Question: ADI, Raw Protein Diets & CGC

I’ve received a number of important questions over the past months and plan to post the responses in addition to the private e-mails and comment responses I’ve already made. I’d like to start with a query/comment I received yesterday. It’s not uncommon to confuse these two organizations so I wanted to set the record straight.

While there are great ideas from ADI, unfortunately getting a Service Dog from an ADI accredited School also gives no guarantees. I have personally seen dogs from ADI accredited Schools out in public that could not pass a CGC never mind their public access test. ADI is very politically motivated and the ones with big bucks and funding get their indiscretions swept under the rug. Some of their policies in regards to Service Dogs have absolutely no relevance to the performance of a Service Dog,its health or public safety. ie. Your Service Dog cannot be on a Raw diet. (If they were allowed the Dog food manufactures would not give them the money they do) to me, that is more of a politically money motivated organization than an organization that has the dog, the public and its disabled peoples interests in mind first. The Largest Service Dog organization in this country is NOT an ADI accredited school BY CHOICE. Ever wonder why?

Hi Terry,

Thanks for writing. I think you may have two different organizations confused and I’d like to step through each point raised.

Assistance Dogs International (ADI) does not have a policy regarding raw protein diets. Pet Partners, formerly known as The Delta Society, however, does. Pet Partners and their affiliated organizations are for therapy animals and not service animals. Please see the post dated December 31, 2011 for more information about the difference between these two types of working animals.

Pet Partners policy caused quite an uproar when it was first announced. Pet Partners had recently received a large grant from Purina. In addition, at least one member of their board who voted in favor of their new raw protein diet policy was associated with Purina. As you can imagine, this raised many questions regarding the motivation behind the policy. Pet Partners pointed to studies that had been published regarding the increase of shedding of pathogenic bacteria to back up their new policy but naysayers pointed out that these studies did not require the same infection control parameters that Pet Partners already had in place. Many of the naysayers felt these parameters eliminated the concerns. Some Pet Partners affiliated organizations chose to leave the group and start their own program with their own liability insurance coverage. Pet Partners is the only national therapy animal organization to have this policy so if you do not agree with it, you can always join one of the other national therapy animal organizations (Therapy Dogs International (TDI), Therapy Dogs, Incorporated (TD Inc), Paws for Friendship, Love on a Leash and The Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs) or a local therapy animal organization.

While Pet Partners does have service animal information on their site, they are not as involved with service animal work in as many ways as they used to be when Susan Duncan, RN was in charge of the division. (She is responsible for the vast majority of the information on their site regarding service animals. It’s very well written and I highly recommend all read it!) For example, about a decade ago, Pet Partners formed a committee of top service dog trainers in the United States to work on standards for training, the result of which can also be found on their site (PDF). This standard is not a requirement but a recommendation. It is not the same thing as ADI’s standards nor is it a requirement to follow these standards to be mentioned on the Pet Partners Service Animal Trainers and Training Programs List (PDF). Some members of this list are ADI-member programs and some are not. Pet Partners makes it very clear that “[i]nclusion on [their] website does not constitute an endorsement by [Pet Partners] nor does omission imply disapproval.” Being on this list is not a matter of being a member of their program. The list is solely for informational purposes. Pet Partners is no longer involved in the service animal community in this fashion and now seems to be mostly focused on client education and lobbying.

[NB: There may be an overlap between the members of Pet Partners Service Dog Standards Committee and those who helped establish ADI’s standards. One would think there would be an overlap then between the standards. I do know someone who was involved with both and would be happy to ask her if this is of interest.]

Regarding the largest services dog organizations in the US, as far as I know, the two largest are Guide Dogs for the Blind and The Seeing Eye. Both are ADI members. I believe that the two largest non-guide dog service dog organizations in the US are Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and Paws with a Cause. Again, both of these are ADI members. For a complete list of ADI-member organizations, please see ADI’s Member Programs List & Links.

