There’s much more to a service dog than most people realize


Service dogs can cost up to $30,000 but can be well worth the cost.

Dogs have become an integral part of life, which is especially true for those with a disability who have a service dog. A service dog is highly trained and can perform tasks and keep their handler safe. 

Many people who want to bring their dogs everywhere with them will falsely claim that their dog is a service dog. The end result can be a dog that is not appropriately trained and being brought into public places where they may pose a danger.

Service dogs have proven to help with various disorders and disabilities. They provide independence for their handlers, which is priceless to many of them due to the nature of their disability and potentially not having freedom without their service animal. Olympic Heights junior Maya Goldstein added that she has “a friend with Down syndrome who I constantly see, and her service dog provides a relief for her and a distraction when she faces overwhelming anxiety and situations where it takes over.” 

Goldstein elaborated on the efficiency of the aid, pointing out that the dog supplies, “a security blanket feeling for his handler.” Many handlers experience this feeling which allows for more confidence and independence, further emphasizing the importance of these working animals. 

In recent years, demand has increased due to the discovery that service dogs can help with more than just physical disabilities. They can assist people with autism, epilepsy, diabetes, psychiatric disorders, blindness, and allergies.

Each of these disorders and individuals need their dogs to perform different tasks. Service dogs require high amounts of costly training to perform their tasks and learn to work alongside their handler. The minimum training time for service dogs is six months, but typically, service dog training takes approximately two years. This long period of time includes the training of basic obedience, disability specific tasks, and the creation of well oiled service dog teams. 

Service dogs need to have a specific nature or temperament to be successful. They need to be calm, focused, enjoy being around people, and anxious to please. As these dogs accompany their handlers everywhere, they need to be used to public situations and busy places, but still have an ability to carry out their tasks efficiently.

Though the Americans with Disabilities Act does not restrict the breed of service dogs, service dogs are chosen from a few specific breeds due to the nature of tasks they will need to be able to complete. The most common breeds for service dogs are German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, poodles, and golden retrievers. 

There are agencies that train service dogs after getting them as puppies from specific breeders whose dogs are well bred and have proven to produce successful service dogs. The issue is that it can be extremely expensive to purchase a service dog that has already gone through training. 

A fully trained service dog costs between $15,000 to $30,000. While it depends on where a service dog is trained and the specific tasks that they are trained for, this is very expensive for most people who need assistance to live a better quality of life. 

Some people believe that service dogs and emotional support animals are the same thing: however, they are not. There are qualifications a service dog must meet to have public access. These qualifications include completed obedience training, socialization skills, work tasks, and public access training. They must be desensitized to children, people, and other animals in order to prevent reactivity. Reactivity can affect their work and endanger their handler or people that are around them. 

Many people believe that service dogs need to be registered or certified. This is a misnomer. There is no legal requirement to register or certify a service dog. However, handlers simply have to state that their dog is a service dog and they must be given access to public spaces. However, trainers recommend that service dogs are registered because it helps to ensure that the team’s rights are acknowledged and followed. 

The lack of legal requirement to register a service dog is part of the reason that service dogs have trouble accessing public places without issue. It allows people to claim their untrained dogs to be service dogs in order to bring their dogs everywhere. “Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform,” states the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.” 

This lack of proof allows people to fake their pets as service dogs just to enter facilities. These dogs may be aggressive or uncontrollable. These illy trained animals have attacked people and other animals, creating a legitimate fear for real service dog handlers by disrupting the environment and preventing service dogs from completing their tasks. 

Additionally there have been reported occurrences of out of control dogs attacking service dogs, which is troublesome on multiple levels. Not only are there dogs in the public that demonstrate harmful, aggressive behavior, but now they have affected service dog teams. Much like how after a human is affected by being attacked by a dog, these service dogs may become fearful of other dogs, or reactive when they encounter them. 

This ruins the years of training and experience that both the dog and handler have put in. If a service dog becomes fearful or aggressive, their ability to do their job is at risk, puts them under unnecessary stress, puts the safety of their handler at risk, and endangers other animals that they interact with. The worst part is that often families with service dogs are barely able to afford the first one and are unable to purchase another one when this occurs. 

Another pressing concern is that there will be a decline in quality of service dog training and an increase in fraudulent service dogs. Kaiser Health News brought up the suit against Ry-Con, a nonprofit service dog trainer, that was filed in 2020. “The suit alleged that Ry-Con charged families up to $16,710 per dog despite knowing the dogs were not adequately trained.” People are so desperate for these animals that they are willing to pay these prices without checking the legitimacy of the business. Many backyard trainers and breeders have jumped at this opportunity to make more money in a high demand market. 

To avoid this, some potential service dog owners have chosen to train their own dogs. This may be cheaper, but it can result in putting all your time and funds into one dog simply to have them be unable to pass or be successful at their training. After all, roughly 50 to 70 percent of service dogs fail service dog training. 

If you would like to read more about the rules and regulations for service dogs: