? Chime in with a comment!
Monica October 17, 2013
I feel that everything said in this article was absolutely correct. I believe a service dog is not an option for everyone. It is a lot of work and expense. I have trained several SD’s both for myself and someone else. It takes a lot of time money and devotion to the task. It also takes a disabled owner who is able to continue on going training and problem solving, as you stated things do come up. They are not robots. They are living breathing creatures with feelings and they get sick, and have bad days too. I personally have seen what happens when an SD recipient treats their partner as a machine, or does not keep up training. It isn’t pretty. You must fully understand and be willing to live your life in the spotlight and be gracious and educate others. What you do and how you treat others leaves lasting impressions. You want to be a pleasant memory in the public and business owners minds.
gennagaea October 17, 2013
I also agree…. and so many people who think they want a service dog have no idea what it entails. Literally. When people pop out with “Oh I want a service dog? Where did you get yours? How can I get one?” I usually do not have time to say what I want to… which is:
1) A service dog is not a fashion accessory.
2) Are you prepared to have a dog within two feet of you for the rest of your/its natural life? Please keep in mind that if you get married to the love of your life you can divorce him/her. Please keep in mind that while you will have a life long responsibility if you have a child, eventually it will go to school, go to the bathroom without you, stop following you to the bathroom, and leave home.
3) It’s not easy to get a service dog and the service dog doesn’t do all the work. You have to maintain a sort of professional relationship. It’s not like having a pet. If you don’t stick to the rules because you think it’s cute to give it snacks off your plate, you will pay for that for a long time when you need to go to a restaurant. And you will also pay for that if you aren’t assertive enough to tell strangers “No you can’t feed my service dog a bite of your food.”
4) You will never walk thru any store, office building, grocery, anywhere ever again without hearing someone and probably 5-8 people depending on how crowded the place is suddenly exclaim, “Oh My God, there’s a dog in here!!!” I just had a sweatshirt printed up that has a unicorn on it and says, “Be Calm. It’s only a Service Dog, not a flipping Unicorn.”
5) You will need to develop a sense of humor if you are going to survive getting a service dog without becoming a raging ranter. People will challenge you when you least expect it and when you are in the worst state of mind. It won’t happen when you feel great. No no no no no, if someone is going to come up and show their ignorance and discriminate against you, like Murphy’s Law it is going to happen when you are feeling your worst. And you are going to have to have something “nice” prepared to say so you can just say it without thinking or you are going to get security called or the police or just kicked out. And no, it’s not legal for them to do that but unless you have a lawyer on retainer, you’ll have to handle that when it happens all by your disabled lonesome. And it sucks… REAL BAD. So if that happening ever so often is more trouble than the service dog’s assistance well then you probably shouldn’t get one.
6) Not significantly important but still true. People love dogs– more than people like people. In fact, those people who ADORE dogs often don’t like people at all. People who will walk right by a homeless person without a thought, will come right up and moon all over your service dog. Even if you are the homeless person. And Service dogs are like the superheroes of all dogs so even people who don’t moon over regular dogs will get on their hands and knees and make complete fools of themselves in the grocery store when all you want to do is grab something to eat and get the heck out of there.
7) Coincidentally, Cute guys used to tell me I was cute. Not anymore. If someone says, “Well hello beautiful!!!” They are never talking to me anymore. They are always talking to the service dog. So that part about developing a sense of humor… it also helps to develop a sense of humility. LOL You will be in the company of someone who gets more credit for being smart, more credit for being beautiful, more credit for being brave and heroic, even if you are the disabled veteran lol, more credit for flipping everything…. so if that’s a vanity issue for you… you don’t want a service dog.
Personally, it was the single best decision I ever made, but getting a service dog isn’t getting a pet. It’s getting a wheelchair with fur you will have to brush, that needs to pee and poop, must be fed, given affection and yet given rules and structure, and that occasionally runs up a $300 bill because it accidentally swallowed the ball it was playing fetch with.