Regarding your concerns about the training dogs from ADI-member programs receive, if you see aberrant behavior, more often than not, it’s due to poor handler skills and not the dog’s training. Of course, if this goes on long enough, it can affect the dog’s training! Regardless, it shouldn’t happen and needs to be corrected. I’d recommend contacting the ADI-member program that trained the dog instead of approaching the handler. The handler may not realize there’s a problem and may take offense at someone unknown to them correcting them. You can approach the handler and politely ask which program trained the dog if the dog does not have the program’s emblem on its cape. Programs take reports seriously. They want to know if there is a problem so they can work with the team to correct it. When contacting the program, please be sure to include as much information as you can remember, for example:

  • Dog: breed, size, collar
  • Person: name (if known), height, weight, disability (if known) any other distinguishing characteristics
  • Location: address or building name, date and time of day, anything unusual going on? (crowded for a sale, 8 ft Easter Bunny, etc.)
  • Occurrence: describe what happened and why you thought it was inappropriate behavior (e.g., maybe the dog barked to warn of an oncoming seizure but the barking went on for 5 minutes)
  • Video: if you have a smartphone, take video and send it

Please keep to the facts and avoid making personal attacks and remember that the more factual information you are able to provide, the better able the program will be able to respond. If you are able to provide location and dates, the program may even be able to talk to staff at the location. Believe me, if there was a problem, the personnel will be able to remember and often are happy to help put a stop to the behavior! If you happen to have a smartphone, please take a video of the incident if you can. It’s not only helpful for the program but for the handler as well. Sometimes, handlers (service dog or otherwise) don’t realize what handling issues they have until they see it for themselves.

If the program doesn’t respond, if you see the same behavior continue to occur or if you see many teams from the same program have issues, please contact ADI. Again, be sure to include as much information as you can. I’d recommend sending a copy of your correspondence to them.

Regarding the CGC, it seems odd that a dog the could pass the Public Access Test (PAT) and not pass the CGC test given the amount of overlap between the two. In addition, the PAT requires more from the team than the CGC and takes place in an uncontrolled situation whereas the CGC takes place in a controlled situation. To give you an idea of how much overlap there is, I created the table below to show how the PAT compares to the CGC. If an ADI PAT item has no bulleted items bolded, it means all of the bulleted items apply. Granted, t’s not a perfect match but I think you’ll understand why I find it odd that a team could pass the PAT and not the CGC. Anything is possible, however! One other thing I’d like to add is that even though there is a great overlap, some ADI-member organizations require their dogs to pass the CGC in addition to the PAT. The fact is that the CGC is a more recognized test than the PAT, which can make access easier at times even though it shouldn’t have anything to do with it.

I’d also be surprised if a team that passed the Pet Partners or actually any of the national therapy animal organizations couldn’t pass the CGC since most of the tests are based off of the CGC and some offer CGC certification as part of passing.

I hope this helps clarify the issues you’ve raised. Again, I suspect you were thinking of Pet Partners (formerly known as The Delta Society) and not Assistance Dogs International. Please let me know if you have any questions about this.

AKC CGC Test Items ADI PAT Items
Takes place in a controlled environment, setup by the evaluator. Takes place in uncontrolled environments, such as shopping malls, restaurants and hospitals.
Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger

  • The dog allows a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation.
  • The dog must show no sign of resentment or shyness, and must not break position or try to go to the evaluator.
Test 7: Downs on command

  • The dog responded promptly to the command to down.
  • The dog remained under control around food — not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.
  • The dog remained composed while the child approached — child should not taunt dog or be overly dramatic.
  • The dog maintained a down-stay while being stepped over by a stranger.
Test 2: Sitting politely for petting

  • The dog allows a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler.
  • The dog must not show shyness or resentment.
Test 6: Sits on command

  • The dog responded promptly to the command to sit.
  • The dog remained under control around food — not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.
  • The dog remained composed while the shopping cart passed — did not shy away, show signs of fear, etc. shopping cart should be pushed normally and reasonable, not dramatically.
  • The dog maintained a sit-stay while being petted by a stranger.

Test 7: Downs on command

  • The dog responded promptly to the command to down.
  • The dog remained under control around food — not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.
  • The dog remained composed while the child approached — child should not taunt dog or be overly dramatic.
  • The dog maintained a down-stay while being stepped over by a stranger.
Test 3: Appearance and grooming

  • The dog is inspected to make sure it is cleaned and groomed and is in healthy condition (weight, alert, etc.)
  • The dog allows the evaluator to softly comb or brush it.
  • The dog allows the evaluator to gently examine its ears and pick up its front paws.
No equivalent test.

