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More than 80 million Americans rely on their service dogs to help them navigate the world. Task-trained assistance animals perform a huge range of life-changing (in many cases, life-saving) services: These dogs act as eyes for visually impaired handlers, provide mobility support, alert to seizures and blood sugar crashes, interrupt anxiety attacks, remind their people to take medications, and more.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), anyone in the United States with a diagnosed disability is eligible to get a service dog. (Service dogs are different from therapy dogs and emotional support animals because they have public access rights to be viewed as medical equipment in non-pet-friendly places.) If you’ve considered training your existing pet to be your service animal — or thought about getting a pre-trained dog from an organization that raises puppies specifically for disability assistance — you’ve probably wondered what it’s going to cost.
The short answer? It depends! Your financial investment for a service dog will vary based on an array of factors (like where you live and what services you need them to perform in your everyday routine).
While each individual situation is different — for the most accurate estimate of what you’ll spend on a service dog, it’s a good idea to get in touch with local programs and trainers ahead of time — it is possible to get a general idea of assistance animal training prices.
Read on as we break down the most common costs of service dog training!
DIY: How much does it cost to owner-train a service dog?
TLDR: Can be less than $1,000 — but a lot of time and energy
Under the ADA, “people with disabilities have the right to train [their] dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program.” This means that if you’re up for a potential challenge — and especially if you already have a pet with a stable temperament — you might be a great candidate to handle your service dog’s intensive training all on your own.
Ways people might get a dog to train for service work themselves
An existing pet with a stable temperament
Many handlers notice their existing pets provide them comfort. They then choose to specifically task-train their dogs to provide necessary services and work on public access skills (the ability to confidently and respectfully navigate public places) to meet the ADA definition of a service dog.
From a reputable breeder
Other people want to complete their service animal’s training by themselves but don’t already own a suitable prospect. In these cases, handlers might obtain a puppy from a reputable breeder who has previously produced service dogs and can vouch for their puppies’ health and biddability.
From a shelter or rescue
In rarer instances, a handler might find a suitable service dog candidate at a local shelter or rescue organization. While many adopted dogs are absolutely wonderful, it can be difficult to gauge their suitability for long-term service work without complete knowledge of their genetics and past experiences.
Make no mistake: Rescue assistance animals are just as valid as their purebred or program-trained counterparts! There is no across-the-board recommendation for where to get your personal service dog. It’s merely not as common to go with a rescue due to logistical constraints.
Pros of training a service dog by yourself
- Owner-training your service dog is usually the cheapest option. If you work with a dog you already own, you might spend as little as a few hundred dollars to complete their task training.
- Since you know your dog best, you might be able to kickstart the training process. You likely already have a strong bond with your pet!
- Many handlers who don’t have an existing companion or choose not to train them for service dog work love to experience the joy of personally picking out the puppy that will later become their assistance animal.
- You won’t need to travel to pick up or train your service dog. You can practice all of their skills in your own community.
- There is a wide volume of dog training content accessible at a low cost, or sometimes completely for free, online.
Cons of training a service dog by yourself
- While being in charge of your service dog’s training might save you some money up front, it can be costly in other ways. Teaching specific tasks and refining public access skills requires a huge amount of your personal time and energy!
- It might take more than two to three years until your owner-trained dog is ready to fully assist you with the services you need out in the world.
- If you make a mistake while training your service dog on your own, you don’t have an automatic support network to help you work through it.
- While the internet is full of great dog training content, there’s also a lot of conflicting information out there. It can be difficult to know who to trust and what methods to follow.
Hands-on with guidance: How much does it cost to take your own dog to professional service dog training?
TLDR: $100 - $300+ per hour of lessons (often weekly) over the course of several months to a few years
Many handlers opt to be heavily involved in their service dogs’ training but still work with a professional trainer. This can be a great “middle ground” between training your service dog entirely by yourself and paying for an expensive program-trained dog.
Pros of paying for your own dog’s professional training
- You’re able to be involved in the process without having all of the responsibility squarely on your shoulders. Your trainer will be your greatest source of support!
- Taking your own dog to professional training can be expensive — anywhere from $100 to upwards of $300 per hour of lessons — but it’s still cheaper than buying a service dog from a larger organization.
- Many trainers are willing to travel to you for sessions. You’ll be able to work out and about in your local community while still having professional guidance in private lessons. You might also get to experience group training classes specifically geared to prepare your dog for public access distractions.
- Service dog professionals with years of experience can help you create an efficient, personalized training plan to maximize your dog’s chances of success as a working animal.
Cons of paying for your own dog’s professional training
- Sometimes it’s difficult to find a professional dog trainer you trust, especially with so much conflicting information about what dog training methods are the most effective and humane.
- Reputable trainers can be too expensive for many families to afford.
- Even with the help of a professional service dog trainer, many animals take up to two years to be fully trained to mitigate their handlers’ disabilities.
Leave it to the professionals: How much does it cost to buy a program-trained service dog?
TLDR: $15,000 to $50,000 on average
Many organizations specialize in breeding, raising, and training puppies specifically for service dog work. They’ll get to know you and your specific needs to match you with the perfect fit from their program, enabling you to head home with a fully trained service dog without having to do any of the foundational work yourself.
Pros of buying a program-trained service dog
- Buying a pre-trained service dog can save you a lot of time and energy.
- Reputable organizations meticulously breed, raise, and train each puppy for the best possible results.
- Many service dog programs will provide lifelong support.
Cons of buying a program-trained service dog
- While some nonprofit organizations provide service dogs to people in need at no cost or offer forms of financial assistance like scholarships, it’s not very common. Chances are you’ll have to pay full price if you’re looking to get an already trained service dog.
- Full price can range anywhere from $15,000 to even $50,000 as an average cost, depending on what specific services the dog needs to perform. Many handlers don’t have thousands of dollars to spend.
- You don’t get to enjoy your dog’s puppy phase. Some handlers want to be present for every milestone as their service dog grows up.
- Some service dog programs have long wait lists between one to three years.
- While most service dog organizations are ethical and truly devoted to the success of their dog-handler teams, some employ questionable practices to make a profit. You’ll want to carefully vet any program before purchasing a puppy.
Additional expenses regardless of how you train your service dog
TLDR: Simply owning a dog (without extra training) can cost a few thousand dollars each year
- Routine veterinary care can cost between $200 to $1,000 a year depending on your dog’s age, specific medical needs, and payment plans or insurance options. Monthly preventatives for fleas, ticks, and heartworms can add another $300 or so annually.
- Feeding your service dog species-appropriate food can cost between a few hundred to a thousand dollars depending on where you live and what brand you choose.
- Some long-haired service dog breeds might require routine grooming to function at their best. This can cost up to $500 a year.
- Your dog’s supplies like harnesses, collars, leashes, vests, and so on will occasionally wear out and need to be replaced. It’s a good idea to budget $100 to $300 for this annually.
Service dogs are a worthwhile investment for the right handlers!
Reputably obtaining a service dog can be a huge investment. Keeping their behavior up to public access standards so they’re able to assist you in a range of environments can be time consuming, too. Dogs are living beings — if they don’t regularly practice their training skills, they might lose them.
Because of these financial, emotional, and other associated costs, service dogs aren’t the best fit for everyone who lives with a disability. For the right handlers, though? Assistance animals provide immeasurable confidence, freedom, and independence.
Trainer Review of this Article
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Owner and Head Trainer | Misunderstood Mutt