IACP Service Dog Committee

An Overview of Service Dog (SD) Skills

The skills needed for a well-rounded service dog fall into three categories:

  1. Foundation skills - the basics upon which the task skills are built.  This category includes basic and advanced obedience skills such as sit, down, walking properly on leash, come, etc.

  2.  Task skills - the skills the dog must learn to mitigate the disability.  This category is vast and can be split into a number of subcategories based on the disability.  Examples of skills in this category are bracing for mobility, alerting to allergens (peanuts, shellfish, etc.), seizure response, alerting to high or low blood glucose levels, etc.

  3. Public access skills – these are the skills the dog must obtain to be able to perform the tasks safely and without interference to other customers in a business or public environment.  This can be the most time consuming and intensive part of service dog training.  Public access skills is the area the majority of dogs show they are not able to handle the stress of being in public and work in a calm, competent manner.  Examples of these skills include: tucking under a table or chair in a restaurant, riding safely on a subway and/or airplane, ignoring other animals and distractions, etc.

 These standards of behavior ensure the animal is under control and calm while working. The dog should be:


  •  Housebroken
  •  Obedience trained (beyond basic obedience)
  •  Responsive to first commands of handler-The IACP Service Dog Committee suggests the dog is responsive to at least 90% of the first commands given to the dog.
  • Able to ignore food and other items on the floor
  • Able to ignore other animals, people, food (unless scenting for allergies), and objects
  • Clear of signs of aggression such as lunging, growling, showing teeth snapping, biting, or posturing
  • Clean and well-groomed: coat has no visible dirt, mats, or odor; ears, mouth, are odor-free; nails are short enough they do not interfere with dog’s movement; equipment is clean and odor-free
  • Well-behaved without jumping, licking, or approaching other people
  •  Able to maintain composure despite multiple distractions
  • Able to maintain four paws on the floor unless completing specific tasks to aid handler

Different Types of Assistance Dogs

 Not all assistance dogs are service dogs and it is important to know the differences and which laws apply for access.  The table below explains the differences:





Emotional Support


Species Limitation

YES (Dogs only with exception of miniature horses)


YES (must be domesticated animal)

Required to be allowed to accompany a person with disability into non-pet businesses and venues







Required to be accommodated in a non-pet housing situation







Task trained to provide assistance to one person with a disability







Provides comfort but does not perform a specific trained task for one person to mitigate a disability







Purpose is to provide interactions with other people








Qualities to Consider When Selecting a Service Dog

While it may at first seem as though any friendly dog could be a potential service dog, the truth is the large majority of dogs are unsuited for the rigors of service dog work.  In addition to learning skills to help its handler, a service dog must be prepared to courageously endure potentially stressful and trying situations.

These are some of the qualities to consider when selecting a potential service dog:

  1. Demonstrates a high tolerance to distraction, pain, and pressure situations. This includes situations where it might be expected that a dog could potentially bite such as having its tail stepped on, ears pulled, awoken abruptly, etc.

  2. Clear of skeletal and hereditary issues.  These are things such as hip & elbow dysplasia, poor breed confirmation, congenital heart or eye diseases, and temperament, etc.  All service dogs should pass the same health integrity standards as one’s who assist with mobility trained tasks where dogs typically endure more physical demands in the work they perform.  Service dogs regardless of their specifically trained work functions will be required to stay in one place for long periods of time including lying or standing on hard surfaces and navigating uneven terrain.  The work a service dog is required to perform may aggravate symptoms in the dog with preexisting physical, mental or medical conditions and make it unable to qualify or continue working as a trained service dog.

  3. Stable behavior such as not exhibiting shy, timid, overbearing, or aggressive tendencies.  A dog displaying these behaviors around people, sounds, and other animals will not do well in a service dog role.

  4. Appeasing.  In order to make a great service dog, the dog must have a strong desire to work with its handler and to perform trained tasks in a variety of situations.

 Thinking of Training Your Own Service Dog?

 These are the items one needs to consider:

  1.  Does your dog possess the qualities listed under “Qualities to consider when selecting a service dog?”

  2.  Have you trained more than one dog beyond basic obedience? The number of skills and steps involved in training your service dog will require a solid   understanding of how dogs learn and how to best train them.  A rudimentary knowledge of basic obedience skills will get you started in the service dog training   process, but one will quickly find a higher level of knowledge is needed.

  3. Are your needs potentially life threatening?  If you are training for a life dependent skill such as seizure response, diabetic alert, mobility, guiding for vision impairment, then it is strongly advised to utilize a trainer with a proven record of producing service dogs with these skills.

  4. Do you have the time to train all aspects of your service dog?  Training a service dog is not similar to training a dog in basic obedience.  The high level of skill required in a service dog mandates daily practice and access to a wide variety of situations, locations and an advanced level of obedience training.  The proper training of a service dog can take anywhere from 18-36 months. 

Selecting A Service Dog Trainer or Organization

Here are some questions to guide you through the process of selection:

  1. What affiliation(s) does the trainer or organization have that provides assistance and educational opportunities to the trainer/organization?

  2.  What knowledge does the trainer/organization have to make him or her competent to assess your needs as they relate to your disability?

  3. What certifications does the trainer and/or organization hold?  While certification is not a legal requirement to be a dog trainer, it does show a commitment on the part of the trainer to maintain a level of skill in the specific field.

  4. Where does the trainer/organization obtain the service dog in training (SDIT) candidates?

  5. How are the SDIT candidates selected?

  6. How many service dogs has the trainer/organization actually placed and have currently working?

  7. How will the trainer/organization communicate with your healthcare provider to make sure the animal will meet your needs?

  8. How will your healthcare and other information be kept confidential?

  9. How will the training of the dog be individualized for your specific needs?

  10. What happens to the dog if you and the dog do not complete training?

  11. What is the application process?

  12. Is there a formal written complaint resolution process?

  13. What knowledge does the trainer/organization possess and can relay to you about the different laws for access of an individual with a disability using a service dog?

  14. How often will you and the dog be evaluated to ensure you are working well as a team?

  15. What references are available from people who have SDs working currently that were trained by the organization/trainer?

  16. Who owns the dog after placement and can the dog be repossessed by the trainer/organization?

  17. Is there a clear, written contract?

  18. Are there any recorded complaints regarding the trainer/organization to the Better Business Bureau, state Attorney General's office, or any other provincial, local, or municipality offices?

  19. What health guarantees and clearances does the dog have?

  20. What continued education and support does the trainer/organization provide for you after you have received the dog?

Some Final Thoughts

Training and/or purchasing a service dog can be a costly endeavor.  Some trainers and organizations will provide a service dog free of charge to the client or they may require a donation.  It is very important you conduct research to maximize success in partnering with a dog to mitigate the symptoms of your disability.

Should you have further questions, please email:  [email protected]