This task isn’t specific to service work but is probably worthwhile to add for the sake of the veterinarians who will take care of these dogs.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)

  • The team must take a right turn, left turn, and an about turn with at least one stop in between and another at the end.
  • The dog need not be perfectly aligned with the handler and need not sit when the handler stops.
  • The dog’s position should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler’s movements and changes of direction.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd

  • The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three).
  • The dog may show some interest in the strangers but should continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of over-exuberance, shyness or resentment.
  • The dog should not jump on people in the crowd or strain on the leash.
Test 2: Approaching the building

  • The dog stayed in relative heel position.
  • The dog was calm around traffic.
  • The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.

Test 4: Heeling through the building

  • The dog was within the prescribed distance of the individual.
  • The dog ignored the public, remaining focused on the individual.
  • The dog readily adjusted to speed changes.
  • The dog readily turned corners–did not have to be tugged or jerked to change direction.
  • The dog readily maneuvered through tight quarters.

Test 12: Controlled exit

  • The dog stayed in relative heel position.
  • The dog was calm around the traffic.
  • The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.
Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place

  • The dog must do sit and down on command.
  • While on a 20′ leash, the dog must remain in the place in which it was left (it may change position) until the evaluator instructs the handler to release the dog.

  • The handler may take a reasonable amount of time and use more than one command to get the dog to sit and then down.
Test 1: Controlled unload out of vehicle

  • The dog waited in the vehicle until released.
  • The dog waited outside the vehicle under control.
  • The dog remained under control while another dog was walked past.

Test 3: Controlled entry through a doorway

  • The dog waited quietly at the door until commanded to enter.
  • The dog waited on the inside until able to return to heel position.

Test 6: Sits on command

  • The dog responded promptly to the command to sit.
  • The dog remained under control around food — not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.
  • The dog remained composed while the shopping cart passed — did not shy away, show signs of fear, etc. shopping cart should be pushed normally and reasonable, not dramatically.
  • The dog maintained a sit-stay while being petted by a stranger.

Test 7: Downs on command

  • The dog responded promptly to the command to down.
  • The dog remained under control around food — not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.
  • The dog remained composed while the child approached — child should not taunt dog or be overly dramatic.
  • The dog maintained a down-stay while being stepped over by a stranger.

Test 13: Controlled load into vehicle

  • The dog waited until commanded to enter the vehicle.
  • The dog readily entered the vehicle upon command.
Test 7: Coming when called

  • The handler will walk 10 feet from the dog, turn to face the dog, and call the dog.
Test 5: Six foot recall on lead

  • The dog responded readily to the recall command–did not stray away, seek attention from others or trudge slowly.
  • The dog remained under control and focused on the individual.
  • The dog came within the prescribed distance of the individual.
  • The dog came directly to the individual.
Test 8: Reaction to another dog

  • Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet.
  • The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.
Test 1: Controlled unload out of vehicle

  • The dog waited in the vehicle until released.
  • The dog waited outside the vehicle under control.
  • The dog remained under control while another dog was walked past.
Test 9: Reaction to distraction

  • The dog may express natural interest and curiosity and/or may appear slightly startled to the two distractions but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark.
Test 2: Approaching the building

  • The dog stayed in relative heel position.
  • The dog was calm around traffic.
  • The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.

Test 6: Sits on command

  • The dog responded promptly to the command to sit.
  • The dog remained under control around food — not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.
  • The dog remained composed while the shopping cart passed — did not shy away, show signs of fear, etc. shopping cart should be pushed normally and reasonable, not dramatically.
  • The dog maintained a sit-stay while being petted by a stranger.

Test 8: Noise distractions

  • The dog remained composed during the noise distraction.

