According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability” Federal law, in the form of the ADA, does not require certification for a dog to be considered a service dog, but states can develop their own certification requirements. The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People is the source of all current information regarding service animals.
Be aware of your needs before you choose your dog. If you know that you need help standing or pulling a wheelchair, then you know that a small dog is not for you. If you require a dog that will indicate an impending seizure or asthma attack or that will pick things up from the floor for you, then a small dog might be adequate.
Decide between a puppy and a mature dog. If your needs are currently met by a mature dog or other assistance, you may have time to train a puppy yourself or with the help of a professional trainer. If you need an immediate replacement dog or have never had a service dog before, then you may wish to select an older dog through an organization.
Know the criteria for choosing a dog. The Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test (PAT) is one commonly used selection tool. While the tests are usually performed by professional trainers, you can use these tests as guidelines if you are selecting your own puppy.
Find a professional dog trainer or dog training club. Even if you are a skilled dog trainer, you will occasionally need a helping hand to teach your puppy or your dog certain skills. A second trainer can also provide additional training insight or knowledge, as well as necessary physical assistance.
Begin with the most basic training available to your dog’s age group. If you have a very young puppy, then beginning with the AKC’s S.T.A.R. Puppy program would be a good training choice. If your dog is older, a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program — or something similar — will provide a foundation for future training. A second benefit to the CGC is that it is similar to testing programs used by some service dog organizations.
Teach your dog to specialize. In Colorado, the service dog must be able to perform tasks for a person who is physically disabled but who is not blind or deaf. Your dog should be able to perform the basic functions that will assist you with activities of daily living that might have been limited by your disability. In addition to these particular tasks, your dog will need to be able to unload from a vehicle in a controlled manner, enter through a doorway in a controlled fashion, sit and lie down on command and be able to conduct himself appropriately in a public place, among other things.
Register and certify your dog. Registration and certification is typically handled online. No state or federal organizations require certification at this time, so testing is not done on a local basis. You must be prepared to attest to the validity of your claim of disability, as well as to the skills that your dog possesses. Payment of a fee registers your dog and entitles you to receive service animal patches, ID cards and information cards. You will also be entitled to purchasing equipment, such as harnesses and leashes, that will aid in identifying your dog as a service animal.