There has been growth and interest in people wanting to train their own dogs to help them as service dogs. I’ve also seen a number of misunderstandings and misconceptions. So here are a few myths and facts based on the questions we receive:
Myth: A person with a disability cannot train a dog.
Fact: People with disabilities vary greatly in what their limitations are. Additionally dog training is much more of a “thinking” activity than a physical one. Certainly there are some things that can be extra difficult or impossible for a person with a disability. However, there are many different training tools and strategies that can make the training process less physically demanding. Working around a limitation may require a bit more creativity, but other factors such as the person’s relationship with their dog, how much time the person practices, and how skillful the person is in communicating with their dog has a much more significant impact on dog training outcomes than the owner’s physical abilities.
Myth: With the right training, any dog can become a service dog.
Fact: Very few dogs are suited to work as service dogs in places pets are not permitted. Service dogs are special because a lot has to come together: the right temperament, great health, great training and in the case of the person training the dog themselves – the owner needs to be willing to put a lot of time, energy and practice into the training process.
Myth: I can just hire any pet dog trainer to help me train my service dog.
Fact: Just like any other type of specialization, not all trainers can help you train your dog as a service dog. Look for trainers who are committed to reward-based methods and who have training and education in service dog training.
Myth: Dogs that are trained by service dog programs are much better than the dogs that are trained by private individuals.
Fact: Quality of service dog programs varies greatly. Many owner-trainers are very committed and put a lot of time and effort to ensure their dogs are well behaved and highly trained.
Myth: All people with disabilities would benefit from a service dog.
Fact: People with disabilities are each unique and what works for one person, doesn’t help another. Service dogs can make activities of daily living much easier and can provide invaluable support to people with disabilities, however, dogs are living beings and they require a lot of work to care for. People with disabilities that are not obvious will be publicly identifying themselves as having a disability when they use a service dog and that may prompt others to ask personal questions. Parents with children with disabilities may find that they are already overwhelmed and stretched for time, adding a dog does mean adding another significant time commitment.