How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on March 06, 2023

Service dogs are special pets that aid people with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs help their owners perform tasks directly related to their disability. This is what distinguishes service dogs between emotional support dogs, working dogs, or psychiatric service dogs.

Service dogs can be any breed or size, as long as they can assist their owner correctly. If you have a dog and want them to be your service dog, it's possible. However, it's helpful to adopt a dog that is already a trained service dog. The ADA has deemed that perfectly legal, as well. 

You have two options for training your dog to become a service animal. You could either train your dog yourself or enroll them in a dog service training program. 

Consider your dog's personality and ability. Unfortunately, some dogs may lack the characteristics needed to be effective service dogs. If you have a chihuahua, and you need a service dog to help you transition from your wheelchair, they might not be the right service dog for you. 

In addition to being able to meet the physical requirements of a service dog, the dog you choose as a service animal must have the right temperament as well. In service dog training programs, around 55%-70% of dogs don’t end up being suited to it. 

Some qualities that your service dog will need to have are: 

  • Keeping calm in new environments
  • Learning and retaining information quickly
  • Adapting to different social environments
  • Reliably repeating specific tasks
  • Able to focus on you

Housetrain your dog. If you think your dog can do these things and the physical tasks you need, you should start by house training your dog. This training should include your dog being able to relieve themselves on command and in different places. 

Socialize your companion. Next, move on to socializing your dog with unfamiliar environments, people, scents, sounds, and animals. Focus on training your dog to stay present with you and ignore any distractions. Once you and your dog have covered the basics, you can move on to training your dog how to assist you in the ways you need.

Know the law. There are many programs available that offer service dog certification programs. But these certifications do not prove that the dog is a service animal. In fact, the ADA does not require any sort of certificate or proof that your service dog is trained.

Research whatever program you chose. If you decide to enter your dog into a training program, make sure you do extensive research to check that it’s reputable. Training programs can cost thousands of dollars, so it's crucial to make sure you get your money’s worth. Things like referrals and reviews can go a long way to ensure the best experience for you and your dog.

Make sure you can answer two questions. The ADA says that you are only required to answer two questions if it is not apparent that your dog is a service dog. Those questions are, “Is the dog a service animal needed because of a disability?" and “What work or task has the dog been trained to do?" You need to be able to accurately answer both questions for the dog to be seen as a service dog.

Be clear on the required registration. Mandatory registration of service animals is illegal, according to the ADA. Any municipality that says so violates the ADA. However, regional registration and vaccination rules for animals also apply to service animals.

It's important to remember that the ADA leaves the training up to the dog owner entirely. As long as your service animal can fulfill your needs, they are a service animal. While this may require additional training to accomplish, it doesn’t have to. 

Show Sources


American Kennel Club: “Service Dogs 101—Everything You Need to Know,” “Service Dogs, Working Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs: What’s the Difference?”

U.S. Department of Justice: “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.”

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