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.
The answers are expandable by clicking on the questions below.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 warnings apply to both options where the dog is not mainly 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 resources on how to choose a dog trainer on the following webpage:
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
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
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.
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 disability 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 contrasts with someone else training a dog, and you learning in a one or two week session the names of the commands and the training basics. In any case, if your dog needed further training, you would need to learn more about dog training yourself to keep up your dog’s behavior.
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—local, 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 frequently asked questions section on laws to begin learning about the laws that may apply to you.
Work and tasks are behaviors a service dog does (or is disposed to do) to help with someone’s disability.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the US Department of Justice (DOJ) requires that service dog training includes work or task training. The mere presence of a dog does not qualify as work or tasks. DOJ does not clearly distinguish between work and tasks—nor do they need to.
Within our community, we consider tasks to be disability-mitigating responses to cues that are intentionally given. Examples include getting a bottle of water from the fridge or turning on a lightswitch when asked. Work includes passively-available trained behaviors that are offered by the dog in response to changes in the person or their environment, without the handler intentionally giving the cue. Examples include alerting the handler to a panic attack or to an alarm the handler doesn’t hear.
For much more information on this vital aspect of service dog training, see our Work & Tasks page:
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 DOJ’s 2010 Guidance on ADA revisions regarding Title II of the ADA:
While there are no specific obedience requirements for service dog training under the US Americans with Disabilities Act (with the exception of being housebroken), we believe it is a good idea for your dog to be able to reliably perform the following basic commands:
• Sit, sit/stay
• Down, down/stay
• Come, recall
• Look/focus on handler
More information about the expectations around these commands is in our 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 so it can pass our Service Dog in Training Manners Evaluation—the dog should be well-enough behaved to continue its training in public. 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.
Before graduating your service dog to service dog status, we recommend taking a public access test (PAT) and getting video evidence of your dog performing it. 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. However, 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.
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 US 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 DOJ’s 2010 Guidance on ADA revisions regarding Title II of the ADA:
It can be heartbreaking to have to remove a service dog candidate from its path toward becoming a service dog (this is “washing out” the dog). 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
These are also reasons a working service dog might be retired early.
If one of the conditions applies to your service dog or service dog candidate, it would be wise to consult with a professional trainer or veterinarian to help evaluate the problem and provide a prognosis. A knowledgeable, outside perspective can provide entirely unexpected insights, even for experienced trainers and service dog users.
In the beginning, a dog should not be considered as a service dog prospect if any of the conditions are apparent or expected. It is best not to wholly commit to buying/training a puppy or adult prospect as a service dog until it has been initially evaluated for the disqualifying conditions above.
There are many answers on this page 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.