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Gennagaea, thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts! We laughed at several of the points you made and we couldn’t agree more. Would you mind giving us permission to utilize several of them in an upcoming post? We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
gennagaea October 18, 2013
Sure I actually added some and refined it in my post about the same idea on my wordpress blog. Feel free to skim off either version. 🙂 GG
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Thank you very much! How should we cite your contributions in the final piece? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WILLIAM PINER January 20, 2014
You hit all of the major points. I have been lucky. I have only had one person react negatively to my service dog. I have heard of people having big problems and being asked to leave or even escorted out by police. that being said the only incident i had was a lady in a checkout lane at costco say she was allergic to dogs, so we used a different lane. In my situation i could get by without the dog, but as my health declines he will become more important. the only problem i have with him is i stay home a lot and there fore do not take him out in public for days. This requires more attention from me for the forst 30 min. Kind a refresher course and he will then be fine for days. Good article i enjoyed reading it.
gennagaea January 22, 2014
Yes, I wish more of these dog lovers who aren’t people lovers would offer to take my service dog for more exercise. I don’t know if it would ultimately cause me retraining issues because no one ever offers but I worry as I become less and less mobile that she’s not getting the activity level a healthy dog needs. Still, if wishes were service dogs… HA HA!
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Monica, you summed everything up perfectly. Thanks for chiming in!
Sandra Allen October 17, 2013
Excellent article. I especially love the “willing to be the center of attention.” A kennel master in the Army warned me that I would have many more issues with humans than with my dog. He was right. If I ever go to a craft fair or community event, we are people magnets. I can’t do a better job of describing what that’s like than this article already did. I have been accosted though by people who feel that it is cruel to own a “working dog,” Unbelievable. My dog, Isaiah, and I are a team, one unit. My first loyalty is to Isaiah always, just as his is to me. Once you have a service dog, your life changes. Every activity. Every relationship. Isaiah is my partner, my confidence, my freedom, my heart. That is a priceless treasure. All of the other things…they just go with it. Great job in pointing out the realities of this relationship.
gennagaea October 17, 2013
Oh yes, the well-meaning dog lover who thinks “making a dog work” is cruelty. LOL That blows my mind every time it happens and it happens more than it should. I seriously had a cashier tell me once, “I hate seeing you make that dog work. My dog is home right now in the middle of my bed taking a nap and chewing up stuff. That’s what a well-loved dog does.” I just laughed because my service dog has never ever chewed up or destroyed anything in all her years. Why? Because she gets plenty of stimulation going everywhere with me and because she’s never left alone to panic over when I’m returning. Dogs like to work. They were bred to be productive. Service dogs are NOT the reason why there are Pet Therapists. Dogs who have nothing to do but wait to be feed or walked need therapy. And of course, I need less therapy which is the point. LOL I actually have relatives who don’t allow my service dog because they don’t allow any “visiting pets”. I don’t go see them. We are a team and we are inseparable and related or not if they don’t understand that, I probably don’t want to spend time with them at their home.
Sandra Allen October 18, 2013
You and I would be fast friends. Yes, when I look at my healthy, loved, curious, dog who goes everywhere I go, is so well-trained and ready to learn more, it makes me laugh when someone says they feel so sorry for him. His eyes are bright. He’s happy and alert. Clearly thriving. It’s in his DNA to have a job. We fit together. It’s a surprise at how willing people are to vocalize their rudeness.I thought one woman was looking for an opportunity to “set him free of his bondage” and had to get security involved when she started following me. And I have the same friends who don’t want dogs in their homes. Too bad for them. On the flip side, mostly I attract dog lovers, parents with disabled children who are thinking about service dogs for their children, but have never seen one in person, and veterans with tears in their eyes (since Isaiah is a German Shepherd and reminds them of the Army dogs they served with in the jungles of Viet Nam). I love “talking dog” most of the time. I don’t know why I’m blind-sided when someone is vocal and RUDE. There is also the set of people who say that they are going to start bringing their Chihuahua everywhere with them since I bring my dog. The good far outweighs the bad. But those times of being denied access and suddenly being in a loud confrontation with a mean person goes with having a service dog. It’s going to happen. To all of us. I am loyal to Isaiah first, stand my ground or sometimes not, depending on the situation and my level of pain, and have learned to respond with more dignity than I feel on the inside. Thanks to all who posted.
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Sandra, it’s easy to tell which dogs are happy and which ones aren’t, and it’s a rare Service Dog who isn’t on top of the world with his/her person. However, it’s not always easy. Thanks again for your excellent contributions! We hope you’ll stick around for awhile and check out some of our other articles — we’d love to hear from you and Isaiah more!
