Here’s How Successful Support Dogs Are Trained

Service dog training‌ is more intense than you might think.

Potential service dogs receive one to two years of rigorous training and may be rejected at any point. At most organizations, only a small number of dogs are selected to be service dogs. Here’s what it takes to be a trained service dog, plus ways you can incorporate some of that training with your own dog.

Types of support dogs

Service dogs‌

Service dogs perform a specific job and are often bred, raised and trained for that specific role.

For example, seeing-eye dogs are usually bred for that purpose by their trainers. They receive rigorous health and performance tests before being paired with their owners.

Popular organizations that train service dogs include Guide Dogs for the Blind, Autism Service Dogs of America and Diabetic Alert Dogs of America.

Service dogs can be mistaken for therapy dogs and emotional support animals, which receive less or no training.

Therapy dogs‌

You may have seen a therapy dog at the local hospital or reading with children at the library. While therapy dogs perform an important role, their training is less specialized than that for service dogs.

But similar to service dogs, therapy dogs have received accreditation from a therapy dog organization. Well-known ones include Therapy Dogs International, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Love on a Leash.

While certain personalities suit therapy dogs best, most dogs can become accredited with training.

Emotional support dogs‌

Dogs are the most common kind of emotional support animal. They usually receive no specialty training but should know basic commands. Emotional support designation can be bought, or given by a doctor.

This designation is often misunderstood and misused. Look into the local laws and guidelines from the Americans with Disabilities Act for more detailed information and specific guidelines.

Without special permission, these dogs are not allowed in public places that don’t permit animals.

Training equipment‌

If you’d like to start training your dog to be a therapy or service dog, consider the following supplies.

Leash: Most therapy accreditations require you to use a standard leash. If you’re just doing basic self-training, you can use a retractable leash or slip leash.

Collar: A standard collar is needed for therapy accreditations. For self-training, you may prefer to use a dog harness.

Kennel: Most service dogs must be kennel trained.

Clicker: Training clickers can come in handy for teaching advanced commands.

Vests: Dogs who are not legally certified service dogs should not wear service dog vests.

While these are available in stores, non-service dogs wearing official vests can cause distrust with businesses, especially in the restaurant industry.

3 service commands to teach your dog


Because of its practicality and versatility, “down” is a wonderful command to start with.

“Down,” or “lay down,” is a basic but essential command for service dogs. Depending on the specific job, they may have to lay under chairs for extended periods of time.

While some people prefer “lay down,” using a single word command — “down” — is usually easier for a dog to understand.

Make sure your dog knows the down command before you try teaching them to shake. The body language for “shake” and “down” look similar and can be confusing. (The American Kennel Club’s website offers helpful tips for how to teach your dog the “down” command.)


If your dog is a bit more advanced, you can teach them to “wait,” a variation of “stay.” For service and therapy dogs it’s used for shorter periods of time than the stay command, like before getting in and out of cars or passing through doors.

While service dogs are trained to notice non-verbal cues for this, therapy dogs need the verbal command.

This command is also helpful for training for rally or frisbee sports.

Do your business‌

Yes, some service dogs have to relieve themselves on command. This is vital for seeing-eye dogs. The command is surprisingly easy to teach to puppies, and with some patience, it’s possible to teach an old dog this new trick, too.

There are many methods for teaching this command. It’s best to pick your favorite and consistently practice it.