Service Dog Training

trained to fulfill a specific function in the life of their owner.

 These functions will be defined within a therapeutic treatment plan for psychiatric disorders, medical conditions, physical rehabilitation, and/or physical disability. 

Service dog training begins with a consultation to assess if getting a service dog is really the right fit. Understanding what make and model — breed, size, gender, coat type, energy level, functionality, etc. — are all elements that help in the success of partnering with a dog for service.

If getting a service dog is agreed upon as a good idea, Rachel helps clients identify the right make and model. She has connections with many excellent breeders of different dogs that she has found work best for the clients she serves. These primarily include sporting  breeds including labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, springer spaniels, a variety of doodles (sporting breeds mixed with poodles) and, in some case, very large or giant breeds for mobility support clients. 

Our Service Dog Training

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Once a breed or breed type is selected, Rachel then seeks to find the right dog.  She prefers to acquire puppies between 8 to no more than 12 weeks old. Rachel raises puppies underfoot and in her home living alongside her own dogs and socializes, trains and wholly supports the dogs until such time as placement is deemed appropriate. This can range between 3-6 months after acquisition of the puppy. This is the very important transition phase in which Rachel is heavily available for support. 

The Liz & Pixie Story: Service Dog Client

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The Mallory & Newton Story: Service Dog Client

Sample Service Dog Contract

Contracts are 6 months long and by the end of this period the dog is fully integrated and already working for their client.  In some instances, and always available, are extensions for those needing additional support. Complete the intake form below to get started. 

View our Service Dog Training contract:
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Can you train my dog to be a service dog?

 If you already have a dog or puppy you wish to consider as a service dog, we strongly recommend you CONTACT US to assess if that is a viable option for you through training and/or consultation. It is our experience that finding the right make and model for each individual is critically important to the success of training a dog for service dog functionality. Most pet and ESA dogs already living with people are not likely to succeed, especially with respect to public access support. We do provide services to help find the right make and model BEFORE you acquire a dog with an eye towards training as a service dog.

Types of service dogs

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Are trained to help their owner navigate treatment plans for a broad range of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, trauma history, and PTSD.  Specifically psychiatric service dogs may help their owners to:

  • Recognize and respond to signs of anxiety or panic attack;
  • Recognize and respond to signs of depression;
  • Recognize and interrupt negative or harmful behavioral patterns; 
  • Provide intimate companionship and foster engagement in the external world;
  • Build confidence, optimism, and a positive outlook;
  • Create social and community connections and build a support network;
  • Alert others to their need for attention or assistance.

Mobility/Medical Service Dogs

In addition to offering the same benefits and services as psychiatric service dogs, mobility and medical service dogs are trained to improve their owner’s quality of life in relation to a specific physical limitation.  For example, service dog training may include:  

  • Providing mobility support;
  • Turning lights on/off
  • Opening/closing doors
  • Retrieving items
  • Alerting to seizures/medical issues/panic attacks
  • Helping owner develop pragmatic language/social skills
  • Recognizing and preventing impulsive behaviors
  • Alerting other individuals to their owner’s emergency needs

Working Dogs

Each ABP service or therapy dog, while having common foundational qualities and traits, will be specifically trained to each client’s unique requirements.  Additionally Rachel will create a specialized treatment plan to train the service dog team including the primary handler and any other members of the family and therapeutic team who will be interacting with the dog.   

ABP Service or Therapy dogs are purpose bred and trained from birth.  Rachel will, on request, assess a client’s existing pet dog for potential fit to the service dog role.

Please be aware the requirements are specific and in most cases it is not a match. We believe in success and starting with the right “make and model” is key to success. 

Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dogs are owned by educators or medical and social service professionals in specialty practice such as psychiatric, physical/occupational therapy or rehabilitation, hospice workers, funeral directors, etc. who use their dog as an adjunct to their work and services they provide their clients.  These dogs are specially trained to assist. The ABP Therapy Dog Training, based in Ohio and working with practitioners both in person and with online dog training, ensures that both the dog and his handler are well-trained and able to work successfully in different clinical settings and with a variety of people.

NOTE: Dogs can wear many hats. Many of the service dog teams started and launched from ABP into the world are also using their canine partners as therapy dogs in their professional life.

