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What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

A Service Dog is specifically trained to perform work for an individual with a disability. They are trained to help their owners with a task related to their disability. The service they provide helps the handler regain the freedom to fully participate in daily life. 

While in training, your Service Dog will likely make some mistakes. If you’re new to having a Service Dog, it’s good to know what to expect from a Service Dog in training. We recently discussed how to train your own Service Dog on our blog so check it out if you’re just getting started!

Table of Contents

Service Dog owners are not required to use a special program or professional dog trainer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows individuals with disabilities the right to train a Service Dog themselves. This is great because it removes barriers, making Service Animal ownership more accessible for those that need it.

What to Expect From Your Dog

When you set out to train your Service Dog, you will need patience and treats, A LOT of treats! The amount of either required will vary with the amount of training your dog already has. I am making light of this, but it’s important to note not all progress looks like a growth chart that goes up and to the right. Like when you learn a new skill, there is a learning curve.

Progress can look messy at times. And the truth is, it’s not just your dog that’s learning something new – you are too! That’s where the patience part comes in. Navigating life with a disability comes with its own challenges, so remember to give your doggo and yourself a lot of grace as you learn together.

If you’re beginning with a puppy, you are starting at square one in the training process, and it will be a lot of work no matter what breed your dog is. In addition to the tasks they will perform as a Service Dog, you have the joy and challenge of teaching them everything from how to behave, and where to potty to how to interact with strangers.

Similarly, as you navigate new and unfamiliar places while learning new skills, your puppy may have potty accidents, try to eat something yummy they sniff out, or get distracted from the task at hand. It’s all a part of the process and takes time to learn proper behavior.

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

Get Your ESA Today


Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.

The Training Process

With consistent training, lots of love, and plenty of rewards, you can anticipate that self-training a Service Dog may take up to a year to complete. Service Dogs are known for being well-behaved. Training one will include the following steps:

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

Foundational Behavioral Skills.

Foundational skills include house training and simple obedience tasks such as sit, stay, heel, etc. As a critical part of training, these dogs are also taught socialization and public access skills. They learn to sit quietly at the handler’s side and to remain calm, attentive, and under control in various public settings.

General Public Readiness Tasks.

Per the ADA guidelines, a Service Animal must be under the control of its handler and tethered (as long as being tethered does not impede its ability to help with the handler’s specific disability). This is really the ADA’s only specification for Service Dog behavior. Service Dogs will learn general skills that set them apart from non-working dogs to meet this standard. These tasks will include sitting still for long periods, remaining on task, ignoring distractions, eliminating on command, and good leash behavior

Specific Disability Task Training.

Service Dogs help disabled people perform a job or task that they cannot easily do for themselves. They must be trained to perform two specific tasks to assist their owner with their disability. This could include reminding their owner to take medicine, alerting their owner to an oncoming seizure, providing stability for someone who has trouble walking, preventing a child with autism from wandering off, or grounding an owner who is having a panic attack. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability and will be individualized for each Service Dog team.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Mastering any new skill requires repetition. Most service dog trainers suggest a minimum of 30 hours of training in a public setting to prepare your dog to behave obediently in public. As an owner, you are always responsible for the behavior and control of your Service Dog.

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

Last But Not Least: The Public Access Test

While there is no official testing standard, the consensus among the Service Dog community is that they should be able to pass a public access test prior to actively working as a Service Animal.

The group Service Dog Standards is made up of Service Dog owners and trainers who offer community-defined training standards for Service Animals. This includes a “public access test” which owners can voluntarily comply with. We recommend it as a starting point of responsible Service Dog ownership.

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

What to Expect From the Public

1. Expect more attention than usual.

My husband does this thing that we call “prolonged observing.” Well, he calls it that… I call it staring, and then I jab him with my elbow to make him stop. Truthfully, it’s in our nature to be curious about new information or new scenarios that we encounter. Our brains are processing how to categorize the new, incoming information. For someone with a disability, the extra attention may be unwanted. Observing a Service Dog at work may simply be something they have not been exposed to in person for the curious eyes of onlookers.

2. Expect some scrutiny… and questions.

Unfortunately, what has been called an “epidemic of fake service dogs” has cast suspicion on the legitimacy of working Service Dogs in public places. The general public may have questions as you’re out and about with your Service Dog. It’s up to you if and how you choose to answer them. If you have the time, you could view it as a great opportunity to educate others about Service Animals. If questions become too intrusive, you can inform the person that your Service Animal is a medical necessity, and you do not wish to discuss the details of your medical condition with them. You can ask that they respect your privacy since they likely wouldn’t want to openly discuss the details of their last doctor appointment with strangers. Once they realize that this is inappropriate behavior, most people will understand and back off.

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

Know Your Rights

If the questions come from staff of a business that you are patronizing, you should know that according to ADA rules, in situations where it is not apparent that a dog is a Service Animal, only two questions may be asked:

1. Is the dog a Service Animal that is required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

In your reply to question 2, you must affirm what tasks your Service Dog has been trained to perform to assist you with a disability(when needed).

Many Service Dog owners will often choose to have an ID card on them or have their dog wear a Service Animal vest or harness in public. They find it can make interactions 3 with less knowledgeable staff easier. However, identification or certification of a Service Dog is not a requirement for entry into a public establishment in the United States. These items are tools to help protect handlers from discrimination and intrusive or embarrassing questions.

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

Red Flags: Don't Confuse a Service Dog in Training for a Fake Service Animal

We discussed 10 ways to spot a fake Service Dog in a recent blog. Be advised that some Service Dogs in training may still exhibit some of these behaviors as they are learning. For example, a Service Dog in training (especially a young dog) may have potty accidents, but a fully trained Service Dog will not have accidents in public.

Similarly, when out with its owner, a Service Dog is working and won’t be carried or pushed in a stroller like a pet. In most instances, the dog will be walking with or in front of the owner on its leash. However, there are exceptions to this as well. Some medical alert dogs, such as diabetic alert dogs, are carried close to the chest to alert their owner when their blood sugar reaches abnormal levels. It’s actually pretty amazing how in tune they are to be trained to pick up on biochemical changes inside of their owner and alert them that they need medical attention!

In general, it’s best to always give the benefit of the doubt. As an onlooker, you may not know if a dog is in training. Give grace to those dogs who are still getting used to supporting their owner in their new role when all eyes are on them.

What to Expect from a Service Dog in Training

Ready to Get Started?

Now that you know what to expect when training your own Service Dog, you are ready to get started with training. Access our guide here. If you need help qualifying for a Psychiatric Service Dog, American Service Pets can help support your every step.

ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!


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