Maureen Ferrara August 22, 2014
No offense taken, but you should rethink and restate your Chihuahua comment. My medical alert SD IS a long coat Chihuahua. Any dog, any size, any breed.
Sandra Allen August 29, 2014
Thank you for pointing my comment about Chihuahuas out. Actually, the only reason i said that breed is because that’s the breed this particular lady had. In the future, I will make sure to not pinpoint a breed offensively. That was not my intent.You are right though. Any breed. Any size. All heroes.
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Gennagaea, you again hit the nail on the head! Well-trained Service Dogs are blessed beyond measure to be able to experience something VERY rare in this modern world: the ability to work hard, accompany their person to the ends of the Earth and back, and be a valued member of a team.
gennagaea January 22, 2014
Yup! She’s a happy pup! And without her, I honestly do not know if I’d still be kicking. 😉
Monica October 25, 2013
I have encountered that a few times over the years. Yes, It does blow your mind. My service dogs have always been the happiest of dogs. As you stated dogs need to work. It is their nature. I know that my Ellie enjoys going out with me. On days when I am not able to get out due to pain she is bored. She loves being by my side and taking in all the exciting things in the world. Pet dogs would be much better off if they had a job and got out and interacted with their owners rather than sit at home with nothing to do.
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Sandra, we’re so glad Isaiah has made such a huge difference in your life. He’s lucky to own you! Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts and perspective — we appreciate it!
Michael Mehlman October 17, 2013
Superb!..a great deal of what is said should be understood and heeded by any potential dog owner….a lot of experience and thought !!!”
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Thanks for chiming in, Michael! We appreciate it!
Michael Mehlman October 23, 2013
I would like to add…having read a number of critical remarks… that possible the most important objective your article achieves is to PROVOK the reader to seriously consider what it means to become a service dog owner… this alone makes the article a must read….
….many years ago I was a very good young professional dog handler ( confirmation ) trainer ..obedience and what was call ‘ guard dog’ training and kennel manager for top German Shepards..
..I sincerely applaud many of today’s generation trainers/ kennels providing a quality of knowledge and training for the animals and their owners..THANK YOU !!
….I left a very lucrative career ..no regrets..many years ago because I sincerely loved the animals I worked with….but not Thank you !!!..
…by the way I did have some of the best mentors and teachers ….and most of the methods which I learned and used are still the basis of the best today
Joyce Duarte October 18, 2013
Excellent article. Should be required reading anyone considering a service dog and BFF.
Kea Grace October 18, 2013
Thank you, Joyce! Education is definitely one of our foremost goals, and we hope to greatly contribute to the Service Dog knowledgebase. There are too many questions, too many myths, too many inquiries and just not enough answers or resources to go around.
SOLANGELES VELAZQUEZ April 11, 2016
Hi, I have read all the comments you guy’s wrote,and I want to tell you I need a service dog and he will be my companion I’m 58 yrs old and I leave by myself, I’m willing to d whatever it takes to keep us safe and happy, I would love some help getting a service dog so we can go to wherever we can,
Lesley Nord October 19, 2013
I found this to be thought provoking and well laid out. The questions and follow up provided by the author are many of the pertinent considerations a potential SD owner MUST consider carefully prior to making an informed decision to partner with an SD. This could be a valuable tool in the opening lines of communication about issues that may not be formally addressed as part of the SD training process. The part of this article that I do question is that “partnering with a service dog is not right for most people”. The article was excellent, fact based or asking question and then suddenly “hazards a guess”…overall, the best piece on this site so far.
Cindy Morgan November 16, 2013
I really enjoyed the artical and all the coments from the dog partners. So true. I am an owner/trainer of service dogs as well as a disabled partner of a great assistance dog, Jake. The part I love most is when someone comes up to me and my dog and says; (as they are reaching to pet) “I know I shouldn’t pet because he is working, but I just can’t help myself”, at that point I have the opertunity to ask them “if he was a cane would you still pet him?” They usually respond with a resounding no! People just do not understand that the dog that is with us is there to provide valuable assistance in place of stiff, uncaring, metal contraptions (I.e. Canes, walkers, wheel chairs) that can not do the things my dog can do for me, and as much as we do love them some if not all of us would trade them in to be whole. I value the assistance of a dog and am greatful for the ADA for allowing me this privilege of a wonderful partner.
