Service Dogs

For blog posts about Service Dogs, please click here.

Please see the Facebook page, Gizmo: Kathryn’s Service Dog , or on Instagram at gizmo_the_sd , if you want to see pictures, videos, and learn about the life and times of a service dog. Feel free to LIKE or FOLLOW the pages to keep up with Gizmo. Gizmo not only helps me daily in the real world, but he is helping me write a book about his life and how to partner with a service dog, #WhysThatDogInHere.

  • Gizmo and I provide corporate training regarding Service Dogs, explaining the ADA and TX HR 121 regulations and their application to your business.
  • We also enjoy speaking with non-profit groups (churches, schools, scouts, rotary clubs, lodges, book clubs, etc.) in and around the DFW/North Texas area.
  • Please contact Kathryn by email or twitter @K_McClatchy for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What do Service/Assistance Dogs do?

A. There are many types of Service Dogs, each type is trained to do different jobs, and many are cross-trained to do multiple jobs…

  • Guide Dogs or Seeing Eye Dogs lead people who are visually impaired. These dogs have been working in the U.S. since the end of WWI, and are the most commonly and easily recognized service dogs.
  • Stability/Mobility Dogs assist people who have limited mobility. These dogs retrieve items, open doors, push buttons, assist with balance and counter-balance, and help people up if they fall.
  • Hearing Alert Dogs alert people to sounds of phones, doorbells, children crying, and even alert a person when someone is calling his/her name.
  • Medical Alert/Response Dogs may be able to alert to oncoming seizure, diabetic, migraine, stroke, panic, or PTSD attacks, and are trained to respond to the situation by getting help, a phone, or medication. They provide comfort and safety as needed during the medical episode.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs provide support and assistance for those with mental illness or psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, anxiety disorder, etc., by providing tactile stimulation, focus, and reality checks. This is the newest and fastest growing class of service dogs.

Q. What breeds of dogs can be Service Dogs?

A. Almost any dog can be trained to be a service dog, as certain types of dogs are better suited for certain jobs. Small dogs are often trained to be hearing alert dogs, or medical alert dogs. Larger dogs are often trained to be guide dogs or mobility dogs. Poodle mixes are becoming popular as they seem to be somewhat hypoallergenic. Please don’t assume a service dog must be a Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, or German Shepherd, although those are still very common.

Q. What kind of training or certification is required for Service Dogs?

A. In the U.S. there are no hard and fast rules for training service dogs, and there is no nationally required certification or governing body. In other countries there are often stricter requirements. However, this is how it generally works in the U.S.:

  • Puppies are evaluated at about five weeks (before leaving the litter) to see if they meet basic temperament, personality, and physical characteristics. Only a small percentage are even accepted into service dog training.
  • Puppies that do make the cut are then started on an intensive training and socialization program. These puppies may be placed with a puppy-raising foster family, stay in-house with the agency that trains them, or be trained by the future partner. (In my case, I am doing my own puppy raising under the supervision of the agency that is training Gizmo.) For the first 12 to 18 months after leaving the litter, these puppies are trained for advanced obedience, exposed to anything and everything they may encounter when working, and are watched for any physical or temperamental issues that might force them out of service. For example, any dog that shows any sign of aggression at any point is automatically removed from service.
  • After the dog passes its Public Access Test, it begins the hard work of serious task training. The TASKS a service dog is trained to do is what makes it a service dog. These tasks are individually trained to mitigate a specific disability. These are not things a dog would normally do by instinct; i.e., a Lab retrieving items is instinctual and does not qualify it to be a service dog even though that is definitely a helpful trait for a mobility challenged person.
  • Once the dog learns its tasks and passes another round of physical and temperamental evaluations, it is ready for service. Depending on the job and the dog, this could be at anywhere from 24 – 36 months of age. Service dogs learn between 50 – 120 commands. It may at this point be certified by the agency or individual that trained it, but this is not required by federal law.
  • While in service, the service dog will have continuing review of his commands and tasks. If the human partner’s situation changes, the service dog may need to learn additional tasks later in his career.
  • Service dogs are usually retired between 10 and 12 years of age.

Q. But you don’t look disabled…why do you have a service dog?

A. Thank you. I work really hard to not look disabled, whatever you think disabled looks like. Additionally, on my bad days, you probably won’t see me in public. The fact is, most disabilities are invisible. The law defines a person with a disability as one who has a condition that substantially limits a major life activity such as walking, caring for oneself, seeing, hearing, thinking, etc. Some disabilities may not be visible; for example, deafness, epilepsy, autism, cognitive, or psychological disorders. The law also prohibits you from asking about my disability or requiring me to present proof of disability (doing so violates HIPPA). You may ask what tasks my service dog does to mitigate my disability. However, please keep in mind that people with cognitive or psychiatric disabilities may not be able to answer your questions.

Q. Where can I get a service dog?

A. There is a great need for service dogs and few trainers. Do a lot of research, and check out Assistance Dogs International. Many agencies have waiting lists of over five years. Because of this, some people opt to train their own service dog; however, since this dog will have huge responsibilities, make sure you know what you are doing and are willing to assume the liability if anything goes wrong.

Q. How much does it cost to buy a service dog?

A. It is estimated that it costs between $20K and $40K to breed, raise, train, and place a service dog. Many agencies will require donations on behalf of the person needing the service dog. A few agencies have enough funding to provide service dogs free for the disabled person. One agency I spoke with required a $10K donation before I could even apply, and the money was non-refundable if I was not accepted as a client, nor was there any guarantee of when I would receive a service dog. Do a lot of research before writing that check.

Q. What rights does a service dog have?

A. None. A service dog has no rights. The disabled person who uses the service dog has all the same rights as any other person under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law looks at a service dog the same way it looks at a cane or a wheelchair. Therefore, a disabled person may have a service dog assisting in restaurants, schools, museums, hospitals, theaters, buses, taxis, airplanes, grocery stores, places of worship, etc.

Q. Where can I buy a service dog vest so I can take my pet everywhere with me?

A. I won’t answer that because representing your pet as a service dog constitutes fraud and breaks state and federal laws. Service dogs are not pets. Also, a vest does not make the service dog. It is the dog’s behavior and the tasks the dog does to mitigate your disability that determines if your dog is a service dog. If you are not disabled, it doesn’t matter how well trained your pet is, it is not a service dog.

Q. Where can I get more information about the ADA and regulations concerning service dogs?

A. The U.S. Department of Justice has created a number of website to explain the laws. Two good ones are:

If you have other questions, please feel free to ask it in a comment below.

4 thoughts on “Service Dogs”

  1. Pingback: No, you may not pet my Service Dog… | Kathryn McClatchy: Unleashing the Next Chapter

  2. Kathryn, do you still monitor this site? I’m a rehab counselor in the DFW area, looking for a possible job change. Would love to compare notes with you, and get your updated views on organizations that might use me as a trainer. Thanks.
    Lesly Lynch

    1. I do monitor this site, just haven’t posted lately. Unfortunately I haven’t compared or contacted SD agencies since settling in with Possibility Dogs. I am a SD partner, not a dog trainer. I was trained to keep Gizmo’s tasks up to date, but not to work with other dogs. I would suggest contacting Assistance Dogs International, and some of their member agencies. ADI is the gold standard for service dog training.

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