Service Dog

Service Dog Training: General Information

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service dogs as: "Dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities". Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, pulling a wheelchair, reminding a person to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack or performing other duties.

Skye's Dog Training specializes in working with clients to train Psychiatric Service Dogs (for clients with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and more) and Autism Assistance Dogs for children and adults. Skye's Dog Training also offers training for Mobility Service Dogs and works with all types of service dogs in training to achieve excellent public access skills but may refer to other trainers for specific task work for medical alert dogs (such as seizure and diabetic alert dogs). For more information about different types of service dogs and the specific training program for each type, clients may create a free account through Skye's Dog Training, add a dog to the account and choose a specific dog training goal for the dog. Detailed information about each type of training goal will be emailed to the client.

Clients may choose to start the training program with a dog they already have (if the dog is an appropriate candidate for service dog training) or Skye’s Dog Training can assist clients in finding an appropriate dog to start training by providing temperament guidelines and evaluations of potential dogs.

Clients who experience depression or anxiety and are looking for a dog to provide emotional support and comfort at while at home (not needing the dog to accompany them in public places of business), may benefit from an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) which require much less training than a service dog but have limited access rights.

Finding a Dog to Train

If a client does not already have an appropriate dog to begin training as a service dog, Skye’s Dog Training can offer guidance in finding a dog and offers evaluations of potential dogs. If a client already has a dog, sometimes that dog can be trained as a service dog depending on the dog’s temperament and health. Dogs any age can begin the training program; however, it is important to note there are never any guarantees that a dog will be able to be a service dog even after training as this depends on the dog's temperament and health and the owner's training dedication.

All breeds and sizes of dogs can be considered for service work, depending on their individual temperament and health. Skye's Dog Training works with a variety of breeds including (but not limited to): Labs, Pomeranians, Australian Shepherds, American Pit Bull Terriers, Poodles, Golden Retrievers, Chihuahuas and many more. Dogs in the training program are also often mixes of multiple breeds. The question of which breed is best has been frequently asked; this is a difficult question since each dog is an individual and dogs of many breeds have been successful in the program, but in general, Labs, Golden Retrievers, Standard Poodles, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Havanese and King Charles Spaniels often do well in training for service work. Breeds that are generally leery/unsure of strangers are not recommended (of course there are exceptions and dog selection should be based on the evaluation of an individual dog).

To start the search for a dog, clients may want to look at and local rescues and shelters for potential options (more details below on evaluating criteria). If the dog has the right temperament for service work, success rates are high for rescue dogs in the program. Many dogs training to be service dogs with Skye’s Dog Training were found and at local rescues and shelters.

Once the client finds a dog that meets the evaluating criteria and appears to be a good candidate for training, they can contact Skye’s Dog Training to set up an evaluation of the dog (optional). Clients should meet the dog in person first to assess the dog and make sure the dog could be a good fit for their home and lifestyle.

For more information and specific guidelines about choosing a potential dog to train, including details about what to look for in a reputable breeder if the client would like to start training with a puppy, clients may create a free account through Skye's Dog Training, add a dog to the account and choose a specific dog training goal for the dog (if the client does not already have a dog to train, they can simply enter in "Future Dog" for the name of the dog). Detailed information about the program (including dog selection criteria, puppy evaluating and more) will be emailed to the client.

Training Program

In addition to performing specific tasks to help with their handler’s disability, service dogs must also have perfect public behavior in a variety of distracting environments. Skye's Dog Training has a comprehensive program to help clients teach their dogs the appropriate public behavior skills needed to succeed, as well as the specific tasks or work the dogs need to perform for them. Clients may choose to do the entire program through small group training classes, making training very cost-affordable, or they may wish to add some private training sessions to focus on specific skills or problem areas. Please note: dogs must live with the owners during the training as Skye's Dog Training does not offer board and train in any capacity and does not have foster homes available to keep the dogs during the training (this question is asked frequently as it can be difficult to find apartment or school housing for dogs in training who are not yet fully trained service dogs).