Kea Grace November 18, 2013
Love your “if he were a cane, would you still pet him?” response. Nicely done, and keep up the good work!
marvin947 March 7, 2015
Hi, Cindy ; I loved your comment and this is a problem that is all to common. And that is even if there is a do not pet
patch on the dogs cape! people do what they want to do anyway! My name is Linda McCreary I’m the
trainer-partner of my service dog pepper. She is very well trained, listening to her commands, she is my
happy girl. She is also cute, she is a little poodle beagle mix. That does not stop her from doing her job
as a seizure dog, very well. And I also have the added bonus that pepper warns me ahead of time before
a seizure hits. But, because she is cute people want to pet her. And at the opposite extreme people can
be rude when I have the dog on the bus, or in a restaurant it doesn’t matter that she was laying quiet
behave, just as she was trained to do. People can be rude, that is a for gone conclusion. And yes, their
is a lot of responsibility with having a service dog, And I mean even more than we have than with one
that is just a pet But, I would not trade pepper for all the money in the world! with her the hard work
has paid off. She has been helping me when I have a seizure, then she saved my husbands life when
had a heart attack two years ago by coming and getting me. She wouldn’t rest until I followed her.
She then proceeded to sit quietly while the first responders were there. To make a long story short
my husbands Dr. told us that if it had not been for the dog, my husband wouldn’t be here now!
Pepper, is not only my service dog. She is our hero dog!
Written from, Linda J McCreary
Jenny Nelson January 20, 2014
Love this article. I am partnered with a fantastic girl, self trained. I partner an org that assists others to self train. It will be required reading for my clients. I will lose a few after they read this. But that is what I want. if after reading the reality, they find it too much, good, they should not be partnered. I already spend a lot of time with people on the Responsibilities of being Partnered with a dog…to the dog, and society. For every Right we are given also comes responsibility. one of my biggest beefs is how self absorbed many disabled can be. they feel they should be seated in the middle of busy dinning areas, yes they are entitled, but should they? I look at a busy restaurant as a not good situation for my dog. If it is unavoidable well alright, but if I have a choice, for my dogs sake..not to be cramped under tables with metal legs on the floor she must straddle, I ask to be seated in a less busy area, so Josie can be comfortable as well. My wait staff always provides for us well, and we are greeted with great cordiality on return visits…to local Chinese restaurants…even a party of 4 service dogs! Rather than bring the dogs to the buffet, one of us stays behind and watches the in training dogs, while the SR dog demonstrates. This is an example of what I call play your game 3-4 steps a head. Think ahead, think of how hard it is for dogs with food. With a little fore thought there will be no accidents. a person partnered with a dog, should be constantly sweeping the environment for potential problems so they can be handled in a matter o fact manner, like avoided, not in a panic. It is like driving a car, much of what you do is on auto pilot do to training, but like driving, you look ahead 3-4 car lengths for potential hazards and strive to avoid them. So add to the list, Partnering is having constant vigilance for the safety and comfort of your dog. It also means you pack fold able water bowls, water, poop bags, a poop scoop, if you can’t bend and a soft blankie if you know she will have to lay on hard cement, oh and a chewie to entertain them if it is going to be a day long seminar. when you get a DOG, YOU GET THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE QUALITY OF THIS DOGS LIFE FOR THE NEXT 18 YEARS. If They make our lives so much better, what do we owe them? I self train Josie every day. I help others learn those skills, and for many disabled it is the first time in their lives they have to put someone else’s needs above their desires. A true lesson in real life.
Beth January 22, 2014
I am a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence (the picture of the yellow lab with the blue scarf at the end is a CCI dog) and some of this is true even for puppy raisers…especially the part about being the center of attention. I recently flew with my pup in training and have never talked to so many complete strangers at the airport EVER. Almost all positive encounters though.
gennagaea January 22, 2014
It’s entirely possible that the largest part of my quandary with the attention is that one of my issues is PTSD that has blossomed over the years to near agoraphobic levels. I’m sure that I’m not the only person who’s service dog is partly or completely for PTSD. Still, I wonder when I meet someone who seems to have a lessor degree of it than I do why they’d want a service dog if they can function at all without one and it’s their only issue. I still think the average non-attention seeking human would be put off by constant extra attention but clearly it’s somewhat more excruciating since attention is something I ALMOST never want. LOL
Deb and Dakota April 28, 2014
Gennagaea, I too was severely agorophobic, am highly social phobic, suffer from PTSD, MST and others. I’m blessed to be partnered with a gorgeous long-coat huge German Shepherd as my Psych, MOB, & Medical Alert Service Dog. When I got her, I was FORCED out of my house in order to exercise and train her. Now fully trained & in service for 4 years, I still have severe social phobia – I’m terrified of people! So, when we get approached (constantly!), I politely say that I cannot interact with them right now, then hand them a packet of brochures about PSDs/SDs & GSDs. They immediately start to look thru them, while I & Dakota slink away quietly… LOL!! But truly, it really works. So I always have plenty of packets on hand to give out so that I can avoid a social phobic meltdown in public, LOL! As soon as we’re stopped, Kota does a body block for me and after 1 minute, begins to pull me away, bless her heart! Oh, I also made up packets to give to kids. And I taught Kota how to “wave goodby” to kids that wanna hug her fluffiness, and that keeps them back. You might consider making up packets to give out while you keep moving to avoid any interaction. Without Dakota at my side, I would not be able to leave my house and go do all the things the “normal” people do on a day to day basis.
Debbie Theobald January 25, 2014
i have been using a service dog for nearly 6 yrs. I have an invisible illness and my service dog is a chihuahua, so we get a lot of flack. Many places didnt want to believe he was a service dog due to his breed. When i go shopping etc it takes me at least twice as long because i am so busy answering questions about him. I have resolved the not believing my chihuahua by getting him a card that had his pic. I trained him myself and have since trained several other dogs for others. It is a lot of work and never ends because if he doesnt use a skill often he can forget it. He has saved my life several times and i love him like my own child. He is a medical alert dog as i get tias due to an aneurysm in my brain. without my dog i would no longer be here. so they are worth the cost and work.
Deb and Dakota April 28, 2014
Ms Grace, I like this article! As the Partner of a Psych, MOB, Med Alert Service Dog, I am constantly stopped and asked by the public how they can get a Service Dog. Then the education begins: must be legally disabled, Dr’s Rx, and so on. I would love to have your permission to copy & hand out this article to peeps that think THEY need a Service Dog. You were kind enough to give me permission to copy & distribute “10 Things A Service Dog Handler Wants You To Know”. Your name, titles, & a copyright notice were put at the top of your article. It has been a HUGE favorite with the public. On days that I cannot interact with the public, I give them my brochures that includes your “10 Things…” at the top. They usually seek me out later and thank me for that information! Along with this “5 Questions…” article, I would also like your permission to copy & distribute 3 other articles: “Picking A Service Dog Candidate” & “Federal Service Dog Law…”. And to go even further, I would love to print & share articles in the Training Archives for my fellow SD users.
It would be a huge blessing to me to have your permission to freely utilize all these articles to help educate the Public, and to further educate SD owners. I promise to add your name/titles/copyright info/website at the top of each one.
Thank you in advance for your consideration! Kind regards from someone who is learning much from you, Deb & Dakota
Jeff Bailey December 28, 2014
Excellent article….people need to think about the cost, time and logistics of Service Dogs (SD) as they consider such a decision.
I noticed the last photo with your story was of a Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) Service Dog. My wife and I have volunteered with this group for many years and are raising our 5th dog for them now. CCI is the world’s largest nonprofit Service Dog organization in the nation with 5 regional campuses serving those in need across the country.
Unlike many other reputable SD organizations, CCI provides all dogs 100% free of charge to the recipients.
ariana olenska February 22, 2015
Thank you for your excellent article. Because I am disabled, I live on disability income, which rules out the price of any program dogs. The ones like CCI that do say they offer free dogs, are issuing those dogs to a few chosen from hundreds of applicants, and also a long waiting period. Therefore I am venturing on with owner training, and am aware of the risks, but “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, and this is my only viable option. I have general training experience and do feel competent getting a dog through its CGC and basic public access. However, I would love to have a trainer to use/consult with as needed. Sadly, I read that most of the programs will not work with people outside of their program, i.e. with a dog that does not come from them.
I think there would be a great need for trainers who would work with owners to train there dogs, as there are so so many people in my position.
