Service Dog Program Readiness

Jan 13 / Jennifer Thornburg

While many individuals with a disability benefit greatly from partnering with a Service Dog, it’s not the solution for everyone. Here are several important points to consider before training your own Service Dog. During our consultation, we will discuss these factors with you and help you decide if our program is the right fit.

The Human Half (That's you!)

Are you financially able to take on the costs of caring for a dog for 15 years?
Maintaining care for your dog is not cheap. The old saying, “there is no such thing as a free puppy,” is completely true. A service dog is likely not the right solution for you if you are not confident you can meet a dog’s day-to-day and emergency medical needs.
Are you prepared to care or arrange for care for a dog every single day?
Your dog must be cared for every day: taken out several times a day, cleaned up after, and fed a meal at least once a day. Your dog’s ongoing training must be maintained or improved, mental and physical exercise provided, and groomed, if necessary.

How much dog training experience do you have?
Training a service dog is intense! The training requires hundreds of repetitions of each skill taught and many hours in public settings to help them generalize their skills and teach them to be responsive in a variety of public places.

How complex are the disability skills you want the dog to perform?
If you need the dog to perform highly advanced, discriminating tasks with multiple steps of refinement, guided self-training may not be the best option for you and your dog. We can determine the best plan for your unique situation.

How much support will you need?
Your disability may make some aspects of training and caring for your dog more difficult. Do you have a consistent way to transport yourself and the dog to various training environments? Are you able to work with your dog in those environments on your own?

How much support do you have?
Are multiple people in your household, or readily available, to help with exercising, training, and caring for the dog when you are unable to care for them yourself?

Are you prepared for the attention that comes with having a Service Dog?
When partnered with a Service Dog, you will never be invisible. People will stop and engage you in long-winded conversations, ask tons of questions, many of which will be very intrusive or personal.

Are you prepared to deal with conflict?
You may find that not everyone is able to understand WHY you’d need or want a Service Dog and some relationships may suffer, particularly if you have an invisible disability.

Service dogs aren’t always perfect.
Even the most well-trained service dog will have bad days, and some days are just truly awful, trying, and exhausting. Expectations play a big role here. You must be able to pick up and carry on when these days happen. And accept professional help, if needed.

Would you consider another dog?
If your dog is not a candidate for service work, would you consider getting another dog who is? Will you be able to provide for your current dog while training a new dog or would you need to find your dog a new home? While it isn’t pleasant to think about, it’s a fact that as many as 70% of dogs who begin a service training program don’t make it to graduation due to medical or behavioral concerns.

The Dog Half (That’s your dog!)

Is your dog appropriate for service dog training?
The list provided at the bottom of the page will help you to see your dog with careful attention to their responses to determine if service work is in their future. If you have questions about any of your dog’s responses, please reach out for more information prior to scheduling the dog assessment.

At what age does training begin?
Dogs should be at least 6-months old to begin our service dog program. While training and socialization should begin much earlier, we find dogs at this age are better able to handle the advanced training required.If your dog is not yet 6 months old, a puppy class or relationship-building class would be a great way to lay a foundation for the training required in our program.

How long does it take to train a service dog?
There is NO quick, cheap, and easy way to train a service dog to graduation. It requires hours of training and exposure. Starting with advanced manners, training specialized skills, and ending with public access preparation, our program can take 6 months to 2 years.

What if my dog is a little ruff around the edges? Can we work through behavior challenges?
It depends on the depth of the challenges. With time and consistent training, many behavior challenges can be worked out. However, training a service dog is difficult enough without needing to work through extra challenges. A dog who needs extra help is less likely to complete Public Access. And your valuable time, energy, and money could have been spent training a dog with a greater likelihood of supporting you sooner.

Being a service dog is stressful.
It's hard work, and requires the dog to go into all kinds of situations and environments. If your dog does not have a temperament suited for this, they will never be truly happy.

Temperament Assessment
While the actual assessment we perform is more detailed, here is an overview of each trait so you may know what to expect about this process. This may help you determine if your dog is a candidate before moving forward.
  • Reaction to a New Environment
    We like to take the dog to a new environment whenever possible to assess the dog’s body language and comfort level. We are looking for a dog that remains confident and appears happy.

  • Responsiveness to Handler
    How long does your dog take to check in with you? Does your dog acknowledge you when you call or kneel down? After checking out the environment does your dog choose to come to hang out with you or continue to explore?

  • Startle and Recovery
    To test this, your dog is exposed to novel, unusual or loud noises, objects, or experiences. We want to see how your dog responds when startled and how quickly they are able to recover.

  • Resource Guarding
    Your dog should not freeze, guard objects, growl, or respond in an aggressive way around valued resources such as food, resting spots, high-value areas, or specific people in the household.

  • Aggressive Responses
    Your dog should not have any fearful or aggressive response to other animals, adults, or children who are interacting with them appropriately. Your dog should not pull significantly toward or away from the oncoming dog or person. Notice any signs of stress in your dog.

  • Body Handling
    How willing is your dog to let you examine all parts of their body: paws, toes, tail, ear, lips, inside mouth, collar, fur, etc? Ideally, the dog will remain calm and not resist. Your dog will come back to you for more attention after being released.

  • General Skills
    We like to teach a silly trick for this one. Is your dog excited to learn something new? Will they get creative and try new things? What is the biggest motivator- food, toys, or praise?

Would you like to know more about the process?
Please use the button below to schedule a time to talk. We look forward to hearing from you!
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