The Best Service Dog Training in Virginia

Service German ShepherdIf you’re living with a disability in Virginia, it might be worth investing in a service dog. These lovable canine companions provide essential assistance to people with a wide range of disabilities; they also receive legal protections under federal and state law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, prohibits public accommodations (restaurants, hotels, airlines, etc.) from denying entry to a service dog or charging any extra fees. At the state level, Virginia’s disability rights law affords similar protections—in any case, both federal and state laws apply.

Training a service dog can be tricky, however, regardless of whether you opt for in-person training or online. In this post, we’ll provide an overview of what to look out for and then cover the top five service dog trainers in the state.

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 Virginia

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

Service Dogs of Virginia

SDV is a well-established local non-profit on a mission to raise and train service dogs to assist people with various disabilities. The organization sources money from community donations and corporate sponsorships to fund its prestigious service dog training program, covering autism, PTSD, medical alert, and physical assistance dogs.

SDV is Assistance Dogs International (ADI) certified and exclusively works with full-bred Labrador Retrievers from a North American breeding cooperative. Since its foundation in 2000, the organization has placed over 100 service animals into local homes, either free or at a heavily subsidized cost. The charity refuses to work with existing pets.

Cost: Free or heavily subsidized

Location: Charlottesville, VA

Certificate: Unspecified

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.servicedogsva.org

Saint Francis Service Dogs

This reputable Roanoke-based non-profit breeds, trains, and places service dogs into the homes of children and adults with disabilities in Virginia. SFSD obtains funding from the community—either private donations or charity drives—to run the program and uses volunteers throughout the process. Due to high demand, SFSD isn’t currently accepting new applications (subject to change).

The organization takes charge of the process from the beginning, breeding its own puppies through an ADI Breeding Cooperative. Next, suitable animals pass through a puppy raising program, where they learn basic obedience training, and then a prison training program, where local inmates teach essential skills. Professional trainers then fine-tune each animal through an advanced program. Finally, the applicant learns how to work with their new companion through the partner program—it’s a comprehensive, five-step process.

Cost: Free or reduced cost

Location: Roanoke, VA

Certificate: Unspecified

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.saintfrancisdogs.org

Anchor Assistance Dogs

Another outstanding Virginia non-profit, Anchor Assistance Dogs, endeavors to provide “increased independence and social connection through trained service dog partnerships.” Founder Allie Gahagan has a neurological disability herself and works tirelessly to provide appropriate service animals for other needy people in the state. She only works with custom-bred puppies—no BYO dog option available here.

All training adopts the positive reinforcement approach, a humane methodology where the animal gets rewarded for desirable actions. Like other non-profits, applicants receive the animal for free or at a significantly reduced cost, although waiting lists stretch on for years. The organization doesn’t train guide dogs, medical alert dogs, or psychiatric service animals.

Cost: Free or heavily subsidized

Location: Virginia Beach, VA

Certificate: Yes

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Unspecified

Link: www.anchorassistancedogs.org

Off-Leash K9 Training

This large nationwide for-profit company runs a comprehensive service dog training program in numerous regions around America, including Northern Virginia. The company is currently offering service dogs to assist with autism, physical impairments, and diabetic alert. Both adults and children are encouraged to apply.

Off-Leash K9 begins training once the animal is 12-18 months old, using special puppy raisers to hone specific skills. Animals that pass the company’s rigorous training and assessment program go on to be placed into an applicant’s home. The company is especially adept at providing autism assistance dogs for children, typically aged between two and ten.

Cost: Contact for a quote

Location: Northern Virginia

Certificate: Unspecified

1:1 Support: Yes

Equipment Provided: Yes

Link: www.offleashk9training.com