Test 12: Controlled exit

  • The dog stayed in relative heel position.
  • The dog was calm around the traffic.
  • The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.
Test 10: Supervised separation

  • The owner goes out of sight for three minutes.
  • The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.
Test 11: Dog taken by another person

  • Another person can take the dog’s leash and the dog’s partner can move away without aggression or undue stress on the part of the dog.
N/A Test 9: Restaurant

  • The dog is unobtrusive and out of the way of patrons and employees as much as possible.
  • The dog maintained proper behavior, ignoring food and being quiet.
N/A Test 10: Off lead

  • When told to drop the leash, the team maintained control and the individual got the leash back in position.
N/A Test 14: Team relationship

  • When the dog did well, the person praised the dog.
  • The dog is relaxed, confident and friendly.
  • The person kept the dog under control.
N/A Test 15: Tasks (optional)

  • The dog must perform three tasks that mitigate the handler’s disability.

ADI requires that all dogs trained by ADI-member programs be able to perform at least three tasks that mitigate the handler’s disability. Federal law only requires one. This is not an official part of ADI’s PAT but some member programs include it as do many owner-trained dogs (who handlers have applied for IAADP membership) to show that the dog is compliant with the law.

Complimentary eye exams for Service Animals

Service dog handlers: Please don’t forget to sign up for the AVCO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam! Registration opens April 2, 2012 and exam visits are from May 1-31, 2012. Qualification information from the National Service Dog Eye Exam website:

The 5th ACVO National Service Dog Eye Exam event will provide a free screening eye exam to Service Animal groups including: guide dogs, hearing dogs, dogs assisting people with disabilities other than blindness, detection dogs, police dogs, search and rescue dogs and formally trained and certified therapy dogs (through Pet Partners or similar). Dogs must be active ‘working dogs’ that were certified by a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program to qualify. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Essentially the dogs need to have some sort of certification and/or training paperwork to qualify for this particular this program.

While we would like to offer these services to all dogs who offer assistance to their owners/caretakers, this event will be limited to the above groups. There are limited ‘slots’ available to treat these animals therefore a specific group was defined.

The definition of Service Animals to be served during this event applies only to this ACVO National Service Dog Eye Exam Day. Your veterinary ophthalmologist may offer a separate program outside of this event for Service Animals, but you would need to speak with them separately.

Handlers of owner-trained dogs and service dogs-in-training should contact the veterinary ophthalmologists directly to see if they have made provisions for these dogs. Some do and others don’t. Please remember that under the rules of this event, they are under no obligation to exam your dog your dog for free. Comments about this policy should be sent to AVCO and Merial. Please do not complain to the individual veterinary ophthalmologists as they do not set the policy.

For more information about the program, please go to A big thank you to all of the veterinary ophthalmologists who are donating their time, expertise and premises to make sure our dogs are well!

Losing a Service Dog

Anyone who’s lost a dog can tell you how painful it is. They are a cherished member of the family and the grief they feel is normal. If you’ve known someone who’s lost a service dog, you may have seen them experience an even greater amount of grief. Research has suggested this is not simply due to attachment but also to the caregiving role of the dog.

Attach Hum Dev. 2011 Sep;13(5):421-36. doi: 10.1080/14616734.2011.584410.
“Not just a dog”: an attachment perspective on relationships with assistance dogs.
Kwong MJ, Bartholomew K.
Source: Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada.

Abstract: We explored individuals’ relationships with an assistance dog from an attachment-theory perspective. We used both inductive and deductive thematic methods to analyze semi-structured interviews with 25 participants who had lost an assistance dog to retirement or death. Analyses revealed attachment processes of safe haven, secure base, and separation anxiety. Although attachment dynamics were an important feature of these relationships, caregiving was equally important. When confronted with the loss of their dog, almost all participants experienced intense grief. Most grief responses were consistent with the loss of a caregiving relationship. Findings suggest that grief is a natural response to the loss of a beloved companion who fulfilled fundamental needs for attachment and caregiving.

PMID: 21838644 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] View full text

My first service dog died about 15 months ago. I was intensely sad for about six months and even now, I still have periods where I’ll cry over his loss. I’ve lost a number of animals over my life and even though I loved each one of them, the grief I felt over losing him didn’t compare to the others.

Has anyone else lost a service dog, either through retirement or death? Please feel free to share your experiences.

Is a Service Dog the Right Choice for You?

Service dogs are one of many choices available to help mitigate disability but is the choice right for you? People tend to jump head first thinking about all of the plusses without thinking about the minuses. It’s very important that you think through this decision before applying to a placement organization or trying to train a service dog yourself.

