How do dogs become service dogs?

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Service dogs are specially trained dogs that are educated to help people with certain disabilities. They assist in performing daily tasks and provide emotional support. The appearance of the first service dog dates back to the 1920s when an Austrian blind man Jozef Reisinger trained first Spitz and then a Poodle to help him with the disability. In the US, there are 12 types of service dogs that help with a wide variety of tasks for people with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or mental type of disability. Basically, every domestic or emotional support dog can be trained to become a service dog.

support dog

Certify a service dog in the UK

The UK Equality Act of 2010 (EA) protects service dogs in the UK from unlawful discrimination when entering places where animals are prohibited or when accompanying owners by taxi or airplane. Business owners and service providers are required to accommodate individuals with disabilities as well as grant the service dog access to publicly accessible premises and means of transport.

There is no official registration for assistance dogs granted by the UK government. However, most UK companies or premises recognise the service dog that has been trained and certified by one of the following organisations: Assistance Dogs International (ADI)  and The International Guide Dog Foundation (IGDF).

They belong to Assistance Dog UK (ADUK) and cover many types of service dogs, including:

  • Service dogs for autism
  • Mobility assistance dogs
  • Guide dogs for the blind
  • Hearing dogs for deaf people
  • Medical detection dogs
  • Seizure alert/response dogs

Training a service dog

service dog

For people that never had a dog it may seem that training a service dog is a tough task. To some extent, it’s true. When having a service dog, you literally continue to train him/her during the whole life. But, everything starts with your desire, compassion and professional help. Even if you decide to train your dog by your own, you should consult an expert beforehand. There are several tips on how to educate your dog perform certain tasks in the short term. If put it simple, there are 5 main stages in becoming a service dog:

Define an aim

You should understand which kind of service dog you need, based on the tasks you want him/her to perform. Depending on the required task, you’ll choose the breed. For a person with physical disability who needs a dog to help open heavy objects and do some strength required tasks, it’s better to choose big breeds, not Chihuahua.

Make up a plan

Decide if you want to train your dog by your own or delegate this task to professional trainers. Doing it by yourself is good, as it creates a close bond between you and your pet. But, it is not always possible. The biggest drawback of doing it yourself is a potential lost of time which is especially critical if you adopt an adult dog. So, start with asking advice of experts and service dogs’ owners.

Begin training

The earlier the better. It’s possible to train an adult dog, but with puppies you will get best and more quick results. Before training, spray or neuter your dog. Female dogs are not able to concentrate when they are in heat, while male dogs are too aggressive. The idea of training is simple: when you train a new task, offer your dog a high-value treat. Choose soft and easy to chew food to please your dog. The food should be the favorite one. You can also try a clicker training which provides a perfect communication. The idea of it is as follows: every time the dog do what is required, you click. It’s effective  and faster than saying some phrase to appreciate the dog’s action. Be positive and patient during the training. Dogs feel the stress.

Pass a public test

It’s the hardest part. The test demonstrates that you can control your dog, and she/he doesn’t pose any danger to the public. To successfully pass the test, socialize your dog in advance. You can try to test your dog by leaving him/her in places like dog hotels or visiting other dog-friendly public places. Your dog should have an adequate level of protectiveness over you and your family. Otherwise, he/she can behave too aggressive in public.

Is it possible for my existing dog to become a service dog?

emotinal support dog

Yes, but the younger is the dog, the better. Puppies are more capable to learn new information and perform some tasks, then adult dogs. Any domestic dog or ESA can be trained and become a service animal. If you, for example, already have a dog, adding a new dog means more troubles and money in handling them both. So, from the economical point, it’s better to train your existing dog.

If your dog obtain these traits, she/he has all chances to become a good service dog:

  • Friendliness to strangers
  • Being calm and quiet in different environments
  • Obedience
  • Being alert, but not aggressive
  • Be willing to please
  • Capable of learning and getting new information
  • Be ready to train and perform the same task many times


Training a service dog is a difficult, but in the end very rewarding experience. In order to achieve success, it’s not enough to find the best dog trainer or choose the most appropriate breed. The main thing is your willingness to dedicate your time, effort and love to achieve best results and become best companions with your pet. What you receive back – comfort, safety, emotional support – are worth it.

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