How to Train a Service Dog

Is there anything dogs can’t do? For centuries, dogs have played a crucial role in the development of humanity. Not only have we trained them to help us gather food, protect us from danger, assist with our chores or other physical tasks, but we have even bred them to become our most loyal companions. Making it no surprise why these incredible animals were chosen for the very important role of servicing those in need.

Trusted service dogs are not always easy to find, but if you know how to train a service dog, you can feel confident that your dog will be able to take care of you should you ever need them to. The purpose of a service dog is to help those persons with disabilities lead more productive and independent lives. They help guide people who are blind, alert people who are deaf (especially with common noises such as a telephone ringing or the doorbell), help to pull a wheelchair, and pick up items that are out of reach or have fallen without the handler noticing.

However, not all disabilities are obvious. Service dog tasks can also include duties such as: alerting a person with a seizure disorder or diabetes to an oncoming attack, reminding a person with a mental illness to take their prescribed medications, helping to calm a person with PTSD during an anxiety attack, or any other functions specific to a disability. For some, service dogs are so valuable to their overall well-being and ability to live their lives to the fullest. Without the services of these amazing and intelligent creatures, many disabled individuals would be left unable to navigate through life on a daily basis. To learn more about the best service dog training tips, continue reading the article below.

Owner-Trained Service Dogs

Historically, when we think of how to train a dog to be a service dog, most of us would choose to turn to an expert in the field. The majority of dog owners do not have firsthand knowledge of how to train a dog for service which is why they enlist a seasoned pro to get the job done properly. One major reason for this, is that there are real implications and consequences if the training is not done thoroughly. Imagine how dangerous it would be to assign a half-trained service dog to guide a blind person through a busy city. Not only could the situation end up fatal for both the person and the dog, but for others around them as well. This reality makes it incredibly important for pet owners to be responsible and ensure that if they are going to train a service dog themselves, they make sure they are doing it the right way.

However, despite how things have typically been done in the past, “owner-trained” service dogs have emerged with great popularity. Owner-trained service dogs have become more appealing in recent years for several reasons. Going through the process of finding the right service dog for your needs as well as the additional expense and extra time-involved, has led many individuals in need of a service dog to just do the work themselves.

While owners who want to train their own dogs to assist them are able to do so if properly trained, they should still seek out help from a professional dog trainer that is experienced in working with service dogs. Handlers-in-training should also consult with Assistance Dogs International (ADI) for help with finding a trainer and to make sure they are aware of all laws involving service dogs.

Don’t forget! There is more to training a service dog than you might think. Not only will you need to cover the physical and mental training, but you will also need to ensure you have covered all of the legal bases as well.

One of the advantages of training your own service dog is that you are incredibly in-tune with your specific needs. In general, dogs and their owners have a very special bond and that bond becomes even stronger when they are trained to service you. Your service dog will essentially become like one of your own limbs, there for you at all times and thinking for you with muscle-like memory. The love your dog has for you will also make the connection during training more personal for both of you and enhance their ability to listen to your instructions.

Service Dogs V. Therapy Dogs

Many people often confuse service dogs with therapy dogs, which can be easily misunderstood. For those individuals looking to find a genuine service dog with all of the necessary training and capabilities, it is important to know the difference between these two types of ‘service’ dogs. While both are highly valued by the humans they care for, the extent of care does vary due to the different levels of training to become a therapy dog versus an active service dog.

Service Dogs

Service dogs can be thought of as one dog for one person. These dogs will perform specific tasks to help that person cope with some sort of disability.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs on the other hand, are one dog for everyone! Therapy dogs help to bring cheer and comfort to hospital patients, assisted living center and nursing home residents, homeless families, students and so on. By offering these services on a volunteer basis, therapy dogs help their owners provide opportunities for bonding and affection in a variety of settings.


When it comes to personality type, therapy dogs should naturally be friendly and outgoing, yet calm and obedient. These dogs also need to be socialized to interact with a variety of people, places, and things in order to cope with the stimulating world around them. Therapy dogs need to be trained in basic manners and obedience, and are required to take continuing education workshops in order to continue providing the best care and support possible to their handlers.

