The Best Service Dog Training in Tennessee

man in wheelchair with service dogIf you’re living with a disability in Tennessee, 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.

Tennessee’s public accommodation law also provides similar protections to service dogs that assist people with physical disabilities. However, as public accommodations must abide by both federal and state laws, they cannot deny entry to service dogs trained to assist with psycatric or neurological disabilities.

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 Tennessee.

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 Tennessee

Now you’re up to speed, it’s time to check out the top service dog training programs in Tennessee—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

K-9 Companions

K-9 Companions is a sizeable professional dog training business with offices around America, including Tennessee. Its Nashville branch has been placing service dogs with eligible applicants since 2010, exclusively catering to veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and children with autism. The team will consider any dog over two years of age, although it must first pass a rigorous assessment.

The highly trained team—some of whom have been in the business for 40 years—uses positive reinforcement motivation methodologies throughout the program, which takes up to two years to complete. The new owner must actively participate in the program. If their disability prohibits them, an assistant must participate on their behalf.

Cost: Contact for a quote

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Certificate: Yes

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: ID card, logo, vest, patch

Link: www.k-9companionsnashville.com

Retrieving Independence (RI)

RI is a highly regarded Tennessee non-profit that trains and places service dogs into the homes of people with diabetes, mobility impairments, and epilepsy, as well as psychiatric conditions like anxiety and PTSD. The organization asks applicants to front half of the training cost, which amounts to about $12,500. RI handpicks and breeds puppies to ensure optimal results.

An inmate training program has volunteer prisoners conduct the first phase of training. Upon conclusion, the RI team will work with the recipient to complete the placement through classes, one-on-one sessions, and public access workshops. Follow-up training occurs periodically to solidify the lifelong partnership and reinforce its ongoing success.

Cost: $12,500

Location: Nashville

Certificate: Unspecified

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.riservicedogs.org

CrittersWork

CrittersWork is a small professional trainer that offers a charitable service dog program in Tennessee, which it funds through community donations. The program prepares pooches to serve their owners in public access locations, and all training follows strict ADI (Assistance Dog International) Standards. Owner Kat Rollins has been running the show for two decades, placing dozens of animals with people with physical and psychiatric disabilities.

Kat will train a canine for 35 weeks, then hand it over to the new owner after providing in-depth placement education. There’s also an owner-trained option, where the recipient learns to do most of the work themselves. Training takes place at the Service Dog Confidence Field, a purpose-built facility in Greeneville.

Cost: $50 application fee / contact for more details

Location: Greeneville, Tennessee

Certificate: Unspecified

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.critterswork.org

Wilderwood Service Dogs

Wilderwood Service Dogs is a reputable, well-established non-profit that trains animals to assist people with neurological disabilities—think autism, Alzheimer’s, and others. Applicants must raise most of the costs through community fundraising efforts, which take place during the training phase. As a result, the average waiting list is 2-3 years, which is far shorter than most non-profits. The organization primarily sources canine candidates from local shelters.

The organization only works with service dogs that assist people with neurological conditions. They boast a multidisciplinary team of medical experts with a profound understanding of brain disorders. Many of the assistant trainers have neurological disorders themselves; thus, the organization provides valuable employment to vulnerable people.

Cost: Applicant must help raise funds through charity drives

Location: Maryville, Tennessee

Certificate: Unspecified

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.wilderwood.org