The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Disabilities include mental or physical impairments that affect an individual’s ability to perform one or more major life activities (walking, seeing, etc.). Service dogs are trained to guide and assist such individuals so that they can lead happier, healthier lives.
Because service dogs play such a key role in the life of disabled individuals, they are protected by the law. Places of residence, employment, and commercial facilities cannot discriminate against disabled individuals with service animals. If you are wondering how to get a service dog, you can either purchase a fully trained dog or purchase a service puppy and train it.
Is A Service Dog The Same As A Therapy Dog?
Many types of working dogs increase the quality of life for their handlers. The three main categories of working dogs are service animal, therapy animal, and emotional support animal. Each category covers different areas of support and different levels of protection under the law.
As mentioned above, service animals assist individuals with disabilities. Depending on the person’s needs, the service animal learns how to perform certain tasks. Guide dogs, for example, help blind individuals safely navigate their environment. Seizure response dogs respond to their handlers when the individual is having a seizure. Service animals are highly trained and specialized, and they are also offered the most protection under the law compared to therapy or emotional support animals.
Dogs are not the only kinds of service animals - miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys are often trained to support individuals with disabilities!
Therapy dogs provide comfort and improve the mental well-being of individuals in hospitals, hospice care, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, and more. These dogs must have a friendly, calm demeanor and be comfortable when handled by strangers. Therapy dogs are not trained to perform specific tasks, but they must be obedient and well-mannered. Therapy animals are permitted in some areas where pets are not, but they have fewer protections than service animals. All therapy dogs must be certified before they can offer their services to the community.
Emotional Support Animal
Emotional support dogs relieve loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of mental health disorders. They provide comfort to their handlers, but they are not trained to perform specific tasks. Most emotional support animals are sensitive to the emotional changes of their handler and will stay close by at all times. Emotional support animals are not protected by the ADA, but residential buildings must permit emotional support animals.
Our Balanced Theory
We base our training around the "Classical Conditioning" model (a.k.a. "Pavlovian" or "respondent conditioning"). This includes developing conditioned or automatic reflexes to commands. In its simplest form (after proper conditioning), when the owner says "sit," the dog automatically sits without thinking about it. Our unique techniques ensure our program is a success no matter what behavior we encounter.
We empower owners to train so their dog knows who to obey at all times.
We deal with problem behaviors on a personal basis.
We train wherever issues tend to arise (i.e. jogging, park, home).
We support owners in the off-hours (when training is "not in session").
We work with all members of the household.
Simplified & Customized
We plan training around the owner's schedule and require only 15 min/day follow-up practice.
Additional programs / group sessions offered after in-home training.
We follow up & are invested in the owner's success long-term.
Our high client satisfaction rating sets us apart from competitors.
clas·si·cal con·di·tion·ing PSYCHOLOGY noun A learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired; a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus and is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone.
What Can Service Dogs Do?
Service dogs are a great help to disabled individuals thanks to their incredible ability to perform highly specialized tasks, like opening doors, switching lights on and off, assisting with balance and stability, guiding, pulling wheelchairs, answering phones and making calls, finding objects or places, unloading and loading items, clearing rooms, finding help, and many more. Service dogs improve the lives of disabled individuals by increasing their autonomy.
Individuals with certain diseases and disorders can benefit from a highly trained service dog. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and they can detect the chemical changes associated with oncoming seizures and increases in blood pressure. Alert service dogs alert their handler to these situations to prevent a life-threatening emergency. Alert dogs also help those with extreme allergies detect potential allergens in food.
Assist in Emergency
Disabled or epileptic individuals are more prone to emergencies than the average person. Service dogs are trained to alert their handler to a potential emergency, and alert surrounding individuals to an active emergency. Service dogs can also call for help on pre-programmed phones.
Support Mental Well Being
Service dogs trained to assist handlers with severe anxiety or depression will perform specific tasks that reduce the potential for panic attacks or self-harm attempts. Such tasks include deep-pressure therapy, tactile stimulation, alerting, clearing rooms, blocking strangers from approaching, and more. Service dogs trained to assist those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have greatly improved the lives of many veterans.
Service dogs also make a big impact on the lives of children with autism. Children with autism are often prone to meltdowns, have trouble communicating, and are quick to run off or become easily lost. Service dogs prevent and mediate all of these behaviors to provide a higher quality of life for children with autism and their families.