Types of Service Dogs

So now that we know the difference between Therapy and Service dogs, it’s time to dive deeper into the various types of service dogs that are out there. When it comes to service dogs, they are not all bred for the same purpose. What many owners may not realize is that there are actually different types of “service” or assistance dogs. There are three main categories: guide dogs, hearing dogs and good ‘ole fashion service dogs.

Guide Dogs

The purpose of a guide dog is to guide visually-impaired individuals and help them to navigate the ever-changing environment more effectively. Guide dogs can give their owners the ability to walk across a busy street or navigate through the public or a highly-congested area without worrying about being put in harm’s way. In general, these service dogs are known to help the blind or individuals that have challenges with their vision and help them make their way through life easier and with less fear of the unknown.

Hearing Dogs

Hearing dogs, as you can guess, help to alert deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals of important sounds around them. Like guide dogs, hearing dogs help those that are impaired and could be seriously hurt or put into a dangerous situation without the assistance of these particular service dogs. A hearing dog is trained to recognize specific sounds and know when to alert their handler of them. Some of these sounds can be as basic as a doorbell ringing or an alarm clock blasting in the morning, but they can also be much more serious. For instance, an important noise such as a smoke alarm going off or a heart monitor indicating unsafe levels of activity, can be the difference between life and death for these disabled owners.

Service Dogs

The umbrella term “Service dog” can essentially be summed up as a dog that assists individuals with disabilities that are not specifically related to vision or hearing. This group includes dogs that are trained to work with people who use wheelchairs, have balance issues, forms of autism, need seizure alert or response, have psychiatric disabilities, or need to be alerted to other medical issues. There is no doubt that these dogs are changing the lives of individuals with all forms of disability through their service.

In general, for anyone that needs assistance due to a debilitating condition, a service dog can be trained to aid those specific concerns. They are able to improve the lives of so many people that are in need. Making it that much more important that they have the necessary training it takes to be a service dog.

Training A Service Dog

The process of learning how to train a dog for service can be long and tedious. In most cases, the journey to becoming a properly trained service dog is a challenging road ahead for both owner and dog alike. Dogs must be able to perform their tasks on command and have to perform the skills needed for the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test (ADIPA), which is a test with a series of objectives designed to evaluate the dog’s behavior in distracting environments.

Many service dogs are bred specifically for this job by organizations that then train them and place them with specific clients in need. The organizations have very high standards, and not all dogs pass the final requirements to be placed with an owner. These high standards are what makes professional training so important. The dropout rate for organization-trained service dogs can be as high as 50 to 70 percent, indicating how serious it is to make sure service dogs are able to do the job they were bred to do. These animals are intended to help people overcome challenges that otherwise would not have been possible without the extra assistance.


If you are planning on training your own service dog, there a several important things you need to know. In order for your pet to be deemed suitable for servicing you or another person with a disability, they must be able to meet the following requirements:

  • Know how to use the restroom on command
  • Focus their attention on the handler while also ignoring outside distractions at the same time
  • Meet all AKC Canine Good Citizen objectives
  • Master Public Access skills
    • Service dogs and their handlers have a responsibility each time they go into a public setting. When in public, handlers should be relaxed and confident in order to promote a positive image of service dogs out in the field. Assistance Dogs International actually has established standards for service dog behavior when it comes to passing the Public Access Test, which include, but are not limited to:
      • Controlled loading into and out of a vehicle
      • Having a controlled approach nearing a building
      • Having a controlled approach going in-and-out of doorways
      • Being able to heel while moving throughout a building
      • Capable of recall from six feet away while on lead
      • Being able to sit and go down on command in various situations
      • Having controlled behavior in a restaurant setting
      • Not losing control or going astray if the leash happens to be dropped

And while the U.S. has no defined requirement, self-regulation is critical and these hours in the guidelines are wise to follow. They break down into the following three phases:


This command can be difficult to teach some dogs. It’s much more direct than a simple “come here” or “sit.” Heeling is about maintaining a relative position to the handler regardless of how the handler moves.


Proofing can be very time consuming, as it requires training the dog to tune out all other distractions and constantly be on command and attentive. While tedious, this command can be one of the most important in the entire process.


Tasking is  when a service dog is being taught a specific task that they will have to perform, such as providing guidance or sensing a medical alert. Most people think this will be the most difficult, but after nailing down the other two concepts, tasking is often the easiest command of them all.

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