Many people are surprised to learn there are over a dozen different specializations for Service Dogs. There are Diabetic Alert Dogs, Severe Allergy Alert dogs, Visual Assistance Dogs, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Wheelchair Assistance Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs, Brace/Mobility Support Dogs, Medical Alert Dogs, Seizure Assistance Dogs and more. What are all of these types of Service Dogs — and what do they do?

Types of Service DogsWhen it comes to different types of Service Dogs, there’s one thing that’s clear: the base definition of a Service Dog. According to the ADA, a Service Animal is any dog which is specifically trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual that they would otherwise have difficulty completing on their own.

All of the titles, distinguishing categories and types of Service Dogs have no bearing under federal law — a Service Dog is a Service Dog is a Service Dog. However, the various types of Service Dogs make breaking down the dogs’ functions, jobs and tasks a little easier and can make a trainer’s life less stressful. For example, a Service Dog trainer may have a ton of experience training Diabetic Alert Dogs, but may not be qualified to train and place Visual Assistance or Guide Dogs.

Some Service Dogs perform two or more functions for their disabled handler so you might hear someone say, “Oh, she’s a brace/mobility support dog and a seizure assistance dog.” There isn’t a clear way to classify all types of Service Dogs, nor is classification particularly important. The dog’s type, function, title or classification is usually left up to the dog’s handler. Finally, there’s no universally accepted list of types of Service Dogs.

Here’s a brief overview of several common types of Service Dogs:

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Service Dog: Severe Allergy Alert Dogs (AADs)

Job: To alert their handler to life-threatening allergens that may be in the area, especially tree nuts, gluten or shellfish
Handler: May or may not have visible signs of disability
Gear: Allergen Alert Dogs typically wear a vest with pockets for emergency information, medical information and/or medication. For their handler’s safety in the event of an emergency and to ensure fast and accurate medical care, AADs should sport a patch that says, “IN EVENT OF EMERGENCY CHECK POCKETS.”
Notes: Often partnered with children, but can be seen partnered with any person with a life-threatening allergy. Most Allergen Alert Dogs carry medical information and emergency protocol in their vest or on a USB key attached to their collar.

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Service Dog: Autism Assistance Dogs

Job: To assist in calming and grounding an individual on the autism spectrum via tactile or deep pressure stimulation. May also assist in teaching life skills, maintaining boundaries or finding a “runner.”
Handler: Likely to be a child, but could be older. May or may not show visible signs of disability, and may or may not be verbal.
Gear: Autism Assistance Dogs don’t have distinguishing gear. If a dog’s partner is young and non-verbal, the dog should carry emergency protocol and contact information in his vest.
Notes: Autism Assistance Dogs and Sensory Processing Disorder Dogs fall into the same category and usually perform identical task work.

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Service Dog: Brace/Mobility Support Dogs (BMSD)

Job: A Brace/Mobility Support Dog works to provide bracing or counterbalancing to a partner who has balance issues due to a disability. Many BMSDs also retrieve, open/close doors or do other tasks to assist in day-to-day life or in an emergency.
Handler: Will vary in presentation depending on disability. Could be any age.
Gear: Most Brace/Mobility Support Dogs wear a specially-fitted and designed harness to help them safely assist their partner. However, just because a dog isn’t wearing a brace harness doesn’t mean he may not be a brace dog
Notes: Brace/Mobility Support Dogs must be large enough to safely support their human partner. In general, BMSD must be at least 23″ tall and 55 pounds to perform brace/counterbalance work safely, and must be proportionally larger if their human is larger than average. [/alert][alert style=”grey”]

Service Dog: Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs)

Job: To alert their handler to dangerous or potentially deadly blood sugar highs and lows. Many dogs are trained to call 911 on a special K-9 Alert Phone if their partner cannot be roused.
Handler: May show signs of visible disability, but likely will not. Could be any age from very, very young to a senior citizen.
Gear: Diabetic Alert Dogs typically don’t wear special gear. DADs should carry emergency protocols in their vest if the dog would ever be the first point of contact with an emergency medical team.
Notes: Diabetic Alert Dogs are also known as “Blood Sugar Alert Dogs.”

