Service Dog Certification: How to Train and Certify Your K9

Service Dog Certification - How to Train and Certify Your K9

Service Dog Certification - How to Train and Certify Your K9Getting your service dog certification isn’t difficult if you know which dog to pick, how to train and prepare well in advance.

We’ve all seen service dogs out and about, doing their job alongside their owners. Most of the time, service dogs that we see are medium sized to larger breeds, like Labradors or Golden Retrievers. Is there a reason for that? Yes and no.

The common assumption is that service dogs are usually trained from more intelligent breeds, and they need to go through extensive training to get a service dog certification of the sorts. While the latter is true, there are also no restrictions on which breed or what size canine can become a certified service dog; even the certificate itself is also not always a requirement.

But if you do want to certify your pooch, the only stipulation is that a dog should be trained solely for the purpose to assist its handler with their disability. This article will cover hows and whys of acquiring a service dog certification.

What’s a service dog certification?

This type of certification ensures that the dog is capable of assisting his/her handler with all the necessary tasks. It also provides dogs with equal rights to access anywhere where the general public is allowed: stores, restaurants, movie theaters, aircraft, taxis and so forth. Dog owners of certified service dogs can also have these pets in their accommodation where pets are generally not allowed.

However, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is not necessary to obtain certification by an institution in order for a dog to become a service canine.

The reason that these institutions exist is to teach and instruct dog handlers on all things related to service dogs as well as to train the dogs properly. The institution will also provide a certificate of affidavit after the training is completed just in case it is needed for verification, but that is rarely required.

In fact, the only actual requirement that ADA pushes for is that the handler must have a chronic medical condition and that the dog must be trained to perform tasks that assists the handler with that particular disability.

Study research on service canines

Researchers have proven that service dogs have a hugely positive impact on families with autistic children[1], where canines increased social interaction, promoted awareness of the problem and provided more freedom to children and their families. They also provide autistic children with health benefits[2].

Multiple research studies conducted back in the 1980’s have proved[3][4] that service dogs increase people’s acceptance of disabled in public. For example, people in wheel chairs get a lot more smiles, positive attention and generally warm attitude when there’s a guide dog present.

Service dogs serve in animal-assisted therapies where they reduce anxiety[5], and there’s also currently an on-going study which was resumed back in May 2014 where researchers are finding positive effects of service dogs on military men with PTSD[6].

For those who care, there are plenty more of scholarly articles available online proving the incredible effectiveness of service dogs.

Given the lack of these animals and a growing demand supported by scientific evidence, there will soon be a lot of businesses that will look into cashing in on this model. Maybe you should consider start training your own puppy to become a service dog?

Service Dog Certification How to Train and Certify Your Pet
Golden Retriever guide dog puppy. Photo by George Hawkins

What breed is best for service dog certification?

Certain breeds do make better service dogs than others, but ultimately it is up to the handler to choose the dog that best suits their needs.

Dogs that are part of the working group are usually easy to train but can be very protective, and field dogs are more inclined to investigate their environment as well as other people.

Small dogs are not ideal because they are unable to pull wheelchairs or lift heavy objects and larger dogs are hard to keep out of the way in tight areas like restaurants, public transportation, or airplanes.

A good service dog is medium sized, comfortable around different types of people, is not excitable, and is neither dominant nor submissive. This is why we see a lot of working Labradors doing this job.

Service dog’s temperament and behavior

A very important thing to remember is that there is no reason for a service dog to be protective. This dog’s presence alone is a natural deterrent.

The job of a working guide dog is to assist the disabled individual, not protect them.

The reason being is that many disabled people would not be able to restrain a dog that is becoming aggressive; therefore, a service dog must always be safe to the public.

Certain dogs may sense their owner’s vulnerability and may try to protect them at inappropriate times, so it is key to pay extra attention to this aspect during training.

Whether you are someone that is interested in training service dogs as a career, or you are in need of a service dog and would like to train them yourself – there are many important things to keep in mind.

The most important step to being able to have your dog certified is to raise them from a puppy and make sure that they are well socialized and well mannered.

Did you notice how most assistance dogs cannot be distracted by almost anything? They’re always keeping their wits about them. So making sure that service dogs are mild-tempered is essential so that they are comfortable being around many different types of people and in all kinds of different situations.

