Train the Dog You Already Own as a Service Dog
Do you have a healthy, confident dog that loves to train and is relaxed or friendly around strangers and other dogs? Whether you’re raising a carefully selected puppy or you’re ready to train tasks with the dog you’ve been obedience training for years – this is your starting place. We’ll help you train your dog to be your ultimate canine partner who always has your back.
Training your own service dog is a journey.
It is a path you and your dog travel together. It requires time and effort – every day. You must be as invested in the journey as in the destination.
If you and your dog have what it takes, At Your Service will empower you to train your own service dog successfully and efficiently. We are
Service Dogs Types
We typically train these types of service dogs:
Dogs that help people with a physical disability or chronic illness. We have experience with a variety of conditions, including handlers that use wheelchairs or scooters, have limited use of hands, or are on bedrest or homebound. Tasks may include…
- retrieve (water bottle, dropped items, medication, cane, emergency phone)
- turn lights on and off
- open and shut doors
- get help from a family member
- steadying walk (non-weight-bearing)
Dogs that help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), agoraphobia or other anxiety disorders, depression, autism spectrum, etc. Tasks may include…
- tactile stimulation or deep pressure – e.g., dog lies across your legs, leans into your chest, bops your hand, or licks your face to interrupt symptoms or calm you
- turn on lights or perform “room check” when you enter a dark house
- interrupt or alert to self-harm (skin picking, scratching) by nosing your hand away, jumping in your lap, or pawing at your leg
- medication reminder or get-out-of-bed – dog alerts to alarm or time of day and pesters you until you take medication
- “watch my back” or body blocking – dog positions itself between you and other people or sits facing behind you in crowded locations
- guide to home or car – dog leads you to the nearest exit, your car, or your home when you’re overwhelmed
We have trained dogs for a variety of disabilities, including traumatic brain injury, cognitive impairment, POTS, seizures, sleep disorders, and deaf/hard-of-hearing. Tasks may include…
- alert to alarms (fire, clock, infusion pump) or other important sounds
- wake up (get out of bed, pester to go out)
- come when you fall, or alert a family member when you need help
- many of the other tasks listed under “mobility” and “psychiatric”
We’re sorry, but we do not typically train diabetic alert dogs, allergen- or gluten-detection dogs, or guide dogs for blind or low-vision handlers.
100% Improved Quality of Life
Before we came to At Your Service, I tried to go into stores and I would panic and have to leave. Now, I can go in public and crowded places. There’s so much more in life I can do. Gatsby has 100 percent improved my quality of life. I don’t have many accomplishments as a result of my debilitating anxiety. But I was able to train him. That makes me very, very proud. He’s made a very negative part of my life super positive. I am so thankful.
– Allison Rhinelander
Allison & Gatsby at Barnes & Noble
The first step is to watch our video.
If you have an adult dog that matches the description in the video OR if you have a puppy, kick off your canine companion’s service career with the Dogs In Service Certification program (DISC).
If your dog is not likely to enjoy working in public, you can either
- refocus on training your dog on in-home skills with private lessons or online group classes (for task foundations, start with Helping Hounds, or for more comprehensive foundations in manners and other skills, enroll in DISC or
- start the search for a public access candidate with our helpful, step-by-step pre-adoption services.
Our individualized private training services are available online, on-site in Western Mass., or as a hybrid of both. You’ll get great results with private training for these situations:
Advanced training. If you have an adult dog who has already completed extensive manners training and is ready to learn tasks or complete public access training, our expert service dog trainers will guide your dog to success with private training.
More intensive training, support, and faster results. Private training can also be a great option in earlier stages for these situations:
- If your disability makes group learning difficult
- If you simply prefer one-on-one training
- If you’d like the ease and quick results of having a certified professional dog trainer train your dog for you with our day training or board-and-train options
If your adult dog fits the profile in the video, fill out the Owned Dog Intake Form to get started with private training. (We offer private training for puppies depending on trainer availability.) Once we receive your form, we’ll get in touch about setting up a service dog consultation.
Thorough, Gentle, and Comfortably Paced
“I really like the real time interaction with the teachers and being able to see the other students working with their dogs. Most other online classes are just written lectures and video submissions for written feedback. Alex was super at watching us and pinpointing areas of success and areas for improvement. It’s very thorough but gentle and comfortably paced. Not too fast, not too much info all at once. I’m more comfortable feeling like Radar could make it as a service dog. I have been able to cue for tasks while having a problem because he and I have rehearsed it enough.”
– Michelle F. and Radar
Michelle and Radar, service-dog-in-training (SDiT)
DISC (Dogs In Service Certification) Program
Service dogs are the Olympians of the dog training world. Our DISC curriculum prepares your team to win the Gold Disc (superb public access skills), complete task training (Platinum Disc), and partner with your “Diamond Dog” who maintains training every year upon graduation.
