17 Service Dog Training Facts: What Does It Take To Train A Service Dog?

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It’s common to see service dogs working in public—whether they’re a part of the K-9 police dog unit or a guide dog helping a person walk down the street.

But most people don’t know much about what it takes to train a service dog—or what service dogs can actually do!

These 17 service dog training facts will open your eyes to the world of professional working dogs.

Written by Becca Choi, a passionate dog person and proud plant mom living in sunny Los Angeles.

Her first ever pet was a lovable Husky-Shepard mix named Marley, but her favorite breed will always be dachshunds!

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Basic Service Dog Training Facts

Although everyone should know these basic service dog training facts, many people don’t!

Check out these little-known service dog training facts that should be common knowledge.

1. Service dogs are not the same as pets.

When you see a service dog in public, you should not pet them—because they aren’t pets.

Even though we love to see all furry animals as pets, service dogs are working animals who are trained to perform specific tasks.

If you have an emotional support animal at home (whether official or unofficial), I have some bad news.

Most places do not recognize these animals as service dogs. That’s because they haven’t had the extensive training service animals do.

2. Any dog breed can work as a service dog.

Although some dog breeds are especially popular as service dogs (like golden retrievers and German shepherds), any dog breed can work as a service animal.

Being a service dog is all about the training the dog receives and its ability to perform certain tasks (which we’ll get into later).

Being a service dog has nothing to do with the dog’s breed!

3. Service dog training starts when puppies are just a few days old.

Service dogs don’t get a break!

Most training begins when puppies are 2-3 days old, but training can begin a few months after a puppy is born.

Why do service dogs need training so early in life?

It’s to prepare them for potentially stressful situations or to perform repeated special tasks. Since these puppies are so young, service dog training at this stage doesn’t resemble traditional dog training.

Rather, it involves neuromuscular stimulation to get the puppies’ bodies ready. These exercises support the growth and development of dogs’ immune and cardiovascular systems.

Once service dog training starts, it can last for years before the dog is ready to go to work!

Service Dog Training Facts

Now that you know the basics of service dog training, let’s get into some more interesting service dog training facts!

4. It costs $15,000-$50,000 to buy a trained service dog.

Service dog training is expensive.

Service dogs who are already trained can cost as much as $50,000, and the costs only go up from there since dog owners spend an additional $500-$10,000 a year to maintain their dog’s health and training.

5. Some states ban pit bulls from being service dogs—but it doesn’t mean anything.

Pit bulls get a bad reputation, and some states even ban pit bulls from being service dogs.

But there’s a catch. These state laws don’t override the official rules of the ADA, which states that “a service animal may not be excluded based on assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed.”

Even though German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers are the most common service dog breeds, any breed of dog (including pit bulls) can make great service dogs.

6. The ADA does not require service dogs to wear vests

You might see a service dog in public and never know it! Service dogs are not required to wear vests in public, even though many do.

The opposite is also true.

Just because you see a dog with a service dog vest doesn’t mean it had any service dog training.

Police Dog Training Facts

Like service dogs, police dogs are trained to perform highly specific tasks to aid their humans.

7. Active police dogs have about 2-3 years of intensive police dog training.

Since police dogs are often involved in high-risk situations, they must be well-trained. It takes about 2-3 years of intensive training to get a police dog ready to work.

Police dogs are most often trained to perform scent detection tasks, including finding narcotics, explosives, and people.

8. Most police dogs in the US are imported.

It’s more common for police dogs to be imported from Europe (particularly Denmark) than to receive police dog training in the United States.

Why? Europe possesses higher quality police dog bloodlines.

However, the frequency of imported police dogs means that the US can now enjoy the same excellent bloodlines.

The National Police Dog Foundation believes that the US will lessen its dependency on European dogs in the near future.

9. Not just any dog can be a police dog.

Unlike service dogs, who we see in a variety of breeds, police dogs tend to be chosen from a short list of desirable breeds.

On top of that, many service dogs are bred specifically for this purpose—so a German Shepherd from one family may be better than a German Shepherd from a different bloodline.

The most common police dog breeds are:

  • German Shepherds
  • Bloodhounds
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Dutch Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers

Guide Dog Training Facts

Guide dogs are service dogs who are specially trained to help blind and visually impaired individuals navigate their environments.

10. Humans have been training guide dogs for at least 1,600 years.

The earliest record of guide dog training was found in a mural painted on a wall in the buried ruins of the Roman Herculaneum.

But guide dog training probably began much earlier than that!

11. Guide dogs are trained to be intelligently disobedient.

You read that right. Guide dogs are trained to be disobedient. 

Intelligent disobedience is a term used to describe when a guide dog refuses to perform an action that their human commands them to do because it is unsafe or dangerous.

For example, a guide dog would be disobedient (intelligently) if their owner were commanding them to walk forward, despite a car coming that ran a red light.

12. Guide dogs help their owners avoid all obstacles—even the ones above them!

Guide dogs learn to keep an eye on the space around and above them to help their owners safely navigate the world.

By having an awareness of a space twice as wide and up to three times as tall as they are, guide dogs can help their owners avoid low-hanging branches, ledges, and other hazardous objects.

13. Guide dogs are allowed to take breaks, and they retire!

When guide dogs are off-harness, they act just like regular dogs!

Guide dogs love to sniff, play, and run around, and they can differentiate how they should behave when they’re on or off the job.

And most guide dogs retire after 8-10 years of dedicated service.

Medical Alert and Psychiatric Service Dog Training Facts

When you think of service dogs, police dogs and guide dogs might come to mind first. But dogs can be trained to help various people, including those with mental illnesses.

Medical alert dogs and psychiatric service dogs are the unsung heroes of the service dog world. Even though they don’t get as much attention as the other service dogs on this list, their abilities are still astonishing!

14. Service dogs can detect scent changes that indicate oncoming seizures, diabetic emergencies, and heart attacks.

If you thought police dog scent detection activities were impressive, you’d be amazed at what medical alert dogs can do.

Medical alert dogs signal oncoming of medical emergencies, including:

  • seizures
  • low blood sugar
  • allergy attacks
  • elevated blood pressure
  • fainting episodes

Seizure alert service dogs are known to give people up to one hour of warning before an impending seizure—and they can help the person physically prepare for an event.

15. Medical alert dogs can “diagnose” patients with certain conditions.

Dogs have an aptitude for knowing when something is wrong with our bodies before we do.

Medical alert dogs can help identify conditions such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, and cancer.

These dogs are often trained to sniff out indicators of illness in tissue samples, and they do so with immense success.

16. Psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to help people with mental disabilities.

People with physical disabilities are not the only ones who need service dogs.

Psychiatric service dogs assist individuals with mental illnesses, including:

  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • schizophrenia
  • depression
  • anxiety

Psychiatric service dogs’ specialized tasks are different than service dogs intended to help people with physical disabilities.

These types of service dogs can:

  • remind people to take medication
  • interrupt repetitive behaviors
  • mitigate stress-inducing circumstances

17. Psychiatric services are the fourth most common use of service dogs in the US.

After services for the blind, hearing-impaired, and mobility-impaired, psychiatric services rank the fourth most common reason people have service dogs.

It should come as no surprise that psychiatric service dogs are popular when you consider the fact that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and over 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder.

These professional pups do a lot to help us!

Photo: Ernesto.