While reading through the points below, try to be as honest with yourself about each category as you can be. Your decision affects you, the dog and others in your household so please choose wisely.

A Service Dog is not a cure!

A service dog will not cure your disability, nor will it stop it from advancing, if you have a progressive illness. Don’t create bigger expectations than a dog can fill; it’s not fair to you or the dog. A service dog’s job is to perform tasks and as long as you keep your expectation to those tasks, you have a good chance of having your expectations met.

Do you know what your expectations are? One way to determine them is to write down what you think your life will be like with a service dog. Next, translate your imaginings into tasks a dog can do. If you’re not sure how to translate it, start researching dog training and the tasks service dogs perform. Here are several books to help you get started:

  • The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller
  • The Culture Clash: A Revolutionary New Way to Understand the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs by Jean Donaldson
  • Excel-Erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them by Pamela J. Reid
  • Control Unleashed: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog by Leslie McDevitt
  • How Dogs Learn by Joh S. Bailey, Ph.D.
  • The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D.
  • Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw
  • On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turd Rugass
  • How to Behave so Your Dog Behaves by Sophia Yin, DVM
  • Teamwork I & II: A Dog Training Manual for People with Disabilities by Stewart Nordensson & Lydia Kelley
  • 101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog by Kyra Sundance

Another place to research service dog tasks is IAADP’s website: Traditional Assistance Dog Tasks for guide, hearing and mobility work and Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disabilities for work related to panic disorder, PTSD and depression.

How’s Your Health?

Many people think that you have to be severely disabled to benefit from a service dog but this is not the case. In fact, how disabled you are as well as your overall health could make or break whether working with a service dog is a choice for you at all. If you expect to be in assisted living within the next few years, it may not be a feasible choice. Remember that you will be completely responsible for the care of the dog. It’s wonderful if family and friends offer to help but they might not always be able to come through, if at all, so you need to make sure that you are able to.

Can you:

  • Bathe the dog?
  • Brush the dog?
  • Exercise the dog?
  • Keep the dog up on his training?
  • Train the dog new tasks, if need be?
  • Clean up after the dog? This includes his daily potty routine as well as any accidents he may have (dogs get sick, too).
  • Clean up after the dog’s shedding?

Be honest with yourself about whether you have the stamina or functionality do to all of this. The dog is there to help you but he relies on you for help as well.

Can you afford a dog?

Anyone who’s owned a pet will tell you that one can be expensive. According to an poll, dog owners spent an average of $537 on vet bills in 2011: vet bills for animals not facing serious illness were an average of $358 whereas vet bills for animals facing serious illness were an average of $1,092. Approximately 13% of dog owners (one in eight) spent $1000 or more. Pet insurance is available and can help with bills but it also comes at a cost. As medical costs rise, many are unable to afford veterinary care. In households earning $50,000 or less annually, 41% said that felt unable to afford medical care for their pets.

Besides veterinary care, your service dog will need:

