Your Own Service Dog in 512 (+/-) Easy Steps!

So you’ve read the Service Dog (SD) articles and you are considering getting one. If you are familiar with dogs and how to work with them, you may want to consider training one yourself.

But what of certification? What of the ADA? But I want a REAL SD!!

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not mention the guidelines for raising, training, and/or obtaining a service animal. What it does say is what you and businesses can and cannot do with one. The ADA does, however, provide a definition of a service animal. Meeting (and exceeding!) that definition is all the “certification” your dog needs.

Now, after you have determined what you need a SD to do and chosen a dog that can (with training) do those tasks – its time to do the training! I strongly recommend getting the Teamwork I and II books by Top Dog. The next thing is to live with the dog you have chosen for 30 days before making a commitment. That quiet shy young dog you chose may turn out to be hyperdrive destruct-o dog! Go for car rides. Does she get carsick? Go to the pet store. Does she get aggressive to other dogs? Play different games with her. When you throw the ball, does she bring it to you or run around with it? Or does she give you the look that says “You threw it, YOU get it!”

At the end of the 30 (or more!) day trial, do some serious thinking. This critter will be with you probably more than your own spouse! Is this a dog you could live with for the next 7 to up to 15 years? What about personality types? If the dog is in perpetual motion, can you keep up? If the dog is a rug potato, do you mind?

So, you made your list and you’ve picked a dog and you both survived the 30 day trial. Now what? Obedience classes. Even if you have an adult dog who already knows sit and stay, go anyway. It will strengthen the bond. And you’ll both be speaking the same language. Then check to see if your city or state or municipal area has a ‘service dog in training” (SDIT) law. Since SDITs are not covered by the ADA, you must follow that law. Find dog friendly places to go. Home Depot is a great place.

Most important: train your dog at least ONE thing that helps you with your disability and your dog is a Service Dog according to the ADA. It has to be a trained activity, not something the dog naturally does on its own. For example, most dogs will go after a ball and also bring it back to you for you to throw again. However, if you trained your dog to hand you whatever item you point to AND it’s an activity you cannot do yourself, then it’s a trained activity. It’s a thin line between the two. Joella will pick up almost any item I point to (she won’t pick up a slice of lemon!) because I trained her to. She already liked to pick stuff up, I just taught her to pick “that” up or to bring “that” to me.

Once that trained activity is reliable, then ignore the SDIT law and follow the ADA. Start taking your dog to places you usually go and/or places you would need help. Get the critter used to the sights, smells, and sounds it will encounter. Read, re-read and then read again the advice in the Teamwork books and any other information you can find on SD’s. At the same time, use common sense. Unless your dog can reliably NOT urinate, poop, or mark without your ‘approval’, don’t take it to an all day conference. If your dog is too young to sit still for the time span you need it to, then don’t embarrass it by putting it in situations it will fail. If your dog begs at the table, don’t take it to a restaurant until that habit is gone.

Training your own dog to do what YOU need it to do is not as difficult as it seems. Neither is it as easy as it may seem. No Service Dog is ever fully finished with training. Just as we need to be refreshed on our own jobs or responsibilities, so do they. And you can take pride in knowing that the praise and kudos your dog receives is all your doing (okay, the dog has some to do with it too!). The best compliment you can get as part of a SD team, is to hear people say “I didn’t even know the dog was there!”


    • State SD and SDIT laws:

What the ADAAG says:

What the DOJ says:

30 day trial and other info on choosing:

DIY certification:

Teamwork resources:


This version has been edited from its original wording.

Originally published in EDSToday newsletter issue #6.
Other related articles can be found on the Published Works page of this site.