If you’ve ever wondered how to get a service dog for free, you’re in the right place. We’ve found organizations that can help. Let’s talk about how you can save money on a service animal and everything else you need to know!
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs are dogs that are carefully and professionally trained to perform specific tasks. These tasks are designed to help people with disabilities or qualifying health conditions navigate daily life.
“Service dogs (also known as “assistance dogs”) are trained to perform quantifiable tasks that directly ease the challenges associated with their owner’s physical, psychiatric, sensory, and/or developmental disability.”American Humane
This is radically different than an emotional support animal, which may provide comfort or emotional support. Emotional support animals are not trained to complete specific tasks so their assistance cannot be quantified.
How can a Service Dog help you?
If you’re disabled, you may be able to enjoy greater independence and freedom with a trained companion. Service dogs are not pets. They are trained assistants.
The training is really what sets service animals apart and makes them so beneficial. They can be trained to help with specific tasks, depending on whether you are blind, deaf, mobility impaired or living with another disability. Service animals can even be trained to help with mental disabilities!
Here are some examples of tasks completed by Service Dogs:
- Visual guidance for people with visual impairments
- Sound signaling for people who are hearing impaired
- Providing stability for people with mobility impairments
- Medical alerts and protection for those who experience seizures or cardiac episodes
Service Dogs can also be trained to complete other tasks. Service dogs can:
- Turn on lights
- Retrieve items
- Open doors
- Pay cashiers
- Carry items
- Pull a wheelchair
- Remind their owner to take medication
- Press handicap-accessible buttons
- Unload laundry from the dryer
Obviously, dogs can be trained for many different things based on the individual needs of the owner. The work of a service dog will always be closely related to the owner’s disability.
What are the Service Dog requirements?
Before you figure out how to get a service dog for free, you need to know what the service dog requirements are. Not every person is eligible for a service dog, after all.
In order to legally qualify for a service dog, you must have a disability that substantially limits your ability to perform at least one major life task without assistance. Your disability could be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or mental.
The animal must perform at least one critical task for you, such as helping you see, helping you move around, alerting you to dangerous blood sugar levels or oncoming seizures, etc. This is the specialized training that turns your companion from a pet into a working, trained service dog.
How to Get a Service Dog
It’s an straightforward process but it can take a long time because you need to make sure the paperwork is in order. Follow these steps.
Step 1: Talk to your doctor.
Getting a service animal starts with getting a diagnosis from a doctor. You need to make sure that a service dog can help you manage your condition. Many organizations that provide free service dogs will require you to have a letter from your doctor indicating that a service animal can help you manage or mitigate your disability.
Ultimately, when you’re trying to figure out how to get a service dog for free, the first step is proving that you have a disability and that a service dog can assist you.
Step 2: Decide who will train the Service Dog.
Once you have the paperwork in order, you will need to make a decision about who will provide the training. You have a few options.
You may be able to get a service dog for free from certain organizations.
Most organizations that provide assistance with service animals train and provide those animals themselves. It is best to check with the organization from which you intend to obtain assistance before attempting to locate a service dog on your own.
There is a full list of organizations that assist with service dogs at the end of this article.
You may be able to train your own Service Dog.
The American Kennel Club states, “The ADA does not require service dogs to be professionally trained. Individuals with disabilities have the right to train a service dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog trainer or training program.”
However, it can be very difficult to train your own service dog. This is especially true if your medical condition is complex or would make it difficult to train the animal. For example, it would be very difficult to train your own seeing-eye dog.
If you do choose to train your own service dog, you should carefully choose the animal that you will train. Your existing pet may not be a good candidate, even though you may love your pet very much. A good service dog candidate should be:
- Calm, especially in unfamiliar or chaotic surroundings
- Alert but not reactionary
- Able to learn and retain instructions
- Eager to please
When you train your own service animal, you must start with basic foundational skills. These include house training and teaching the pet to eliminate on command in different locations. The dog must be socialized to different situations, environments and people so that it learns to remain on-task without distractions. The American Kennel Club has a course called Service Dog Training 101 that can help you train your own service dog.
There are professional service dog trainers that can help.
Training a service dog is a long and complex process. Training a service animal is a huge investment of time and effort on the part of these agencies. It is not uncommon for an organization to ask for $20,000 or more for a service animal.
When you begin shopping for a service dog, it is VERY important to understand the difference between a service animal and an emotional service animal. America is currently experiencing an epidemic of fake service dogs. Emotional service animals provide comfort but are not trained to complete specific tasks. Only service dogs are trained to complete specific tasks. Make sure you’re getting a service dog, not an emotional support animal, or you may find yourself overpaying for a basic pet instead of a fully trained healthcare assistant.
If you’re wondering how to get a service dog for free and you want the dog professionally trained, you’ll need to contact one of the agencies in our list below for assistance.
Step 3: Fundraise to help with the remaining cost, if necessary.
Obviously, $20,000 or more is a ridiculously high amount for low income families to come up with. That’s why many organizations provide fundraising options for families who need to obtain a service animal.