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Service Dog: Hearing Dogs

Job: To alert their deaf

or Deaf handler to specifically trained environmental sounds, including, but not limited to, alarms, doorbells, knocking, phones, cars or their name.
Handler: Likely won’t show signs of disability. May or may not speak verbal English.
Gear: Hearing Dogs don’t require special gear, but many state laws designate bright orange as reserved for Hearing Dogs.
Notes: Hearing Dogs can be trained to respond to any environmental sound or cue their handler needs to know about. Just because you can’t see what a Hearing Dog is responding to doesn’t mean he’s not working.

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Service Dog: Medical Alert Dogs (MADs)

Job: To alert their handler to dangerous physiological changes such as blood pressure, hormone levels or another verifiable, measurable bodily symptom.
Handler: May or may not show signs of disability.
Gear: Depending on the handler’s disability, the dog may or may not have specialized gear.
Notes: Medical Alert Dogs’ jobs and functions can vary widely. Also, all DADs are Medical Alert Dogs, but not all Medical Alert Dogs are DADs.

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Service Dog: Medical Assistance Dogs

Job: To assist their handler with a medical disability via trained, specific, mitigating task work.
Handler: Can vary widely in presentation of disability and age.
Gear: Can vary widely based on dog’s job, function and training.
Notes: “Medical Assistance Dog” tends to be a catch-all category for a Service Dog that doesn’t “fit” anywhere else. It’s also commonly utilized when the handler doesn’t feel like going into detail.

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Service Dog: Psychiatric Service Dog (PSDs)

Job: To assist their handler with a psychiatric disability such as anxiety, depression or PTSD via specific, trained tasks.
Handler: Can vary widely in presentation but often appears to not have a disability. Often cited as having an “invisible” disability.
Gear: No special gear required.
Notes: Psychiatric Service Dogs are protected under the same federal laws that protect other Service Dogs. They must be given the exact same treatment and access rights. Note: Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Therapy Dogs are NOT the same as Psychiatric Service Dogs and are not covered under the ADA, and nor do they have any public access whatsoever.

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Service Dog: Seizure Response Dogs

Job: To respond to their handler’s seizures via trained tasks. The dog may retrieve medication, utilize deep pressure stimulation to end a seizure early, fetch a nearby person to help or call 911. Other trained tasks are common as well.
Handler: May or may not show signs of physical disability.
Gear: Typically no special gear required.
Notes: Seizure Alert Dogs fall under this category. Please keep in mind that you cannot train a Seizure Response Dog to alert to seizures — it must be something the dog comes to do naturally via association with their human partner and an intuitive nature.

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Service Dog: Visual Assistance Dogs

Job: To guide their visually impaired or blind handler.
Handler: May or may not show signs of visible disability.
Gear: Visual Assistance Dogs will wear a guide dog harness, typically of which at least some part is white. White is the color protected for use by guide dogs and visually impaired individuals.
Notes: Visual Assistance Dogs are commonly called “Guide Dogs” or “Leader Dogs.” Most are Labs, Goldens or German Shepherds, but they can be any sturdy, even-tempered, medium or large breed dog.

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Service Dog: Wheelchair Assistance Dogs

Job: To assist their partner by retrieving dropped objects, opening doors, retrieving the phone, helping with transfers or anything else their partner may need.
Handler: Is in a wheelchair. May or may not be ambulatory at times.
Gear: No special gear required, but many wear a special harness to assist in pulling a chair or opening a door.
Notes: Wheelchair Assistance Dogs can vary widely in trained tasks and actual job.

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If you think we left a type out or you’d like to see something added or changed, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Did you find this information helpful? If so, you may also be interested in these articles:

Hospital Access Rights for Service Dog Teams
Service Dog Etiquette
Things Service Dogs in Public Should and Should Not Do
That’s Not a Service Dog
Types of Service Dogs
Minimum Behavior and Training Standards for Service Dogs in Public
How to Tell If a Service Dog is Legitimate
What Is a Service Dog?

