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Service dogs for individuals with disabilities or guide dogs for individuals with visual impairment are Service Dog & Handler Graduateobtained from private entities.  It costs between $20,000 to $50,000 to raise and train a service dog or guide dog.  Service of guide dogs receive specific training that is outside a dog’s natural behavior and assist the owner/handler with tasks he or she cannot complete herself.  Training begins shortly after birth and continues for several years.  Non-governmental or non-profit organizations often train and then donate a trained service or guide dog to individuals who qualify.

To qualify for a service dog, an individual must be disabled (have a qualified visual impairment or need assistance with tasks due to a disability).  The individual must submit an application describing the type of dog needed and what the dog will be used for.  Then the individual must complete an extensive review process, which includes the individual’s ability to financial care for the dog and whether the tasks or goals the individual states the dog is needed to complete can be accomplished with other assistive technology. Veterans can get help from the Veterans Administration in applying for a service dog.

If an individual is chosen to receive a service dog, that individual will then be required to attend training with the service dog to learn to handle the dog. This training can take several weeks and might require any other caregiver of the dog to attend.

Because of the cost and length of training for service dogs, most organizations have a two to ten year waiting list for service or guide dogs. Occasionally, individuals ask to have their personal dogs evaluated for service dog training. While it can happen it is rare that a personal pet can become a service animal. For more information about service animals, contact a service animal trainer in your area, Assistance Dogs International, or International Guide Dog Federation.