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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by John Howard.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

An Aspie Life video game screenshot

Teen on the Autism Spectrum Creates 'An Aspie Life,' a Video Game About Autism

Seventeen-year-old Brad Hennessey wants to change the public perception of life on the autism spectrum. But rather than showing people a video or speaking about his experience, the Australian teen has something much more interactive planned. To fulfill his goal, Hennessey is launching “An Aspie Life,” a video game that lets gamers see the world from [...]
Boy walking down a path at playground

Please Don't Judge My Parenting When You See My Child Using His Tablet

I see you, sitting there subtly staring. Your look of disapproval is not invisible to me. I see you, sitting at the next table with your children, puzzled at my decision, at my parenting practices. I see you, looking at me from the corner of your eye. Your body language silently disapproving of my decision [...]

How Amazon's Alexa Is Helping My Son With a Disability

Our 6-year-old son has delays in language and social skills. He adores his friends and craves attention from people his own size. However, at 6 years old with autism and developmental delays,I think all including delays in motor skills, his ability to connect with his peers is challenging. Not only can he not physically keep [...]
Woman yawning

7 Tips for Managing Ongoing Demands as Parents of Kids With Disabilities

I recently had to embark on a long, time-consuming and emotionally draining fight for my son to start ABA in-center therapy, something I’d taken for granted given his spot on the waitlist had come up. But some issue between the insurance and provider delayed the place that had been reserved for him for so long. I feel as if there is a non-stop, [...]