If you’re living with a disability in Colorado, 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 right to bring a service dog into any “public accommodations” (restaurants, entertainment venues, retail stores, educational institutions, etc.). Businesses, landlords, and airlines cannot charge for a service dog or treat the owner differently, providing the animal is housebroken and well-behaved.
Aside from the ADA, which is a federal law, most states have their own regulations concerning service animals. In Colorado, the laws protecting service animals are similar to those outlined by the ADA. However, Colorado does offer some additional protections.
For example, it is illegal to misrepresent a pet as a service dog. Doing so is hurtful to actual service dog users. Under Colorado law, offenders can be fined. Colorado also extends protection to service dogs in training, which the ADA does not do. This means that service dogs in training in Colorado are allowed in all of the same public spaces as fully-trained service dogs. Another interesting aspect of Colorado law is that while pit bulls are a banned breed in some cities, this ban does not extend to pit bulls employed as service dogs.
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 Colorado.
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, 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 Colorado
Now that you’re up to speed, it’s time to check out the top service dog training programs in Colorado, 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).
Location: Online only (6 video modules)
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: Clicker, plus optional service vest, collar, collar tag, and leash
Canine Partners of the Rockies
Canine Partners of the Rockies primarily focuses on training mobility service dogs to match with clients. They don’t train medical alert, seizure response, guide dogs, hearing dogs, or psychiatric service dogs; they only place dogs in very special circumstances for PTSD and autism assistance, and they don’t train dogs that are solely for stability/balance.
Service dog training lasts for about 2 years, with 2 weeks of partnership training to help build the bond between handler and service dog. Canine Partners of the Rockies uses positive reinforcement training methods, as well as clicker training which can be a very good match for service dogs. For the first year, Canine Partners of the Rockies requires monthly contact and evaluation from handlers about their service dog. Contact is expected less frequently after that over the course of the handler and service dog’s partnership.
Location: E. Aurora, CO
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: Unspecified
Mountain High Service Dogs
Mountain High Service Dogs can either match an applicant with a dog, or they can help a handler train their own dog, as long as it’s not a breed known for aggression. Mountain High Service Dogs offers a temperament test the dog must pass before they will help train it. It should be noted that Mountain High Service Dogs does not train guide dogs.
For veterans, a service dog costs $10,000, for everyone else it’s $15,000. A $1,500 deposit is required, and Mountain High Service Dogs does allow clients to pay the remaining balance over the course of 2 years without any interest. It can take up to 6 months to be matched with a dog, but the wait time is usually shorter. When it comes to pre-trained service dogs, Mountain High Service Dogs works with Labs, German shepherds, Golden retrievers, and mixes of those 3 breeds exclusively. Training can take anywhere from 6-18 months, depending on the age of the dog applicants are matched with as well as what tasks the handler needs it to do.
Location: Palmer Lake, CO
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: No
Faithfully K9 specializes in training service dogs to help with PTSD and mobility issues. If you do not have a dog, they can work with breeders and rescues to get one for you to train as a service dog. If you already have a dog, it will need to have a calm, confident, and friendly demeanor. Faithfully K9 does not consider dogs that are reactive, aggressive, or fearful as appropriate candidates. You will also need a reference from a medical professional or proof of your time in the military in order to qualify for training.
Cost: $50 per session, free for veterans
Location: In-person (Conifer, CO.)
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: None
Guardian Service Dogs
Guardian Service Dogs is dedicated to helping disabled citizens become owner-trainers of their own service dogs. While this organization caters especially to veterans, they do help non-military citizens with disabilities, as well. If you have your own dog and it meets Guardian Service Dogs’ criteria, then it can be trained to be a service dog. Otherwise, they will help you obtain a puppy either from a breeder or a rescue. Because training a service dog is so expensive, Guardian Service Dogs has partnered with a number of organizations offering scholarships that owner-trainers can apply for.
Cost: $18,000 – $20,000
Location: In-person (Colorado Springs, CO.)
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: None