FAQ: Training—Basics


How much does service dog training cost? What’s the service dog training process? What are “work and tasks” in service dog training?

This is where you find out! PSDP answers common questions about the basics of training a service dog below. For a Q&A about service dog training that goes beyond the basics, see our FAQ on Training—Beyond Basics.

For accessibility, there are no drop-downs or internal hyperlinks in this FAQ. Instead, the questions are collected at the top, then listed again with their answers.
There are many answers that contain links to resources for those who would like to know more. Some of these links are to external websites, for which PSDP is not responsible.

• Do I train my own dog or get a dog from a program?
• How much does owner service dog training cost?
• Why is it important that I am involved the service dog training?
• What is the process involved in service dog training?
• What are work and tasks?
• What obedience skills should my dog have?
• Why is it important that my service dog behaves appropriately?
• When should my service dog candidate be removed from service dog training (“washed out”)?

 

Do I train my own dog or get a dog from a program?

There are many ways to end up with a service dog: train your own dog (with or without a trainer’s assistance), send your own dog to a program or private trainer, and obtain a dog from a program or private trainer. We’re assuming that your own dog, whether already owned or yet to be obtained, is a suitable prospect (see our Choosing a Service Dog Prospect FAQ).

We generally recommend psychiatric service dogs be owner-trained, because psychiatric service dogs need to establish a particular bond with the user to most effectively mitigate disabling symptoms. Being in contact with the dog makes it possible for the dog to learn to recognize (and then respond to) departures from an individual’s baseline emotional or physiological state. We recommend owner-trainers solicit the outside help of a professional trainer, no matter how good of a trainer the owner is.

While there may be a few good programs out there, we do not recommend sending your own dog away to be trained without you. Sending the dog away can disrupt the bond between dog and handler that is so essential for psychiatric service dog work.

Programs that provide trained dogs may be a good option for those few in the very rare situation of being unable to initially train a dog to be public-access-ready, yet are still both dedicated and able to maintain the dog’s training. However, this option can be surprisingly expensive, and programs that offer this option for psychiatric service dogs—especially for adult non-veterans—are very rare.

The following caveats apply to both options in which the dog is not primarily owner-trained. No matter how well someone else trains your dog, it is essential that the handler learns and is able to maintain the training. A couple of weeks spent trying to learn what the program has taught your dog can neither fully convey what they have taught your dog, nor can it allow you to wholly incorporate the training mentality necessary for your ongoing relationship. In most cases, it is better in the long run not to send your dog away, but to learn from a professional trainer how to train your own dog.

If you choose to use a program, the proliferation of programs makes it extremely important to vet the program thoroughly to avoid wasting your time and money while not ending up with a quality dog that will serve your needs.

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers offers a resources on how to choose a dog trainer on the following webpage:
https://apdt.com/pet-owners/choosing-a-trainer/

 

How much does owner service dog training cost?

Costs can vary widely for owner service dog training, but they tend to be much less than the cost of a program-trained dog. Here are the costs for two service dogs owner-trained by Dr. Veronica Morris.

Dog A, rescued adult from animal shelter, 2 years training time:

$100 purchase price

$2,000 vet bills (inherited dental issues caused increased costs)

$2,000 training expenses (emotional baggage caused increased costs)

$100 service gear

$1,000 food/treats/toys

$5,200 total

Dog B, purchased puppy from service dog breeder, 2 years training time:

$2,250 purchase price

$750 vet bills

$1,100 training expenses

$100 service gear

$1,000 food/treats/toys

$5,200 total

Dr. Morris’s experience has been that the purchase price of Dog B is offset by Dog A’s increased medical and training costs due to her being a rescue with some emotional baggage and inherited medical issues. In the end, it cost Dr. Morris about the same to obtain and train a dog from an expensive breeder as it did to train a shelter dog.

Dog A went on to require $3,000 in vet bills for joint and other medical issues that may have some genetic basis. Additionally, her working life span was cut short by inherited medical conditions. Chanda Hagen’s rescued service dog cost her over $15,000 in eye issues that are a result of bad breeding.

Remember that above all you are trying to find a dog that will succeed in being trained as your service dog. Save money for a few more months or fundraise to get the dog that is right for you. Don’t instead settle for a dog that is not your first choice. Make your decision based on what will be best for you, which type of dog will be most likely to succeed with your abilities and lifestyle.

 

Why is it important that I’m involved in the service dog training?

In order for your dog to learn your baseline emotional or physiological state, and what signals you leaving your baseline, a lot of close contact is required. If you are not around for your dog’s training, that opportunity for contact is lost.

Also, training your own service dog requires that you learn more about your mental illness so that you can train your dog to help you with it. This process is an opportunity for personal growth, and many owner-trainers find the service dog training process therapeutic.

When you train your own service dog, or are involved with the service dog training, you are prepared for training contingencies that might happen throughout a dog’s life. Remember, training is never done, it is a life-long, ongoing process. It is essential that you keep up your dog’s training when they become a service dog—otherwise they can revert to undesirable behavior over time.

