How Are Service Dogs Trained?

Service dog training

You may have seen a dog in a store or restaurant and wondered what kind of training they’ve received. Odds are, it’s more intense than you 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.

Despite all the intense training, service dogs are often mistaken with other kinds of trained dogs. To learn more about what goes into properly training a service dog, keep reading.

What are service dogs?

Service dogs

Service dogs perform a specific job. Many times, service dogs are bred, raised and trained for their specific role.

For example, service dogs for the blind are usually bred, then live with puppy raisers. After, they receive rigorous health and performance tests before being paired up.

ervice dogs can be mistaken for therapy dogs and emotional support animals, which receive different 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, they’re less specialized than service dogs.

Likewise, therapy dogs are not as highly trained as service dogs but have received accreditation from a therapy dog organization. Well-known therapy dog organizations include Therapy Dogs International, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Love on a Leash.

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

Emotional-support animals

Emotional-support animals are not limited to being only dogs, though dogs are the most common kind of emotional support animal. These may also be called comfort or companion animals.

Emotional-support dogs are for strictly emotional support. They usually receive no specialty training but should know basic commands.

Emotional-support designation can be bought. However, a doctor can also give ESA permission.

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

Unless special permission is given, these dogs are not allowed in most stores or on public transportation. Likewise, they should not be taken into restaurants due to health codes.

Training equipment

If you’re going to train your dog, you need the proper equipment. Unless you’re specifically training your dog to be a therapy or service dog, pick training supplies based on your preferences.

You might notice service vests did not make it onto the supplies list. This is because dogs who are not legally certified service dogs should not wear service dog vests.

You can buy a service dog vest at various stores. However, you should not buy one unless your dog is an accredited service dog. Non-service dogs wearing official vests cause distrust from business owners, especially in the restaurant industry.

Canine Good Citizen

If you want to focus on training basic commands, passing the CGC test is a great goal.

For the CGC, dogs must be able to do the following commands:

  1. Sit
  2. Down
  3. Stay
  4. Come
  5. Walk properly

The current CGC also requires dogs to be polite and able to deal well with distractions and stimulation. One of the most challenging tests for the CGC is the supervised separation, which tests for separation anxiety.

While it may not seem like much, the CGC is designed to help owners bond with their dogs. It also looks good to potential landlords and is a great starting point for therapy dog training.

Commands you can teach your dog

Even if you’re not raising a service dog, you can teach your dog commands service dogs know.


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

While some people prefer “lay down,” many service dogs know “down.” Using a single word command usually makes it easier for the dog to understand.

Because of its practicality and versatility, "down" is a wonderful command to start with. 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 offers some helpful tips for how to teach "down" to your dog on its website.)


If your dog is a bit more advanced, you can teach them to wait. The command “wait” is a variation of “stay.” For service and therapy dogs it’s used for shorter periods of time than the stay command.

For example, service dogs have to wait 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.

The command “wait” is also helpful if you’re going to train your dog in a sport like rally or frisbee. In rally competitions, dogs must wait at most obstacles.

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. But, with some patience, it’s possible to teach old dogs new tricks.

There are many popular methods to teach this command, but it's best to pick your favorite and consistently practice it. Without consistency, it won't work.