39 COMMENTS

  1. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! I am involved with an organization which trains assistance dogs, and I am also an occupational therapist. I do many public speaking engagements and frequently review the types of assistance dogs we train and place. I get the question about “seizure alert dogs” frequently – and am often given push-back about my response which is exactly what you wrote above.

    This article is a great resource, even for those of us involved in the “industry”. Thanks for info and spreading the word!

    • My pleasure! I’m so glad we were able to help.

      The differences between a Seizure Response Dog (which is the only kind that can be TRAINED) and Seizure Alert Dog are subtle, but very, very important. Alerts for seizures cannot be trained; the dog has to come to do it on their own.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I have a service dog for the issues of PTSD, Bi-polar, Anxiety, Asthma. But the great thing about Gavin (2 yr old Shep mix) is that he figured out I was Diabetic and I never new it. It was strange one day he kept poking my in the stomach with his nose and ran to the kitchen. A few days later I went to the doctor for some blood work and sure enough I am a Type 2 Diabetic. I sure would be lost without my little wing man.

  3. Great read. Hope many, many people who do not use or have a service dog reads this and gets an education on how many different types of service dogs there are. So many people are so uneducated about service dogs.

    • I agree with you 100%. I have a PSD – for serious psychological situations – and I get treated as a fraud because I don’t appear sick or disabled. There needs to be much more public education.

  4. I love this article because I myself use my dog, and I’m only 14. I have severe Panic Attacks and when I have those my Asthma acts up bigtime. Prince Theodore (My Dog.) Knows what to do.

  5. I am suffering from panic attacks and depression after the sudden loss of my son. When I have to drive a long distance I take one of my dogs with me. she makes me feel better having her there and she knows when I’m not feeling right. What would I have to do to make her a legitimate PSD service dog? Thank you

    • Training a Service Dog can be a valuable and rewarding experience, but you should know that it is not easy and requires at least 120 hours of hard work. Not all dogs are cut out for this type of work and many washout, so you should be emotionally prepared should your dog not work out.

      Before you look for a trainer, if you don’t already have a list of specific trained tasks, the first thing you should do is sit down and write out a list of specific things you would like your dog to perform. Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) help those with psychological conditions like clinical depression and anxiety. Tasks or work should be things that are physically necessary. Under the law, people are allowed to ask you what specific physical tasks your dog performs and you should be prepared to explain. Providing comfort or emotional support are not qualifying tasks.

      Here is an excellent list of tasks for psychological conditions: http://www.iaadp.org/psd_tasks.html

      You don’t necessarily have to find a trainer who specializes in Service Dogs — any good trainer will be able to help.

      You can search for trainers here: https://www.apdt.com/petowners/ts/

      Please note that Service Dogs in Training do not have the same rights as fully-trained Service Dogs. Some states and communities have extended limited rights for Service Dogs in Training. For more information on local rules, please call your state attorney general’s office.

      As well, Service Dog’s do not always make life easier, and you should fully consider the many problems that come with partnership. This article also addresses costs. Please read:

      https://www.anythingpawsable.com/before-partnering-with-a-service-dog/

      Never, ever put a vest on a dog or claim it as a Service Dog in Training that is still displaying any inappropriate behavior issues. There are plenty of opportunities to socialize a dog in public at pet stores which allow animals, public parks and other areas which allow dogs.

      Registering a dog does not make a dog a Service Dog. Registering with us is a formal way of stating that you understand what is involved with training and using a Service or Assistance Animal; how important your behavior, and that of your Service or Assistance Dog, is to the general public and other Service and Assistance Animal teams; the legal definition of a Service or Assistance Animal; the Minimum Training Standards for a Service or Assistance Animal and what is involved with a Public Access Test.

      Again, you may wish to consider an Emotional Support Animal (ESAs). They’re are an important type of working dog, but they are not Service Dogs and may not be registered with us. As well, there is no need to register them anywhere — and there is nothing to buy, order or purchase at all. A simple letter from your physician or counselor stating your need (but not mentioning any specifics) is the only documentation that is recognized under law.

      • Also – legally, two questions are allowed legally to be asked, if the dog is a service dog – and what tasks it preforms. I answer with general tasks – you do not have any obligation to get specific unless you are discussing this with a potential landlord. I do not get into details. It is my personal business.