If clients choose to participate in only group classes (and no private sessions), training will take an average of 18 months for an adult dog and cost around $1500. However, many clients find they want at least few private sessions to address specific issues or tasks for their dog; most clients plan on spending around $2000 on training including classes and private sessions with the total amount spread out over 1-2 years. This amount could be more or less based on the dog's temperament, skill level and age, need for repeating classes and client training commitment. The cost for classes or private sessions is only due as you register for each class/session. The full amount does NOT need to be paid upfront before starting the program. Puppies will take longer to train (around two years on average) but should get started in classes as early as possible (many clients start the training program with puppies as young as 8 weeks old) to learn basic skills and develop desirable habits as this will make training easier. The cost for starting with a puppy will likely be about the same, but the training will just be spread out over a longer period of time.

For more details about the training program (classes offered, suggested order of classes, etc.), clients may create a free account through Skye's Dog Training, add a dog (or "future dog") to the account and choose a specific dog training goal for the dog. Detailed information about each type of training goal will be emailed to the client.

Letter Requirement

Skye’s Dog Training requires a letter from a doctor or mental health practitioner stating that the client has a disability (which would qualify the client to have a service dog) prior to the client taking the Psychiatric Service Dog Task class or private training for any service animal tasks. Clients may take other classes or private training without a letter; the letter is only required before task training begins.

Public Access Testing

Skye’s Dog Training offers optional Public Access testing for service dog/handler teams. While there is no certification legally required for service dogs, businesses can ask handlers if the dog accompanying them is a service dog and what tasks the dog performs for them. It is important to note that it is against federal law for businesses to require certification, paperwork, an ID badge or vest for service dogs; however, many business owners are uniformed and may (illegally) ask for these items when service dogs enter their business. Many clients find it helpful to have paperwork/badge back-up when confronted about their service dog which is why Skye’s Dog Training offers this optional testing.

Clients may schedule to test once they believe the dog can demonstrate exceptional public behavior skills and has mastered tasks specifically related to assisting the handler with their disability. Clients must have completed a minimum of two group training classes (which is eight weekly sessions total) or four private training sessions with Skye’s Dog Training before testing (even if the client trained with another trainer previously or trained the dog on their own). Skye’s Dog Training also requires a letter from a doctor or mental health practitioner stating that the client requires a service animal prior to task training (or if task training has been done elsewhere then the letter if required before testing).

Please note that the paperwork and ID badge that clients receive from Skye’s Dog Training after testing is not called “certification”. Official certification for service dogs does not exist as it is against federal ADA law for businesses to require certification or any other paperwork. If a company claims to “certify” or even “register” service dogs (either in person or over the internet), they are fraudulent or at least mistaken in their use of the term “certify” since there is no federally or state-regulated program to register, test or certify a service dog.

To be an official service dog, a dog is only legally required to have: a handler with a disability (The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity), excellent public behavior, and specifically trained tasks that help to mitigate the symptoms of the handler’s disability. Public Access testing with a professional trainer is an option for convenience to assist handlers when questioned about their service dog.

Getting Started

If a client already has a dog that may be suitable for service training (at minimum, dogs considered for service training should be non-reactive and non-aggressive towards all people, including unfamiliar adults and children, and dogs), they may choose to start with one of these three options: 1) a one-hour evaluation of the dog with a private consultation at Skye's Dog Training facility in West Jordan, 2) an initial two-hour consultation/training session to address specific behavior issues, skills, problems and questions or 3) the group training class program.

Most clients choose to begin in the group class training program. If the client’s dog fits the standard group class requirements (non-aggressive and non-reactive towards people and other dogs, up to date on vaccinations or blood titers, 8 weeks old and up), they are welcome to start with group class training without an evaluation.

Skye’s Dog Training usually recommends that clients start in a Beginning Pet Manners group class (or private training) even if they have done training elsewhere since the methods used may not be the same or the topics may not have been covered in as much detail (or maybe not covered at all in previous training). The Beginning class is the most important class since we cover all the basics of how we will teach future skills. Something to keep in mind is that we will not cover anything from Beginning class in any other class. We may build on some skills, but the discussions of how to teach those skills will not be covered (since most clients will have taken the Beginning class first).

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