How It Works
The first three levels – PEARL, Bronze, and Silver – are online group classes. Each level is a two-and-a-half month (ten-week) course followed by an assessment to ensure your dog is ready for the next level. Pass your assessment to earn your DISC for that level and move on to the next.
Earn your Silver Disc to become eligible for specialized private training on finishing task and public access skills.
DISC Program Levels
- PEARL Disc (Pup Engaged, Attentive, Relaxed & Learning) – Foundations for any dog 8 weeks and up
- Bronze Disc – Basic/Intermediate Manners & Skills
- Silver Disc – Intermediate/Advanced Manners & Skills
- Gold Disc – Public Access Training
- Platinum Disc – Task Training
- Diamond Disc – Yearly Recertification
DISC Training Plusses
Service dog focus: Your dog learns all the basics (sit, down, come, stay), plus!… pottying on cue, riding on public transportation, curling in a small space, settling under a restaurant table, desensitization to hospital sounds, and much more.
Extra support: Individual instruction during class, plus!… lifelong access to our Client Portal with homework instructions for each class and hundreds of training tip sheets and videos; access to clients-only videos and private Facebook group.
Open enrollment: Rolling admissions means your dog can start class as soon as a space is open, without waiting for a previous cycle to complete.
Reality based: Each lesson focuses on a real-life situation with your SDiT, such as riding the train, going to the groomer, or shopping for groceries. Scenarios are broken down into segments, with step-by-step training instructions for each section.
Handler skills focus: Learn the secrets of great handler/trainer skills: how to use situational awareness, life rewards, prevention, and read dog body language. How to strengthen your bond, work a service dog in public, and help you and your dog sail through access challenges or approaches from strangers.
Clarity – Benchmarks assure you that your dog is on the path to public access success. If problems arise, we’ll address them before they become entrenched.
I cannot say ENOUGH good things. The class was stellar – efficient, effective, and convenient. Alex was fantastic at providing individualized coaching during the online class as well as balancing the group needs. Loved the feedback and the opportunity to think into the future about what I’m teaching my pup now. I’ve already recommended you to friends. Online dog classes don’t get any better than this.
– Deb Goodwin & Rika
Deb and therapy dog, Rika
Benefits of Training Online with Service Dog Specialists
All of the good things about in-person classes are true of our online classes: expertise and step-by-step, positive coaching and homework. Starting your pup in our online classes has several benefits.
- Faster – With expert guidance the first time, you’ll have a full-fledged service dog much faster. Prevent time-consuming “retraining” of unhelpful behaviors taught in pet classes. (It’s fine to take a puppy kindergarten or other basic class with a local trainer while you also train with us online! We’ll even partner with your local pet trainer for maximum benefit.)
- Reduced cost – Saving time saves money. Starting your pup in DISC prevents costly mistakes.
- Community – All your classmates are also training a service dog for themselves or a family member. You’re part of a supportive community – in class and our private social media groups.
- Quick and easy. No travel time or costs associated with driving. We email you a link. You click on it. Poof! You’re in class!
- Dogs learn best in low-distraction settings. The best service dog training focuses on building strong foundations. Because your dog is not distracted by the trainer, the other dogs and people, or the noisy environment of a typical pet class, you’ll both learn better. Then we’ll train with “manufactured distractions” you control so your dog will succeed when you enter new and exciting environments.
- People learn best in low-distraction environments, too! Psst! No matter whether you train in person or online, trainers are always coaching you, not training your dog! If your disability makes certain environments challenging, you’ll love DISC classes.
- All classes are recorded. If you miss class or need a refresher, you can watch it later.
- Skilled support – Getting the right information and guidance from the get-go makes your life easier. Training a service dog is a big job! You shouldn’t have to go it alone. We’ll make it easier, more fun, and help you get the best results!
Our service dog consultations set the stage for successful private training. Before we meet, we’ll gather information on your disability and needs, and your dog’s behavior, health, habits, and training so far. We’ll also ask for some simple documentation on your disability.
The consultation includes:
- Understand “the big picture” of what’s ahead for you and your dog
- Troubleshooting for current training issues and helpful instructions to get improved behavior right away
- Specific recommendations to lay groundwork for tasks for your specific disabilities and needs
- Notes on training, equipment, and tasks
- Individualized training plan and estimate
- Video recording of the consultation
- One month of personal email follow-up
- Lifelong access to our exclusive Client Portal with hundreds of training videos and tip sheets
Service dog training requires a lot from you and your dog. If you’re ready to give it your all, we have all you need to succeed!