  6. I am looking for a small dog for my 8 year old. He has night terrors and sleep walks. He also has ADHD and ODD. Is there a dog that is trained for these issues? I’m worried he’s going to figure out how to unlock the doors and be gone before I know it.

    • Hi Ty, your best option is to look for trainers who have experience working with Autism Service Dogs. While your son may not have Autism, many of the tasks these types of dogs are trained for may help your son.

  7. Thank You for writing and letting everyone know the do’s and don’ts. I have a service dog (large Breed) and sometimes it’s a pain in the rear when people come up and ask my medical problems and the BIGGEST can they pet my dog… even through I have him wearing a medical jacket that says DO NOT PET! You are right with all the points yall brought up… Cooper is a blessing but a huge responsibility just the same…. This is a wonder site… I’m proud to be a member of the US Service Registry… (diabetic and balance assist.)

  8. I am actually in need of desperate help my doctor has written a script for me to have a brace/mobility dog with training for anxiety and ptsd because I need both types of training in the assistant dog I get; but I can’t afford $7,500-25,000 and don’t know where to turn for help.

  9. My name is Linda McCreary and I have a very special seizure alert dog by the name of pepper. We have had her for eight and a half of her nine years and she has been the best! she has been with me through many seizures, and how she knows before one comes on is amazing! But, because of that I,m no longer falling on the floor and getting brused up as much. But, Pepper is a hero she did something she was not even trained to do when she saved my husbands life two years ago when he was having a heart attack.! He could not call out for help! Pepper knew something was wrong she came to me and acted up until I followed her to where my husband was! I called 911 we lived far away from the hospital, so to make a longer story short my husbands Dr told us after my husband woke up that if it was not for the dog my husband would not be alive. She is forever our hero doing what she was not trained to do!

    • Training a Service Dog can be a valuable and rewarding experience, but you should know that it is not easy and requires at least 120 hours of hard work. Not all dogs are cut out for this type of work and many washout, so you should be emotionally prepared should your dog not work out. Under the law it is permissible for individuals to train their own Service Dog, however, we recommend you still work with a private trainer or get a dog from an organization that provides fully trained service dogs if you don’t have experience training animals

      Never, ever put a vest on a dog or claim it as a Service Dog in Training that is still displaying any inappropriate behavior issues. There are plenty of opportunities to socialize a dog in public at pet stores which allow animals, public parks and other areas which allow dogs. You may register once formal training has begun. Please be aware that not all areas extend Service Dog public access benefits to cover Service Dogs in Training (SDITs). Should your SD candidate not work out for some reason, please let us know so we can remove him or her for you.

      Having a disability isn’t enough — your dog must be trained in specific tasks (our guidelines state you must have at least two tasks) that you would otherwise have difficulty completing on your own.

      Before you begin to explore partnering with a Service Dog, you should know that they do not always make life easier, and you should fully consider it. Please read:

      https://www.anythingpawsable.com/before-partnering-with-a-service-dog/

      If you don’t already have a list of specific trained tasks, the first thing you should do is sit down and write out a list of specific things you would like your dog to perform. Tasks or work should be things that are physically necessary. Under the law, people are allowed to ask you what specific physical tasks your dog performs and you should be prepared to explain. Providing comfort or emotional support are not qualifying tasks.

      Please read the following article:

      https://www.anythingpawsable.com/what-are-the-minimum-training-standards-for-a-service-dog/

      Please read:
      PUBLIC ACCESS TEST (From IAADP http://www.iaadp.org/iaadp-minimum-training-standards-for-public-access.html)

      How will you know when your dog is ready to graduate from an “in training” status to the status of a full fledged assistance dog with whom you are entitled to have public access rights?

      An excellent tool for evaluating a team’s readiness to graduate [e.g. finish up formal training] is the Public Access Certification Test (PACT) which can be found on the website of Assistance Dogs International at http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org The ADI Public Access Certification Test was developed over 15 years ago as a consumer protection measure by the ADI Team Testing Committee, which included input from both providers and IAADP Partner members. Overall, the goal of the test is to discover whether or not a particular team is ready to go places out in public without trainer supervision. The safety of the dog, the handler and the public were the main considerations in developing the specific exercises for testing the team.

