How to Make My Dog a Service Dog: Path to Certification

Published July 14, 2022
Man with disability and service dog

Although the majority of service dogs are professionally trained, there are steps you can take to make your own dog into a service dog. This is not an easy process and it's much easier to find a service dog that is already trained for their specific tasks, especially if you want to register your dog or you plan to seek service dog certification. Service dog registration isn't a federal requirement, but it can be beneficial to learn how to register a service dog for multiple reasons.

Service Dog Registration

Service dogs are not required to be registered anywhere. You can ask your doctor or therapist for a letter certifying that you need your dog, but it's not required by law. There are some benefits to registering your dog, however, as doing so may help you gain access to public spaces with less hassle. There are concerns about people falsely claiming they have an assistance dog, and certification may help limit the amount of headache you have to go through to exercise your rights.

What Exactly Is a Service Dog?

A service animal is any animal that has been individually trained to perform tasks or do work for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, or mental disability. In other words, a service animal helps its owner cope with their disability.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, dogs are the only pets who are classified as service animals, except for miniature horses, under specific circumstances. The ADA doesn't require that a dog have specific training but does require that the person be disabled and that the animal perform specific tasks related to their disability.

Service dogs are specially trained to provide assistance to individuals with physical disabilities, such as mobility impairment or blindness; psychiatric disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder; and other disabilities, such as diabetes or epilepsy. They may be trained to perform specific actions, such as pulling a wheelchair or alerting their handler of an impending seizure. Dogs can also be used for emotional support for veterans suffering from PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders.

The most common types of service dogs include guide dogs, hearing assistance dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and psychiatric service dogs. Under the ADA, service dogs are not required to be certified or registered in any manner, and these dogs are allowed access to public places, such as restaurants and grocery stores. However, in some jurisdictions, service dogs may be required to meet different standards, so be sure to check local laws and requirements to ensure your access rights.

A person with disabilities may use an emotional support animal if it is necessary for their health and safety or that of others in the home or workplace. However, an emotional support animal does not qualify as a service dog under the ADA and therefore is not covered by its protections guaranteeing access to public spaces.

Determining if Your Dog Can Be a Service Dog

It's possible to train a service dog yourself, but there are a lot of steps involved. You'll need to find a good trainer and start with puppy training. If your dog is already an adult, you will have to go through a basic obedience course first.

Yellow Labrador retriever puppy in training to become a service dog

If you are wondering if your dog can become a registered service dog, you must first consider their personality and abilities. Some dogs are unable to perform the necessary tasks to become effective service animals. For example, if you have a Pekingese, they won't be able to help with mobility as a larger breed dog would.

If your dog is capable of assisting with the required tasks, you must then decide whether or not the dog has the temperament to be successful. In nearly all cases, service dogs are identified in early puppyhood as standouts for training because they have an exceptionally calm and steady demeanor. Many potential service dogs fail to demonstrate the necessary skills and temperament, and do not complete training.

Next, a long process of socialization begins, and puppies must prove they are capable of remaining focused and undisturbed, even in the most challenging environments. Because of these variables, between 55 and 70 percent of service dog candidates fail training.

Your dog will need to remain calm in new and/or chaotic environments, learn and absorb information quickly, reliably complete necessary tasks, focus on you even when there are distractions, and be able to adapt to different types of environments without issue.

Trained Dog Helping Senior Woman

Why You May Want to Certify Your Service Dog

Certifying your service dog is not required by law and is specifically prohibited under the ADA. However, it can be helpful to have proof of your dog's training. Various organizations offer some type of registration for service dogs. Many provide identification cards and signifying apparel for registered dogs to wear.

You can use the registration card to help facilitate access to places like restaurants and hotels that otherwise don't allow pets. To be clear, registration is not required, and private businesses that serve the public and have publicly accessible areas within their business cannot deny access to service dogs.

However, having registration materials may make answering employees' questions easier when you are attempting to gain access with your service dog. The registration card is also helpful if you need to take your dog on an airplane and want them to be able to ride in the cabin with you.

Although a business or public institution's employees are not allowed to ask you anything other than if you require your service dog because you have a disability, and what tasks the dog has been trained to perform, you may feel better if visual signs of registration put employees and other patrons at ease that your dog really is a service animal.

The main benefit of seeking a registration certificate is to make everything easier for you, so that when you go into public, it is immediately obvious that you are bringing a service dog into an area that typically doesn't allow pets. It isn't a requirement, and you are well within your rights to expect access and equal treatment. Registration can be useful, however, as a tool to put others at ease and limit any hassles you might have to deal with.

How to Learn More About Registering Your Service Dog

If you're not sure where to begin, here are some helpful resources:

  • Contact your local government office to find out if they have any additional requirements or restrictions that apply to service dogs.
  • Contact your service dog trainer to see if they can provide more information about registering a service dog.
  • Contact the organization you plan to seek certification through and ask them what they have learned from others who have registered their service dogs with the organization.

If you don't have an official organization in mind (or if there isn't one in your area), reach out directly to someone who trains assistance dogs and see what advice they might be able to offer.

Can Your Dog be a Service Dog?

There are many obstacles to transform your pet into a service animal. These dogs are different from emotional support dogs. Most service dogs are identified as candidates for training from an early age, and go through rigorous training before they are ready to help disabled people meet the challenges of day-to-day living. It is possible to go through this process with your dog, but be aware that many puppies who begin training eventually fail to make the cut. If you qualify for a service animal, it is often more realistic to acquire a dog from a reputable breeder or organization.

How to Make My Dog a Service Dog: Path to Certification