Steps To Getting A Service Dog
Getting a service dog is not a small decision. Here are some steps to take to help you decide if you are ready or even if a service dog is the right fit for your
Are You Disabled?
According to the ADA "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. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability (ada.org)." Talk to your doctor to help you decide if you qualify as disabled if you are unsure.
What Have You Tried First?
A Service Animal should never be the only tool in your tool box. Have you worked with your medical team to try and mitigate your disability through medication or therapy? A Service Animal should assist you to live a more normal life but you should also be working on other avenues as well
What Tasks Will Your Service Dog Perform?
Make a list of what you struggle with and how the service animal would assist you with each particular struggle. "The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure(ada.gov)."
Can You Handle A Dog?
You have a disability, you've identified tasks your dog can perform to assist you with that disability, but are you really prepared for a dog? Do you have the funds, time, and energy? A dog is a lot of responsibility and you need to be sure you are ready to handle it. Some costs are: vet, pet insurance, food, professional training, gear, grooming, purchase of the dog and any unforeseen emergencies. It is also a time commitment so be sure you can handle it.
Purebred or Rescue?
Rescue PROS: Cheaper adoption fee, more dogs available sooner, rescuing a life, lots of rescues to adopt from so many options available
Rescue CONS: You don't know dogs past, you don't know dogs genetics, no guarantee dog will be fit for service work, you don't know what underlying medical issues the dog may have
Purebred PROS: You can find a dog with the right genetics for working and health, you can get a breed/color you want, you can have more of a guarantee based off knowing dogs lineage
Purebred CONS: Expensive, possibly waiting on a wait list, a bad breeder can lead to medical or behavioral issues
"People with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program (ada.gov)." If you do not have any dog training experience then you should seek out a professional trainer to help you with basic obedience, public access and task work. The length of time training lasts varies on your commitment to the training and your dog. Typically the training lasts 2 years but can continue for the rest of the dogs life for touch-up training.
What Breed/Size is best for you?
Start thinking about what breed and size dog you need for your disability. The Fab 4 Service Dog Breeds are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, and German Shepherds. Do your research. Do not skimp out on research because different breeds have different qualities. "The ADA does not restrict the type of dog breeds that can be service animals(ada.gov)." Then you need to decide if you want a resue or a purebred.
Depending on your needs you will need different gear. The United States does not require a service dog be in gear to have public access rights. It does however, make it a lot easier on you and the public because your dog can be easily identified and not assumed to be a pet. A good place to start with basic gear such as leashes, collars, and vests would be Amazon. Its a cheap way to get some basic materials. After your and your dog are getting more comfortable as a team you might want to add something with a little more flare. Etsy, Instagram, and Facebook are great places to find homemade gear, buy, sell, or trade.
The United States does not recognize any certification or registry for Service Dogs. This means anything you see online offering to register your dog on an online database for money is not legally recognized and would not hold up in court.
Unfortunately many doctors and therapist are misinformed about this and will advice their patience's to go online to pay for these fake certificates.
Your local county might require your service dog to be registered through the county as a service dog with their annual licensing.
Any dog trained through a service dog organization might receive a certificate of completion of their program but that certificate