How to Get a Service Dog: A Definitive Guide

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: October 13, 2022

how to get a service dog

If you’ve ever had a dog, you probably already know how great they are at providing companionship and emotional support. For people with disabilities, a service dog can make life much safer and more comfortable. However, many people wonder how to get a service dog and if they qualify.

Dogs have so many excellent qualities that make them great service animals. They are loyal and have very strong senses. They can also be trained to perform a variety of tasks. For example, they can help someone who is visually impaired get around safely, or they can sense when someone is having a seizure or panic attack and get help.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a disability, you may be wondering how to get a service dog. In this article, we’ll talk about how to get a service dog, as well as what service dogs do and how to train them.

What is a Service Dog?

While most dogs provide loyalty and support for their owners, not every dog is a service dog.

The ADA defines a service dog as a “dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”

A dog must meet this criteria in order to have the rights and privileges of a service dog. Psychiatric service dogs, for instance, qualify, but emotional support animals do not and don’t have the same privileges and rights that a service dog does.

Different Types of Service Dogs

There are many different types of service dogs available. While all service dogs help their owners manage their disability, they are trained to perform different services depending on the type of assistance their owner needs.

Seeing Eye Dog

Seeing Eye Dogs help people who are blind or visually impaired. They are sometimes called guide dogs.

They help their owners navigate their surroundings. A guide dog will typically wear a special harness that makes it easy for their owner to find and hold on to them.

These dogs will help their owners in situations like crossing the street or navigating unfamiliar buildings. They use their sight to help their owners get around safely and avoid injury.

seeing eye dog

Hearing Assistance Dog

These hearing dogs are trained to help owners who are deaf or have limited hearing.

These dogs will alert their owners to certain noises that they need to respond to, such as a phone ringing or a knock at the doorbell.

The hearing dog and the owner essentially develop a system of non-verbal communication to help the owner live more comfortably.

Mobility Assistance Dog

Mobility Assistance Dogs help people with a limited range of motion.

Their owners often use wheelchairs to get around, and may have limited use of their arms and hands as well.

These dogs are trained to perform a variety of tasks, many of which are very impressive. They are very agile and can turn on lights, open doors, press buttons, and even support their owner if they are struggling to balance.

how much does a service dog cost

Diabetic Alert Dog

These dogs work with people who have diabetes to detect changes in their blood sugar.

Since dogs have an incredible sense of smell, they can actually sense when someone’s blood sugar levels are extremely high or extremely low.

These service animals need very extensive training to be able to do this, however.

Seizure Response Dogs

Service dogs are also very helpful for people who have epilepsy.

These dogs are trained to recognize a seizure and get assistance for their owner.

They can also help support their owners when they wake up from a seizure, and in extreme cases, they can even help them move to a safer place.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

These dogs help people who have mental health conditions that interfere with their daily life.

For example, they may help people with post traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder calm down during a flashback, panic attack, or manic episode.

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to sense certain behaviors and take action to help their owner. For example, if they sense their owner having a PTSD flashback, they may guide them to a quiet space or find someone to help. For people who have very specific triggers, the service animal can sense the trigger and help them avoid it. A mental health professional and/or professional dog trainer would help the owner determine the exact training the dog needs.

Emotional Support Animal vs. Service Dog

Many people confuse emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals. While both serve a very important purpose, they are not the same and do not have the same rights.

Emotional support animals provide pet owners with mental illness with the comfort and support they need during difficult times. However, they are not trained to take any specific action related to a mental illness.

Alternatively, service dogs are trained to take certain actions that directly relate to their handler’s disability. They can be used to manage physical or mental health conditions. Because of the essential work that they do, a service dog has extra rights that an ESA doesn’t have.

Additionally, there’s another type of assistance animal called a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are slightly different than a service animal or an ESA. Therapy dogs generally work in social situations to bring joy and comfort to the people around them. For example, they are popular in nursing homes or during stressful exam weeks at universities. Therapy dogs have some training, but not to the extent that a service dog would.

psychiatric service dog airplane policy

What Rights Does a Service Dog Have?

In the United States, service dogs have many unique rights and protections.

For example, the ADA allows service dogs to accompany their owners into public spaces as long as they don’t interfere with other public health and safety regulations. People with disabilities can also take their trained service dog on an airplane and to schools and some workplaces. Landlords and homeowners’ associations are also not allowed to discriminate against people with service dogs, even if the property normally has a ‘no pets’ rule. Landlords and hotels also cannot charge pet fees for a service dog.