Service Dog FAQ

Any breed or breed mix is possible to train as a service dog if it has the right temperament. Understanding form and function helps frame what size. For example, if mobility is a consideration, you need a dog that is large enough for your size to accommodate the type of mobility being considered; if non shedding is preferred for health or other reasons, selecting from a variety of non shedding breeds including popular poodle mixes, aka doodle type dogs, is a consideration. But for my purposes with the clients I serve – seeking psychiatric, mobility and/or medical alert dogs, I prefer dogs from the sporting group – specifically spaniels and retrievers (golden or labrador)  – or spaniel/poodle and retriever/poodle mixes. Intelligent, biddable (wanting to please), affectionate, athletic, cuddly and EASY TO TRAIN and live with. The more you understand what the breed/breed type was bred for, you can assess whether what you’re thinking about might work for you. If you are not experienced at judging dogs’ temperaments, it’s well worth it to get professional help in making the best possible selection. I have also worked with border collies (hearing alert dog), German Shepherd Dogs (mobility), Great Danes (mobility), King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, Poodles, and Australian Shepherds .

The sooner the better. Acquiring a dog whose breeder practiced safe and early handling techniques and stared dogs on crate and potty training and introducing basic manners make the job easier. If I’m not breeding my own pups I’m selecting dogs from trusted breeders between 8-12 weeks; older if I know the breeder has socialized the puppy prior to my acquisition to start dogs for service dog clients. I’m wary of dogs over 12 weeks but definitely over 4 months if I’m not getting the dog from a trainer who has met the standards I seek in a puppy’s early exposures,socialization and beginner training.

Aggression, poor health, fearfulness and excessive anxiety. A working dog needs to be stable, resilient and mentally and physically healthy to succeed. What might be insignificant to a stable dog could have catastrophic consequences for a fearful, undersocialized and possibly traumatized dog.

There are a number of agencies and non-profits all over the U.S. and other countries that train dogs until about age 2 and then partner with someone from an oftentimes very long waiting list. You can acquire and train your own but if not experienced, this method is very iffy. 

I developed my own approach, one that has worked successfully for the majority of my clients, over the past 20+ years. I select stable, healthy puppies from breeders I work with that are good matches (based on identified functionality and physical appearance – i.e., does the coat require grooming or is it low maintenance, etc,) and start them for their people – lasting between 2 months and, in rare cases, up to 2 years  – then transition them to their partner over a period of time and advance the support and guidance for many months until the relationship is solid in the three areas we focus on: basic manners, public access behavior and functionality (the jobs they perform for their human partners). I sometimes select awesome dogs to raise/train/socialize and then figure out who would be their perfect partner OR I select a dog for someone seeking my services and we discover the right make and model for their needs..

Service dog candidates are chosen based on temperament, energy, size, health, coat type if relevant and desired function. The more carefully the make and model is selected for the desired job, the more likely the dog is to succeed. One other element that is crucial in success – support by loved ones and friends for the person living with a service dog. A sabotaging parent, partner or friend can wreak havoc with success. Training and living with a service dog is a huge commitment and one that should never be entered into lightly.

I’ve used both genders over the years, slightly more females than males. In a general way, males tend to be a little goofier and friendlier to others. In most breeds, males also tend to be larger which might be an important consideration for specific function, e.g., mobility work. Females tend to take their jobs more seriously and become more sober in adulthood. But these are generalizations. Both genders can be considered. 

The 6 P’s: proper prior planning prevents poor performance. If you are not nuanced in assessing temperaments of pups or dogs, strongly recommend you seek professional support to help. Getting the right make and model, regardless of source or age, gender or breed, is key to success. If you already have a puppy or dog, again, getting an honest assessment of the dog’s presenting temperament and nature will go a long way towards the positive outcome you seek. In most cases when people present with their own dog for consideration and that dog was not specifically selected for the job and selection aided by support, the likelihood is low. If you’d like to schedule a consultation, click here.

So many variables to consider. We recommended if you are committed, begin by  assessing if the dog you have  is suitable. Consults at A Better Pet are available in 30 , 45 and 60 minute increments. In my experience, a very low percentage of people have the right match and/or follow through with the training if they begin. It is a process, a challenge and a commitment. This is why I mentioned earlier how significant support is in the success of this very challenging but life changing and rewarding experience.

I do the heavy lifting for you. I select a suitable dog, raise/train/socialize with an experienced crew of dogs of my own helping in the process. I support the first part of the dog’s future career and then help support, guide and coach  the owner to continue the process. It’s sort of like I’m the starter dough and you’re learning to bake sourdough.

While commonly thought of as a real thing, IT IS NOT. As of now, there is no requirement for certification for service dogs in the U.S.

To review the Department of Justice regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), click here


“I have had my service dog (Spark) for almost 4 weeks now and Spark has helped me so much. Rachel is extremely helpful and supportive.”
Sparkling Joy
“Rachel gave me the best gift ever in my service dog. She knows a lot and is always willing to help those who ask. I would 100% recommend her no matter where you live!”
Julia Binder

Apply for Service Dog Training with ABP

Complete our intake form to get started!