Training a Service Dog for Public Access Privileges

Everyone loves puppies! Who wouldn’t? They’re cute, cuddly and meant to be our best friends.  The notion of having our pet become a certified service dog, however, is  another notion entirely. While this endeavor can be worth the effort it is not without costs of both time and money. This article outlines the expenses involved in training a service dog with public access credentials.

From the Beginning…

When planning your puppy purchase it is important to use a qualified, well respected breeder.  Puppies from these breeders can cost upwards of $1000 so do your research and know your upfront investment.

A trip to get the puppy will run the cost of fuel and other travel expenses. If you request that a Speak Dog trainer be involved in assisting you in choosing a puppy at the breeder’s location,  fuel to and from the breeder will be charged as well as our regular hourly rate.

Please note that there are specific types of dogs that we will approve for service dog training. Please contact us prior to making any arrangements. We often recommend standard poodles and other breeds with allergy friendly coats; it is always nice not to intrude or offend others as we access the public with our dog. The key to choosing the right breed is selecting a dog that will be physically and mentally up to doing the job for which it is being chosen while still fitting the lifestyle and needs of its home.

In addition to the cost of acquiring the puppy count on costs*( for regular maintenance such as grooming, food, vaccines, spay/neuter, etc. Grooming performed by a professional groomer can cost approximately $50 every 1-2 months for hair trimming, bath, etc. Good quality food costs approximately $40 per month for an average standard poodle. Vaccines and spay neuter will likely cost around $400 or more depending on the veterinarian chosen. Any other necessary veterinary costs are subject to their own expense such as if the puppy hurts itself or gets sick. Other expenses, such as a crate, toys, dishes, collar, leash, flea and tick treatment, brushes, de-wormer, etc., will be incidental costs . Note that a crate alone will cost over $100.  These costs can vary widely and come part and parcel with owning any dog.

Hello Puppy!  Now What?

Service dogs require intensive training and socialization from the outset. To achieve the level of training needed to become a service dog it is required that your puppy spend at least one month as a Board and Train student. Board and Train, where the puppy is kept at the trainers home for one month, is $2,500. If you choose, you may have the puppy Board and Train for two months at a discounted rate of $4000. This training will provide basic training including potty training, socialization, manner cues, such as sit, down, stay, etc., and a foundation for your puppy’s specialized service training.

After the puppy goes to its home it will need to attend several group classes with Speak Dog. These 6 week classes cost $125. It is anticipated that your puppy will need to participate in at least five six week series classes to reach the level of obedience needed to meet the preliminary requirements of a service dog.

In addition to the group classes private in-home training sessions and private day training field trips will be necessary to teach the puppy service specific service related behaviors and to prepare the puppy for public access training/certification. The most cost effective way to manage private lessons is to purchase a time package, rather than to pay for time on an hourly basis.  Most service dog owners chose to purchase a couple 9 hour packages for $490 each.  Day training is $150 per day. I prefer to spend at least one hour each week in the home with the dog and its owners. This is in addition to the puppy attending group classes.

Wow, We Made it, Now what?

Once the dog has obtained its Canine Good Citizen Certification and Public Access Certification through a Speak Dog accredited service animal registry we will schedule regular maintenance training. We generally spend between 1-3 hours training each month, although this is dependent on the needs of the home and the individuals. It is also worth mentioning that Speak Dog provides board and train for $150 per day, $800 per week, and the previously mentioned $2,500 per month in the event that the dog needs behavior modification or specialty training. This is also an option for owners should they need to go to the hospital before the dog is ready for that.

At the end of this intense training program your dog will need to be registered with the service animal registry and you will need to purchase a service dog vest so members of the community can identify them as something other than a pet.

How the Costs Shake Out

All in all the cost of service dog training can vary from $7000, which includes training them to perform basic tasks, to $20,000 for more intensive training. As an example the average cost of training a dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind runs about $30,000 – fortunately their clients are not charged this full amount. Cost is dependent on the needs of the individual who requires the dog.

I would say the cost of an average service dog with public access will be approximately $10,000. If the owner needs more specific tasks then costs will increase. Speak Dog recognizes the important these dogs play in the lives of their owners. We make every effort to train each dog as quickly as it can learn. Please note that when we reach the stage of training very specific tasks it is important to get a prescription from your physician that describes which tasks should be performed by the dog.

In terms of total time, from acquiring the puppy to owning a working service dog with public access certification, is generally around 1 year of age, however this  depends on the dog and its training needs. The remainder of its training should be complete by around 18 months of age. All dogs will need some level of ongoing maintenance training. The beauty with this intensive up-front training is that it gets the dog trained early and quickly. After the first 18 months, or so, the costs taper off to only maintenance.

On a Final Note

Other cost considerations would be fees associated with exercising the dog. Often clients with physical limitations chose to hire a dog walker or purchase a treadmill so the dog can get adequate exercise. Service dogs require exercise to be balanced and in good shape so they can perform their duties.

Given these intense requirement a standard poodle service dog can work for around 8 years of their life. (Earlier in their life they are in the training phase and later in their life is retirement.) Often these dogs can help to train the next service dog, which proves very helpful in many cases.

Service dogs play an incredibly important role for their owners.  Their work helps to increase both independence and safety for their owners. As you have learned, training a service dog is more than just teaching appropriate cueing and taking a few extra lessons; service dog development is an investment.  I look forward to helping you as you look to training your own service dog. Our goal is to get them started on the right foot so they can provide years of successful service.

* Please note that the costs noted in this article are only general estimates and your particular costs will vary. You may check with your insurance company to see if some or all of the costs can be reimbursed. We do not bill insurance, you will need to pay us directly and get reimbursed if there is any coverage available to you.