How to Get a Service Dog: A Definitive Guide

  • Home
  • /
  • Blog
  • /
  • How to Get a Service Dog: A Definitive Guide

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: June 26, 2020

how to get a service dog woman in wheelchair with service animal on her lap

When you hear the term service dog, you imagine some highly trained canine that can open a tin can at the click of a finger, but surprisingly service dogs come in all sorts of roles and training levels. Unlike emotional support animals, who need little to no training, service dogs are extensively trained to help people with a wide range of disabilities.

If you are wondering how to get a service dog, you’ve come to the right place!


ESA vs Psychiatric Service Dog: Understanding the Difference According to the ADA! 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the definition of a service dog is a canine (or occasionally a miniature horse) that is trained specifically to benefit an individual with a disability.

These disabilities might be anything from sensory (such as blindness), psychiatric, intellectual, physical or any other shortfall someone might have. A Psychiatric service dog performs tasks to reduce the effect of someone with a mental health disability, such as general anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.

For example, someone with post-traumatic stress disorder, such as a veteran, might benefit from a trained PTSD service dog that can perform room searches, switch on lights and be alert on command, to put the soldier at ease.

An emotional support animal (ESA), is an animal that helps with any emotional or psychological symptoms that an individual might be experiencing. An ESA does not need specialized training, although a round or two of emotional support dog training is always a good idea! The value of an ESA lies in the comfort it brings to people with mental or emotional conditions.

Why not Get An emotional support animal Instead? 

A service dog does sound like a brilliant idea, and whilst getting qualified for one is very simple, actually training the dog is hard. You either spend years training the dog yourself (which might be difficult if you have a disability) or you need to hire a trainer to bring a dog up to speed (plus fork out the cost of a proper breed dog if you don’t have one).

If you need a service dog for a physical disability, then it is well worth the cost. However, if the disability is psychiatric or concerns your mental health, why not consider an emotional support dog or cat instead?

An emotional support animal does not have all the same rights as a service animal but then again, they don’t cost a fortune in time and money to buy and train.

No Specific Training Needed, All You Need is an ESA Letter! 

As we mentioned, the real benefit of getting an ESA is that you don’t need years of training or a special breed of dog. All you need is an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

CertaPet has streamlined the process of getting an ESA letter. All you need to do is take a simple 5-minute pre-screening to see whether you qualify for an ESA. If your answers indicate that you do, we will connect you with a LMHP and you could have your ESA letter in as little as 48 hrs!

dog doctor jack russell wearing glasses and a stethoscope

How to Get a Service Dog: The Process Explained! 

Right off the bat, it is important to note that generally getting or training a service dog can take years. How to get a service dog is a long road, not a quick one!

Your choices are to either get a service dog organization, that will train the dog for you, or to train a dog yourself!

Obviously, the second option won’t work for people suffering from certain disabilities. Someone in need of a seeing-eye dog is more likely to have to pay for a trained animal, whereas someone needing an alert dog can train a dog themselves.

There is no legal obligation to have a service dog registered or professionally trained, so you can definitely do it yourself. However, unless you know a thing or two about dog training, it’s probably worth getting help from professionals. You don’t necessarily have to pay the fees of a service dog organization, but spending money on a professional dog trainer is definitely worth it!

Visit Your Doctor or Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP) 

How to get a service dog starts with a diagnosis. To qualify for a service dog of any kind, you have to be diagnosed by a doctor or LMHP. The diagnosis is important as it establishes that you do in fact have a disability and that a service dog will help manage or mitigate that disability.

Service Dog Training Near Me: How to Find Your Service Dog for Anxiety or a PTSD Dog

Here are some of the best service dog training centers in North America. Be sure to ask if you can speak to a fellow customer of these (who has had a dog for a few years) to see if its right for you.

