For over 15,000 years, dogs have served as companions, confidants, and partners to their human counterparts. There is scientific evidence that they offer love, emotional support, and happiness. For individuals with disabilities, the companionship of a furry friend offers unparalleled physical and mental support. But how much does it cost to get a service dog? Let’s take a look!
What is a service dog?
First, let’s discuss what service dogs are. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as “any dog that is individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” This includes physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, and other mental disabilities. Essentially, service dogs are specially trained to ensure their handlers are safe, healthy, and happy.
There is no limit on breed or size for a service dog, although some breeds are more common because of their innate characteristics. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, for instance, have friendly, calm temperaments and get along with other animals and people nicely. German Shepherds, Poodles, Pomeranians, and Collies are also loyal and friendly and enjoy working. Because of their easy-going personalities, these dogs are easy to train and bond quickly with their handlers; however, that does not exclude other dog breeds or mixed-breed dogs from being excellent service dogs.
The most important quality in a service dog is their relationship with and awareness of their handler. Handlers often have specific needs that their trusty service dogs must help with. For example, a handler with vision impairment will require different services from their service dog than a handler who has epilepsy. Both service dogs will require extensive training, but their ability to carry out their training is not dependent on their breed.
Do I need to register my dog as a service animal?
In order for a dog to be considered a service dog, the handler must have a disability that falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As long as the dog assists with those disabilities and provides a service the handler cannot themselves produce, they are considered a service animal. While it is not legally required to register your service dog as a service animal, it can be useful. Registering them via the National Service Animal Registry may require an additional fee, but it offers a customized badge and record of your service animal in the national databank, which provides additional security for yourself and any third-party vendors who require verification. For information about the laws protecting your service animal and the information employers or landlords are allowed to request, the national ADA website offers clear answers.
What services do service dogs provide?
Service dogs offer a wealth of services, from the more physical (such as a guide or seeing-eye dog) to the less apparent (like those who alert their handlers to an upcoming seizure). Because of the wide range of services that can be provided, there are common groupings which many service animals fall under. The most common include:
- Guide or Seeing-eye Dogs, who provide support to the blind and visually impaired
- Hearing or Signal Dogs, who alert hearing impaired handlers to important sounds
- Seizure Response Dogs, who provide support for handlers with epilepsy
- Psychiatric Service Dogs, who have been trained to provide support to those with extreme mental illnesses, such as PTSD or schizophrenia
- Sensory Signal Dogs or Autism Assistance Dogs, who have been trained to assist individuals with Autism-related behaviors, such as wandering or difficulty sleeping
Each of these categories requires specialized training that often proves invaluable to the handler. However, this training isn’t free. This brings us back to our original question: how much does it cost to get a service dog?
How much does it cost to get a service dog?
While the services provided by a service dog may be invaluable to a handler, the financial cost can be burdensome. The National Service Animal Registry estimates that a service dog costs a minimum of $17,000. The total cost of training the dog is typically upwards of $40,000; however, most organizations can assist with fundraising or grant applications for those in need. Unfortunately, those programs typically have long wait lists, so the access to a service dog is not immediate.
If you already have a dog that has the aptitude of a service dog, the cost could be less, but it varies greatly. It is possible for some dogs to be trained in a few months, while other dogs require years. This is all dependent on the trainer and the personality of the dog.
Professional dog trainers who specialize in service animals charge between $150-$250 per hour (depending on your area), and their fees may vary based on the different services they need to teach the dog. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to train a dog to retrieve a dropped item than it is to teach them to alert a diabetic handler to an upcoming dangerous drop in blood sugar. So, essentially, there is no simple answer to the question “how much does it cost to get a service dog?”
How can I pay for a service dog?
All training dogs are an investment. Thankfully, there are many nonprofit and government organizations that offer financial assistance or even provide service dogs free of charge. While some of these still require thousands of dollars, their dedicated teams of organizers will help you raise the money through fundraising events, grants, loan acquisition, and scholarships. Certain FSA (flexible spending accounts) may also be used, if your doctor provides a Letter of Medical Necessity to your insurance company.
There are large organizations that operate nationwide to help handlers get service animals, such as Paws With A Cause and NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services and Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans); however, you should also consider looking locally or through a specific group of people. For example, America’s VetDogs caters specifically to United States Veterans, while 4 Paws for Ability focuses on providing service dogs to children who live with conditions such as Down Syndrome or epilepsy.
Where can I find support?
Although the process of adopting a service dog can be overwhelming, keep in mind that you do not have to go through it alone. Individuals and businesses from your local community may be able to offer fundraising assistance, and even websites like GoFundMe and Facebook have opened opportunities to get support worldwide. Join social media support groups and start connecting with others who have gone through the service animal adoption process. There are people out there who want to help and support you—you just have to find them!
Integrity, Inc. is here for you!
Integrity, Inc. is proud to be an integral part of that support system in Arkansas. We offer guidance, expertise, and support to children with disabilities in the Little Rock area. We understand that a service animal offers more than just a service; they provide companionship and independence—both of which are vital to growing children. Integrity, Inc. is ready to help you find the support and services you and your children need. Visit us online, or give us a call at 501-406-0442 to speak with an Integrity, Inc. professional today!