Our exclusive private lessons are geared to public access and task training, or for other situations where you want one-on-one expertise. Depending on your locations and needs, lessons may be online, on-site in Hadley, in your home, or our popular online/on-site hybrid. We design a unique, tailor-made package for each team.
Private lessons give you the tools and confidence to become an accomplished trainer and handler. Then you and your service dog can take on the world together for years to come.
Private lessons include:
- Online (Zoom)
- On-site in Hadley, MA
- In-home (for covered towns in Pioneer Valley)
Ready to get started with a private training consultation? Fill out the Owned Dog Intake Form and we’ll contact you about a consultation.
Sharon Wachsler CPDT-KA KPA-CTP
Standard hourly rate is $150. Package rate is $130 per hour-long coaching lesson and $105 per forty-minute lesson.
Certified Head Trainer
Ten on-site one-hour lessons is $1300
14 online forty-minute lessons is $1470
Mileages charges may apply for in-home or public access training
Alex Wise CPDT-KA
Standard hourly rate is $115. Package rate is $105 per hour-long coaching lesson and $85 per half-hour lesson.
Certified Senior Trainer
Six in-home one-hour lessons is $630
14 online half-hour lessons is $1190
Mileage charges may apply for in-home or public access training
Classes are a fun and affordable training option! We offer open-enrollment DISC classes and shorter linear classes. To fully train a service dog, start your puppy or adult dog in PEARL DISC. For a fun, helpful online class for an ESA, therapy dog, or service dog, try a linear class like Helping Hounds 1.
Types of Classes
We offer two types of classes, open enrollment classes and linear classes.
Classes are offered on a continuous basis. Students start and end class at different times. Join any time there’s an opening in the class!
- PEARL DISC: 10 classes, plus an individual assessment, two payments of $185 (or one payment of $370)
- Bronze DISC: 10 classes, plus referral to a local trainer for assessment, two payments of $165 (or one payment of $330)
Classes have a set start date and end date. All students start and end at the same time.
- Helping Hounds 1: Tricks & Tasks Foundations for Service and Therapy Dogs, 4 classes, $135
- Helping Hounds 2: Intermediate Tricks & Tasks for Service and Therapy Dogs, 4 classes, $135
Not sure if online dog training classes are right for you?
Helping Hounds is a great way to try it out!
For Pioneer Valley clients only. Our tailor-made day training program provides intensive training while your dog lives at home. The best of both worlds:
- Several days a week a professional trains your dog one-on-one
- Periodically, you meet with your trainer for a transition lesson to learn how to continue your dog’s training
The best option for socialization or public access if the handler’s disability makes it difficult to train well in public environments. Also ideal for task training or leash manners for handlers whose disability affects timing or dexterity.
- In-home for Amherst, Deerfield, Easthampton, Florence, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Holyoke, Leeds, Leverett, Northampton, South Hadley, Sunderland, and Williamsburg
- Drop-off day training in Hadley
Ready to have a skilled trainer give your dog a huge training boost with day training? Fill out the Owned Dog Intake Form and we’ll contact you about a consultation.
Sharon Wachsler CPDT-KA KPA-CTP
Certified Head Trainer
3 one-hour day training lessons per week
One owner transition lesson per week
16 sessions total
Drop-Off in Hadley or in-home options
Mileage may apply for in-home training, depending on location
Alex Wise CPDT-KA
2 or 3 one-hour day training lessons per week
Transition lesson every one-to-two weeks
15 sessions total
Mileage may apply, depending on location
B&T is only available for these select dogs:
- Adult dogs (12 months or older)
- Crate trained, house trained, good with other dogs
- You’ve already trained your dog in basic and intermediate manners
- Your dog has already done several training sessions with us, including at least some in-person training with our head trainer
B&T dogs live with our head trainer and benefit from
Location: Anyone who is able to transport their dog to and from Hadley, MA.
- Initial 3-week stay, followed by three weeks at home with four transition lessons
- 8-week second phase: Two cycles of two weeks on, two weeks off
- When your dog comes home between stays, you’ll participate in twice-weekly online transition lessons to continue training
- Your dog stays with us during the week and goes home to live and train with you on the weekends
- Transition lesson with you every Friday
|Initial 3-week session||Full-time||Part-time|
Two sets of 2 weeks (28 days total)
Weekends at home
Far beyond any other trainers
“I am in awe of Sharon – her depth of knowledge, her extensive library, her training methods (the handler as well as the dog), and her professionalism. Sharon’s clear and concise, step by step instruction is far beyond any trainers we have met. I have learned the foundational reasons of what and when we train – the why behind the what. My service dog, Shadow, has been trained at three other facilities. No other trainer has done this.” – Lee Atherton
Lee and Shadow, service dog and Crisis Response Canine
Frequently Asked Questions
In most cases, over time, we will end up doing both group and private lessons with your dog. Group classes are an affordable option to make sure all your training bases are covered. Private training allows us to tailor your dog’s task and public access training to your specific needs.
