Everyone who has ever had a dog knows what important part of their lives belongs to their dogs. Not only are they our best friends and loyal companions, but they also play an essential role in many people’s lives as service dogs, providing numerous health benefits.

In this role, they are trained to conduct specific tasks for disabled individuals, especially those with PTSD, depression, and severe anxiety.

However, many people don’t know whether they qualify for service dogs and how to get them. If you want to have your dog certified as an official service pet, this article will provide a detailed guide for a complete service dog certification process.

To qualify for a service dog under the ADA, obtain documentation from a licensed medical professional confirming your disability. Select and train a dog, with basic training typically lasting one to two years. Ensure the dog passes a public access test to handle diverse situations safely. While certification is not mandatory, it can be beneficial for officially recognizing your dog as a service animal and instilling confidence in its abilities.

Understand the Role of a Service Dog

According to the ADA, a service canine is trained to make life much safer and more unrestricted for disabled people. All the tasks that a service dog should perform must be directly connected to the individual’s disability, meaning each dog must have gone through individual training.

cute funny dog with a dirty nose lovingly clung to the feet of the man

These companions help their handlers with things like alerting to oncoming seizures, retrieving dropped items to those with mobility issues, alerting to sounds to the hearing impaired, or guiding the visually impaired people.

Moreover, these dogs can calm down people with anxiety attacks, remind their handlers to take medications, avoid obstacles, alert their owners to a drop in blood sugar, and keep a person with autism safe.

Legalities and Rights Associated

People across the USA with some kind of disabilities have been guaranteed the right to have a service dog to assist them in their everyday activities since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The act also protects service dog owners, including the Air Carrier Access Act and Fair Housing Act, among other US laws.

This means that entourage in public establishments cannot demand documentation, including proof that the animal has been trained, licensed, or certified as a service dog, as a condition of entry since US laws do not legally require service dog credentials and identifications.

However, they can still insist on seeing IDs or any other proof of your dog’s status, which is why it is recommended to have documents and/or accessories, like service dog vests, that help signal that their dog is trained and at work to prevent being met with hostility and confusion.

As per ADA regulations, staff has the right to ask only two questions if the owner’s disability is not evident:

  1. Is the service dog required due to a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

There are many legal rights for service dogs since they are allowed in almost any place where their owners are. They can even live in residential buildings that ban pets or accompany them on airplanes and areas open to the public.

Determine Eligibility

Regarding disabilities that qualify a person for a service dog, they are usually the ones that considerably limit one or several essential life activities. These are some of the most frequent disabilities that commonly qualify:

  • Hearing or visual impairments – Service dogs can alert their hearing-impaired owners to sounds like crying babies knocking at the door and alarms or guide vision-impaired owners by finding destinations, stopping at steps or curbs, or avoiding obstacles.
  • Physical disabilities Service dogs can help with conditions like limited mobility, including spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, by opening doors or retrieving dropped items.
  • Mental health conditions – Severe depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other cognitive disabilities can be assisted by service dogs who interrupt harmful behaviors, calm their owners down, or remind them to take medications.
  • Seizure disorders – Trained to detect seizures even before they happen, service dogs can alert their owners on time and stay by their side during the seizure to ensure safety.

Training Requirements for Service Dogs

two dogs outdoors being trained by male coach

If you wish to train a service dog, you must have dedication, patience, and time. To acquire certification, a dog must complete comprehensive obedience training and learn precise tasks to assist its handler.

Firstly, they need to learn basic commands like ‘sit,’ ‘stay,’ and ‘leave it,’ and then proceed to more advanced training like disregarding distractions and walking calmly on a leash.

They also need to master various commands and skills in several different areas, some of which include:

  • PTSD support – Helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder, like veterans, by providing a soothing presence and interrupting anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Mobility assistance – Helping owners with limited mobility by opening doors, avoiding obstacles, etc.
  • Medical alert – Identifying signs that a medical emergency is about to occur and warning the handler.

Choosing the Right Training Program or Organization

When selecting a training program for your service dog, consider respected and accredited associations. The best programs are transparent about their training approaches and have a proven track record of success.

Contact Assistance Dogs International, which is an accrediting organization that guarantees high standards to find reputable programs. You can also ask a veterinarian or local animal shelter for recommendations. Look for organizations that use positive reinforcement methods such as clicker training or reward-based approaches, and avoid those that promote dominance theory or use aversive techniques such as choke collars or shock collars that rely on pain and fear.

A respected program will consider your specific disability and needs, as well as your dog’s temperament and abilities, to determine whether training as a service dog is suitable and can be successful.

Lastly, the ADA allows owners skilled in training their dogs independently to do so without requiring service from third-party trainers.

Working cocker spaniel with it's master

The Certification Process

To get your dog certified, you must go through a several-step process.

First, you’ll need documentation from a licensed medical professional verifying that you have a disability that qualifies for a service dog under the ADA.

Next, you’ll need to select and train a dog. Basic training usually takes one to two years.

Once trained, the dog must pass a public access test to handle typical service dog situations safely. The test assesses how the dog responds to distractions and reacts in various environments.

Finally, you can have your dog certified. While not legally required, there are benefits of a certified service dog, as the certification helps identify your dog as an official service animal and will give you confidence in your dog’s abilities.

You will also avoid any inconveniences in some public places. You can get it through organizations like Service Dog Certifications or Therapy Pet Certifications. However, be ready to pay specific fees that may cost up to a few hundred dollars.

The Ethics of Service Dog Certification

The ADA defines these canines as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” These are working animals and not pets, meaning their function is to be able to accompany their handlers in public places.

On the other hand, fake service dogs can seriously damage the service dog community. While service dogs are trained to avoid distractions, fake service dogs are usually distractions. Besides, if a poorly-trained service dog accompanies a person with a disability, they may end up sick since their dog will fail to perform and recognize the potential danger for their handlers.

Maintaining Certification and Ongoing Training

Service dogs demand a significant time commitment to ongoing care, training, and bonding. Moreover, continued practice and constant handling are critical to maintaining their training. Make sure your dog has the necessary skills and temperament to assist and provide you with independence and safety.

To maintain certification, service dogs require occasional retesting and refresher training. Recertification is usually needed every 1-2 years to ensure your dog remains adequately trained to assist you. Proper care and ongoing practice will keep your service dog’s skills sharp for many years.

Recertification generally involves demonstrating your dog’s abilities through an in-person evaluation.


Although getting a service dog certification may take some time and patience, a properly trained service dog can provide life-changing assistance and independence for those with disabilities.

Remember that only specific medical conditions qualify for a service dog to help with daily tasks and activities. Research respectable trainers, and stay on top of continuous training and recertification to keep your canine’s skills sharp and access rights up to date.

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