  • Medical Mutts – Indianapolis IN
  • Canine Partners For Life – Cochranville, PA
  • Little Angel Service Dogs – California
  • New York Therapy Animals  – New York
  • Hudson Valley Paws – New York region
  • New Horizon Service Dogs – Florida
  • Freedom Service Dogs – Denver, CO

Find Out Where to Get a Dog and Train it Yourself

You don’t HAVE to go through an organization to get a service dog.  You can simply go and adopt a puppy yourself, and then train them up.

Be aware that training the dogs can take a year or two, but if you follow the right guides (with the right breed) you will have a service dog in no time!


You Can Find Already Trained Dogs for Sale

Lastly, there is the option of adopting an already trained service dog. This may or may not be right for you, as it depends on the specific dog and the training it has received. It is, however, an easier route when it comes to “how to get a service dog”.

It might also be older and have already worked with another disabled person, and might have carryover behaviors.

service dogs ptsd dog lying next to woman's wheelchair

How Much Does a Service Dog Cost? Be Warned: The Price Isn’t Nice!

Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “how to get a service animal” but rather “how to afford a service animal”. There are actually two costs for finding a service dog. The first is the simple adoption fee. The price can start at $250 and go up to $1000 depending on the breed and the puppy or dog’s current skills.

The 2nd cost is far more significant. In order to ensure that you are getting the right service dog for your needs, you will need to have a professional trainer assess each potential applicant. This can be more than the adoption cost and take months of time.

Scam Alert! Stay Away From Registration or Certification for an ESA and Service Animals!

Emotional support animals and service animals do NOT have to be registered or certified! Anyone asking for your hard earned money in exchange for having your service dog “registered” or “certified” is a fraud.

The privileges that service animals enjoy in public places work on an honor system. Not a “documentation” system.

There are laws in place to ensure the privacy of people with disabilities. You may only ask someone with a service dog 2 questions:

  1. Is this a service dog that is required because of a disability?
  2. What tasks have they been trained to perform?

A service dog owner does not have to provide any documentation as proof that their dog is a service dog. For an ESA owner, an ESA letter serves as proof. But again, the ESA letter can only be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, and like service animals, ESAs do not need any form of registration or certification!

Steer clear from companies who explain how to get a service dog and then immediately charge fees to get you started!

Any Dog Can Become an ESA! CertaPet Makes the Process Simple!

Any dog can be an ESA. This includes your family pet or your favorite puppy. All you need is an ESA letter from a LMHP. CertaPet simplifies the process by first seeing whether you may qualify for an ESA, and then by connecting you with a LMHP in your state.

No need to keep wondering whether you would qualify for an ESA, and then take on the overwhelming task of finding a LMHP! Simply take the simple pre-screening to get started!

service dog training two dogs training with their handlers

The 2 Vital Laws That Protect Emotional Support Animals!    

So, service animals do enjoy more rights under the ADA than most animals, but ESAs aren’t too neglected in the legal protection department. There are 2 very important laws that protect ESAs!

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACA) – This act ensures that you and your animal cannot be discriminated onboard an aircraft. In brief, this means, providing you meet the airline’s rules and regulations, that:

  • Your ESA may fly with you in the cabin.
  • Your ESA gets to travel with you free of charge.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) – The FHA ensures that you are not discriminated against when seeking rented accommodation on the basis that you have an ESA. They must provide you with reasonable accommodation!

  • They must provide you with reasonable accommodation.
  • Landlords cannot charge extra pet fees or ask for pet deposits.

If you are thinking about getting an ESA, let CertaPet guide you through the process! Start today by taking the simple free online pre-screening.

Common Questions on How to Get a Service Dog

Where can I get a service dog?

How much does a service animal cost?

How long does it take to train a service animal?

Who can I ask how to get a service dog and be sure it isn’t a scam?

You may also like

Page [tcb_pagination_current_page] of [tcb_pagination_total_pages]

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

All product and Company names are Trademarks™ or Registered® trademarks of their respective holders.

Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase may earn a commission. Keep in mind that we link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission we receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.