If your dog is timid and gets nervous around common objects like shopping carts, wheelchairs, motorcycles, or large crowds of people, unfortunately, you may want to think about continuing your service dog training with another canine.

Service Dog Certification How to Train and Certify Your Canine
Guide dog hanging out in the office at work. Photo by Veronica Belmont

How should you train a future service dog?

Before you can get your service dog certification, you need to plan that pooch’s training well in advance from his/her early age.

When your puppy is between 12 and 18 months old, that’s a perfect time for starting an official service dog training.

Depending on what the dog is being trained to do, this could take anywhere from two months to two years. Service dogs that will end up as Seeing Eye dogs for the blind will need much more extensive training than a dog that will be placed with a handler that has a psychiatric disability.

During this time, you will be able to tell if your dog is up to the challenge of being a guide dog. Many dogs cannot perform the tasks required of them consistently and reliably during training and will need to be retired to being a family pet. It’s just not for everybody.

How to take service dog certification test

If your dog makes it through training and you believe that he/she is ready to become a certified service dog, you will have to sign up for an official test. There are many websites that can tell you how to contact a testing center in your area.

The dog will usually have to perform a field test in order to become certified.

Service dog certification test itself will take place in a public area like a store or library. The handler will be required to participate with the dog and the certification tester will shadow the pair while looking for the following things:

  • Where is the dog’s attention focused?
  • Is the dog distracted by children, food, or strange smells?
  • Does the dog startle easily?
  • Are strangers permitted to be near the dog and the handler without the canine appearing threatened?
  • Does the dog consistently perform the tasks that the handler asks?

When the test is over, the examiner will give the handler their notes and decide whether or not the team of these two buddies have passed certification.

If they do pass, then they will be issued a certificate of graduation and possibly a service patch. If they didn’t pass, they are able to retake the test on another date.

When the pair fail multiple times and the testing standards are repeatedly not met, the certification tester may suggest that the dog have a change of career just because not every animal can be up for this task.

Is service dog certification always required?


However, even if certification is not required by law, it can come in very handy. Usually, when the handler is in a situation where others are questioning the canine, a certificate could make things much easier.

For example, if the handler is hospitalized or they are applying to rent a new place, having proof of certification would save a lot of hassle.

It’s also a good idea to equip your dogs’ harness with a badge that identifies them as a certified service dog. This can save the handler trouble when entering public places that do not normally allow dogs. Generally, you can get these stickers/batches from the place where your canine was certified.

Training a service dog takes hard work, determination, and patience. It is a process that cannot be rushed.

Because service dogs will be assisting disabled people, it is absolutely crucial that they are properly trained and reliable not only for the sake of the owner, but for the public’s safety as well.

Most of the time, disabled people are forced to consider purchasing a dog that is already trained rather than training a dog themselves, obviously. And service canines come with a steep price tag, which is why handlers make good money training service dogs.

If there’s any possibility to do so, it may be more beneficial, and certainly something to take pride in, if you train your pooch by yourself.



  1. Burrows, Kristen E.; Adams, Cindy L.; Spiers, Jude. Sentinels of Safety: Service Dogs Ensure Safety and Enhance Freedom and Well-Being for Families with Autistic Children. Qualitative Health Research, 18(12); 2008 Dec: 1642-1649
  2. Viau R., Arsenault-Lapierre G., Fecteau S., Champagne N., Walker C.-D., Lupien S. Effect of service dogs on salivary cortisol secretion in autistic children. Psychoneuroendocrinology 35 (8), 1187-93. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.02.004
  3. Eddy J., Hart L., Boltz R. P. (1988). The effects of service dogs on social acknowledgements of people in wheelchairs. J. Psychol. 122, 39–45
  4. Hart L. A., Hart B., Bergin B. (1987). Socializing effects of service dogs for people with disabilities. Anthrozoos 1, 41–4410.2752/089279388787058696
  5. Sandra B. Barker, Ph.D.; Kathryn S. Dawson, Ph.D. The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients. Psychiatric Services 1998 [article 81469]
  6. Rick Yount, MS, LSW; Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD, MPH; Matthew St. Laurent, MS, OTR; Perry Chumley, DVM, MPH; Meg Daley Olmert. The Role of Service Dog Training in the Treatment of Combat-Related PTSD. 292-295 DOI: 10.3928/00485713-20130605-11

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