Here’s what to know about where to start:
If you have a puppy, starting at 8 weeks old, or a dog that’s new to training, sign up for PEARL DISC.
If you’ve done basic training with your dog already, such as a puppy class and basic manners class, we usually also recommend starting with PEARL DISC.
Once your dog has completed PEARL, Bronze, and Silver DISC classes, we usually recommend switching to private training, either online, in person, or a hybrid, to complete public access and manners training.
Owner Coaching (Private Lessons)
We recommend private lessons when…
- You’re taking DISC courses and feel some additional instruction would be helpful.
- Your adult dog has already done significant training, and you want to move directly into public access training or task training.
- You learn best with one-on-one training for your puppy or young dog.
If your adult dog has not previously trained with us, we will have you complete the Bronze Disc assessment before we begin private training.
For puppies and current students, we’ll recommend the best option on a case-by-case basis.
Day Training is available for clients in the Pioneer Valley who want more intensive training for their dogs. It can be helpful for a wide variety of training goals.
Board-and-Train is great for advanced or intensive training. It is available for dogs that we have already worked with that are crate trained, house trained, friendly with other dogs and people, and can tolerate occasionally being left home alone (in a crate) for up to five hours.
We typically recommend all teams start in PEARL to ensure all foundation skills are covered. We may cover material that was not included in previous classes because all trainers have different approaches.
We also want to help you develop your training and handling skills. You actually have a harder job than your dog! Your dog just has to learn their skills, while you have the job of learning it all as well as teaching it to your dog!
This is why there are two primary training goals for Pearl Disc. The first is to give your dog a great training foundation. The second is to give you high-level skills to be a successful trainer for the long-haul.
These learning goals include how to…
- work at the dog’s level (how to adjust criteria)
- use situational awareness
- use life rewards
- solve problems using known cues or behaviors
- learn and interpret dog body language
- use prevention and management for optimum behavioral outcomes
If you would like to place out of Pearl and go directly into Bronze, you can simply sign up to take the Pearl Assessment.
The Pearl assessment is $90. (When bundled with the class, it’s half price – $40.)
It has two parts. Part One is a knowledge assessment of the training and handling concepts taught in the course. You simply answer a set of questions.
The second portion is an online training demonstration by you and your dog. For this level, we’re asking for your dog to respond reliably to cues for beginner levels of very basic skills: Name, Sit, Down, Touch (hand targeting), and loose leash walking. We’ll meet online by Zoom. This part is very short, and if you’ve trained the basics with your dog, your team should pass with flying colors.
It’s absolutely fine to take the assessment just to see how you and your dog do and what you still need to learn, too. Contact us if you’d like to set up your dog’s Pearl Disc assessment.
Although we generally recommend that everyone bring their dog through all our levels, we recognize that teams that have already done a lot of training might benefit from skipping ahead. If your adult dog has completed several manners classes or earned their CGC after social maturity, your dog may be a candidate for skipping PEARL or Bronze classes. To start with Silver or private training intake, your dog will need to pass the Bronze Disc assessment.
There are two parts to the Bronze assessment. The first part is to answer some questions on your dog’s behavior and training.
The second part is a temperament test conducted in person with a local trainer who has experience in behavioral assessment. The trainer must also have liability insurance, have been working as a lead trainer for at least two years, and hold one of these certifications: CPDT-KA or -KSA, CBCC-KA, KPA-CTP, CBATI, CTC, CAAB, or CDBC. We can help you find a trainer, or you can find your own. We’ll send the trainer our assessment checklist and get their report. The cost for us to process the assessment is $75.
Absolutely! Some clients train with us exclusively online. Others train primarily online but travel to train with us as needed. Our regional clients (e.g., Boston, Worcester, Albany, Hartford, Brattleboro), typically have great results with this progression:
- Start your puppy in PEARL DISC and proceed through the DISC levels.
- At the same time, ask us for a referral to a rewards-based pet trainer in your area for an in-person puppy kindergarten. (Make sure they have a copy of our handbook on foundation training for future service dogs!)
- When your dog is ready for private training, we’ll start online private lessons. Periodically, when we feel that hands-on coaching would be helpful, you may travel to us to train in-person.
We occasionally offer specialty classes in Hadley, MA. These are typically either advanced classes for teams that have already trained with us extensively (such as Advanced Public Access, which meets in a different public setting every week) or other classes that will be a good fit for current local clients (past classes have included Fun & Games, therapy dog basics, outdoor manners, and Canine Good Citizen). Contact us for referrals to local group classes or to set up private in-person training. If you want to be notified when we have local classes coming up, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
Depending on which trainer you’re working with and our current case load, we offer in-home training for Amherst, Deerfield, Easthampton, Florence, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Holyoke, Leeds, Leverett, Northampton, South Hadley, Sunderland, and Williamsburg.
