Is a Service Dog Right for You?
Updated: Feb 8
You’ve been considering getting a service dog for yourself, you’ve researched what a service dog is, but you’re not sure if one is right for your situation. We’re here to help.
The very first step is to take out a pen and paper (or a note-taking app) and list out the things you struggle to do yourself. For example, remembering to take your medicine, picking up dropped things, walking without losing your balance, etc. Also list out the problems you experience in day-to-day life, such as shutting down in public places, having anxiety attacks when people get too close to you, being unable to get sugar when your blood sugar drops, etc. I recommend spending a minimum of five minutes sitting and writing these things out, so you have a list that you can work from.
The next step is to go through your list and note which things can be helped by a service dog and which can be best helped with something else (such as an alarm to remind you of medications). A service dog only needs one trained task, but you want to make sure that all of the money, energy, and effort that goes into a service dog is worth it.
Next, consider the financials of a service dog. There is, of course, the cost of getting the dog. A fully-trained service dog can be $30k+ and will generally not be as perfectly trained for your exact needs. Some organizations help with fundraising and/or offer dogs for free, but they also tend to have longer waitlists. A fully-trained service dog generally requires a minimum wait of 6 months, though the wait can sometimes be 3 or more years.
If you decide to get a dog and train it yourself, you’ll need to consider the cost of acquiring the dog (up to a couple hundred dollars from a rescue/shelter or $1-2,000 for a purebred puppy) as well as the cost for training. If you’re skilled at and knowledgeable about dog training, you may only need a little bit of professional help, but if you’ve only done the basics with a dog before, you may want a lot of help from a professional dog trainer, which can be thousands of dollars total (though still generally less than the cost of a fully-trained service dog).
Even if you’ve done a lot of training in the past, having a second set of eyes and suggestions for your training can be a huge help when you’re working on teaching your dog to be a medical aid. So I always recommend getting help from a professional dog trainer (who has experience with service dogs). They can help make sure that you’re staying on the right path, training-wise, and a good one can help you with finding your prospective service dog, too!
So, you now have your list of day-to-day problems and you’ve figured out how you’re going to pay for the service dog. Next, you have to consider the energy that a dog (of any type) requires. Even a service dog will need to be taken out to the bathroom multiple times a day. They will need time to walk and run and play, as well. Many dogs (especially service dogs) won’t play on their own, so you’ll need to consider the energy it will take for you to care for the dog and include that in your consideration.
If you’ve gotten this far and you still think that a service dog might be right for you, are you going to be able to handle the extra attention a service dog will bring to you? How about confrontations when someone doesn’t want your dog somewhere? Unfortunately, a service dog will draw attention to you and there’s a very good chance that you will run into public access issues at some point in the lifetime of your service dog. Preparing for these situations can only help so much. So make sure that you’ll be able to handle things like this and be able to at least get out and recover, if not handle the situation calmly.
Consider one last thing: what happens to the dog if you have to go to the hospital? Legally, the hospitals are required to allow service dogs in with their human partners, but the hospital staff can’t be asked to take the dog out to the bathroom. So, you need to have a support network to help you at those times where, temporarily, you can’t take care of your canine partner.
If you’ve made it through this whole article and you can honestly say that you think you’re ready for a service dog, congratulations! It’s a long, rough road, but it can be worth every hard moment to have a partner at your side who’s there for you and helps make life so much more liveable.