The ADA does not require that service dogs have any documentation. They also aren’t required to wear a specific vest or harness, although most organizations recommend that your service dog wear a service dog vest simply to distinguish it as a working animal. Cities also are not allowed to require citizens to register their service dogs. However, they can require your service animal to be vaccinated. Public facilities are allowed to ask two questions to confirm your service dog’s status. These questions are:

  • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Employees at public facilities are not allowed to ask what specific disability you have. They also cannot ask your dog to demonstrate their skills on command.

psychiatric service dog

The Most Popular Service Dog Breeds

There are many breeds that work well as service dogs. Each breed of dog has their own unique characteristics, some of which are better for service work than others. Here are some of the best dog breeds for service work.

German Shepherd

German Shepherds are one of the most popular service dog breeds. They are very smart and attentive, and are very easy to train. They also have a deep sense of loyalty and are very protective of their owners. Because of this, they can sense threats very quickly and help get their owners to safety. A German Shepherd service dog is also large enough to physically support and move their owners if they need to.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are another great service dog breed. Not only are they intelligent and very easy to train, but they have very sweet and loving personalities that aren’t overwhelming for others in public places. They are great for anxiety and can be great for emotional support, but they also make great Seeing Eye Dogs or Hearing Assistance Dogs. They love to have a job to do and are very responsible.

Labrador Retriever

Labs also make excellent service dogs, as they have many similar characteristics to Golden Retrievers. They develop very strong bonds with their owners, which makes them very easy to train. They are particularly good at fetching items for their owners, as they have soft mouths that don’t cause damage.

Great Dane

Because of their large size, Great Danes are an excellent choice for those who need physical support. They also have very calm personalities, which can be very helpful for anyone in need of emotional support.

Border Collie

Border Collies are incredibly intelligent, which means that they learn quickly during service dog training. They have a lot of energy, but when they have something to channel that energy into, they can be very effective.

It’s important to note that any dog can be a service dog. These are just a few of the many breeds that have good qualities for service work. ADA guidelines specify that airlines and other public entities cannot discriminate against a service dog based on breed, as long as the dog is a trained service dog.

service dog breeds

Where to Find a Service Dog

It can be tricky to determine exactly how to get a service dog. If you or your loved one need a service dog, there are many different places where you can get one, many of which are free of charge. You can also train a service dog on your own. The ADA does not have any requirements for how a service dog is trained, as long as they perform specific services and tasks to assist with your disability.

For most people, the most convenient way to adopt a service dog is through a service dog organization. These organizations will train a dog for specific types of service work, whether that’s working as a Seeing Eye Dog, a Psychiatric Service Dog, or something else. The cost of training a service dog is high, however, and many service dog organizations do charge training fees. However, you may also be able to find a nonprofit organization to provide service dogs for low or no cost. These organizations focus their efforts on people with disabilities who qualify for a service dog.

If you’re confident in your ability to train dogs, you could also consider training your own service dog. However, you’ll need to keep in mind that the training process can take years, and not all dogs are cut out to be service dogs. You can either train a dog that you already own and have a bond with, or adopt a dog breed that has the right temperament to be a service animal.

How To Train A Service Dog

After you’ve figured out how to get a service dog, you might be wondering how to effectively train the dog to work as a service animal. Service animals need to know how to be polite and helpful in public places. They also need to understand specific cues and be able to perform tasks to support their owners’ disabilities.

In general, the most effective way to train a service animal is to work with a professional trainer. This way, you can let your trainer know about your disability and the specific services that you need. They will ensure that your service animal learns the skills they need to know to support your specific disability. Professional trainers also use an established process to ensure that your service animal meets commonly accepted standards. If you’re training a Psychiatric Service Dog, they can also work with a mental health professional to ensure that the dog is able to support you.

You can also adopt trained dogs from a service dog organization. If you qualify for a service dog from these organizations, they’ll provide you with the resources you need to bond with your new pet and put their training to use. However, the cost to adopt one of these dogs can be very expensive.

Finally, you can opt to train your service dog yourself. ADA regulations allow you to train your own service dog. However, this can be very difficult and time consuming, especially if you haven’t trained a dog yourself before.

If you’re interested in partnering with a professional dog trainer to train your PSD, we can help. Here at CertaPet, we are currently coordinating with dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free. We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options. In the mean time, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!


Many people with disabilities wonder how to get a service dog. Service animals can make day to day life so much easier for people with physical or mental health conditions. There are professional trainers and service dog organizations throughout the United States. Whether you need physical or mental support, it’s worth checking to see how to get a service dog to help.



What qualifies a dog for a service dog?

Service dogs must be trained to perform specific tasks or duties related to their owner’s disability.


How much does it cost to get a service dog?

The cost can vary depending on where you get them. Some organizations charge more than $15,000 for the cost of training, but others provide service dogs at a reduced cost to those who need them.


Can I get a service dog for anxiety?

This depends on the severity of your anxiety and your symptoms. Service animals are often trained to respond to panic attacks and help their owners calm down and find a safe space.


Is it possible to get a service dog for free?

Some non-profit organizations do provide service dogs for free to people that need them. However, you must meet very specific criteria in order to get a service dog for free.

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