You may also come to Hadley to train with us.
We also occasionally meet in other locations throughout the region (e.g., dog friendly stores, etc.) for training sessions, including on public access or puppy socialization.
Yes, if you are training an ESA or in-home only service dog, the Helping Hounds classes are terrific. We may also recommend private training, online or in-person, depending on your situation and location.
We typically only offer pet training for previous clients or special referrals, or when the handler’s disability affects training. We are happy to work with disabled dog handlers or consult with their local trainers on adaptive training strategies.
No, we do not provide any dogs. We help people to train their own dogs as potential service dogs. If you don’t have an appropriate dog, we can help you with the process of finding the right dog to train.
If you’re trying to make an informed decision about whether to get a fully trained service dog or train your own, please use our pre-adoption webinar which goes over pros and cons for each, with guidance for different situations. It also makes recommendations about how to search for a good program and avoid scams, and resources for service dogs for children with disabilities.
We help owners to successfully train their own service dogs. We offer board-and-train for current clients whose dog would benefit from the intensive training that is best achieved through board-and-train. B&T or day training are especially helpful for skills that are difficult for the handler to train themselves, due to their disability or because the training requires a high skill level. Examples of situations that benefit from B&T are training a shaped retrieve or a sound alert, public access training, or manners training when the client is incapacitated (e.g., post surgery, etc.). To be accepted for B&T, we must already have worked with the client and dog in classes or private lessons. See Board & Train for more information.
If you decide to look elsewhere for a board-and-train, please use a trainer who trains entirely with rewards. Speak with multiple past clients to check that their dog was not punished. Why is this so critical? Most board-and-trains use punitive methods, sometimes combined with rewards. Trainers feel a lot of pressure to train the dog before it goes home. In the secrecy of the B&T, without the owner present to witness what’s happening, this pressure often results in increasingly extreme punishment that causes behavioral damage and can even lead to the dog’s injury. Sadly, we have known wonderful dogs that died in board-and-trains with other trainers. Never use a trainer that provides a guarantee of training or behavior results. This is a red flag that indicates this trainer does not understand dog behavior and may go to extreme, possibly deadly, lengths to train your dog. Learn more about the ethics that good trainers adhere to and how to find the right trainer. Two databases that tend to have more ethical/safe trainers are KPA and IAABC.
Laws & Terms
A service dog is paired with a disabled handler. As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a service animal is a dog that is trained to do work or perform tasks that directly relate to the handler’s disability.
A disability under the ADA is a permanent or chronic mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (e.g., walking, learning, hearing, breathing, standing, working, talking, etc.).
Under the ADA, to accompany its disabled handler in public, a service dog must be tethered, leashed or harnessed; under the handler’s control at all times; and house trained. The ADA specifies that the presence of the dog (including the dog’s behavior or grooming) must not fundamentally alter the nature of the service the business is providing.
In other words, a service dog should be quiet, unobtrusively, and mannerly, allowing normal functions of the business to take place around the dog. A business may ask that a service dog be removed if it is out of control, soils, shows aggression or reactivity (barks, growls, etc.), or otherwise significantly interferes with the business or service.
An emotional support animal (ESA) is a pet of any species whose presence makes its disabled owner feel better. ESAs are classified as “assistance animals” under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHA) and are allowed as a reasonable accommodation in “no pets” housing. Although the pet must have a therapeutic effect on the owner, an ESA is not required to have the impeccable manners of a service dog nor to be trained to perform tasks relating to the handler’s disability. (Commercial airlines are no longer required to fly ESAs. Please see the section on flying with your dog.)
A letter to your landlord from your doctor or therapist stating that your pets presence relieves your symptoms or otherwise mitigates the impact of your disability is usually required for housing accommodation. For more information, please see HUD’s very useful document, “Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal as a Reasonable Accommodation Under the Fair Housing Act.”
The ADA excludes ESAs from its definition of a service animal, stating, “The provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.” A person accompanied by an ESA has no public access rights in stores, restaurants, hotels, transportation, etc.
A therapy dog provides comfort, affection, or support to people in a specific setting (e.g., hospital, school, nursing home, court room). Therapy dog handlers may be volunteers or professionals (teachers, therapists, police officers) who have trained their own dog to work in these settings. Although therapy dogs undergo training, they are not trained to mitigate the effects of one person’s disability. Therefore, therapy dog handlers have no public access rights and must obtain permission from the facility or workplace to bring their dog.
