8 Things to Consider Before Getting a Service Dog


Our son with autism has a service dog, Charlie, and we get lots of questions about him. We love helping people understand about service dogs and decide if one would be a good fit for them. Here are a few things I like to bring up when people are considering a service dog.

  • Do you like dogs? If the answer is no, then a service dog really isn’t a good choice for you.
  • Are you comfortable with everyone knowing you have a disability? If you are in a wheelchair or use a walker, it is obvious that something is going on. But for people who have hidden disabilities, this is like walking around with a neon sign blinking, “Look at us! There’s something ‘wrong’ with us.” That can take some getting used to.
  • You can self-train a service dog. But should you? Only you can answer that. I knew that wasn’t possible for me as I was already using all my energy caring for my family. You need to be dedicated and have the extra time to devote to training.
  • An emotional support dog is not a service dog, and you cannot just place a vest on a dog and call it a service dog. A service dog needs to be able to behave themselves in public. They also need to be trained in specific tasks to qualify as a service dog.
  • Adding a service dog is like adding a new child to your family. You need to be able to maintain training, exercise, doctor’s visits, socializing, and feeding.
  • Service dogs are not pets. When working, they should usually not be petted except by their handler. This distracts them from the job they are trying to do. Even when they appear to be off duty, you should ask if you can pet them because service dogs are not required to wear a vest when working, or at any other time. (Don’t worry, they also get plenty of play time.)
  • A service dog is still a dog. They are highly trained, but an occasional butterfly or ball can distract them once in a while. Generally, once they are told to leave it, they can be called back to their jobs.
  • Do your research, as not all service dog organizations are legitimate. The service dog training organizations I can personally recommend are 4 Paws for Ability (I have seen the dogs they have placed) and Arctic Paws for Service which is where we got our dog.

Having a service dog has changed our lives for the better.

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Thinkstock photo by John Howard.

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