Service Dogs

Service Dogs

Service dogs can be an incredible game changer when it’s a good fit. Ensuring that means finding the best agency, breed, training & support for each team. If you consider the points below & conclude that a service dog isn’t a good fit for your kiddo’s needs then consider a companion dog or pet as a viable option.


What’s the difference between a pet & a service dog?

A pet is just that–usually a tail wagging, happy dog that is content with being around its people, sitting for a treat & getting walked.

Sometimes a pet can be a bit of a diva dog. Some people try to train their pet into a working dog, but that is not known to be successful. It’s true–‘It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks’.

Most service dog agencies capitalize on using the first 2 years of a pup’s life for proper & thorough training. All the while training their clients so it will be a successful partnership.

volunteers typically begin training pups out of the gate with skills & commands

A service dog works hard & is trained to do jobs for one particular family member. The service dog’s focus is on that one person & that takes commitment & restraint on the part of other family members to not play, feed or interact with the service dog. Often a service dog works best as the only animal in a home so it isn’t tempted to get distracted by interacting with the other animals & moving toward ‘pet’ status from a ‘working’ role.

What kind of service dogs are there?

Common types of service dogs include: Mobility, Seeing Eye, Hearing, PTSD, Seizure, Skilled Home Companion & Therapy or Facility Dogs. Most often, each agency has a focus of expertise & training so no one agency will provide every kind of service dog.

My daughter’s invaluable mobility service dog carrying school supplies waiting for the bus.

How old do you need to be for a service dog?

Client placement age depends on each agency but, typically a full public service dog is older teen & adult only as ADA requirements are strict with the public management piece. Companion dogs or home helpmates are more common with younger ages or non verbal kiddos.

How long does it take to get a fully trained dog?

From the beginning of the application process to the selecting & training of the dogs & clients it can take up to two years or more for public service dogs. Other companion or therapy dogs may take slightly less time.

If I feel this is a worthwhile pursuit for my kiddo what’s my next step?

Next best steps would include talking to a doctor who is familiar with your child & getting their feedback as to whether or not they see benefits (a doctor’s script is part of the application process in most situation). Another thing to begin researching is service dog agencies near you or those fitting to your child’s needs. When you are interviewing agencies a few initial questions can include:

  • What kind of service dogs do you train and place?
  • Do you place dogs with kids?
  • Where do you get your dogs?
  • What breed/s do you use and why?
  • Who trains your dogs and for how long?
  • What kind of ongoing training/support is used for working teams?
  • How much does a working dog cost?
  • What are the first steps in getting an application started?

Do you have any agency recommendations?

It may be hard to find a local service dog agency in rural areas so at times distance training is necessary but, when possible, link with a agency in your vicinity for training and support purposes. If you don’t have one in your area a place to begin your search is the reputable Canine Companions for Independence.

My daughter’s mobility service dog, Olive, is from a local agency & we appreciate the ongoing in person training that is a part of their placement.

What do I do when I hit a roadblock?

Because there are often roadblocks, please persevere. Sometimes a year or two brings about the best result in the end. So if there’s a roadblock now, it may not be there in a few years when the fit is better or a different option avails itself. Don’t give up & don’t discount the value of a dog–working or otherwise.