ou Ask. I Answer: "How Can I Get a Service Dog?": the scoop on the basics of getting a service dog through various organizational routes

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You Ask, I Answer

Ask whatever you want and I’ll answer! This is a new series that pulls questions that you guys ask me and answer them. If you have a question, ask!


How can I get a service dog for my child?

My Answer:

Short answer: Apply to an organizations or get your existing dog certified!

Long answer: Service dogs can help kids across the disability spectrum, from kids with Down syndrome to deaf kids, autistic kids, kids in wheelchairs. You name the disability and a service dog will probably be helpful (I’m only saying “kids” a lot in this post because the question asked of me was from a parent wanting a service dog for her child).

Service dogs are also great for adults with disabilities: they are tremendously helpful for all of us with a disability, most helpful for those of us who actually like dogs!

There are two ways to go about getting a service for either yourself or for your child or for yourself. We will talk about both, getting a service dog through an organization and getting a dog trained to be a service dog.

How Do I Get a Service Dog Through an Organization?

Okay, there are actually two types of organizations by which you can apply for a service dog. There is the bona-fide type of organization, which is completely and totally free, and for which the application process is really, really long and tedious. And there is the less noble type of  organization that charges you a ton of money and has an easier application process.

Let’s talk about them both:

The Bona-Fide Free Organizations

These guys are the ones that I went through to get my hearing dog. I found them by googling, googling, googling – doing searches like “free hearing dog San Francisco”, “free hearing dog Bay Area,””free hearing dog California.”

I kept playing around with search terms  until Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) came up. I wrote to them, learned more, applied. Then I waited THREE YEARS,  went to the 2-week long training and  got my super-sweet and awesome dog, Kianna (the post about it all is linked here).

The Less Noble Type  of Organization

These guys are the ones that I first encountered while googling “free service dog San Francisco Bay Area” etc. There are tons of them. They charge you something like $500-more for your service dog. The application process is a lot shorter and a lot less comprehensive.

Basically, fill out some stuff, have your doctor sign off, hand over the cash and viola! You got yourself a service dog!


Training a Dog to Be a Service Dog

Now, this is where you train your dog – or a young dog – to be a service dog within a training facility or under a trainer. In other words, an independent dog trainer might say, “I’ll train some dogs to be service dogs and match you with one.” Or, “I’ll train your Betsy-pooch to be a service dog.”

Some of these are bogus and some are completely fantastic. You will only know which is which by the research you do, questions you ask, and research your conduct on the organization or trainer herself.

Cost-wise and training-time-wise, this tends to be in the middle-range. It doesn’t cost as much as some of the Less Noble Organizations, nor does it take as long to wait for your dog or go through the application process as does your Bona Fide Organization. For a good trainer, you’ll end up with a well trained dog for your child or yourself, and that’s pretty great.

I’ve heard great things about this options, so look into it by googling “name of your area + service dog options” and variations of that search.

In Summary

You can get your service dog – or one for your child – through a :

  • FREE organization that has a stellar reputation, long application process and training (I went this route with CCI)
  • PAID (and usually very costly) organization with a shorter application process and training period
  • Training your own dog or going with an independent trainer (and costs vary)

In all cases, you will need to do your homework by researching the organization or trainer, their reputation, visiting the site, meeting the graduates of their respective programs, and assessing for yourself their merits.

More information:

Canine Companions for Independence

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Service Dogs for America

Potential financial assistance for getting a service dog from a Less Than Noble organization

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