We at Doggy Brace salute every single service dog on this planet. They are wonderful workers and we do not deserve their unrelenting kindness and dedication to their duty. That’s why we wanted to dedicate today’s blog to them. So, without further adieu, what is a service dog? 

What is a Service Dog? 

A service dog is a dog specifically trained to perform work for a person with a disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service dogs are valued working partners and companions to over 80 million Americans and help their wonders lead a more independent life. 

Types of Service Dogs

Who do they help? Service dogs can actually help anyone who needs it, though they are mainly owned by people with severe mental or physical disorders. They can be seeing eye dogs, dogs who are trained to notice when diabetics have low blood sugar and other medical conditions such as epilepsy, and assist those who are physically imparied. 

As you can imagine, there are so many types of service dogs. They all go through rigorous training programs before they team up with their human partner too. 

Here are just a few types of service dogs:

  • Guide dogs for the blind
  • Hearing dogs for deaf or hearing impaired persons
  • Mobility assistance dogs for wheelchair-bound persons or those with mobility limitations  
  • Seizure response dogs to protect and help persons with seizure disorders when a seizure occurs
  • Diabetes assistance dogs to detect blood sugar highs and lows by scent
  • Mental health service dogs or psychiatric service dogs are task-trained to assist those with PTSD, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, major depression, autism spectrum disorders and much more

Common service dog breeds include German Shepherd Dogs, Labs, and Golden Retrievers.

How Do I Identify Service Dogs? 

Service dogs look like regular dogs. They’re not required to wear special vests, collars, tags, or leashes either that identify them as service animals. Therefore, not every dog in a vest will be a service dog, and not every dog without a vest will be a normal pet. The ADA does not require service dogs to wear vests or display identification — so don’t trust everything you see and never approach or pet a dog without the owner’s permission. You simply can’t know if they’re working or not! 

There are exceptions, of course. For example, courthouse dogs are another category of dogs that sometimes wear vests or display other ID, but are not service dogs. Several states have enacted measures that allow a child or vulnerable person to be accompanied by a courthouse, facility, or therapy dog during trial proceedings. They usually are identified by the city so no one is concerned about having an animal in the courtroom. 

Police dogs too, often wear vests. That doesn’t make them service dogs either. They’re working, but working for a different cause. 

Is an Emotional Support Dog a Service Dog?

Nope! ESAs emotional support animals are animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. But, because these dogs are not trained to perform a specific job or task for a person with a disability, they do not qualify as service dogs under the ADA. 

Don’t be surprised if your emotional support dog gets turned away from establishments such as stores, restaurants, and even airlines because they are not protected by the same laws and regulations as service dogs. Be sure to check beforehand! 

How to Train Your Own Service Dog

Service dogs don’t need to be trained professionally (though we recommend it especially for more severe conditions). Professional service dog trainers work with dogs to perform a skill or skills specific to a handler’s disability. Unfortunately, the training doesn’t come cheap. The cost of training a service dog can exceed $25,000. Fortunately, there are tons of non-profit organizations that help people cover the initial cost. 

If you need a service dog, but can’t afford the professional training, don’t worry.  Individuals with disabilities have the right to train a service dog themselves. If you go this route, make sure the dog is: 

  • Calm, especially in unfamiliar settings 
  • Alert, but not reactive 
  • Willing to please 
  • Able to learn and retain information  
  • Reliable at performing repetitive tasks 

Start with house training and basic commands like sit, stay, come, down, fetch, and no. Make sure they’re properly socialized with other animals and humans too — a good service dog never leaves their owner’s side when out in public, even if they see their best friend. The AKC Canine Good Citizen program can provide guidelines and benchmarks for foundation skills.  

In addition to socialization and basic obedience training, a service dog must be trained to perform work or specific tasks to assist with a disability. This is the hard part, but every dog can be trained with time, patience, positive reinforcement, and repetition. Just be sure your dog knows when to do the trick, or else they’ll think they can do it all the time and be rewarded! 

Finally, like with any dog, be sure to love them deeply. Service dogs are still dogs — they love to run, play, cuddle, and relax. Treat them with the same love and care you would a normal dog and you both will be happy together for a very long time.