One of my issues is a partial hearing loss, and I have difficulty with some sounds and live alone, I often do not hear alarms, the phone, and doorbell. This really negatively affects me, as I am late, miss appointments, miss important calls, etc. , miss people. I believe a dog could significantly help me. Do you have any advice as to how I could find someone in my area who could work with me on training as somewhat of a “hearing” dog? I have read some program descriptions and this is basically what they are doing… dog alerts to these sounds, and helps with awareness in public. This part I do not feel qualified to do on my own. Thank you.
Barb Pierce January 30, 2016
That is how our program was created. I was in need of a medical alert and mobility service dog. After researching my options and checking my bank account I realized that a standard program was not an option. I had worked with animals all of my life and as a veterinary technician and certified dog trainer I decided to purchase and train my own dog.
I researched all of the breeds that were typically used for service work, and selected a standard poodle. Then I talked to breeders all over the country to find excellent health and longevity, the size I wanted and amazing temperament.
I knew I would start by socializing and teaching basic obedience, what I did not expect was the intuitive nature of this dog. He started alerting me at 3 months old, and started trying to brace for me at 4 months old. Obviously he had a lot of growing to do before he could brace. I started documenting the steps in training and the stages of development. From there I created a complete lesson plan, and I found an equally amazing female and started a breeding program.
We have effectively placed puppies with and trained disabled handlers all over the country. We have also used our training program to help people train their own dogs. I have included a lot of information on my website heritageservicedogs.org to help inform the public of Federal ADA law and give some direction to those looking to train their own service dog.
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Dana Morgan Hinson-Hanson February 3, 2016
Hi My name is Dana and I have a story as well as a journey like we all do. I was working in the deans the office Back in March of 1992 at the School I graduated from when 2 large boys were brought in for fighting they got loose from the dean and Vice Principal and started fighting again where I was trying to get out He hit me in the back of the head and pushed me against the corner of door . Since that time I have had seizures and PTSD from another act of abuse which I will share when we talk. Bullying and abuse cause major trauma to a person. I have prayed for to get a dog . Before and my doctors said it would be good for. I taught school for 30 years to little people, yet the seizure came in came in front of them and rescue came and all I can remember is little children saying where are they taking our teacher, I also had a pace maker put in and now on disability. I had thought about getting a golden retriever puppy, yet my doctor said no . I have a letter for that idea. To much stress for me .. My seizures are controlled with meds yet sometimes I do have break thru. The purpose would be for the PSTD . This is not a want its a need. Then I can go an speak to these kids about my story and share my car wreck from having seizure. My cousin Jimmy we Call him Jammer at the time worked for JFRD in Jax Fla . He was on call the night of my first seizure. I didn’t know what happened at and why He was He was helping me at 4:00 a,m. He is a Hero to me so my prayer to is that if I get a dog it will be a male and his name will be Called Jammer.. For he to will be my other Hero going with me wherever I go . Helping me share My Heart Song to stop Bullying and Abuse ??. … Thank you all for your kindness there’s so much more . This world needs Love.
Corvidae February 5, 2016
As a sufferer of Asperger’s, PTSD, anxiety, and depression, I’ve been strongly considering a service dog. I get fits of rage, panic/anxiety attacks, meltdowns. Sometimes I physically injure myself, clawing my scalp or biting into my hands… and yet what I REALLY worry is if I’m “disabled enough” or “worth it”. I know I’ll be approached. I know I’ll have to take care of my dog. But that anxiety in the mix eats me up to the point that I worry I don’t DESERVE a dog… Sigh.
Corvidae February 5, 2016
I was unable to finish writing my comment! Darn that enter key… I just wanted to choose a name. Anyway… I wanted to add that this is a great article. I’m hopeful that someday soon I can get a service dog for my needs, and I know I’m prepared. I just think it’s sad that so many people have undermined my disabilities that I fear they aren’t “enough”… And I’m sure I’m not the only one. Thank you for the amazing read.
Sami May 23, 2016
I am in the same situation (diagnosis/meltdowns/self harm as well), and I wanted to thank you for saying what I have been thinking this whole time looking through articles and information about service dogs. You aren’t the only one and thank you for speaking up, this has validated my feelings for needing a service dog and they are “enough”! Good luck to you and I hope you may find a service dog to help!!
Fiona and Barnum February 5, 2016
Hello everyone I have so enjoyed reading all your comments and so many of them ring true .
