The Best Service Dog Training in Pennsylvania

Service German ShepherdIf you’re living with a disability in Pennsylvania, it might be worth training your pooch (or a new puppy) to become a service dog. Not only do these lovable creatures provide invaluable assistance with everyday tasks, but they also receive legal protections under federal and state laws.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affords anyone with an eligible disability the civil right to bring a service dog into any “public accommodations” (restaurants, entertainment venues, retail stores, educational institutions, etc.). Businesses, including landlords and airlines, cannot charge for a service dog or treat the owner differently, providing the animal is housebroken and well-behaved.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s Human Rights Act makes it illegal for a public accommodation to deny entry to a service dog accompanying a person with hearing or sight impairment or a physical disability. The state statute doesn’t cover psychiatric conditions, although patrons are protected under both state and federal laws.

Although there are no formal certification or registration requirements, a canine must be adequately trained to qualify as a service dog. In this article, we’ll cover what to consider when searching for a service dog trainer, and then review the top five providers in Pennsylvania.

What to Look For When Choosing Service Dog Training

Choosing an appropriate service dog training center is the first step towards turning a canine companion into a bonafide service animal.

Regardless of whether you choose an online or in-person trainer, it’s best to stick with an established operator with years (or decades) of industry experience. Look for a provider with a proven track record with your specific disability.

Not all trainers work with every dog. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing—it could mean they excel at training a specific breed. Some insist on working with a custom-bred puppy, while others accept existing pets (after a rigorous evaluation) or source animals from a local shelter. In any case, check whether these conditions align with your needs.

For a brick-and-mortar establishment, it’s worth assessing the facilities in person before committing. Are the kennels in good shape? Do the dogs have plenty of open space? A low-quality trainer will cut corners and deliver subpar results.

While a sizable waiting list is indicative of a successful business (or a popular non-profit), you should consider your own timeline, as well. If you need an animal trained in a hurry, there’s no point joining a five year waiting list.

Finally, cost is a crucial consideration. While the law requires a service dog to be capable of supporting its owner, there’s no legal requirement to enlist a professional trainer. An online training course gives you the necessary tools to train your animal at home and saves you thousands compared to an in-person program.

Online vs. In-Person Service Dog Training

So, what’s the best option for training a service dog: in-person or online? Both methods have their advantages, which we’ll discuss below.

While an in-person course requires you to attend scheduled classes, an online program lets you train your animal at your convenience—you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home. The most significant benefit, however, is cost. Online programs give you all the support and guidance you need at a fraction of the price of an in-person course.

Although rigid and expensive, in-person programs may achieve better results because an experienced professional provides expert, tailor-made training sessions. Furthermore, the in-person option puts less burden on the owner, which is essential when a severe disability renders self-training impractical. Both humans and canines also get ample opportunity to socialize and exercise—active and outgoing owners often find in-person training more fun.

Pros of Online Service Dog Training Pros of In-Person Service Dog Training
Cost-effective: online courses cost a fraction of the price of in-person programs Less owner burden: trainers do most of the work, essential for people with severe disabilities.
Convenience: train your dog at a time that’s suitable for you Expertise: in-person trainers draw on years of experience to achieve optimal results
Comfort: no need to leave the comfort of your own home Exercise and socialization: you and your dog will get out and about

The Best Service Dog Training in Pennsylvania

Now you’re up to speed, it’s time to check out the top service dog training programs in Pennsylvania—both in-person or online. We’ve searched long and hard to identify and review the top courses in the state, to make the selection process easier for you.

US Service Animals Online Training

The top dog in virtual training, US Service Animals Online Training gives you everything you need to teach your canine to become a service dog from home. The six-module program consists of 12 easy-to-follow videos that outline cutting-edge animal behavior theories and how they apply to your four-legged friend. Unlike other online programs, you’ll get customized support from a professional service dog trainer throughout the course.

The comprehensive program teaches your pet to assist with various disabilities, including blindness, hearing loss, diabetes, mobility issues, and epilepsy. No breed or size restrictions apply, and you get a handy certificate at the end (there’s also an optional service vest, collar, collar tag, and leash).

Cost: $349

Location: Online only (6 video modules)

Certificate: Yes

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Clicker, plus optional service vest, collar, collar tag, and leash

Link: www.usserviceanimals.org

Digman Canine Academy

Claire Digman is the brains behind this small professional outfit, which offers an array of doggy training programs, including service dogs. The highly educated (BA & Master’s) and talented trainer has been running her sought-after business since 2013 while simultaneously working as a service dog trainer for This Able Veteran.

Claire offers private one-on-one service dog training at the client’s home or her facility, often a mixture of the two. For puppies in need of an intensive regime, there’s also a Stay & Train program where the animal resides at the facility. Claire can train animals to assist with an array of ADA-recognized disabilities and she customizes every single program for specific needs.

Cost: Contact for a quote

Location: Port Matilda, Pennsylvania

Certificate: Unspecified

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.digmancanineacademy.com

Canine Partners for Life

CPL is a well-established non-profit that provides thoroughly trained service dogs to people with disabilities in Pennslyvania. Although the organization primarily serves the Cochranville region (a 250-mile radius), applicants from elsewhere in the state are eligible to apply. The organization sources suitable puppies from its breeding program, donations from ethical breeders, and local shelters (no BYO option). CPL typically selects Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, Poodles, and Labradoodles.

The organization trains animals over an intensive two-year program; the second year involves in-depth interaction with the new owner. Animals are exclusively trained to assist with mobility issues and cardiac/diabetes/seizure alert—other disabilities aren’t catered for. Anyone over the age of 12 who has the financial means or desire to own a service dog and functions on a 6th-grade level (or above) may apply.

Cost: Free

Location: Cochranville

Certificate: No

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.k94life.org

Keystone Services

Keystone services is a popular non-profit that provides thoroughly trained service dogs to people with various disabilities. They operate in two foreign countries and four American states, including Pennsylvania. The highly-regarded outfit raises suitable breeds in-house, and begins training from day one. At nine weeks, the puppies move in with a volunteer, home who provides in-depth training for 15-18 months.

The animals then embark on a comprehensive professional training program to learn specialist skills to cater to distinct disabilities. The team places each pooch with an appropriate candidate from the waiting list and then teaches both owner and animal to function as a team. The service isn’t free, but the vast majority of the training costs (US$30,000 on average) are covered via community donations.

Cost: Assistance/facility dogs: $5,000 / In-home service dogs: $3,000

Location: Susquehanna

Certificate: Yes

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.khs.org

Phoenix Assistance Dogs

Pheonix Assistance Dogs is a small, Pennsylvania-based non-profit that trains only one assistance dog at a time—expect a waiting list of at least 18 months. Head trainer Linzey Zoccola has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and she’s spent her life using and training service dogs since childhood. Over the years, she’s placed 25 fully-fledged service animals with people with disabilities such as epilepsy, diabetes, hearing/sight difficulties, and mobility issues.

Linzey uses a positive reinforcement approach in her Program-Trained or Partner-Trained courses, the latter of which sees the owner undertaking most of the work. In-person tuition ranges from one-on-one classes to group lessons and public access sessions, and animals are gradually transferred into the owner’s home as the program progresses. All puppies are sourced from local shelters—no BYO option available.

Cost: Program-Trained $1,000 / Partner-Trained $450 per month

Location: Phoenix, Pennsylvania

Certificate: Yes

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.padcentral.org