We call our levels training program the Dogs In Service Certification program because dogs that complete this training will meet our standards for a fully trained service dog. We will certify these dogs as having completed our training by providing you with
- a letter, on our letterhead, attesting to your dog’s task and public access training
- our embroidered logo patch to put on your dog’s vest
- cards with applicable disability rights laws and your dog’s name and task training which you can use to help you advocate for your access rights with your trained service dog
However, please be aware that in the United States, there is no legal “certification” of service dogs. A couple of states offer voluntary registries, but commercial websites that offer service dog “registries” or “certifications” are misleading at best, scams at worst. While service dog organizations, like us, may offer ID cards or graduation certificates certifying that a dog meets their particular standards, they do not confer any legal rights or privileges.
Your dog is legally a service dog when it fulfills these criteria:
- reliably trained in excellent manners and obedience
- reliably trained in tasks that relate to your disabilities
- under your complete control
- quiet and unobtrusive
- tethered, leashed, or harnessed
- house trained
However, we understand that it can be useful to have “official” paperwork and gear. We are happy to provide that to our clients whose dogs complete training that meets and exceeds the legal standard for a service animal.
Under the revised rules of the Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are no longer required to fly emotional support animals (ESAs). The ACAA now more closely adheres to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which grants access to disabled handlers who are accompanied by a trained service dog.
While the legal requirements for flying with ESAs have changed, the training, behavior, and handling requirements are the same. If your dog is small, well-behaved, and comfortable with flying, check which airlines allow you to fly small pets in a carrier that fits under their seats.
If you would like to fully train your dog as a service dog, we are happy to help. This requires that
- your dog is very well-behaved and comfortable with flying, including with being surrounded in close quarters by many strangers for several hours
- you have a disabling condition as defined by the ADA (and can provide the requested documentation)
- you are motivated to train your dog to have excellent manners in a variety of public spaces
- you are motivated to train your dog to reliably perform one or more tasks that directly relate to your disability
In this case, watch our free video on service dog training and then register for the appropriate class or service.
Once your dog is accepted for intake, if you’re on SSI, SSDI, or VA benefits, you may email us a copy of your award letter or another document from the SSA or VA (such as a check stub or a screenshot of a direct deposit) that shows that you receive that benefit. This will also let us know you’re eligible for discounted private training services.
If you’re not on disability, we’ll provide you with a letter that outlines what we need to know from your treating healthcare provider (who has met with you several times). In addition to giving a diagnosis, the letter must also affirm that your condition is disabling as defined by the ADA, meaning that it substantially limits your major life activities.
Costs & Timelines
This sample estimate shows what it might cost to find and train a dog. This estimate assumes a dog that is easy to train, with a handler who is dedicated and finds it easy to follow training instructions. However, since each dog and handler are unique, your individual training plan and estimate will look different.
A reputable, experienced service dog trainer cannot give a reliable estimate (let alone charge a flat fee) without knowing a lot more about you and your dog. Some of the variables include…
- Your dog’s age. Puppies need lots of special puppy training and socialization. An adult dog with a known, sound temperament will cost less to train than a puppy.
- Your dog’s previous training. A dog with solid manners (trained with reward-based methods), will cost less than a dog that is untrained or poorly trained.
- Your dog’s trainability. Some dogs take more time, effort, and skill to train than others. Dogs that are very food-motivated and relatively uninterested in their environment (dogs, people, squirrels, sounds…) are the easiest (least expensive) to train.
- Your skill as a trainer. If you are able to learn and apply what you learn from your trainer to do more skilled training on your own, you’ll be able to take fewer lessons. (However, infrequent or poor training will slow progress and ultimately cost more.)
- The number and complexity of tasks needed. This is a fraction of the overall cost, but it is a factor.
Given these variables, it may cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 to train your own service dog. If the handler is capable and motivated, and the dog is appropriate, it typically costs $6,000 to $9,000 to train an adult dog (including costs for training, treats, and other equipment). For those who want complex tasks (such as a retrieve) or need day training or board-and-train, it may cost much more.
Download sample cost estimate here.
Training a dog to be well-behaved, quiet, and unobtrusive in public is the most time-consuming part of service dog training. In fact, simply finding a dog that is capable of being relaxed in a variety of public settings is often the most difficult part of the process. While it does cost more to train a dog to perform a complex task (such as gently retrieving a variety of objects) than a simple one (such as leaning against your legs), both of these tasks are far easier than training your dog to walk nicely by your side and lay quietly at your feet wherever you go.
We have high standards for the service dogs we train. We offer payment plans, scholarships, and discounts to make training more affordable, but we don’t offer any low-quality training. Our finished teams wear our embroidered patches proudly. People who see our teams know, without a doubt, that that is a real, trained service dog.
