If you are interested in purchasing or training a service dog, either to help yourself or someone else in your family, it can be hard to find out the specific cost information you need to know.
While the image of a friendly Labrador may be the one that comes to mind when you think of a service dog, it is actually possible for any type of dog to become a service dog. With the proper training, service dogs can perform a wide range of different tasks and can be incredibly helpful for people with many different types of disabilities.
In this article, we will discuss the costs associated with adopting a service dog, expenses that you will need to budget for, and some potential financial assistance programs that can help you bring a service dog into your life.
What Conditions Can a Service Dog Help With?
There are several conditions that a service dog is able to help with. We have listed the most common ones below for you to learn about.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Also known as PTSD, service dogs can help people suffering from this condition by alerting their owner to the sudden onset of an episode before it happens, allowing their owner to feel safer and calmer in public, and performing everyday tasks for the owner.
Autism service dogs assist their owner by allowing them to feel calm or safer when experiencing a sensory overload and by alerting their owner to the fact they are engaging in repetitive motions, safely stopping them.
One of the most recognizable types of service dogs, seeing eye dogs are trained to guide visually impaired owners while they walk or run errands, and can perform a number of tasks to make a visually impaired person’s life easier.
Seizure alert dogs are trained to detect seizures before they happen and will alert their owner, allowing the person to reach a safe space or lay down on the ground before the seizure, preventing injury.
Service dogs trained to help with hearing impairment are sometimes called signal dogs. They alert their owner to noises around the home, such as people knocking on the door, and can perform a variety of tasks to make their owner’s life easier.
Is a Service Dog an Emotional Support Dog?
Sometimes, these two terms will be confused, but you should know that a service dog is different from an emotional support dog. A service dog is trained to perform specific tasks that help assist the owner in daily life, while an emotional support dog provides a sense of calm and support to those individuals with conditions like depression or anxiety.
Service dogs have more legal protections and are allowed in most public places, unlike emotional support dogs, who have limited legal protections and permissions regarding housing and public areas.
The Cost of a Trained Service Dog
Initial costs for adopting a service dog can range between $10,000 and $30,000, with some dogs costing up to 50,000 dollars, depending on the type of skills they are trained to perform. This high upfront cost is due to the amount of training and specialized care that is put in to raising the service dog and teaching them to perform highly specialized tasks.
The Cost of Training Your Own Dog
Adopting a low-cost dog from a rescue or local shelter and then hiring a professional trainer can be a good option for someone who has time to dedicate to their service animal. A professional trainer can cost between $150 to $250 dollars an hour, and the total cost depends on the skills you are trying to teach your dog and how long it takes them to learn. In general, it can cost you between $10,000 and $30,000 dollars to professional train a dog yourself.
The ADA doesn’t require a specific set of professional training requirements for service dogs, so you can also attempt to train your adopted dog yourself. This option is much lower cost, but it can take much longer and may not yield as stellar results as having your dog professionally trained would.
Why Are Service Dog Costs So Expensive?
Because service dogs require such extensive training, usually from the time they are puppies, the costs for adopting one can be very high. Typically, these costs are calculated to include the trainer’s time and the dog’s complete care from the time they are puppies until the time you adopt them.
You should also keep in mind that while training your own service dog may seem cheaper upfront, it can end up costing more over time as you continue to work to train a dog that isn’t starting as a puppy, or one who may take longer to learn specific skills.
Budgeting to Own a Service Dog
Besides the initial adoption or training fees, there are a few other costs you should be budgeting for when making the decision to bring a service dog into your life. Although costs vary greatly depending on size, breed, and inclination of your dog, you can expect to spend at the least around $1200 dollars a year caring for your animal.
Just like any regular dog, you will need to feed your service dog a healthy and nutritionally balanced diet. For most people, this ends up costing around $400 a year, maybe more if you have an especially large dog.
Veterinary Visits and Preventative Care
To keep your dog in top shape, you will need to make annual visits to the vet in order to receive routine shots and examinations, in addition to preventative medicines like heartworm pills and flea and tick prevention. Overall, this cost will be around $500 a year, depending on your location and the types of veterinary services you receive.
Sometimes, you will find that your dog needs extra training in certain skills, or you may want to put them through a refresher course just to keep them sharp. This costs around $150 to $250 an hour, and the total cost depends on how much time your dog spends with the trainer.
Toys and Supplies
Your dog will need various toys to keep them happy at home and supplies such as food and water bowls, leashes, and vests. These items will wear out occasionally and need to be replaced, so you are looking at around $50 to $100 a year, depending on what you purchase.
Where to Buy a Service Dog
If you are looking for a pre-trained service dog, you can typically purchase these through any reputable training organization, such as Service Dogs for America. When looking for a service dog, be sure to check accreditation details and the type of training that the company gives to their dogs.
Additionally, most organizations will require you to take part in training sessions with the dog you are paired with to ensure a good match and that you are equipped to handle the dog; companies who refuse to do this or don’t have an application process besides just asking you to pay for the dog should be regarded with caution.
If you are planning to train your own service dog, you can adopt any dog you feel a connection with at a local rescue or dog shelter and then reach out to a local professional trainer. Keep in mind that if you require help for more difficult dexterous tasks, a medium-sized or larger dog may be better suited, as they can pick up and put down things with greater ease.
It is important to note that when you are applying for a service dog through any organization, you will need recommendations from your doctor and a letter detailing your specific need for the animal.
Will Insurance Pay for a Service Dog?
Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t not pay for service dogs; this includes private insurances and government insurances like Medicaid, Medicare, and Tricare. However, individuals who are receiving disability payments will often get a larger check at first to cover back payments, and many people will put this amount towards purchasing a service dog.
Financial Assistance Programs That Help You Get a Service Dog
If you think you, or someone you know, could benefit from a service dog, but are concerned with affording one, there are several financial assistance programs and non-profits out there that can help you receive a service dog at a lower cost.
- Paws With a Cause: This organization provides no-cost service dogs trained to deal with a variety of medical conditions to individuals across the United States.
- Assistance Dogs International: This is an organization that hosts a large database of nonprofits willing to work with individuals to provide no or low-cost service dogs.
- Freedom Service Dogs of America: This organization works to provide no or low-cost service dogs to veterans, to those suffering from PTSD, and to children or adults on the autism spectrum.
These are just a few of the many organizations across the United States that work to reduce the cost of service dogs for individuals in need. Keep in mind that there may be additional local organizations around where you live that can work with you directly to provide you with a service dog.
For many people, service dogs are a necessity that help them handle their disability and proceed about their day as easily as possible. While many service dogs do have a high initial cost, it is very possible to get a service dog for a lower cost through a non-profit or other organization. If you think you could benefit from owning a service dog, speak to your doctor to get the process started.