  • Preventative Medications & Supplements: All dogs need preventative medications for parasites such as heartworms, fleas, ticks and most also benefit from supplements such as vitamins and fish oil. Talk to your vet about what your dog needs for your location as well as his activity level but expect to pay $50-$300 a year, depending upon the size of your service dog. If you join the IAADP ($30/year), you will receive some preventative medications and supplements for free, cutting your price down substantially. This is only offered to handlers of service dogs and not service dogs-in-training.
  • Food & Treats: Your dog will need quality food and treats to stay healthy. Depending upon his size, this could cost $20-$60 per month for a total of $240-$720 per year. Not sure which dog food is the best? Whole Dog Journal publishes an annual report on the top dogs foods available. See Whole Dog Journal’s 2011 Canned Dog Food Review and 2011 Dry Dog Food Review for more information (subscription required).
  • Beds and/or Crates: The cost of a bed will run from $20 to $150+ annually, depending upon the size and quality of the bed, the number of beds in your household(one for the family room and one for the bedroom) as well as its washability. A better quality bed is likely to need to be replaced less often. Portability is also a plus, so you can use it at home, during training classes or when you’ll be at a place for a long time such as a doctor’s appointment. Some placement organizations require you to have a crate even if you choose to also have a bed so be sure to factor in both. A good quality crate may last an adult dog’s lifetime.
  • Leashes, Collars & ID Tags: These can run you from $10-$50, depending upon the quality. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to get by with the same one for the entire (adult) dog’s life but more than likely, you’ll find yourself needing to purchase at least a new leash every year or two given the amount of use it will get on a daily basis.
  • Toys: Toys are important for mental stimulation as well as exercise. You’ll probably spend somewhere between $25 and $150 on toys each year but if you’re like me and have a hard time resisting great toys you see when you shop, it could be much higher. Mentally stimulating toys can run from $5-20+ for ones you build yourself to $25-50 for high quality commercial activity games like those by Nina Ottoson.
  • Harnesses, Backpacks & Capes: Not all placement organizations supply harnesses and backpacks but most do supply one cape. The higher quality of a harness and backpack you purchase, the less often it will need to be replaced. Fortunately, places like Ruff Wear offer wholesale prices to service dog handlers (but not to handlers of service dogs-in-training) and other places, such as Bridgeport Equipment offer reasonable prices on rigid handle harnesses. Annual costs will run between $50 and $200, depending upon your dog’s size and the quality of the item purchased.
  • Grooming: The cost of grooming will depend upon how much you are able to do yourself. If you are able to bath, wash and cut your own dog’s fur, you’ll save an enormous amount of money. The cost will be on shampoo and/or conditioner and grooming tools such as a brush, comb, nail trimmer, file, various scissors and clipper. For the DIYers, the cost could be as little as $50 a year (plus the one-time fee of tools ranging from $10-$100). For those that need to seek a pet salon’s help, the cost could run you $800 or more a year, depending upon the breed of dog.
  • Obedience Classes/Resources: It’s important to keep your service dog’s training up-to-date. This will mean both training for you as well as the dog. For some of you, your training will take the form of a library book but most of you will find one or two a year that you’d like to own. Others will take classes instead of or in addition to reading, making the cost range for this category between $15 and $500 annually.
  • Pet Sitters/Boarding: Service dogs can go almost anywhere. For those times when you can’t or it’s not practical to bring your service dog, such as if you have an overnight stay at the hospital or an overnight visit to a family’s or friend’s house whose allergic to dogs, you’ll need the help of a pet sitter or boarding facility. The cost of a pet sitter depends upon the number of times he visits your home each day, whether he spends the night, if you want your service dog to be walked or if your service dog needs medication. Boarding facilities charge similarly. Check both to determine which one is the most cost effective for your situation. Annual cost for this category ranges from $0 to $600, depending upon your dog’s situation and the number of days boarding is needed.
  • Emergencies: Just like humans, dogs are affected by chronic illness, accidents and disasters. Because of this, it’s a good idea to set aside money each month towards emergencies since these can range in cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Hopefully, you’ll never need to dig into your kitty but if you do, you’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you saved a little each month for such an occurrence.

What does this look like annually? A total cost of somewhere between $768 and $4,362, barring no emergencies. Chances are that you won’t be on either end but somewhere in between. Aim for a minimum budget of $165/month for your service dog until you’ve determined your food and grooming costs. Any extra you don’t spend each month can go into your emergency kitty. If you are working, some of these costs may be able to be recuperated through an annual tax refund, depending upon how much your health costs are in comparison to how much you earn. This is only an option for those whose income is taxable.

Category Minimum Maximum
Vet Bills $358 $1092
Meds & Supplements $50 $300
Food & Treats $240 $720
Beds & Crates $20 $150
Leads & Collars $10 $50
Toys $25 $150
Harnesses, Backpacks & Capes $50 $200
Grooming $50 $800
Obedience Training/Resources $15 $500
Boarding & Pet sitters $0 $600
Grand Total $768 $4,362

This cost increases for those planning to train their own dogs. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it’s cheaper than using a placement agency! This will be covered in another post.

Do you have the time to care for a dog?

It takes a lot of time to properly care for a dog. Because your dog will be in public most days, it’s important that he be kept well groomed. Service dogs should be bathed once a week or once every other week, depending upon the breed and what they’ve done that week. In addition, they should be brushed/combed daily to keep shedding down. You should also plan to spend at least 15 minutes 3-4 days a week working on training as well as 20-30 minutes every day exercising and playing with your service dog (physically and/or mentally).

