Training a Service Dog: Costs, Requirements and How to Do It

Published August 8, 2022
service dog with trainer

Service dogs are important members of the family. They help their owners with a variety of tasks, including opening doors, picking up dropped objects, and fetching medicine. Before you think about acquiring a service dog of your own, it's important to understand what goes into their training. Whether you work with a reputable organization that trains service dogs, a private trainer who works with service dogs, or if you decide to train a dog yourself, there are many things to consider, including costs, time commitment, and support.

The Importance of Extensive Socialization

Socializing a dog involves teaching them how to behave around other people, animals, and objects in various situations. A service dog must be able to handle any situation that might arise during their working life without becoming too anxious or distracted by the experience. This is a vitally important part of training, and most service dogs spend the majority of their early training focused on socialization.

The process of socialization begins before you acquire your service dog. Each puppy is evaluated based on their reactions to noise, other dogs and people, unexpected movement, new situations, unusual objects, unfamiliar environments, and anything that might distract or stress them.

Most puppies are excitable and show strong signs of distress or fear, or otherwise display unwanted reactions to these stimuli. However, a small group of special puppies shows calm reactions and inquisitive interest during the evaluation. These are the puppies who are good candidates to become service dogs.

Once a puppy has shown an aptitude for service work, they begin the process of socialization training. Not all puppies who demonstrate that they are good candidates to become service dogs ultimately succeed in further training. This is a process of eliminating dogs who ultimately will not be suitable for service work. Service dogs need to be very steady and desensitized to all distractions so they can perform their duties without distraction.

This is why many people who need service animals rely on professional trainers and organizations to help with the process. Typically, if your puppy doesn't make it through socialization, you still have to care for the pup throughout their life. You can't easily trade them for another puppy who is better suited to training. If you plan to train your own service dog, keep this in mind. It definitely helps if you have extensive experience training dogs, or you can work with a professional trainer or organization to identify a suitable puppy for training.

When Socialization Should Begin

The moment you first bring your puppy home, typically around 8 weeks old, socialization starts and continues throughout their life. This aspect of training is essential to your dog's ability to function in the world. Service dogs need to have a strong ability to interact with other people and dogs while working. Socializing your puppy means exposing them to new situations and people continuously to help them learn how to behave appropriately in different environments: busy streets, shopping malls, hospitals, etc. This helps ensure that your dog can function in public settings without becoming frightened, excited, distracted, or disruptive.

Socialization can also improve a dog's confidence level by letting them know that they are capable of handling new situations without getting scared or nervous about what might happen next. This helps make sure that the dog remains calm under pressure instead of panicking at the first sign something unexpected might happen (like hearing fireworks going off nearby).

It's impossible to overstate how essential this aspect of service dog training is: a service dog who becomes distracted or who can't remain calm in stressful situations can compromise your safety. Typically, most service dogs go through a period of socialization and basic obedience training for the first 8 months of their life (though some dogs spend slightly more or less time in this phase of training).

It's a long, involved process, and many dogs eventually prove to be unsuitable for service work during socialization training. Those who do move on to formal training to address their service purpose.

Training Your Own Service Dog

Training your own service dog is a great way to get the best quality service dog for your needs. However, if you are not an experienced trainer or handler, it can be quite difficult to find training materials and courses that meet your needs. Reaching out to a service dog organization or private trainer specializing in this type of training can help a lot.

One of the most important things to consider when training a service dog is that they must be trained with positive reinforcement. You should never use any kind of punishment or negative reinforcement in training your dog. Instead, whenever your dog does something right, you should reward them with treats, a toy, or praise. This will help teach them what they are supposed to do and how they can do it correctly.

Obedience Training

Most service dogs start basic obedience training during their socialization period. To begin training your own service dog, you will need some basic supplies, such as treats, toys, clickers, and a leash and collar. Once you have all these items together, start by teaching them simple commands, such as "sit," and "stay," so that they get comfortable being around people and learning new things at an early age.

Two very important commands are especially useful for service dogs include a reliable recall command, and a command that combines "Sit" and "Stay" into a single command. The secret is to start early, remain consistent in training, and work with your dog every day.