      This test creates a level playing field, since it does not matter whether it is a guide, hearing or service dog team being tested or who trained the dog. What matters is the team’s performance. Every ADI program is required to administer this test before graduating and credentialing a team.

      Disability mitigating tasks or work are not critiqued during the test. However, to establish a dog’s eligibility to take this test to become an assistance dog, ADI programs would ask for a demo in advance of at least three service dog tasks, three hearing dog sound alerts or a series of tasks known as “guide dog work.” To document the dog performs tasks in the home such as seizure response work, alerting to an attack of hypoglycemia late at night or fetching a portable phone or beverage, a program may ask the client to submit a video tape of the task(s).

      The Public Access Test evaluates the dog’s obedience and manners and the handler’s skills in a variety of situations which include:

      A. The handler’s abilities to: ( 1 ) safely load and unload the dog from a vehicle; ( 2 ) enter a public place without losing control of the dog; ( 3 ) to recover the leash if accidently dropped, and ( 4 ) to cope calmly with an access problem if an employee or customer questions the individual’s right to bring a dog into that establishment.

      B. The dog’s ability to: ( 1 ) safely cross a parking lot, halt for traffic, and ignore distractions; ( 2 ) heel through narrow aisles; ( 3 ) hold a Sit-Stay when a shopping cart passes by or when a person stops to chat and pets the dog; (4 ) hold a Down Stay when a child approaches and briefly pets the dog; ( 5 ) hold a Sit Stay when someone drops food on the floor; hold a Down Stay when someone sets a plate of food on the floor within 18″ of the dog, then removes it a minute later. [the handler may say “Leave It” to help the dog resist the temptation.] ( 6 ) remain calm if someone else holds the leash while the handler moves 20 ft. away; ( 7 ) remain calm while another dog passes within 6 ft. of the team during the test. This can occur in a parking lot or store. Alternatively, you could arrange for a neighbor with a pet dog to stroll past your residence while you load your dog into a vehicle at the beginning of the test.

      *** It is highly recommended the test be video taped to document the team passed it.

      IAADP agrees with ADI’s ethical position that the amount of training given to an assistance dog should NEVER fall below the minimum level needed to pass this Public Access Test.

      NOTE: Passing the Public Access Test does not mean the organization, ADI, officially “certifies” your dog, since ADI does not certify any dogs and neither does IAADP. It is up to the program or trainer giving the test to provide the desired credentialing. Most furnish a laminated photo ID Card signed and dated by the provider, certifying this dog [insert name] has been trained for the disabled client [insert name] as a Service Dog for the Disabled. [or as a guide or hearing dog] On the rear side, there is a helpful statement about the state or federal law granting access rights to disabled handlers and at the top, a reference to the state law, citing its numbers, and/ or the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

      CERTIFICATION is not required in the USA. Many states lack programs willing to certify dogs that did not go through that program’s training course. The DOJ decided to foster “an honor system,” by making the tasks the dog is trained to perform on command or cue to assist a disabled person, rather than certification ID from specific programs, the primary way to differentiate between a service animal and a pet. It opened the door for people to train their own assistance dog, usually with the help of an experienced trainer, if a program dog is unavailable.

      Testers: If you are not enrolled in a program or taking lessons from a trainer willing to administer the Public Access Test and provide ID on successful completion of the test, it is worthwhile to find a trainer who would administer The Public Access Test. You could recruit a local trainer certified through The National Association of Obedience Dog Instructors ( http://www.nadoi.org) or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. ( http://www.ccpdt.org ) ,or an obedience class instructor, or a Canine Good Citizen test evaluator. Trainers usually will charge a fee for their time. You might ask a colleague, in a pinch, to video tape the test and score it, for scoring is self explanatory. Have the tester sign and date it, then keep the test with your training logs in case of an access dispute someday.

      Registering a dog does not make a dog a Service Dog. Registering with us is a formal way of stating that you understand what is involved with training and using a Service or Assistance Animal; how important your behavior, and that of your Service or Assistance Dog, is to the general public and other Service and Assistance Animal teams; the legal definition of a Service or Assistance Animal; the Minimum Training Standards for a Service or Assistance Animal and what is involved with a Public Access Test.