It’s important to note that although there are some ways that you can get a service dog for free, there is usually some associated cost. The cost could be as simple as travelling to pick up your trained companion… or it could cost tens of thousands of dollars to help cover the cost of training. It depends on what assistance program you are eligible for.
It is rare for a family to successfully fundraise for a service dog on a platform like GoFundMe (although here are some tips if you want to try).
Alternatively, you can host bake sales, spaghetti dinners, chili cookoffs, ice cream socials, silent auctions and more to help you cover any costs associated with your service dog. Anything Pawsable has a list of over 100 ways you can fundraise for your service animal.
How to Get a Service Dog for FREE!
In order to save money on a service dog, you’ll need to work with an organization that provides assistance to low income people.
Our list is organized by medical need. Please note that some of these organizations will help you figure out how to get a service dog for free, while others will only help with part of the cost associated with obtaining a service animal.
Ultimately, the assistance that you receive will depend on what you are eligible for and which organization you choose to work with.
How to Get a Service Dog for FREE if You’re Visually Impaired
The Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation provides people who are blind or severely visually impaired with a German Shepherd that can help. The dogs and training are free! They even include at-home follow-up visits at least once per year for free. How cool is that?!
The Guide Dog Foundation helps people who are visually impaired also. They offer labradors and golden retrievers, as well as hypoallergenic poodles that can serve people who are usually allergic to dogs. This is provided at no cost.
Guide Dogs of America also offers free services to those who are visually impaired.
The Seeing Eye provides seeing eye dogs for a fee. The fee is $150 for their first dog or $50 for a successor. Veterans pay only $1. Payments can be made in installments. However, you are also required to attend a 3.5 week training at their Morristown campus in order to receive your animal.
How to Get a Service Dog for FREE if You’re Hearing Impaired
International Hearing Dog, Inc. specifically trains service animals to listen for their owners. The trained animals will respond and alert their owners to sounds like approaching cars, alarm clocks, telephones, doorbells or other specific sounds. The animals are provided free of charge.
Paws with a Cause helps people who are hard of hearing figure out how to get a service dog. Their dogs are trained to respond to smoke alarms, doorbells, children crying, and other specific sounds. The hearing dog will nudge you to alert you to the noise, and then lead you to the source. Hearing Dogs can even be trained to respond to sign language for those who are non-verbal! Paws for a Cause provides the animals at no cost.
How to Get a Service Dog for FREE if You Have a Disability
The Assistance Dog United Campaign (ADUC) assists people who need an assistance dog but can’t raise the necessary funds themselves.
Paws with a Cause provides service animals to assist with many types of disabilities. They provide the animals free of charge based on prior donations. Since they rely on donations to cover the $30,000 cost per service dog, they encourage everyone to fundraise to help the next person receive their dog. This “pay it forward” system has been in place for years.
How to Save Money on a Service Dog
There are some organizations that offer service dogs for a fee. These are not free but they can help you save money on the high cost of a service dog.
4 Paws for Ability specializes in placements with children, especially those who have been turned away from other agencies because they are too young, too disabled or not disabled enough. They also place dogs with veterans who need them.
The only thing that 4 Paws for Ability requires is a physician statement that the person requesting the service animal actually has a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Unfortunately, the service animals at 4 Paws for Ability are not provided at no-cost. They have a partial payment model which requires you to pay $17,000 of the $40,000-$60,000 cost of training the animal. The fee is not tax deductible, either. If you’re wondering how to get a service dog from 4 Paws for Ability, be sure to ask about their fundraising options!
The Service Dogs for America also provides service animals. You can submit the preliminary application for free, but there is a $50 non-refundable fee for the full application.
If you are selected to receive a service animal, you will need to pay the full $20,000 fee. Fortunately, the SDA also has a dedicated staff member that helps with fundraising, grant applications, payment plans and scholarships to help approved clients find the money to pay for their service dog.
This fee includes at least three weeks of training at the SDA campus, guest housing during the training, all training materials, home visits, fundraising assistance, recertifications, follow-up consultations and more.
Keep yourself safe from service animal scams!
As always, there are people looking to make quick money by deceiving people who need help learning how to get a service dog for free. If you’re looking for a service animal, be sure to watch out for these common scams!
Scam #1: Don’t believe it if they promise to deliver the trained animal to you.
Most of the organizations that we have found require you to participate in the training process. After all, you’ll need some training to learn how to work with your new partner! If the agency asks for lots of money and promises to deliver the animal without any effort on your part, be very skeptical.
Scam #2: Know the difference between a companion pet, emotional support animal and service animal.
These are three very different things. Emotional support animals don’t have the same training or privileges that service animals do. You need to make sure that you are actually receiving a trained service animal.
Scam #3: Don’t pay an online service for an animal service letter.
There are many websites that promise to provide you with a service animal recommendation letter within mere minutes. Don’t trust these websites! In many cases, the legitimate service animal providers will not accept letters from these quick online services. They want to see a letter from your actual local physician.
FAQ about How to Get a Service Dog for Free
We get a lot of questions from people who need to know how to get a service dog for free. Fortunately, we have a lot of answers!