To teach your dog how to sit, continue the following:

  • When your dog is standing up and ready to go, walk up to them and say "sit" in a clear voice.
  • If they sit down, reward them with a treat or some praise. If they don't sit down, don't try to force them into position. Just walk away and start again later with another round of training.
  • Repeat this process every day until your dog knows what "sit" means and will automatically respond when they hear it or see you moving towards them.

To teach your dog to stay, take the following steps:

  • Get your dog's attention.
  • Stand in front, facing them.
  • Hold your hand out and say "stay" in a firm voice - say it every time you call the dog back.

If they stay still or come close to remaining still, reward them with treats or praise. If they don't, repeat the process until they understand what is expected of them.

Once they have mastered the basic obedience training requirements and dog manners, along with house training, if you have a puppy, you can begin preparing for their service dog training. The next steps will depend completely on which tasks you need your service dog to perform.

Training for Specific Tasks

You can begin training them for specific tasks, such as helping someone who has a seizure disorder, pulling a wheelchair, or picking up items off of the ground for someone who can no longer bend over due to injury or age-related issues, such as arthritis or osteoporosis. However, the training methods that will be employed during these next phases will depend on what each service dog is needed for.

They can help you find items around your home by bringing them to you when you ask for them. This is particularly helpful if you have trouble bending down because of arthritis or other issues. They can also support these types of individuals by providing balance as they move, helping them sit down and stand up from a chair or bed, and helping them to ride in vehicles.

You should consider taking some classes on how to train a service dog as well as enrolling in an organization that specializes in training these dogs. This will give you a better idea of how best to train your own service dog for assistance with specific types of disabilities.

Training Based on Disability

Once a dog has gone through extensive obedience training and socialization, they can begin the route of training for specific service tasks.

Train Your Dog To Detect Seizures

The first step in training your dog is to know what you want them to do before, during, and after a seizure. Do you want them to guide you away from dangerous situations? Do you want them to remind you when it's time for meds? Do you want them to fetch someone who can help?

Next, decide which behaviors your dog needs in order to meet these goals. For example, if guiding you away from danger is important for your safety, make sure your dog knows what "Stay" means so they don't run off when the seizure begins. If medication reminders are important because they will help keep the seizures under control, you can teach them what "take me back upstairs" means so they'll know where their special place is located, wherever that might be.

Seizures alert dogs and seizure response dogs are two different types of service dogs. However, dogs can be trained to be both. A seizure-alert dog is one that responds naturally to seizures. A seizure response dog is one that has been trained to perform certain behaviors in response to a seizure.

Dogs that are used as seizure dogs aren't trained to learn what seizures are. Those who can alert you to an impending seizure do so naturally, making this type of service animal more difficult to find. Once you have found a service dog that understands seizures, it is time to train them on how to alert you.

The best way to do this is by using a special device that emits an alarm whenever there is an emergency situation. You will also want to make sure that you have some sort of plan in place so that your dog knows exactly what they should do when they hear the alarm go off.

Training to Help with Mobility

Assistance with mobility is a highly specialized type of service dog training. Service dogs trained to help with mobility can act as a brace by helping their owner stay upright and balanced when they're walking or climbing stairs, or they may be able to help with the heavy lifting in terms of carrying things like groceries or books.

They can also be trained to alert their owners when they're about to fall so that they have time to catch themselves. They can even be taught to open doors for their owner or pull them up in a wheelchair if necessary.

It's important to get your dog used to their mobility assistance equipment before you begin. It doesn't make sense to train them to respond when they aren't comfortable wearing their harness or vest. Once they're used to it, though, it will be easier for them to learn how to help with mobility.

  • First, place the chair in front of your dog. Then, give them a treat and tell them "Lift." The dog will likely try to eat the treat, so use another treat as a lure for them to help you into the wheelchair. Once they have done so, praise them and give them another treat. Repeat this process until they seem comfortable with it.
  • If you have issues with balance or coordination, then have someone else guide your dog while they pick up your chair. It's important that they learn how to do this independently so that they can help you when needed.

You'll also want to teach them how to turn around when you stop walking forward or backward. To do this, hold on to both ends of their leash and stop suddenly when they're next to you (make sure no one else is around). Then pull gently on one end of their leash until they turn around and face away from you again; repeat this process until it becomes second nature for them.

