How to Get a Service Dog

By Guest Author Tasha Williams

There is no denying that a dog can have a positive impact when a person is dealing with a medical condition. However, a pup’s company isn’t just for when you need an emotional reprieve…Some dogs can also help their human owners perform a number of tasks. This is why some people with certain physical, mental, intellectual, or emotional conditions are allowed to have service dogs.

Now, while the concept of service dogs is readily accepted, not many people are aware of the actual process of getting one. So, if you want to get a service dog but aren’t certain whether you qualify or know what you need to do, this article is for you. Here, you will discover all the relevant information on how to get a service dog.

Service Dog, Psychiatric Service Dogs, and Emotional Support Animals

Many people use the label “service dog” as an umbrella term. However, not everyone actually needs a true service dog. Depending on your situation and requirements, you might instead require an emotional support animal (ESA).

Let’s take a look at the differences between these animals. For the most part, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as:

“Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

This means that psychiatric service dogs also fall under the service dog category. However, psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained to aid individuals with disorders such as PTSD and sensory processing disorders.

Thus, they will be trained to calm someone with PTSD or anxiety. Or, they will help people with autism to better navigate the world around them. Psychiatric service dogs are under legal protection and are offered the same rights as any other service dogs.

Now, some individuals with mental health issues may be prescribed an emotional support animal (ESA) instead of a psychiatric service dog. There is a world of difference between these kinds of service animals. This is because, for the most part, ESAs don’t actually receive any special training.

So, although they may help to keep their owners calm or safe, they don’t fall under the protection of the ADA. Thus, they aren’t afforded the same rights as service or psychiatric service dogs.

Service Dogs and Legality

The main thing to keep in mind about service dogs is that they often have fewer restrictions than household pets and emotional support animals. Thus, they are allowed to enter virtually all buildings and establishments. This is something covered by the ADA.

In fact, if you have a service animal, there are only two questions that people are allowed to ask you:

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

Nonetheless, you may want to get your service dog certified by an authorized agency. This way, you will always have some kind of proof and credentials to back up your claims, which could make it much easier to move around.

Not to mention, such certifications may be required when trying to travel by plane or get on a train, for instance. If you provide the necessary paperwork, your pup will be allowed on these conveyances. What’s more, they may be able to do so for free as well!

Who Qualifies for a Service Dog?

Unfortunately, it isn’t up to you to decide whether or not you should have a service dog. Of course, when it comes to an ESA, the choice is completely in your hands. With actual service animals, though – psychiatric service dogs or otherwise – a doctor has to first sign off.

First, a medical or mental health professional will have to assess your condition and identify it as a disability. Once that has been established, the doctor can then provide you with a letter, mentioning the benefits that a service animal can have for you.

Where to Get a Service Dog

As mentioned earlier, service dogs are trained to help with specific disabilities. Thus, in many instances, you will first have to find an organization that specializes in treating the condition you have been diagnosed with.

The top organizations for each disability are as follows:

It should be noted that these are national organizations. Therefore, they may not be able to provide you with a service dog in your state or city. Nonetheless, they should be helpful in narrowing down which location you can visit to find a service dog that is closer to you.

How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?

Service dogs can handle a number of complex tasks. It is because of these amazing pups that many owners can lead fulfilling and independent lives. Considering this, it should come as no surprise to learn that service dog training costs can be rather high, as these dogs typically need up to 10 weeks of coaching.

Although service dogs can often cost between $20,000 and $50,000, you may not have to bear the brunt of this expense. This is because most non-profit organizations will provide dogs for a much lower price.

For those that really can’t afford even this, there may be some free options as well. Organizations such as Paws with a Cause can provide you with pups for free but may require you to take part in fundraising later on.

Then, there is The Assistance Dog United Campaign that can provide you with financial assistance should you need a service dog. This should help to ease the financial burden of funding your own service dog.

As you can see, there’s a lot that you need to know before getting a service dog. Hopefully after reading this, getting a service dog will now be an easier process for you.

About the author: Tasha Williams has been an animal trainer for over ten years. During this time, she has cared for and trained several service, therapy, and emotional assistance dogs. She has also been instrumental in pairing dogs and their owners.

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