How to Get a Service Dog if You Have a Disability

(Last Updated On: January 4, 2019)

If you have a disability, you might be wondering how to get a service dog. The process can be difficult to understand, but we found some tips to help you learn about getting a service dog.

We found out how to get a service dog.

There are a variety of reasons you might be wondering how to get a service dog. If you’re disabled, having a service dog there to perform tasks might make it easier for you to be independent and live the life you want. A service dog can help you if you’re deaf, blind or have another physical disability. Service dogs might also be able to help people who have mental disabilities.

To qualify for a service animal, you must have written documentation from a healthcare provider. You can get this documentation from your general physician, from a mental health provider or from any number of specialists.

After qualifying, you can get a service dog through one of the many organizations that provide them. Many organizations don’t charge for service animals. You will need to spend time working with trainers from the organization to get used to having the service dog in your care. It is not common for service dog handlers to train their own dogs because of the complicated training process. People who have disabilities do not have to have the dog professionally trained, but many choose to because it can be difficult if you don’t’ have experience.

It’s important to note, there is a difference in a service dog and an emotional support animal. Service dogs are trained to do something specific while emotional support animals are there to provide comfort. If you’re more interested in an emotional support animal, you can take other steps to get the animal. Many people who have emotional support animals start the animal out as a pet and then turn it into an ESA since ESAs don’t require specific training.

Who qualifies for getting a service animal?

There are several qualifications you’ll need to meet to have a service animal. If you have a physical disability, you could qualify for a service animal. You could also qualify if you have a mental disability, psychiatric, intellectual or sensory disorder. The most important part of qualifying for a service animal is making sure your doctor provides documentation on your need for a service animal.

Some doctors may have recommendations on where you can get a service animal.

Taking these steps could help you find and get a service dog.

If you’re wondering how to get a service dog, there are a few steps you’ll need to take. These steps are simple, but it might take some time to qualify for a service dog, find one that fits with your needs and get accustomed to having the service dog with you.

Step 1

Talk to your doctor. Your doctor will need to write a letter or use a document to qualify you for a service animal. Even if your doctor does not bring up the possibility of a service animal, you can talk to the doctor to let them know you think it would be beneficial for your health.

Step 2

Find an organization to work with. There are organizations that work with people who have specific disabilities and there are general service dog organizations. If you want to train your service animal yourself, you can get a dog and do that right away. Since many people prefer to obtain a service animal that’s already trained, they choose to go through an organization. We’ve provided more information about organizations in the next section.

Step 3

Work on training. If you get your service animal from a trainer or from an organization, you’ll still have to work with it. While the service animals are trained to do specific tasks, you’ll have to work with them and get used to them when you’re first getting started. The animal will need to learn your patterns and behaviors so it knows what to look out for.

Step 4

Exercise your rights. As someone with a service animal, you’re entitled to specific protections under the ADA. Your animal is entitled to these too! You can take your service animal with you to most places and you can use your service animal in public places. Keep in mind that you have a responsibility, too. You’ll need to make sure your service animal is under your control at all times.

Consider these organizations to find your service animal.

Don’t know how to get a service dog? The best place to look for one after you qualify is through an organization. Even if they’re unable to provide you with a service dog you can use, they have the resources that can help you find one!

Organizations for People with Visual Disabilities

The Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation – provides German Shepherds to people who are trained to help people who are blind or have severe vision impairment. The dogs and training are free.

The Guide Dog Foundation – is a great option for people who are visually impaired and need a service dog, but are allergic to dogs! They offer labradors and golden retrievers which are among the most common guide dogs. They organization also offers poodles. Poodles are a “hypoallergenic” breed of dogs that work well for people with dog allergies. They do all of this with no cost.

Guide Dogs of America – provides free dogs to people who are visually impaired. The dogs are trained to help blind people and visually impaired people specifically. You can go to their locations to practice with your dog for weeks before taking it home. You’ll also receive ongoing support for the dog for the rest of its life!

The Seeing Eye – is one of the oldest service dog organizations requires a small fee for people who want a seeing eye dog, but provides extensive training to both the dog and the handler.

Organizations for People who are Deaf

International Hearing Dog, Inc. – trains dogs to hear sounds and to alert HOH or deaf owners to these sounds. They are trained specifically to hear things like approaching cars, doorbells, alarm clocks and telephones. The organization gives the dogs for free to people who qualify.

Dogs for the Deaf – provides dogs to people who are deaf or HOH. They may be able to provide you with a companion animal or an ESA. The organization requires you to put a deposit down. It is small and it gets returned to you after you’ve had the dog for a year.

Organizations for People with Other Disabilities

The Assistance Dog United Campaign (ADUC) – provides the financial support people need to get a service dog. They are a great place to start if you’re trying to figure out how to get a service dog because they can provide you with resources on the difference in service dogs, ESAs and companion animals. The organization can also provide you with information on how to get a service dog in your area and even how to qualify. When you find a dog, they might be able to provide you with the money to pay for it!

Paws with a Cause – is unique in that they provide dogs to people using a “pay it forward” system. They give people service dogs for free, but people are encouraged to “pay it forward.” They can do this by donating themselves or by raising money to help pay for service dogs for people in the future.

4 Paws for Ability – gives children a chance at a companion animal. They help children who are turned away by other agencies due to age or due to the fact they do not qualify.

The Service Dogs for America/Great Plains Assistance Dogs Foundation Inc. – offers service dogs to people who are eight years and older. They have a small fee, but they also have scholarships and you can use financial aid.

Things to look out for when you’re getting a service animal.

There are a couple of things you should look out for when you’re learning about how to get a service dog. These things could make it harder for you to get your service animal or they could simply be scams set up to take your money from you.

  • A high cost – most service dog organizations do not charge a lot of money. In fact, most organizations that are legitimate rely solely on fundraising. They do not ask handlers and future handlers to pay for the dog. You may be required to pay a small fee with some organizations, but most legitimate ones do not charge outrageous amounts. If an “organization” is requesting thousands of dollars for a service animal, you might be getting scammed!
  • Registration – service animals do not have to be registered as such. In most states and counties, you will have to register or license your dog, but that does not mean you need to register it as a service animal.
  • Quick doctors – have you found hundreds of search results that guarantee you’ll get a service animal in 20 minutes or less? Ignore. Those sites charge a fee for you to talk online with a “doctor” who will then provide you with a letter. They promise you can use the letter to get a service dog or an emotional support animal, but many legitimate organizations won’t accept those letters. Try this instead.
  • Support, companion, emotional – if your dog has these words in it or if the organization you’re getting it from uses these words, you might not be getting a fully and professionally trained service animal. Emotional support, companion and support animals are great and can serve a real purpose, but they are not service animals.

After getting a service dog: you need to know this.

The 2-question rule is very important to everyone who has a service animal. If you take your service animal into a business or a public place, they can only ask you two questions. They can actually only ask these questions if your dog isn’t identifiable. If you use an optional service animal cape or harness, they are not allowed to ask any questions.

These are the two “legal” questions:

  • Is this a service dog?
  • What tasks does the animal perform?

Anything beyond that is a violation of your rights and you should let the company, the person asking the questions and anyone who is in charge know that they’re violating your right. Even though you do have a right, it’s important to know that not all people will be informed. Businesses are required to teach their employees about it, but many times people forget or businesses lack the resources to teach about it. Instead of getting angry at them, you could use it as a teaching opportunity to help people who don’t know a lot about service animals. Tell them about the ADA and your rights so they know about the two-question rule in the future!

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