FAQ: Veterans

SDA Family

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Therapy, Service, Guide, and Emotional Support Dogs?

  • Therapy Dogs: Dogs trained and certified to provide comfort and/or assistance in a variety of activities. Therapy Dogs are handled by their owners who Volunteer.
  • Service Dogs: According to the American Disabilities Act a dog assisting a person with a disability is considered a service dog (exclusive of therapy dogs and emotional support dogs). Service dogs are entitled to freely access buildings and transportation (buses, trains, planes). By Law, Service Dogs are required to be trained in a task that specifically assists with his handler’s disability.
  • Guide Dogs: Service dogs trained to assist the visually impaired. 
  • Emotional Support Dog: A dog that comforts a person who has emotional problems. By Law, an ESD does not qualify as a Service Dog, but, according to the Fair Housing Act, is allowed to live with their person in an apartment or home that does not allow pets. ESD dogs do NOT have Public Access.

What is the Public Access Test for Service Dogs?

A series of tests designed to assure that a Service Dog is ready to function reliably in public areas; i.e. will follow commands and perform tasks in distracting environments.

What are Service Dogs trained to do?

Service Dogs are trained to do many tasks. Service Dogs Alabama trains dogs for Stability and Harness Assistance, Fall Alert, Wheelchair Assistance, Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome), Seizure Assistance, and Diabetic Alert.  

How long does it take to train a Service Dog?

Service Dogs are trained for six months to two years depending on the age, intelligence, focus, stress temperament, and maturity of the dog when he enters the SDA training program as well as the complexity of tasks that the dog must learn in order to assist the person with disabilities to which he is assigned.. For example, a diabetic alert dog requires a longer training period in order to become proficient in reliable scent detection and alert for low blood sugar along with all Public Access commands. Dogs trained for intervention require less time to train than more complex responses.

How much do Service Dogs cost?

Service Dogs can cost between $12,000 and $30,000.00.
Service Dogs Alabama does not charge for Service Dogs, but requires that Applicants agree to fundraise approximately 50% of the value of the Service Dog that they will receive.

How long do I have to wait to get a Service Dog?

Wait time may vary from 6 months to 2 years depending on what type of Service Dog is requested and what dogs are available at the time the fundraising is completed.

What disabilities qualify for a Service Dog?

Each Application for a Service Dog must have a Doctor’s confirmation of disability and recommendation for a Service Dog. SDA looks at the impact a dog would make on the person’s life such as increasing independence, productivity, and the ability to function in day-to-day tasks and activities (Depression does not qualify as a disability unless it is a symptom of a broader diagnosis such as PTSD). A child, adult, or Veteran must be able to manage a Service Dog by himself in order to qualify. He should be between the ages of 9 and 60 years old to apply. Exceptions are made for young children with Type 1 Diabetes when the parent will be the primary handler.

What should I consider before applying for a Service Dog?

Consider these factors:
  • Can we afford to take care of a Service Dog?
    Caring for a Service Dog has several requirements. A Service Dog must be on monthly oral flea and heartworm treatment - Trifexis or Comfortis + Heartguard or Bravecto and Heartguard. Service Dogs require high quality dog food. Special attention must be paid to daily exercise, weekly baths and daily grooming, complete annual check-ups and other health needs. A fenced-in yard may be required. Service Dogs Alabama also requires annual re-certification for the first three years of placement with a family.

  • Do we have the time to keep a Service Dog trained?
    A Service Dog may come to you completely trained and reliable in all Public Access commands and tasks. It is your job to keep him trained. If you do not consistently practice these commands, your Service Dog will not perform them reliably. This is true for all dogs and all tasks. Consistent training is mandatory and it takes a daily time commitment.

  • Do I want to discuss my disability with strangers everywhere we go with the Service Dog?
    When you have a Service Dog with you, you wear a sign that says to everyone “I have a disability.” You become an open target for questions from interested strangers. It is no longer easy to “run in” the store because people stop you, ask questions, and want more information (strangers are usually well-meaning, but they can become tiresome and annoying). We always recommend patience and kindness in our responses. • Does our family have a lifestyle that is conducive to having a Service Dog?

  • Does our family have a lifestyle that is conducive to having a Service Dog?
    Service Dogs cannot be boarded except at Service Dogs Alabama Training Center. If you must leave your Service Dog somewhere for a short period of time (less than one week), a trusted family member or friend must be trained to keep and manage your Service Dog. Most Service Dogs have a higher degree of separation anxiety than other dogs because they are used to being with their Handler all of the time. Putting them in kennels and leaving them in an unstructured non-working environment will most often increase their anxiety, deplete their work ethic, and diminish their reliability in performing the tasks for which they were trained. A Service Dog should go with their recipient everywhere that they go unless it is unsafe or an inappropriate venue for a dog.
    So if your family travels extensively or does not want to take a dog along with them everywhere, you might consider an Emotional Support Dog or a pet rather than a Service Dog.

  • Would a service dog go to work or school with me?
    Yes. Service Dogs Alabama trains Service Dogs to attend school with their recipients or go to work with them. If your child does not attend school or if you live an inactive lifestyle, you may need a therapeutic pet rather than a certified Service Dog. Service Dogs by definition assist in making their recipient more independent and able to carry out their daily responsibilities.

  • How do I take my Service Dog into Public places?
    Public Access for Service Dogs is mandated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Service Dogs Alabama recommends carrying a copy of the copy of the ADA in your car in order to educate people who are unaware of this law.
    Store keepers, restaurant owners, and other businesses may ask you two questions: “Is this a Service Dog?” and “What tasks is he trained to do for you?”
    However, keep in mind at all times that you are liable and responsible for anything that your Service Dog does. If your Service Dog is being disruptive to other patrons of a business or in a public area, you may be asked to leave.
    Service Dogs Alabama teaches their recipients to educate others about Service Dogs rather that isolate themselves with defensive answers and statements.
    Being defensive about questions about your Service Dog screams “I have a fake service dog!!!”

  • What is a fake Service Dog?
    The ADA Law specifies that a dog must be specifically trained as a Service Dog with tasks that allow a person with a disability to be able to live independently.
    Service Dogs are NOT:

    • Emotional support dogs or comfort-care dogs or therapy dogs.
    • Pets with vests and an ID ordered from online websites.
    • Dogs that know some obedience commands.
    • Dogs that are not proficiently trained in tasks that assist in independence.
    • Dogs adopted from shelters or purchased from breeders that are put in situations that make the dog nervous, aggressive, or fearful.