What Is a Service Dog?


In this Article

  • Types of Service Dogs
  • Types of Service Dog Breeds
  • How to Get a Service Dog
  • How to Train a Service Dog
  • Are There Any Service Dog Laws?
  • Keeping Your Service Dog Healthy

Service dogs are trained to do specific tasks for people with disabilities. Dogs help people in lots of ways, but service dogs are different from working dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals.

Types of Service Dogs

Services dogs are trained to work with people with disabilities. These disabilities can affect a person’s physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental well-being. Service dogs are trained to help their handler with their symptoms.

Types of service dogs include:

  • Hearing or signal dogs that alert people who are deaf to sounds in the room or area
  • Service dogs that help people who use wheelchairs or people with physical disabilities to open doors or carry items
  • Guide dogs that help people who are blind get around
  • Autism service dogs that alert people with autism to overstimulation 
  • Service dogs that alert people with seizures, stand guard during a seizure, or go for help

Service dogs can pull wheelchairs, get medicine, remind you to take your medicine, help keep you stable while walking, and alert you to important sounds or dangerous things in your way. Service dogs have lots of different skills, depending on the disability they are trained for.

Types of Service Dog Breeds

People started training service dogs in the early 1900s. Service dogs used to be mostly German shepherd dogs, but there are lots of different breeds of service dogs now. 

Common service dog breeds include:

  • Golden retrievers
  • Labradors
  • Australian shepherds
  • Boxers
  • Collies
  • Standard poodles
  • Border collies
  • Airedales
  • Dobermans

There is no perfect guide dog, but some traits like temperament, walking stride, size, and energy can help people find a service dog that works well with them. These breeds are used a lot for their size, but mix breeds can also be trained as service dogs.

How to Get a Service Dog

There aren’t any service dog laws against training one yourself. But it’s recommended to have your service dog trained by professional instructors.

Training. No matter how you get a service dog, they usually go through a tough training program with an experienced trainer. In the last month of training, the service dog spends time with you and the instructor. The instructor teaches the dog to help you specifically, and tells you how to command, handle, and care for the dog.

Organizations. Some training organizations are nonprofits that give you a free service dog or a grant to pay for one. Some organizations might charge a fee. It’s important to work with an experienced organization. Ask for recommendations and carefully check them out before choosing a dog. 

How to Train a Service Dog

You can train a service dog by yourself, but it’s recommended to work with a professional trainer. Service dogs need obedience skills and other very specific skills. When you think about how to get a service dog, consider finding one with relevant traits.

A service dog should:

  • Be calm
  • Be able to learn and hold onto information
  • Be alert, but not reactive
  • Be ready and willing to please
  • Be capable of handling lots of different situations and areas
  • Be trained to work with you directly for your disability

To train a service dog, you should start with basic obedience skills. These include:

  • House training, including pooping on command in some places
  • Focusing on you
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Being able to stay on task in new places with new people, smells, and animals

Are There Any Service Dog Laws?

If you have a service dog, there are some laws that apply. Generally, a service dog is allowed to go with you in all public spaces and anywhere you go, even if regular dogs are not allowed.

Local laws. Service dogs must meet local laws to be licensed, registered, and vaccinated and must obey public health laws. This means they can’t swim in a public pool, but they have to be allowed on the pool deck. You can’t be forced to register your dog as a service dog. Service dogs can’t be refused because of their breed.

Controlled. Service dogs must be under the control of their handler at all times. This means they can’t be left alone in hotel rooms or in public spaces. They must be leashed and obedient unless they are working off-leash. For example, the dog could be off-leash to fetch or check an area out.

Privacy. An employee in a public area can only ask you if the dog is a service dog required for a disability and what work the dog is trained to do. Staff members can’t ask you to show your service dog doing the tasks. Also, an employee can’t ask you for documentation or ask about your disability.

Vests. Your service dog doesn’t have to wear a vest in public. Some people with service dogs like to use vests so that other people in public don’t touch the dog without permission.

Keeping Your Service Dog Healthy

It’s important to keep your dog healthy so that they can best help you. Give your dog access to plenty of fresh water and a balanced diet, and keep their vaccinations updated. Yearly visits to the vet are also important to make sure you catch any changes in your dog’s health.

Show Sources


American Kennel Club: “How To Keep Your Dog Healthy,” “Service Dogs 101: Everything You Need To Know About Service Dogs,” “Service Dogs, Working Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs: What’s the Difference?”

Americans with Disabilities Act: “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.”

VCA Hospitals: “Guide Dogs.”

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