I live in Scotland and have been partnered with my very handsome boy ,for just over a year now .To say he has changed my life would be an understatement he’s just simply amazing . But the article about things to take into consideration are so true !! I have to admit that I was so blinded by the “fairy tail ” of having this magical dog that I didn’t even consider any pit falls ,and actually just how committed and how difficult things can be at times . Here in the uk once you have been matched with your dog you then attend a 2 week residential course at the training centre . Honestly it was like boot camp and I was so exhausted ,it certainly brought me down to earth and I then realised just how much hard work on both parts would have to be put into this partnership to work . As much as I rely on my boy he also relies on me too ! I am a full time wheelchair user and unable to walk at all however I’m fortunate in that I can move my upper body ,so I’m able to groom ,feed throw balls for him etc . But I realise very quickly that had I been even a little more disabled it would have been very wrong of me to take this huge commitment on as I would have found it physically impossible to care for him . He doesn’t ask for much but he’s a living breathing being and certainly needs all the care you would give to a child . You comments really put things into perspective and I think everyone considering being partnered with a service dog should read you brilliant article .
Also I would just like to add that I was so sad to hear that you guys in the USA have to purchase and train your own service dogs .
I have been truly blessed as here in the uk we are gifted our Canine Partners free of charge ,it is a wonderful charity that is not funded by the government and is fully funded by donations and volunteers helping raise money and puppy parent these amazing dogs
Sorry I’ve rambled on a little but just wanted to say a huge Well done for a great article .
Fiona and Barnum xx?
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Troy Blackburn December 19, 2016
I had no idea that some service dog programs charge close to $5,000 for the dog itself and $20,000 or more for the training! I’ve heard, however, that the financial load is greatly outweighed by the benefits that one receives from said dog. There’s no way to measure that, but I’m sure that it’s true! I have a blind friend who uses a service dog and he will agree with me when I say that his dog is his life!
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Mark Baranowski February 7, 2017
Keep current with Food Safety standards and regulations!
jresquival March 9, 2017
That’s a good point that a dog is a 10-15 year commitment. You’ll want to check your financial situation against those costs. I bet your insurance could possibly help with those costs, as well.
Steven ludwig September 15, 2017
Is a service dog “on duty” 24 7??
Alma Hall October 17, 2017
I am the spouse/caregiver of a service dog owner/handler. Actually my husband is the man in the photo in this title. As a spouse of a SD handler who has a TBI, among other physical issues, I want to add that if the handler is not always capable of care, is the family ready to step up to help?
My husband because of his brain injury is not always capable of care. On is “bad brain” days, as we call them, I will be feeding, grooming, taking out for the dogs “breaks” etc. A SD can be a family commitment also.
As far as dealing with the non-savvy service dog public, I have to step in when my husband is having TBI speech issues, and be the bad guy telling people they can’t pet, feed etc my husband’s SD.
Even with all the extra work, on top of car in for my husband, my husband’s service dog Harley has been a lifeline for us…literally. Harley has now worked for my husband for over seven years now and has so enriched both of our lives.
Lorin Lippert November 16, 2017
Yes, I am a Disabled Veteran US Army looking for a dog or to help train my German Shepard. Great with dogs and need something to help me threw everyday life. Call anytime 605-484-4448 really need help in South Dakota no one seems to care or know how to go about this type of program. Anyway or anyone whom could help me out here feel free to call me anytime day or night. I’m looking for some way for the VA to help me train my German Shepard or help me find another German Shepard to help me threw life. I am pleading for help because the VA around here don’t seem to understand or know what it’s like to have to deal with this on a daily manner. Please help me I’m begging you any help at all in this area just trying to get threw life. Thanks Retired US Army SSGT Lorin L Lippert
Debbie Simpson January 22, 2023
I have been alllllll over the internet for the last 6 months, even before we picked out our pure bred Black Labrador Retriever, Luna, because I knew we were getting her for her to be owner trained as a possible candidate to be my diabetic alert dog. You read so much, and a lot do not keep my interest with their “facts”!! Yours though, this article though 🙌🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼🙌🏼!! Thank you!! 🙇🏼♀️
I was raised an upstate New Yorker, and as most of us are very known for is our “blunt honesty”. I think for me myself at least, I learn better from lay it all out to me, with some this is what it is blunt honesty. This is what you did here in this article, and I am beyond appreciative greatly!! I am looking forward to the changes I am going to be making in my approaches and many other things thanks to you! ☺️♥️🤗