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The Ultimate Guide to Service Dogs

German shepherd laying on a street with a service dog vest on

When you see a dog walking around with a vest on next to a person in the store you may wonder why they have this dog with them. There are many uses for service dogs, some of them are not as outward apparent as others. Dogs have been used for many years to help people with disabilities. This guide explains everything you need to know about service animals and what a dog can do for their owners.

What is a service dog?

A service dog is any dog that has been specifically trained to do a task to help their disabled owner. These dogs can do a task such as alert their owners when something is wrong with them to fully helping them with mobility.

How do service dogs differ from other working dogs?

Service dog in a yellow vest sniffing an apple

Services dogs are trained to perform a specific task to help their owners. There are other working dogs that are trained and used by police and military to find people, sniff out bombs or capture criminals. These dogs are considered working dogs as they are not assisting their owners with the everyday task.

What are the different kinds of service dogs?

There are many different functions that a service dog can do such as:

Seeing Eye Dogs:

These dogs help their owners maneuver around in the house or even walking down busy streets. These dogs have undergone years of training on how to help their owners maneuver around different obstacles. Some of these dogs have even been taught the normal route that an owner would take daily such as to school, work or the grocery store.

Diabetic Alert:

Golden retriever in a seeing eye dog harness

These dogs are trained to sense a change in their owner’s body chemistries and alert them that something is wrong. The owners can then check their blood sugar and adjust their insulin dosages as needed. These dogs help prevent levels that are too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

Hearing Alert Dog:

For a person who is deaf or has a very hard time hearing, a hearing alert dog would be best for them. These dogs will alert their owners when the doorbell rings, a phone rings or a fire alarm goes off. These dogs have specialized training to do these tasks.

Seizure Alert:

These dogs can sense when a person is about to have a seizure. They can alert the person that they are about to have a seizure so they can get in a safe place such as low on the floor without harmful objects in the way or alert a parent or partner that their owner is about to have a seizure so that they can help the person.

Mobility Assistant Dogs:

German shepherd in an orange service dog vest

These dogs help with people with spinal cord disease, loss of arm or leg in an automobile accident or military veteran. They also assist people who cannot fully stand on their own due to old age. These dogs are trained to do a simple task such as fetching the newspaper, opening doors, retrieving shoes or clothing items. These dogs also can be a support for someone who has trouble getting around. Since these dogs have to be able to fully support the weight of their owners, they are almost always large to giant breed dogs.

Allergy Detection:

Some people have such severe allergies to different types of foods that are not normally listed as an allergy on the food list. These dogs are trained to smell their owner’s food without eating it and let them know if there is something in there that they cannot eat.

How does one get a service dog?

First, you must qualify for a service animal. Your doctor will have to prescribe you a service animal. Then you can find a dog that has been trained for the task that you need. Sometimes this takes months to years for your dog to be fully trained. The cost of a service animal can be up to 25,000 dollars.

What training does a service dog do?

Aussie service dog in the wind

Service animals usually attend a service animal training school where they are taught everything, they need to know about the job they have to do. This type of school can take anywhere for a few months to a few years to fully train the dog to be able to do their task. The dog has to learn the basic commands of sit, stay and lay down. Understand what they have to do and learn when they can be a normal dog and when they have to be working. Service dogs have to be trained that they have a job to do every day just as people do; they do not get to relax outside and play with a toy. While most service dogs do get to spend time being just a dog most of their life is spent working for their owners.

Can my pet be a service dog?

While any pet can be a service animal, not everyone will qualify for a service dog. Your doctor must say that it is necessary for you to have a service dog. The doctor will write you a letter stating that you need a service animal and then you can legally obtain the dog and the needed permits.

What are the service dog guidelines?

Boxer with an orange service dog vest

There are many requirements you must meet for your dog to be classified as a service animal. This helps decrease the number of “fake” service animals.


The American Disability Act lists all the requirements that you must have in order to have a service animal. If you meet these requirements you are then allowed to get a service animal. After your doctor approves you for a service dog you can then get a dog from a reputable breed and send them through all the training needed for the task you need them for.

Where they are allowed?

Black lab licking its lips in a red harness vest

Service dogs are allowed in all locations that their owners are able to enter. These dogs can go to grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants and even apartments that do not allow pets.

How are service dogs trained?

Most service animals undergo training for their exact job that they are being trained to do. This can be months to years of training before a service animal is trained to do their job. Mobility and seeing eye dogs take the longest to train as they have some of the most difficult tasks to perform.

Is there a service dog registration?

There are service dog registration websites where you can register your service dog. However, registration is not necessary nor is it legally required though it will help decrease in the hassle that would come with bringing your dog into a non-pet friendly area if you have something available to show them. Another great option is a service dog ID card which will help show the regulations and requirements of the ADA with some information about your dog on the other side. 




Service dogs are great to help people who have a disability or other medical problem. Dogs can be used for a wide variety of task. Helping people is a great way for a dog to assist their owners.

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Ultimate guide to service dogs By: Sara Ochoa

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