How to Get a Service Dog

It takes some planning to get a service animal. There are certain requirements you and your dog must meet in order to qualify as a service animal team. Doing your homework will help you to achieve success much faster.

Requirements to Qualify as a Service Dog Team

  • Owner must have a disability as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The animal must provide individually trainedassistance to a person with a disability. According to the ADA, the animal helps the person with the disability with a task or function that

    the owneris not able to do because of the disability

Ask Yourself the Following Questions
  • Do I have a disability? (see above)
  • In what ways does my disability limit my functioning in everyday life? List them.
  • What things would help to support or increase my functioning in specific areas (e.g. self-care, employment)? These could be anything--services, equipment, help with certain tasks, etc. List them.
  • Will I be able to feed and care for the animal without help? If I do need help, where will it come from?

Talk Things Over With Your Health Care Team

Your physicians, therapists, and counselors may have additional thoughts about how a service animal could help you , and if you can manage the care and upkeep of a canine assistant. Having the support of one or more members of your medical team can also help in providing you with documentation regarding the recommendation. You are not required to have documentation under the ADA, however the fact is that much of the public remains uneducated about service animals, and having some documentation can make it easier for you to avoid unpleasant confrontations or denial of access at the present time. Hopefully this will be less so in the future. How you respond to questions regarding your service animal and issues of documentation is an individual choice.

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Make a Decision

There are different ways of obtaining a service animal once you've made the decision that you definitely want one. (Never forget how big a commitment to the animal this is.) You can:

  • Get one from a non-profit service dog organization. The dogs are trained to perform tasks at the organization's expense. You will likely have to spend some time at the location before taking the dog home, in order to have your compatibility and capability as a handler evaluated. Most often your trained service dog will be provided to you at no cost, however you will be responsible for travel and accommodation expenses.
  • Purchase a dog or adopt a suitable rescue animal and pay an experienced trainer to work with you and your dog to accomplish the tasks you require for assistance.
  • If you are familiar with dog training and have some experience with dogs, purchase or adopt a suitable dog and train it to do the tasks you require yourself. There are some good books and even do-it-yourself service dog training programs available for purchase. If you get stuck on a particular task, you can call in a trainer to help you achieve the desired result.
All of the methods above are acceptable for qualifying a dog as a service dog under the ADA.

The resources listed below will give you an excellent start in locating organizations, training programs and materials, and trainers. Do a search on programs in your own state as well. Persevere and you will be rewarded with a warm and loving helper that can add enormous value to your quality of life.

Resources:

  1. Canine Companions for Independence (http://www.cci.org)
  2. Assistance Dogs International (http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org)
  3. American Dog Trainers Network Service and Assistance Dogs (http://www.inch.com/~dogs/service.html)
  4. Autism Service Dogs of America (http://autismservicedogsofamerica.com/)
  5. TOP DOG Service Dog Training (http://www.topdogusa.org/)
  6. Service Dog Central (http://servicedogcentral.org/content/)

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