When you are involved with your dog’s training, you are learning how to train your dog the whole time, and are able to use these training methods to keep up training over a lifetime. This is opposed to someone else training a dog, and you learning in a one or two week session the names of the commands. In any case, if your dog needed further training, you would need to learn about dog training yourself to keep up your dog’s behavior.

 

What is the process involved in service dog training?

It generally takes 1–2 years to train a service dog. The dog must be trained to mitigate your disability, and must behave appropriately in public to avoid being removed. This means there are two main facets of service dog training: (1) public access behaviors, and (2) disability-related work and tasks.

Also, a good foundation in obedience is highly recommended, and it is your responsibility to learn the laws applicable to where you live—state and federal laws in the United States. See PSDP’s explicit step-by-step guide about becoming a service dog user for more information about the basic process, and see our the frequently asked questions section on laws to begin learning about the laws that may apply to you.

 

What are work and tasks?

The Department of Justice interprets the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to require that service dog training includes work or tasks to mitigate the user’s disability.

Tasks are commands that are actively requested, for example getting a bottle of water from the fridge or turning on a lightswitch. Work includes passively-available trained behaviors that are offered by the dog without the handler speaking or giving a hand signal for the cue, such as alerting the handler to a panic attack or flashback.

For much more information on this vital aspect of service dog training, see our Work & Tasks page:
http://www.psychdogpartners.org/resources/work-tasks
For more from the Department of Justice regarding work and tasks in service animals, scroll down to ‘Doing “work” or “performing tasks.”’ under the “Service Animal” definition in the DOJ’s 2010 Guidance on ADA revisions regarding Title II of the ADA:
http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=1&SID=1fcb95e0991fa49ff719bbe362cdddc1&ty=HTML&h=L&r=APPENDIX&n=28y1.0.1.1.36.7.32.3.11

 

What obedience skills should my dog have?

While there are no obedience requirements for service dog training according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (with the exception of being housebroken), PSDP believes your dog should be able to reliably perform the following basic commands:

• Stay
• Wait
• Sit, sit/stay
• Down, down/stay
• Come, recall
• Leave it
• Heel

For more information about the expectations around these commands, see PSDP’s Public Access Standard:
http://www.psychdogpartners.org/resources/public-access/public-access-standard

We recommend the assistance of a professional to help teams evaluate their progress and to move along at a tailored rate that keeps the training under threshold for what the dog can handle. In addition to training basic obedience skills, a service dog prospect should be trained roughly to the standards of the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test—the dog should be well-enough behaved to continue its training in public—before being considered a service dog in training. In this training, it is essential that a prospect not be taken out in a manner that exceeds the team’s limits of housetraining (“housebreaking”/”potty training”), training, or stimulus recovery.

The American Kennel Club’s CGC page provides specifics on the CGC test:
https://www.akc.org/dogowner/training/canine_good_citizen/

Before graduating your service dog to full service dog status, we recommend taking a public access test (PAT) and getting video evidence of your dog performing it. While most service dog handlers will never need to go to court over an access challenge (politely educating a challenging gatekeeper will almost always prevents this), it is wise to be prepared by having clear records of your dog’s training, just in case you are forced to be in a court case.

PSDP’s Public Access Test is linked below:
http://www.psychdogpartners.org/resources/public-access/public-access-test

 

Why is it important that my service dog behaves appropriately?

Service dog teams are so rare that every time you are out in public, you are being an ambassador for service dog teams everywhere. How you and your dog behave is important to the general public and businesses. If your service dog is misbehaving, it makes people less likely to help out another service dog team (or you!) if they see you in need of assistance for an access challenge, or a medical situation.

Additionally, if your service dog is disruptive or destructive, the business is enabled to legally exclude your service dog by the Department of Justice’s interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For more from the Department of Justice about businesses’ ability to exclude misbehaving service animals, scroll down to “Exclusion of service animals.” under “Section 35.136   Service animals.” in the DOJ’s 2010 Guidance on ADA revisions regarding Title II of the ADA:
http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=1&SID=1fcb95e0991fa49ff719bbe362cdddc1&ty=HTML&h=L&r=APPENDIX&n=28y1.0.1.1.36.7.32.3.11

 

When should my service dog candidate be removed from service dog training (“washed out”)?

A service dog candidate is a service dog prospect that has already been trained to begin or continue public access training; essentially, it is a service dog in training. Having to stop a service dog candidate from its path toward becoming a service dog, or “washing out” the dog, can be heartbreaking. Unfortunately, sometimes this must be done for the health and happiness of you and the dog—or for the safety of the public.

Service dog candidates should be removed from service dog training if they:

• have a medical condition that prevents them from comfortably working
• show aggressive tendencies
• are nervous, uncomfortable, or unhappy working

If one of these conditions applies, it would be wise to consult with a professional trainer or veterinarian to help evaluate the problem and provide a prognosis. Having a knowledgeable party that can view the situation objectively is invaluable, and can provide entirely unexpected insights, even for experienced trainers and service dog users.

The conditions under which a service dog candidate should be removed from service dog training also apply to early retirement for a service dog. Of course, in the beginning, a dog should not be considered as a service dog prospect if any of these conditions are apparent or expected.