How to Get a Service Dog: A Practical Guide

Do you or a loved one have a disability that impacts daily activities? Look no further than the help of a trained four-legged-friend! From mobility assistance, to assisting children with autism, a service dog is an excellent option to improve quality of life and independence.

golden retriever service dog

What Disabilities Can a Service Dog Help With?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an individual with a disability as a “person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The list below outlines examples of disabilities service dogs may be able to help with:

  • Hearing loss
  • Physical disabilities including lack of mobility
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Civilian or Military
  • Autism
  • Diabetes
  • Blindness
  • Psychiatric
  • Seizures
  • Dementia

Please note that this isn’t a full list. If you have a disorder not mentioned here that a service animal can help with, you may still qualify.

Things to Know Before You Start

It’s important to research the process before you start your search. Most organizations have waitlists of 18-24 months from the time of application to meeting your service dog. Many programs are also experiencing delays in placing service animals currently due to COVID-19.

In general, here are some steps to expect:

  1. Gather documentation of a qualifying diagnosis from your doctor, stating your need for a service animal. Make sure this is up-to-date.
  2. Begin researching an organization that provides service dogs for your situation. We’ve provided a list of orgs to start with below, however we suggest doing your own research locally or by your specific need (mobility, autism, etc).
  3. Upon acceptance of your application, you’ll likely be placed on a waitlist.
  4. After the wait, you’ll then take part in a training program with your helpful hound.
  5. Head home with your new service dog.

Remember that while a service dog is a helpful companion that will be trained to be obedient, they themselves need to be taken care of. Make sure your home is equipped to handle a new dog.

If you’re looking for an apartment in a building, the ADA and Fair Housing Act thankfully allows all service dogs to be accepted regardless of a landlord’s regular pet policy. With this, landlords must reasonably accommodate all service animals and can’t charge extra fees such as pet rent or a pet deposit. Landlords in some cases, however, may require documentation to confirm your disability or your dog’s service animal status.

Researching Service Dog Training Programs

Assistance Dogs International (ADI) is a great resource at this stage of this process. To become ADI accredited, an organization has to provide excellent client communication, dog care, and training.

You’ll find that certain organizations specialize in training service dogs for one specific disability or demographic (i.e service dogs trained for children with Autism, military service dogs, etc). Other organizations train service dogs in a more generic sense, allowing these dogs to work with individuals or families with varying disabilities.

Organizations

This list is by no means comprehensive, but should provide a starting point for researching an organization to meet your needs. It’s also worth noting that training an existing family pet is extensive, with few programs open to these situations.

If none of the following organizations match your needs, we suggest researching local groups in your area, which can help pair you with a service animal.

pitbull service dog

Multiple or Varying Diagnoses

Canine Companions for Independence provides service dogs for children and adults with disabilities, as well as veterans and professionals. This is a nonprofit organization that matches individuals with a service dog at no cost. Dogs from this program typically come from a breeding program. You’ll participate in a 2 week group training class at the facility, with different locations across the United States.

Paws With a Cause trains service dogs for children with autism, those with hearing issues, or for seizure response. Paws With a Cause typically sources dogs from their own breeding program. There is no out of pocket cost for obtaining a service dog from this organization.

Veterans

K9s for Warriors pairs qualified veterans with trained service dogs. Qualifying diagnoses include PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). This program does require a 3 week training in which the Veteran must be on-site at the training facility in Florida. K9s for Warriors trains a variety of dog breeds, many of which come from shelters.

NEADS Service Dogs provides trained service dogs to Veterans with hearing loss, physical disabilities, and Post Traumatic Stress-Disorder (PTSD). NEADS is also able to match service dogs with non-military individuals. The org uses dogs bred for service work, as well as dogs from shelters/rescues. Non-military individuals paired with a service dog must raise up to $8,000. There’s no cost for veterans.

Paws Assisting Veterans (PAVE) is a non-profit that trains service dogs for veterans and active duty individuals free of cost. PAVE dogs come from either breeding programs or shelters.

Next Step Service Dogs is a non profit which trains service dogs for active-duty military, veterans, and first-responders. You’ll be responsible for a $150 application fee. This program will train family pets, as well as dogs rescued from shelters.

Autism

Dogs for Better Lives trains service dogs for children with autism and/or individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Previously known as “Dogs for the Deaf”, this non-profit provides dogs at no cost to the individual. The current waitlist is approximately 3 years.

Little Angels Service Dogs provides service dog training in the areas of autism, mobility, hearing, seizures, and psychiatric care. Individuals/families must pay $9,500 toward the cost for the service dog, which can be collected through fundraising. Monthly and bi-annual consultations with your trainer are available and recommended.

Guide Dogs of America is a non-profit that trains service dogs for those with visual impairments, autism, and veterans. Training for members takes place for 1 week in California, with dogs provided at no cost.

Mobility

Champ Assistance Dogs raises therapy and assistance puppies for individuals with mobility needs. A heads up, you must live near St. Louis, MO.

K9s 4 Mobility is another organization which will consider existing family pets for service training. K9s focuses primarily on training service dogs to aid with mobility. A $500 non-refundable deposit is required.

Kansas Specialty Dog Service (KSDS) trains service dogs for mobility assistance. Training takes place for 1-3 weeks at a facility or in your home. The program’s application fee is $25, with no extra costs to the individual.

Diabetes

Canine Partners for Life trains service dogs for individuals with diabetes, seizure disorders, cardiac alerting, and mobility needs. Dogs come from the org’s own breeding program.

Dogs 4 Diabetics (D4D) specialize in training diabetic alert dogs, as well as other medical-alert service dogs. To be eligible for a service dog from this org, you’ll have to live in Washington, Oregon, or California. Training can take place either in-home or at the D4D location, with dogs provided at no cost.

Power Paws Assistance Dogs matches service dogs with individuals in need of help with diabetes, mobility issues, and PTSD. Current wait time is up to 2.5 years.

service dog on beach

In Summary

There are many organizations that provide training for different types of service dogs. Don’t discount the power of research; spend time finding groups both locally and nationally, until you come across one that matches your needs. With some work and a little luck, you’ll have an amazing four-legged service companion in no time.