Service dogs are working animals who have been individually trained to perform tasks that relieve disability-related symptoms. They have an invaluable role in the lives of people with disabilities and are becoming a more popular treatment option thanks to increased awareness.

If you’re struggling with a disability and currently own a rescue dog, you may be wondering if they can become a service dog and support you. While it’s certainly possible — there is no law against rescue dogs becoming service dogs — it doesn’t mean it’s the right option for you and your pup. It’s a decision that you will need to think about carefully.

Service Dog Requirements

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifies that there are no restrictions on the types of dogs that can become service dogs. They aren’t required to have been bred and trained by a service dog institution, nor are there any breed, size, or weight limits. This means it’s entirely possible for a rescue dog to become a service dog.

Can My Rescue Dog Become a Service Dog?

While there are no legal barriers, this doesn’t mean your rescue dog is fit for service work. They must be able to perform disability-related commands reliably, have impeccable public manners, and be comfortable in a range of environments.

You’ll want to consider the following before trying to train your rescue dog to become a service dog:

  • Is your rescue dog easy to train and eager to please? our rescue dog should have impeccable basic obedience skills and be able to perform complex tasks reliably, even in hectic environments.
  • Are they comfortable with strangers? Service dogs can be denied their rights if they endanger other people or exhibit aggressive behavior like snarling or snapping.
  • Do they have a strong work drive? Service dogs are required to stay focused and be in “work” mode for lengthy periods of time, which a dog with a low work drive or independent streak may struggle with.
  • Are they even-tempered? Service dogs need to maintain a calm and even temperament no matter where they are or who they’re with. They also shouldn’t exhibit reactivity issues.
  • Are they adaptable? Service dogs must be comfortable with sudden changes in their daily schedule or environment. They shouldn’t get stressed if their routine is disrupted, as this can exacerbate their handler’s own stress or other disability-related symptoms.
  • What is their history? Unfortunately, many rescue dogs have experienced neglect in the past and haven’t received proper socialization or training as a result. If this is the case for your rescue dog, it will likely be very difficult to train them and prepare them for the role of a service dog.
  • Can they physically perform the tasks you require? Different sizes are better suited to different physical tasks. While your toy-sized rescue dog may have the perfect temperament and trainability for service work, they won’t be right for the role if you need a service dog to help with mobility assistance or crowd control.
  • Are they housebroken? Service dogs receive public access rights, but they can be removed from the premises if they aren’t housebroken.

If you’re confident your rescue dog is the right fit for service work after considering the factors above, then the next step is to begin their training.

Can I Train a Rescue Dog to Become a Service Dog?

While there are dedicated service dog training organizations, it’s more than possible to train your rescue dog yourself. There are plenty of online guides and resources that can teach you the best training strategies and how to teach specific disability-related commands.

Dog Academy, for example, has a dedicated psychiatric service dog training online course that shows you how to teach vital tasks like deep pressure therapy, tactile stimulation, orbiting, and finding an exit. The course has also been reviewed and certified by a licensed psychologist.

Alternatively, you can hire a professional service dog trainer to assist with the training process. While this is a more expensive option, they’ll help ensure you’re on the right track. They can also help you determine whether your rescue dog is a suitable candidate for service dog work.

Rescue Dogs as Service Dogs: Amazing Companions

Rescue dogs can be wonderful service dogs as long as they have the right temperament, work drive, and trainability for the role.

Always put your rescue dog’s well-being first when deciding whether to train them to become a service dog. If they often get stressed in public or around other strangers, they likely aren’t fit for the role and will be happiest as your pet. If they are even-tempered and eager to please, then they’ll likely thrive as a service dog and will respond to the training process well.

Many service dog charities will also be happy to provide you with a fully-vetted and trained service dog if you’re eligible, though do expect a long waiting list and potential costs.

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