If you’re living with a disability in Florida, it might be worth training your new pooch (or 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” (which includes restaurants, entertainment venues, retail stores, educational institutions, and more). Businesses, including housing and airlines, cannot charge for a service dog or treat the owner differently, providing the animal is housebroken and well-behaved.
Florida Statute 413.08 provides similar protections for individually trained animals that assist a person with a disability. Unlike the ADA, Florida law also covers service dogs during the training process as well, granting them the same rights as a fully trained animal. Therefore, a person with a disability may bring a partially trained service animal into any public accommodation.
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 Florida.
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 type of 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 purpose-bred puppy, while others accept existing pets (after a rigorous evaluation) or source animals from a local shelter. In any case, check whether their 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 year-long 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 an in-person 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 and disadvantages, 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 can be essential when a severe disability renders self-training impractical. Both human and canine 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||Easy: trainers do most of the work, essential for people with severe disabilities.|
|Convenient: train your dog at a time that’s suitable for you||Effective: in-person trainers draw on years of experience to achieve optimal results|
|Comfort: no need to leave the comfort of your own home||Exercise: you and your dog will get out and about|
The Best Service Dog Training in Florida
Now that you’re up to speed, it’s time to check out the top service dog training programs in Florida, 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 also 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 (along with 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
Located in Central Florida, New Horizons is a volunteer-run non-profit that prepares fully-trained service dogs to assist people with mobility impairments. Although the organization primarily trains dogs to help people in wheelchairs, veterans with disabilities and children with autism may also apply.
New Horizons follows stringent Assistance Dogs International Standards throughout the training process and puts eligible applicants onto a waiting list to receive the next appropriate service dog. The quality of the training is superb, but applicants must wait a year or more before they can welcome an animal into their home. Recipients pay a modest application and training fee and are encouraged to help raise funds from the local community.
Cost: Application fee: $50, two-week training: $500 (plus food/accommodation expenses)
Location: Orange City, Florida
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: Vest, bowl, food, collar, leash, grooming supplies
Jeanine’s Professional Dog Training
Jeanine is an independent dog trainer who offers various canine behavior services, including service dog training. First, she provides private lessons for pre-selected puppies from eight weeks old, moving them onto a socialization skills phase when ready. Next, Jeanine switches to intense public access training to ensure each graduate has the skills to assist their new owner in everyday situations.
Jeanine also trains and certifies existing pets for public access, providing they’ve passed the Good Canine Citizen test and are between 18 months and four years old. She’s based in Sarasota, but will travel further afield with payment of a mileage fee.
Cost: Contact for a quote
Location: Sarasota, Florida
1:1 Support: One-on-one or group classes available
Equipment Provided: No
Heart & Soul
This professional Central Florida trainer offers multiple service dog training options that cater to customers with a wide range of ADA-recognized disabilities. Their comprehensive programs see the company train puppies in-house over an extended period, and then teach the new owner how to handle the animal in public access locations.
Cost-effective alternatives include an in-person self-training program or an online option, both with tons of expert advice.
Heart & Soul permits customers to train existing pets, providing they’re at least six months old (for the board and train options) and can pass various temperament evaluations. All programs except the online option include a public access excursion to Disney World & Universal Studios to ensure every animal can excel in a busy, high-stimuli environment.
Cost: Three month board and train: $10,500, five-week board and train: $6,500, personal training: $4,500, online school: $997
Location: Sumterville and Gainesville, Florida
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: Yes
K9 Off Leash
Lead trainer and lauded expert Allan Castillo fronts the team at K9 Off Leash, a reputable Miami business that provides a broad range of services. With over 25 years of experience training dogs for police departments, film productions, and people with disabilities, Alan draws on his profound understanding of the canine psyche to produce outstanding results.
The service dog program caters to anyone with an ADA-recognized sensory, physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disability. Customers can choose to purchase a fully trained service dog with a top pedigree or enlist an existing pet into the board and train program (subject to approval).
Cost: Four weeks board and train: $4500
Location: Miami, Florida
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: E-Collar