As autism is a spectrum disorder, each child has varying needs of assistance. Autism service dogs perform the following tasks:
TrackingChildren with autism often wander away, and a parent’s worst fear is turning their back for just a moment and then discovering their child is gone. Autism service dogs will track the child if this ever happens.
TetheringThis task minimizes wandering, which is common in public settings. The child is tethered to the service dog’s leash or harness, preventing him or her from wandering away.
Behavior InterruptionRepetitive and ritualistic behaviors are typical of autistic children, as are meltdowns when the child becomes overstimulated. Autism service dogs recognize these negative behaviors and redirect the child’s attention when they start. A simple paw or nudge is all it takes to prevent a meltdown.
From physically assisting disabled individuals to reducing the symptoms of mental illness, service dogs are incredible companions. If you want to get a service dog, please contact us for more information!
Proud Sponsor of The Malinois Foundation
At Dog Training Elite West Michigan, we believe that Service Dogs save lives. It is our mission to make these life-saving companions available to our Veterans, First Responders, Women Survivors, and Children with Medical Needs. Whether it be for PTSD, Mobility Support, or Special Needs, Dog Training Elite West Michigan work's with the Malinois Foundation to heal and empower these individuals with a specialized service animal, a partner in life, and a new best friend.
How Do I Get A Service Dog?
If you are wondering how to get a service dog, there are a couple of different approaches. Some service dogs are purchased outright, fully trained. Or a compatible dog is selected and trained from an early age. Training a dog from the start is the best option, especially for those with specialized needs.
Training a dog to perform service responsibilities must start from day one. Only certain breeds are suited to service work, and breeders put a lot of time into raising puppies to be service animals. Once you have purchased a service puppy, additional training is necessary to prepare your puppy for life as a service dog. This is a complicated process that involves various steps. Dog Training Elite of Grand Rapids makes getting a service dog easier with our service dog training program.
Our talented trainers can help select puppies that are prepared for a life of service from well-respected breeders. When these puppies enter the service dog training program they are closely monitored for behavior and temperament and can be fully obedience trained by the age of six months. These puppies undergo extensive socialization and additional training to ensure they are well-suited for service and therapy needs including specialized service training alongside the new handler.
This program is ideal for handlers who want to take part in the developmental years and extensive training of their service puppy.
Popular Areas of Focus
Service Dog Pricing & Packages
For full package details (with disclaimers) please reference our pricing page.
Mobility Support Dog Training
16 One-on-One Sessions
Call for Details
A mobility support dog can increase an individual's independence and quality of life by assisting with tasks that are difficult or impossible to complete on their own. A brace and mobility support dog can be taken anywhere and are trained to their handlers specific mobility and ambulatory needs. Mobility service dog tasks are customizable, but examples include:
- Forward Momentum Pull
- Open Doors with Adaptive Equipment
- Turn Lights On/Off
- Item Retrieval
Personalized Autism Canines
14 One-on-One Sessions
Call for Details
Personalized autism canines provide an emotional anchor for children with autism and a sense of security to family members. The autism world is widely accepting of service dogs, as overwhelming results show psychological benefits for the child in addition to the entire family. Autism support service dog tasks are customizable, but examples include:
- Deep Pressure Therapy
- Anchor a Child Who Wanders
- Sensory Assistance
- Find Help
- Redirect Repetitive Behaviors
Psychiatric / PTSD Support Dog
12 One-on-One Sessions
A Psychiatric/PTSD service dog will be able to go anywhere with their handler and assist them in times of high stress and provide a sense of security. A service dog will provide emotional support, reintegration into society, reduce depression, help cope with anxiety, reduce the frequency and severity of flashbacks, anchor handler to the present, and reduce suicidal ideation. Psychiatric service dog tasks are customizable, but examples include:
- Deep Pressure Therapy
- Panic Response
- Create a Physical Buffer
- Interrupt Repetitive Behaviors
Diabetic Alert Dog Training
24 One-on-One Sessions
Call for Details
Living a balanced life with Type 1 diabetes isn't always easy. With the support of a diabetic alert dog, that balance becomes a possibility. Alert dogs for diabetics provide the stability, safety and support that allows for increased activity and peace of mind. Diabetic alert service dog tasks are customizable, but examples include:
- Alert to Highs & Lows
- Item Retrieval (*additional costs may apply)
- Alert Others in the Home
- Medical Response