Categoy Min Time/Week Max Time/Week
Bathing 30 min 60 min
Brushing 70 min 140 min
Training 45 min 120 min
Exercising/Playing 140 min 210 min
Grand Total Approx. 7 hours Approx. 12.5 hours

A service dog may enable you to do things more productively but don’t forget to add back the time you need for his care to your schedule. Those few minutes here and there really add up!

Are you a private person and/or are you patient with others?

If you are a private person, a service dog may not be a good choice for you. Working with a service dog will get you noticed. You’ll be stopped and asked questions, sometimes about the dog and other times inappropriately about your disability. Whether you’re good with the public or not, be sure to have a plan for dealing with these situations. Please remember that courteous, respectful answers help educate whereas harsh words only serve to reflect poorly on you as well as all service dog handlers.

In addition to people noticing you, they will pet your service dog without asking, call your service dog over to them and all sorts of other behaviors that interfere with your service dog’s work. While some states have laws to discourage this, the fact is that you cannot control what someone else will do. Because of this, you need to be able to control your dog in all circumstances and again, you should have a plan in place for how to communicate appropriate behavior to those acting inappropriately. Remember that it’s sometimes a child so be sure to have multiple approaches ready.

If this sounds more stressful than you can handle or you don’t think you would be able to curb your anger, a service dog is probably not the right option for you.

Do you or any of the members of your household have a dog allergy or a fear of dogs?

If you or someone you live with is allergic to dogs or has a fear of dogs, a service dog may not be a feasible option for you. In the case of an allergy, medication is available but it is not without risk. A fear of dogs can sometimes successfully be dealt with through medication and psychotherapy but the time and cost involved may not make this a practical option.Both issues should be discussed with the entire household as well as with medical providers to decide if a service dog is the right option for you.

What do the other members of your household think of the idea?

You may be ready to get a service animal but other members of your household may not be so thrilled. Having a dog in the house affects more than you so it’s important that you reach an agreement everyone is comfortable with. If others aren’t as thrilled about having a service dog around as you, find out why. Maybe they’re concerned that they may end up having to take responsibility for the care of the dog or maybe they simply don’t like dogs. Regardless of the reason, open communication is key in this decision. All concerns should be thoroughly discussed before moving forward.

Is a service dog the right choice for you?

As you can see, there’s a lot involved with owning a service dog. It’s the right choice for some and not for others. Keep your expectations, health, finances, time, personality and household in mind when trying to determine if a service dog is the right choice for you.


I am often asked what the difference is between an assistance animal, emotional support animal, therapy animal and service animal so I thought I’d write a post instead of responding to the questions in comments. I hope this clears up confusion. Please feel free to ask questions in comments if you’ve come across another term you’re not familiar with.

Assistance Animal

Assistance animal is an umbrella term referring to any type of animal that offers assistance, such as emotional support animals, service animals, search & rescue animals, police dogs, etc. The term assistance dogs is used when referring to dogs that offer assistance.

Therapy Animal

A therapy animal is an animal that is trained to help many individuals but is handled by an unrelated individual. This is different from a service dog, which is trained to work with and be handled by the same individual. A therapy animal may work with individuals who are disabled but this is not a requirement. People often associate dogs and horses with therapy animals but any type of animal can be a therapy animal as long as it has the proper temperament and training.

There are two main categories of therapy animals, each receiving different training:

  • Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA): These animals are handled by volunteers and have received training similar to what’s required for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test, i.e., training for good public behavior. The type of work these animals do include visiting individuals in nursing homes, hospitals and groups homes as well as participate in reading programs such as R.E.A.D. There are a number of national therapy animal organizations that offer training and insurance coverage including Therapy Dogs International (TDI), Delta Society Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs Incorporated (TD Inc.), The Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc., Paws for Friendship and Love on a Leash.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT): There animals are handled by professionals in a clinical situation, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy or psychotherapy, and have received specialized training beyond good public manners to help clients perform tasks. For example, they may be trained to stand still while a client combs them, helping a client who has injured their hand, arm or shoulder.

Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal is any animal that helps an individual cope with psychiatric issues such as anxiety and depression by its presence. It is not required to receive training. Emotional support animals are covered under the FHAct but not under the ADA, which means that they are allowed in apartments, condos, rental homes, etc., even when there is a no pet policy but they are not permitted public access. Individuals who use emotional support animals do not have to meet the ADA’s definition of disabled. If they do, they are eligible to use psychiatric service animals.

Service Animals

Service animals under the ADA are any dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The disability must meet the definition of disabled under the ADA. The definition has been provided below for your convenience. In certain situations, miniature horses may be permitted to be used instead of dogs but it is important for the individual to check ahead of time if the facility can accommodate the miniature horse. Accommodation is based on the type, size, and weight of the miniature horse, the handler’s control of the miniature horse and whether the miniature horse´s presence compromises safety requirements necessary for the facility’s safe operation.

Some people refer to their service animals as service dogs, assistance dogs and aid dogs. There are likely other terms people use, too. If you are a business owner and are not sure, remember that you may ask the person two questions: 1) Do you have a disability & is this your service dog? and 2) What tasks has your dog been trained to do. The person should be able to name three tasks the dog has been trained to do. Anything that a dog does without training is not considered a tasks. Remember to never ask a person about their disability. This is both rude and illegal.

There are many different types of service animals in use, a number of which are noted below. Because most of these animals are dogs, they are referred to as such. Please remember that miniature horses are also used in certain situations.

  • Guide Dogs: Guide dogs are dogs that have been trained to help individuals who have visual impairments by guiding them around obstacles, alerting them to elevation changes and locating items on command.
  • Hearing Dogs: Hearing dogs are trained to help individuals who have hearing impairments by alerting to sounds such as the doorbells, oven timers, smoke alarms, baby crying, alarm clock, beeper, car horn, etc.
  • Mobility Service Dogs: Mobility service dogs help individuals who have disabilities that affect their mobility such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. These dogs are trained to retrieve, carry and deposit items. In addition, some are trained to perform bracing tasks.
  • Seizure Alert/Seizure Response Animals: Seizure Alert/Seizure Response animals help individuals who suffer from seizures by responding to their needs after a seizure has occurred. They may also alert to on-coming seizures by observing pre-seizure behavioral changes, changes to the individual’s heart rate or through smell. More research is needed to determine if and how these dogs alert to seizures. This does not mean that they do not alert, only that more research is needed. This research would ultimately aid in dog selection as well as training methods. Please see Epilepsy Res. 2011 Dec;97(3):236-42. Epub 2011 Nov 1., Can seizure alert dogs predict seizures? by Brown SW, Goldstein LH for more information (PMID: 22050976).
  • Psychiatric Service Animals: Psychiatric service animals are similar to emotional support animals in that they help individuals cope with psychiatric issues but they differ in that they must be dogs, must be individually trained to work or perform tasks that mitigate the psychiatric disability and the individual using the animal must meet the definition of disabled under the ADA. Examples of the tasks these animals perform can be found on IAADP’s website.
  • Other: There are many other types of services dogs, too, for example, some alert to changes in blood sugar. The list of possibilities is endless, especially as we learn what these animals are capable of doing.

Definition of Disability

This is taken from § 35.104 Definitions. of the ADA:

Disability means, with respect to an individual, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.

  1. The phrase physical or mental impairment means—
  1. Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine;
  2. Any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
  1. The phrase physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, such contagious and noncontagious diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.
  2. The phrase physical or mental impairment does not include homosexuality or bisexuality.
  1. The phrase major life activities means functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
  2. The phrase has a record of such an impairment means has a history of, or has been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  3. The phrase is regarded as having an impairment means—
  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that does not substantially limit major life activities but that is treated by a public entity as constituting such a limitation;
  2. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward such impairment; or
  3. Has none of the impairments defined in paragraph (1) of this definition but is treated by a public entity as having such an impairment.
  1. The term disability does not include—
  1. Transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders;
  2. Compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or
  3. Psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.

If you are not sure if your disability fits in with this definition, please consult with your medical specialist or an attorney who specializes in disability rights.