Do you know how to make my dog a service dog?
Yes! If you want to make your dog a service dog, click here for a guide that can help.
However, it’s important to note that most people have greater success training new dogs because the dog you already own may be resistant to some or all of the training.
Do you know how to register your dog as a service dog?
According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is no special registration or certification requirements for service dogs. The law states that service dogs should be registered, licensed and vaccinated like all other dogs in your area. Local governments cannot make special rules or registration requirements for service dogs.
The official ADA website clearly states that organizations and websites that sell animal certifications or registrations online do not convey any rights under the ADA and that the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that your dog is a service animal.
Even the National Service Animal Registry website states that their registration is not required by law. They charge $54-$154 for a certificate that does absolutely nothing for you under the law.
Please do not fall for these scams!
How much is a service dog?
The cost of a service dog depends on the length of training, who trained the animal, and what services it is trained to perform. Although it is possible to get a service dog for free from the providers listed in this article, the average service dog typically costs somewhere between $17,000 and $40,000.
What is the lowest price for a service dog?
Free, of course! We have found several organizations that help low income people obtain service dogs for free. See our list in this article for details.
Do you know how to certify a service dog?
The ADA law does not require service dogs to be registered or certified in any way. Please do not fall for online scams that promise you a registration or certification in exchange for money. Those papers do nothing for you under the law.
Do you know how to get a service dog for anxiety?
Many people with anxiety choose to get an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) instead of a service dog. ESAs provide general comfort, whereas a psychiatric service dog is trained to perform specific quantifiable tasks. If you need help with specific tasks, such as turning on lights or doing room searches, you may qualify for a service dog. However, a pet that provides comfort or companionship would be an ESA, not a service animal.
Do you know how to train a service dog?
The American Kennel Club has a great resource for training service dogs. Their course is called Service Dogs 101 and it’s available on their website.
What disabilities qualify for a service dog?
Service dogs provide physical services or tasks. If you have a disability or medical condition that impacts your daily life, and you could benefit from a task that a service dog can perform, then you may be eligible for a service dog even if your condition is not on the following list.
However, service dogs are often prescribed to people who have the following medical conditions and disabilities:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Chronic Pain
- Dissociative Disorders
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Sensory Disabilities (visually impaired, hearing impaired, etc.)
- Spinal Cord Injury
Do I need a service dog vest?
Many people wonder “Do service dogs have to wear a vest?” The answer is no. The ADA law does not require service animals to wear any specific markings. There is no need to purchase a vest, harness or ID tag unless you want to.
Can any dog be a service dog?
Yes. The ADA law does not specify any specific breeds that can or cannot be service animals, so any dog breed can become a service animal, including a pitbull or even a chihuahua.
Can you legally ask for proof of service dog?
Be prepared for questions but know your rights. It’s natural for people to have questions about your service animal, but it’s important that you know your rights. That’s one of the most important steps when you’re learning how to get a service dog for free (or even for a fee)!
There are only two questions that you may have to answer about your service animal.
The first question is, “Is this a service animal required because of a disability?” The answer is simply yes. You do not have to identify or explain your disability whatsoever.
The second question is, “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” You do not have to go into great detail to answer this question and you do not have to identify your disability.
These questions can only be asked if it is not obvious that your dog is a service animal. To avoid these questions, simply use a vest, patch or harness that indicates the dog is a service animal.
Employees are not allowed to ask you to provide documentation, require the dog to demonstrate its task, or inquire about your disability.
Why can’t you pet service dogs?
A service dog is not a pet. It is a working companion. If you pet a service dog, you distract it from the job it is doing. This could harm the dog’s handler.
Do service dogs have to be on a leash?
The law requires that the service dog must be under the handler’s control at all times. The handler is usually the person with the disability, but it could be a third party who accompanies the disabled person. In most cases, the law does require that service animals be harnessed, leashed or tethered in public places unless those devices would interfere with the animal’s work.
Does insurance cover service dogs?
In most cases, the answer is no. Insurance usually will not cover the cost of a service dog. However, you may be able to use a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) plan or other supplemental benefit to pay for your service dog.
Are service dogs allowed everywhere? If not, where are service dogs not allowed?
Service dogs are permitted anywhere that the public is permitted. This includes restaurants, hotels, retail stores, theaters, sports facilities, and even taxicabs. if it is a place that the public is allowed to go, then a service animal must be allowed as well.
According to ADA.gov, there are some very limited exceptions. For example, the service dog cannot create a fundamental alteration to the nature of the business so if a dog barks during a movie at a theater, that animal can be removed from the facility.
According to NOLO, private residences, private clubs, and religious buildings do not have to allow service animals.
How long does it take to train a service dog?
The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) guidelines state that a service dog must be trained for at least 120 hours over at least six months. The length of training depends on the skills required.
How many service dogs are in America?
According to the American Kennel Club, over 80 million Americans have a service dog.
What are the benefits of having a service dog?
Studies have shown that service dogs can help their owners experience lower rates of stress, improved happiness, increased fitness and greater independence in their daily lives. This is why it’s so important for low income disabled people to be able to get a service dog for free!