If you’re living with a disability in Illinois, 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.
The Illinois White Cane Law provides similar protections, although it also states that the owner must pay for any damages a service dog may cause. The Illinois Human Rights Act mandates that service dogs that assist with sight, hearing, and physical impairments be permitted into housing.
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 Illinois.
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|
The Best Service Dog Training in Illinois
Now you’re up to speed, it’s time to check out the top service dog training programs in Illinois—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
Committed Canine specializes in psychiatric, mobility/balance, and medical alert service dog training and places an emphasis against “guarding” breeds for service dog work. Committed Canine can either train the handler’s dog on-site, or the handler can enroll in Committed Canine’s TEACH class.
Committed Canine’s custom on-site training lasts ten weeks. At the end of the custom training process, the client attends three days of comprehensive instruction on how to handle their service dog, and returns a month later for two days of follow-up instruction and is then offered the PAT (Public Access Test). In total, Committed Canine requires a full week of one-on-one coaching with clients before offering the PAT. They also offer free access to future training events for refresher or follow-up and free PAT refreshers.
TEACH classes help the handler train their service dog themselves. The classes are three weekends long that are spaced six weeks apart for handlers to practice what they’ve learned in class. Classes are up to three dog teams, so the service dog will be getting socialization without it being too overwhelming.
Committed Canine accepts dogs from clients for both their Custom Training and TEACH classes.
Cost: Depends on the program selected, discount offered for Military Veterans and First Responders
Location: Browntown, IL
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: Yes
SIT Service Dogs
SIT provides fully trained service dogs for seizure response, mobility assistance, medical alert, and neurological/traumatic brain injury work. Dogs come from their own breeding program, and begin training at just three days old.
SIT aims to have the handler as involved or uninvolved with the training process as they like–they tailor the experience to the handler’s needs. There is a mandatory week-long training course that the handler must attend to ensure they will understand how to motivate the service dog and to develop a bond. Training can take anywhere from 6-18 months depending on what tasks the handler needs the dog to do.
Cost: Contact for more information
Location: Ava, IL
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: Unspecified
Paws Giving Independence
PGI is a passionate non-profit that works tirelessly to place service animals with people with disabilities in Central Illinois. Through fundraising efforts in the local community, the organization can provide animals for approved applicants free of charge, although a lengthy waiting list is the norm.
Applicants must have a documented physical disability, including muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and arthritis, among others—no psychiatric disabilities are catered for. A series of rigorous assessments occur to determine suitability, then the applicant must attend 25 hours of in-person training at the facility in Peoria. The organization provides continual training for the lifetime of the animal.
1:1 Support: Yes
Equipment Provided: Unspecified