The same factors that affect cost (above) also affect time: your dog’s age, trainability, and previous training. Other than that, the biggest factor is how much time you spend training between lessons. Making mistakes will slow training. Not training enough will mean your dog will never finish.
For a highly motivated owner of a puppy with an outstanding temperament, the bulk of the training (manners, public access, and task foundations) can usually be completed in two years, with task training completed by three years old. If board-and-train or day training is used, the time may be reduced by about one-third to one-half.
Payment by debit or credit card is due when you schedule online for a consultation, class, or lesson package. We offer a one percent discount for payment by ACH (automatic transfer from your bank account), cash, or personal check. Contact us to arrange one of these alternative payment methods.
We provide the following options to people of limited financial means:
- Discounts for private training for those on low-income benefits programs – If you’re on SSI, SSDI, VA benefits, or another disability or low-income benefit (e.g., SNAP, Section 8, etc.), please indicate WHICH programs you’re on when you fill out your intake form. We’ll let you know which discounts are available.
- Payment plans – We can set up a payment plan to spread out payments (up to a year). Your debit or credit card will be charged automatically on a monthly basis. There is a five percent flat fee for setting up a payment plan.
- Scholarships – We have three scholarship programs:
- The Maimes Fund provides 80 percent discounts on private training for proven SDiT teams who are likely to successfully complete training if they receive additional funding
- The Tubman Fund provides discounts for service dog owner-trainers who are Black, African-American or Indigenous (American Indian/Native American/Alaskan Native) or to any other person of color who indicates that they are low-income and require funding to train their dog
- The Willis Fund waives tuition for six months for our mentorship program for trainers/aspiring trainers who are Black or Indigenous, or for other people of color who indicate that they could not otherwise afford the program
- Note: If finances are a concern, we recommend you begin private fundraising as soon as possible. In addition to training costs, you’ll need several thousand dollars to cover the dog’s purchase price, vet bills, food, toys, crate, leashes, etc. We may help defray training costs, but even owning a pet is surprisingly expensive. Many owner-trainers successfully raise large sums using online fundraising tools, such as GoFundMe. Spread the word to family, friends, and social networks about your need for a service dog and how much it costs to train. Ask them to reach out to their networks, too.
Scholarships are only available to people who are training a service dog with At Your Service Dog Training. We do not provide funding for dogs to be trained by other trainers or organizations.
The Tubman Scholarship offers a substantial discount on our services to people in the US who are African-American, Black, or Indigenous, OR to other people of color who indicate that they are low-income and could otherwise not afford services. To apply, please watch our video and fill out the appropriate intake form for the service you’re interested in (e.g., PEARL DISC or pre-adoption consult, etc.) or email us. In the section where it asks if you have other questions or information, indicate that you qualify for the Tubman Scholarship. (You determine your own racial identity. We believe you.) We’ll contact you with information about next steps.
We provide discounts on private training for people who are low-income and on SSI, SSDI, or VA benefits. To request the discount, please watch our video and fill out the appropriate intake form for the service you’re interested in (e.g., PEARL DISC or pre-adoption consult, etc.) or email us. In the section where it asks if you have other questions or information, please tell us which low-income benefit programs you’re on. We’ll provide you with a coupon code you can use when you schedule.
The Natan Maimes & Travel Service Dog Scholarship Fund provides as-needed funding to service dog teams to complete their training. The amount of funding we have available varies based on donations.
To apply for the Maimes Fund, you must meet all of these criteria:
- You and your dog have already completed our intake process
- You and your dog have taken a class or several private lessons with us, at least some of which have been in-person with our head trainer
- You have limited financial means and income to pay for training
- You have exhausted other fundraising options
If you’re in this situation, tell your trainer. We may ask you to complete our scholarship application which asks about your dog’s current and future training. It also includes instructions on how to show proof of financial need. After your application is submitted, we’ll meet to set up a plan to complete your dog’s training.
Learn more about or donate to the Maimes Fund.
Dog Characteristics (Age, Behavior, Breed, Temperament)
First, ask yourself these questions: “Is my dog…”
- Physically healthy and structurally sound?
- Either unconcerned or friendly with everyone, including strangers and unknown dogs?
- Confident and cheerful around new experiences – new sights, things that move, and unexpected sounds?
- Easy to train? (Do you and your dog both enjoy training together every day?)
- An adult dog that has been in my home for at least three months?
If the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” watch our video, and score your dog honestly. The score your dog gets will help you assess your dog’s likelihood as a candidate. After we get your initial intake form, we’ll get in touch to let you know if we think we’re a good match for you and your dog.
If your dog is a puppy and seems to fit the temperament and characteristics in the video, get them started in DISC. Time will tell if your pup’s temperament will change with maturation, but starting training early with your puppy is always the best idea!
If you have a recently adopted adult dog, see below for additional information.