Finally, practice getting into different positions so that your service dog knows what each one means: lying down means "rest," sitting up straight means "wait here," standing up straight means "walk forward," or some sort of similar system.

Cons to Training Your Own Service Dog

Service dogs need extensive socialization with people, places, and things in order to be able to perform their tasks in public places like stores and restaurants. If you're unable to train a service dog yourself, then you will need to hire someone who has experience training these types of dogs in order for them to be successful at their job. If you aren't experienced in this type of training, then there's a chance that your dog will develop bad habits during the training process and those habits could carry over into their later years.

It takes time and effort to train a service dog, and if you don't do it properly, the dog may not be able to perform its task properly or safely. This could cause injury or death to yourself or others around you, not to mention legal liability.

Benefits of Hiring a Trainer

Service dogs are trained in a variety of ways, though most are trained by the owner or a professional service dog training company. Some people choose to train their own service dog because they want to make sure that the dog meets their exact needs. However, there are several reasons why it might be better for you to work with an experienced service dog trainer instead.

The benefits of hiring a professional dog trainer to train a service dog are numerous. If you have never trained a dog, or if your previous experience with dogs is limited to household pets, you may find that having a professional help you train your service dog is worth the cost.

You get the benefit of working with someone who knows what they are doing. They will be able to show you how to train your dog and provide guidance and advice on how best to do so. This will make the process more efficient and increase the likelihood that your dog will learn faster and better.

You don't have to worry about anything else while training your dog because it's not just about teaching him how to perform tasks, but also about getting them used to being handled by people other than yourself. This makes it easier for others in your family or other household members who may have doubts about handling him regularly until the dog becomes accustomed to them.

A professional trainer can help you achieve results faster than if you did everything yourself. They already know what works best when it comes to training different types of dogs, so they can focus on these aspects instead of spending time trying out different techniques that may not work as well as they would like them to, which could cause frustration when you are completing these tasks yourself.

Once the training is complete, the dog can then apply to be registered as an official service dog.

Buying a Service Dog

It is very important to understand that you do not need a service dog trainer to purchase a service dog. It's essential to know that there are many advantages to buying a service dog, but there are also disadvantages. It is important to know the benefits and drawbacks of each option before choosing which one is best for you.

The first advantage of buying a service dog over hiring a trainer is that you will save money. Service dogs are expensive, so it makes sense that buying one will be less expensive than hiring one. The average cost for a basic trained service dog is about $15,000, so if you buy one from an organization like Canines for Independence, also known as CFI, they will charge less than half of that price. CFI charges between $6,500 and $8,000 for their dogs depending on the level of training they have received, as well as other factors such as age and health conditions.

Another advantage of purchasing a service dog over hiring a trainer is that you can choose the breed that best suits your needs and personality. You can find hundreds of different breeds available through organizations like Canines For Independence or National Service Dogs.

Choosing a Breed That Is Suited to the Task

Any breed of dog can be trained as a service dog. However, some breeds have specific characteristics that make them better suited for certain tasks. For example, large dogs are ideal for physically assisting people who have mobility issues because of their size and strength. Small dogs can be used for helping deaf or hearing-impaired individuals because they are easier to train and have an incredible sense of smell.

The primary concern involving the ADA is that the breed chosen is best suited to help individuals with disabilities. According to the ADA, a service animal must be individually trained to perform tasks directly related to the handler's disability. For example, if someone has seizures, they would need their own seizure alert dog. If someone has PTSD from military service, they would need an emotional support dog that had been specifically trained for their needs. As such, these dogs must have been trained specifically for work tasks and have received training in obedience and public access skills. They must also be able to behave appropriately in public places.

The most common service dog breeds are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Labradoodles, and German Shepherds. In addition to these dogs that are commonly used as service dogs, other breeds, such as Rottweilers, Poodles, and Siberian Huskies are also used.

Make the Right Decision for You

If you have experience in dog training, there is a chance you could successfully train your own service dog. However, if you aren't experienced in training, the time spent along with the frustration of training for specific tasks can be overwhelming. Take a step back and consider if this is a journey you are willing to undertake. Remember, service dog training takes up to two years, so choosing the right breed and ensuring you are prepared for the commitment is crucial. Most importantly, make the decision that is best for you.

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Training a Service Dog: Costs, Requirements and How to Do It