      Good luck!

  10. I have an autism assitance dog who is part way into his training for interfering with and preventing outbursts due to sensory/anxiety overload, especially in public/social settings and I am currently trying to go from “homeless” to “housed” through subsidized housing in Oregon. The NOHA (Northwest Oregon Housing Authority) has an apartment available, has already contacted my doctor to verify my need for my service dog and has already made reasonable accomodation to breed restriction on my dog (pitbull). The only thing standing in the way of my transition from “homeless” to “housed” at this point is my refusal to neuter my dog… I personally find that removing the animal’s primary survival instinct – reproduction – in a permanent and irreversible manner is the highest form of cruelty I could ever perpetrate against him. Also, I will outlive him, he is a second generation medical dog (his father is a retired “seeing eye” dog) and when he passes away I will want a third generation service animal from his bloodline, I have a permanent disability so will always need my dog and, spiritually, I need my service animal to be a complete animal for bonding purposes. My question is whether or not it can be considered “reasonable accomodation” to expect NOHA to make exception their “spay/neuter policy” in my case due to my specific needs for a “whole animal” in order to adaquately provide needed service regarding my disability; in otherwords, is it legal for NOHA to turn down my application for housing because I cannot neuter my service animal? If so or if not, please provide specific laws/statutes which settle this argument for me. Thank you.

  11. Do you breed to a female seizure dog? We have a female coming into hear in the next month or 2 didn’t know if you sold seamen for breeding purpose. Thank you 270-202-8966

  12. The dog I want to breed saved my life twice, she belongs to one of my clients who said we could breed her.

  13. I have a service dog for my PTSD and severe depression because of that PTSD, but I don’t know what to say when someone asks “what work or task has your animal been trained to perform” without giving away my diagnosis (which I do NOT want to reveal). I’m afraid to go out with her because I don’t want to attract attention. What can I say? I need something that makes me feel proud, not ashamed.

    • Hello Susan I also have PTSD and when people ask I just say he is a service dog and I do not feel comfortable telling you or just say im sorry its illeagle for you to ask and they usually back away… shana

    • Oh I understand that…. I have Asperger Syndrome which I think is an incredibly embarrassing emotional roller coaster. It runs my life 88% of the time, I’ve almost lost the person I want to spend the rest of my life with several times because of my condition. When I first got my puppy to self train back in January I tried to avoid telling people what what I was training her to do because I felt silly telling them. Now I tell them my brain releases too much stimuli and shes there to warn me and help me control the situation, allowing me not to reveal my condition.

  14. […] A Service Dog is an assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, psychiatric disorders, seizure disorders, mobility impairments, and diabetes. A Service Dog can be any breed or mix of breeds, but must be in good health, have the right temperament, and be trained to perform a task(s) for its handler directly related to the handler’s disability. A handler may train his or her own puppy/dog, have a professional trainer train their puppy/dog, or buy an already trained dog. Five examples of tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a handler who is having a seizure, calming a handler with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, and/or performing other tacks. Their job is so very important and to learn more about Service Dog’s jobs click here. […]

    • You’ll have to do some pretty in-depth research. There are only a couple programs in the country that train multi-purpose dogs. Send us an email, and we’ll see if we can help.

      • How much does service dog training cost?

        what is the process involved in service dog training?

        How long does it take to train to become a service dog?

        what are work and task in service dog training?

        what obedience skills should a dog have?

  15. I’m in search for a service dog for my spouse who is a diabetic (under control), however, he is an amputee below knee on r.leg and no toes on left foot, with right eye blindness. Would like to adopt from a shelter, young one yr old dog, but not sure of what ‘types’ to look for to adopt? I’m preferring a poodle mix, as we previously lost a dog (non-service) and feel that this would be the best next step as my husband was not a real dog lover until he lost his friend. My preference would be a shepard poodle mix, house trained and/or young enough to train for the assistance of service dog for walking & able to enter stores/shops, etc. Thank you for any info.

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