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How to Train Your Own Service Dog

May 26, 2024

If you came here from my How to Get a Service Dog blog, welcome!

Today we are going to learn all about owner training and the process in the United States.

Before I share my general progression for owner training with my clients, I want to share the laws and regulations surrounding owner training in the United States.

Under the ADA, service dogs in the US can be owner-trained (meaning that a non-professional trainer or disabled individual can train their own service dog).

The only LEGAL guidelines that teams must follow are:

  • The dog must not urinate or defecate inappropriately.
  • The dog must be under the handler’s control at all times.
  • The dog must not be disruptive to the public (excessive barking/whining/jumping).
  • The handler must be disabled.
  • The dog must be task trained to mitigate the handler’s disability.

The rest of the guidelines (or suggestions) that you see on social media are personal preference and a drive for professionalism to show the public how service dogs should behave.

The strict, flashy heel is not required. 

Not looking at people in the store is not required.

Most of the things stressed in the online space are not requirements for service dogs to meet legally.

However, I do believe that as owner trainers, we have the responsibility to train our dogs to the highest level that we can out of kindness to other citizens and employees.

Here are the steps that my teams go through to train from 8 week puppy (or new to training adult dog) to fully trained service dogs:

  1. Socialization

    This is the first stage for all puppies and dogs and one that is the most important in my opinion for future progress. In this stage, we focus on getting our puppies out safely to experience the world from a distance.

    This means seeing as many dogs, people, and environments as possible. Feeling as many textures as possible. Smelling as many smells as possible. Hearing as many noises as possible.

    This does not mean that the puppy has to interact with, meet, or greet any of the things, just that they should experience them and see them from a distance.

  2. Cooperative Care & Home Manners

    In this stage, we usually have built a great socialization foundation, and our puppies/dogs should be pretty neutral or excited for most situations.

    Now, we prioritize cooperative care (click here to understand why) to get their health and wellness needs met with the least amount of stress as possible.

    It might feel frustrating to be working on nail trims when what you were really excited for was to train a new task or go to Target.

    BUT!

    Imagine how much more easily you will be able to do those fun things when you can easily groom and care for your dog from the start. This includes things like vet manners and visits as well!

    We also begin basic cues at home from this stage and work on things like crate training, nice home manners, and having guests over.

  3. Outside Manners

    In this stage, we are focusing on strengthening those good home manners outside of the home in parks, parking lots, outdoor pet friendly events, and patios.

    This is where we start to have fun outings for training specifically and start the foundations of solid obedience in public.

    Up until this point, the only job our dogs have is to exist nicely outside of the home.

    In this stage, we add to that expectation and start training for the real work!

    I love to focus on engagement and handler focus in this stage to build up to the next one. This is a fun stage and consists of lots of field trips!

  4. Public Manners

    In this stage, we take all the behaviors we know in the outdoors and the home and we take them into pet-friendly locations in public.

    This is where we will train in hardware stores, farmers markets, pet friendly restaurant patios, parks, and more.

    In this stage, we are refining our dog’s skills on duty and primarily focusing on training for all the things they will encounter in public stores and non-pet friendly locations.

    These are things like bathrooms, waiting rooms, loud noises, and more. These things should have already been socialized through the first few stages, so it won’t be new.

    However, the training to follow specific positions and cues we are working on will be the new addition! 

  5. Tasking (Behaviors to HELP with Your Disability)

    Some tasks can be trained from the start of your time together; but for any tasks in public, or tasks that require precision and maturity, I wait until the public obedience is solid in pet friendly locations before adding them all together.

    This is a fun stage where you get to see that the final picture is very close!

    Task training is a lot like trick training, and most tasks (aside from scent) are completed very quickly. Just like obedience and manners, we start tasking in the home, move outdoors, then move to public locations.

  6. Public Access

    This is the final stage of training, and is where you will see all of your hard work come together!

    In this stage, your dog is well under the guidelines of the ADA (under control, potty trained, has a few tasks, and is not disruptive) and is ready to really work on polishing their skills in public.

    This is where we practice best places to position our dogs out of the way, learning to take elevators and public transportation, learning to navigate different stores and environments, and strengthening tasking in the new locations.

    This is the stage you primarily see on social media.

    However, this stage should be the stage you spend the least amount of time training in.

    By the time you are in this stage, you should have already mastered the other locations easily and with little management.

    This is the stage where we can really get into the nitty gritty details of how to customize your dog’s behaviors to best work for you.


All of these stages together take at least 2 years to complete.

However, every single dog and handler team is different, and some may take much longer due to illness, lack of time or funds, and many other reasons.

These stages may seem simple written out nicely here, but it can be a really overwhelming process to try on your own. 

I always recommend working with a trainer with experience in service dog training from the start to get your foundation really solid. 

You will save a lot of time, energy, and money in the long run starting with a great foundation before moving on.

If you want to train your own service dog for $20k less, you'd love my membership. It'll have everything you need to go from start to finish through these stages.

I can’t wait to meet you and your pup!

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