If you have a breeder and litter in mind, and you’d like us to help you select the puppy, please start with our pre-adoption webinar, “Finding the Right Service Dog.” Then contact us about assessment. Depending on the situation, we may recommend meeting online first.
Please be aware that a puppy assessment by a skilled tester can be extremely helpful, but it cannot reliably predict whether a puppy will work out as a service dog candidate. Dogs’ temperaments often change as they mature. The best clues to a puppy’s suitability are
- the puppy’s behavior, temperament, and personality now
- the puppy’s health and structure now
- what we know about both parents’ temperaments
- the breeder’s temperament testing procedures
A skilled assessor can rule out many puppies based on subtle behaviors that point to a likelihood of future characteristics. The potential adopter should also rule out a timid puppy or one where either parent shows aggressive or reactive behavior. However, in most cases, it’s a waiting game. The absence of obvious issues now is a good sign, but it does not guarantee a suitable temperament at maturity.
Beware any breeder or trainer who tells you that they guarantee a particular puppy will turn out to be an ideal service dog. This would be like saying about a human toddler, “I guarantee she will be a nuclear physicist” or “He definitely has what it takes to be an Olympic skier.”
The age at which a dog completes social maturation varies with the individual and the breed. Generally, the larger the dog, the slower it matures. We typically have a good sense of a dog’s personality by one year old, but personality changes may occur up to two years (especially for large breeds).
Right now, ask yourself this question: “Is my priority…”
- To get the dog that is most likely to work out as my future service dog?
- To get this particular puppy that I’ve chosen (and be happy with it as a pet, whether it works out as a service dog or not)?
These are both equally valid goals, but they are not the same goal. The overwhelming majority of puppies will not work out as future service dogs. Even people who are sure they’ve chosen the right breed (or breeder or puppy) may be mistaken.
If your number one goal is to get a service dog prospect, and you’re willing to lose your deposit on this puppy and start over with your search process, please use our pre-adoption webinar, “Finding the Right Service Dog” to determine whether your puppy is a likely prospect.
If you definitely plan to get this puppy, no matter what, we’ll be happy to help you get your puppy off to the best possible start!
You can – and should – start right now! Puppies have a critical developmental period that begins to close at 16 weeks of age. During this period when your puppy easily makes new associations, the number one priority is for you to work with a knowledgeable, rewards-based trainer who will help your puppy make positive emotional associations with new people, places, and things. To make the most of this sensitive period, take these three steps:
- Register your puppy for PEARL DISC
- Register your puppy for a puppy kindergarten class with a rewards-based trainer in your area. If you don’t know of a trainer in your area, contact us for a referral.
Give your local trainer our free handbook for pet trainers, “Puppy & Basic Manners Training for Future Service Dogs”
Dogs need time to settle into their new homes. During the first three weeks in a new home, dogs may not display their normal behavior. A dog that seems quiet and calm may become energetic or reactive once he’s over the shock of transition. A dog who seems hyper may calm down. Older dogs may take longer to truly settle into their new home.
Start some gentle rewards-based manners training with your new dog a week or two after he comes home. PEARL DISC is a great option. However, please be aware that you may not truly be able to assess your dog’s temperament and aptitude for service work until after your dog has had time to settle into its new home. For this reason, we usually wait a period of time after a dog is adopted before we do an intake consultation. Use these guidelines for when to schedule a service dog intake consultation:
- If your dog is between four and 18 months of age, wait at least four weeks after adoption
- If your dog is between 18 months and 3 years old, wait at least three months after adoption
- If your dog is over 3 years old, wait at least six months after adoption
As pet trainers, over the years we successfully modified behavior in many reactive and fearful dogs – including some SDiTs. Rewards-based behavior modification can be powerful! The dogs showed great improvement. However, when stress increased – when the team returned to working in public or the handler relaxed on training or some life changes occurred – the dog always backslid. The longer they continued to work in public, the more the dog’s behavior deteriorated.
Based on these experiences and discussions with many colleagues, we believe that dogs with fear, reactivity, anxiety, or aggression issues should not be worked as public access service dogs. We do not want to set up the handler or the dog for inevitable failure.
The great majority of dogs – sweet, loving, smart dogs – are not cut out for the life of a public access service dog. We want to give the job of public access service dogs to those unusual dogs that love and thrive on it. But for most dogs, working as a service dog in public is stressful and not something they would choose.
We are truly sorry to deliver this news. We know it can be heart-breaking. We truly wish that we could magically make every dog relaxed and comfortable around strangers, dogs, and the other aspects of our constantly changing environment.
We recommend working with a rewards-based behavior consultant or pet trainer to help your dog reach their full potential. If you and your dog love training, you can also contact us about training your dog as an in-home-only service dog.