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How to get a service dog
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How to Get a Service Dog – Some Thoughtful Considerations

Once you’ve decided a special type of working dog would be a good idea for your situation or disability, you may be left with the question of how to get a service dog. Should you get a puppy or adult? Should you get one from a breeder, or a rescue situation?

There are a lot of things to consider when you’re wondering how to get a service dog. Let’s jump right into the details.

Read more: Cost of a Service Dog, Plus Pros and Cons – Is it right for you?

German Shepherd Service Dog - How to get a service dog
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Photo: @eri_servicedog

Advantages of Getting a Puppy To Become Your Service Dog

When considering how to get a service dog, you may be thinking about getting a puppy. You would need to train the puppy yourself and/or with some help. This is one route that many people take. But it’s probably not the easiest. Here are some things to think about.

  • You’ll be able to control almost every aspect of your dog’s life
  • No surprises like hidden baggage
  • No other surprises from your dog’s history (Health issues, temperament issues)
Should you get a puppy as a service dog?
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Photo: Bishop Service Dog in Training

Things to Consider About Getting a Puppy to Become Your Service Dog

  • You must have the physical and emotional energy for a puppy
  • The puppy will need to be house trained in the beginning
  • The puppy will need to be intensely socialized during its first several months of its life
  • You’ll have to be prepared to deal with Puppy stuff, such as puppy chewing, puppy mischief, and puppy energy

Advantages to Getting an Adult Service Dog

Adult Service Dog Advantages
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Photo: @snow_leopard_81

When you’re wondering how to get a service dog, you may decide that an adult is a better option. If you acquire your service dog after they are already an adult, they will be already done with the ‘puppy stuff’ phase. They will be done with trying to chew on your shoes and they will be done accidentally peeing if someone rings the door bell. They will likely be house trained, too.

  • They may already have some obedience training
  • They may be already used to people, crowds, or loud and distracting environments

Disadvantages of Getting an Adult Service Dog

Considering the lifespan of a typical Service Dog (Service Dogs usually retire at 8-10 years old) it is best to start with one no older than 2 years old.

  • There may have been some negative experiences in a dog’s life that would be difficult for him to ‘get over.’ You may or may not be made aware of these issues. If there are issues and you discover them at a later time, they may be hard to work through or they may even prove impossible to re-train. This may possibly leave you feeling a bit stuck.

How to Get a Service Dog – Getting Your Service Dog from a Breeder

How To Get a Service Dog
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You Can Get a Pedigree

The good thing about breeders is that they can show you the ancestral history of your dog and provide you with a pedigree (to show you that the dog is a purebred and where they came from, so to speak).

This can give you information about both the personality and genetic characteristics of your dog. You can look at the genetic characteristics of your dogs history and determine if there are any problems you can anticipate.

Knowing this, you can have some confidence that your dog will not develop certain genetic diseases that are not part of his breed.

Clues About The Dogs Personality

service dog border collie
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Photo: @

Even the personality of your dog can be an inherited thing. So you can look at your dogs history for clues. If there are a lot of Service Dogs or Therapy Dogs or Guide Dogs in your dog’s family, then it may be likely your dog could also be a good candidate for you or someone else.

Considering How To Get a Service Dog For Balance or Stability

  • If you need a Service Dog for balance or stability, then it is imperative that you do not end up with a dog that is genetically prone to joint problems. A breeder can help to ensure this doesn’t happen. Genetic testing is super important in this regard.
  • Dogs coming from breeders are typically much more expensive up-front. Considering the long run, however, it may be a better deal; rather than having to pay for your dog’s hip replacement surgery as the result of inheriting bad hips, for example
  • It is sometimes difficult to find adult dogs from breeders, as many breeders deal only with puppies
Flirty the Mini Service Horse
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Photo: @

Getting Your Service Dog from a Rescue Situation

  • Obtaining your dog from a rescue situation is typically the least expensive, as the dog usually already has had most of his basic vet needs taken care of as well as being fixed
  • The personality, behaviour, and genetic information, though, is almost always unknown, so this leaves a big risk in the situation. There is a risk here of emotional baggage and it may be impossible for the dog to overcome his issues.
  • Rescue dogs are often extremely grateful after they are welcomed into their new family. They often form strong bonds with their people. You just have to make sure this is a healthy bond and not separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is unfortunately quite common in rescue situations.

For the Best Chances of Success in Choosing Where to Get Your Service Dog

There Are Two Options for Maximizing Your Success

1. Select a Puppy That Has a Mother With the Right Temperament for Service Dog Work

How to Select a Good Service Dog or Service Dog Puppy
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The mother dog does not necessarily have to be a Service Dog. She could also be a therapy dog or be very laid-back in her temperament. Dogs from competition obedience lines are also good options. (Dog show breeders have also started to breed for temperament, too).

The best way to find a puppy whose mom has a good temperament is through a breeder. The breeder can provide you with a thorough and extensive family history.

2. Select an Adult Dog From a Stable Home Environment With the Right Temperament

Tips For How To Get a Service Dog
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How can you do that? There are several options:

  • Look for a retired show dog – some genetic history or confidence will be available. At the very least, show dogs have been trained by expert dog handlers and are usually well-socialized and trained
  • Look for a dog that was returned to a breeder (the breeder will be able to show you the pedigree and family history & genetic information)
  • Look for a rescue dog that has been in foster care for a long time; i.e. long enough to relax so that you are able to see his true personality and not a nervous or anxious version of himself
  • A dog who has lived in a stable home environment for a long period of time

How to Get a Service Dog – Consider the Costs of Each Service Dog Option

  • It may seem daunting to consider all of these different options for obtaining a potential dog to become a Service Dog. Getting a dog from a breeder can be expensive. Getting a rescue dog is less expensive.
  • The thing to realize is that the upfront cost of the dog is actually quite insignificant when you consider the lifetime cost of your dog. If you pay more upfront for a dog from a breeder, you will likely spend less later at the vet.
  • Similarly, if you spend less up front for a rescue dog, you may likely end up paying more later on for costs associated with veterinary costs or behavioural or emotional training or re-training. So try not to get too caught up in worrying about the initial cost, since most Service Dogs work until they are roughly 10 years old.

Conclusion – How to Get a Service Dog

It’s no easy task to figure out how to get a service dog. One thing to remember is that not just any dog can magically turn into a service dog. Dogs are like people, and have unique personalities. Some dogs simply just aren’t cut out for service dog work.

For this reason, it is important to “do your homework” on how to get a service dog to minimize future stress whenever possible. There are a lot of options, so take your time considering them all.

And remember that there are organizations that provide fully trained service dogs to people who need them, often at no charge. However, these often have long waiting lists (more than 2 years) and sometimes fundraising on your part might be necessary.

So whatever route you end up going with, it’s probably not going to be quick, but it will all be worth it in the end.

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Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.

How To Get a Service Dog

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