There are no breed or size regulations for service dogs. This means that you can either adopt a dog, or train your own dog to be your Service Dog. However, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labradors and Border Collies are commonly trained as service dogs because of their size and often calm and friendly dispositions.
Some organizations train dogs specifically for certain conditions. These dogs are often expensive to adopt, but if you can afford the expense, you can be sure that your new companion will serve your exact needs.
Whether you’re adopting an untrained dog or training your pet, you need to take several factors into consideration. In order to become a Service Dog, a dog will need a calm temperament, high energy level, and good health. The dog also needs to be at least 6 months old and neutered or spayed.
By definition, service dogs must be trained to perform a specific task that aids with a disability. You can either find a reputable trainer, or train your service dog yourself. Either way, training is an intense procedure that takes knowledge, time, and patience.
There are no official regulations in the United States on how long training needs to be. International standards state that service dogs should be trained for a minimum of 120 hours over six months. Out of those 120 hours, 30 of those training hours should be conducted in public in order to help dogs get accustomed to distractions.
Service dogs need to learn three types of behavior: heeling, proofing, and tasking. Heeling means walking alongside you, close to your leg, even as you move. Proofing is the term for training your dog to tune out distractions and be on alert at all times. Their attention should always be focused on you. Finally, tasking is the specific task that they will perform for you. Some common tasks performed by Service Dogs are reminding handlers to take medications, guiding handlers, alerting to sounds or alarms, and sensing and alerting to a drop in blood sugar.
In addition, Service Dogs also need to follow basic obedience tasks and behave well in public. The Public Access Test was designed to test if a Service Dog is ready to perform in public. A dog is immediately disqualified for aggressive behavior like biting, barking and growling, urinating and defecating unless commanded, begging, or hyperactivity. Behavior is tested while getting in and out of cars, in a restaurant, and walking through buildings.
The next step is to register your trained dog with a reputable company. Though not required, registering your service dog greatly simplifies your life by providing you with highly visible proof that your dog is working, so that staff members at airports, hotels, restaurants, and public transportation do not hassle you. It is like a uniform for your working service dog, so everyone around you knows your dog is more than just a pet. With a Service Dog Vest, tag, and ID, your dog will be easily identified, cutting out unnecessary questions from the public when you travel or enter buildings with your service dog.
Once you complete the steps and register your service dog, you can rest easy knowing you’ll be accompanied and assisted every step of every day. You’ll be able to breathe easy knowing you can travel confidently in public and have proof of your service dog’s legitimacy should the need arise, as well as feel secure that your service dog is there to serve and support you.