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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Service Dog Society

Minimum Standards for Programs and Trainers

Thursday, 10.05.2017


These standards have been created in order for members of the community to better be able to choose or recommend both service dog trainers and service dog training programs. These standards shall also serve as guidelines for trainers and training programs to follow in order to provide the highest quality services to their dogs and clients.

This document is specifically addressing those trainers and programs within the community that market themselves as specializing in the training and placement of service dogs.


Trainer: An individual who professionally trains service dogs, but is not operating under the umbrella of a larger organization.

Training Program: An organization that trains and places either “started” or fully trained service dogs for clients with disabilities.

Service Dog: A fully trained Service Dog.

Service Dog in Training: A dog that is being trained with the purpose of becoming a fully trained Service Dog.

Candidate: A dog that is being considered for Service Dog training.

Client: The individual with disabilities that a dog is or has been trained to assist. This would also include any individuals who legally or contractually represent the disabled individual.

Minimum Standards and Expectations for Trainers/Training Programs

Programs and Trainers shall not deny services to clients based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, political affiliation.

Programs and Trainers shall conduct themselves with professionalism in all interactions, remaining civil and respectful.

Programs and Trainers shall be expected to keep personal details of a client's situation confidential unless given written permission by the client.

Programs and Trainers should maintain regular communication with the client during training and for the purpose of follow-ups.

Programs and Trainers should have in place a clear written contract to protect both the program/trainer and client.

Programs and Trainers shall be up front regarding charges and payment terms and include these details in their contract.

Programs and Trainers should maintain documentation of training sessions and provide copies to the client for legal purposes.

Programs and Trainers shall make themselves available as expert witnesses to the dog's training if needed in a legal situation.

Programs and Trainers shall educate the client on the proper ways to handle and care for their dog.

Trainers and Program Trainers should be able to demonstrate working knowledge of learning theory, canine behavior, proper care, safety, service animal laws and the ability to adapt methods to individual client needs.

Programs and Trainers shall provide a minimum of three client references who have fully trained Service Dogs.


Trainers should have a minimum of 2 years experience training service dogs.

Trainers should be available for correspondence within 1 week with any current client unless previously notified to expect otherwise.

Training Programs

Programs should have a minimum of 2 years experience training service dogs as a whole. Individual trainers within the organization can have less experience as long as they are operating under the supervision of a more experienced trainer.


Programs and Trainers shall board no more dogs than they can regularly work with, provide vet care to, feed, water, provide mental and physical exercise, and potty regularly.

Boarded dogs should have clean, warm, safe sleeping arrangements.

Boarded dogs should immediately be given veterinary care when necessary.

Clients should be communicated to in no less than 12 hours if their dog is lost, ill, injured or any other issue arises.

Boarded dogs should be interacted with enough daily that any signs of illness, pests, or injury can be recognized and attended to.

Programs shall maintain written and video records of training sessions with boarded dogs and provide a minimum of weekly progress reports to the client.

Programs shall reply to any communication from a client within 48 hours while the client's dog is in their care.

Programs shall reply to any communication from a client within 1 week while in a contractual relationship with the client.  

Boarding facilities shall be cleaned of waste no less than once daily.

Boarding facilities shall maintain or provide all necessary vaccinations and preventatives while in their care

Ethical Guidelines for Service Dog Candidate Selection

Aggressive dogs shall not be trained for service work. SDs should show absolutely no signs of aggression (lunging, growling, nipping, excessive barking, baring teeth) towards people, animals, objects.

No dogs with record of a bite will be trained for service work.

Candidates should be assessed for suitability for the intended tasks and/or work

Dogs are chosen appropriately for the lifestyle, disabilities, skill, age, and size of the client

Ethical Guidelines for Service Dogs in Training

Training methods should be humane and not cause physical, mental or emotional harm to the dog.

Service Dogs in Training should be clean, groomed, and free from illness when in public.

Service Dogs in Training should be completely house-trained before training in public places.

Programs and Trainers shall provide age and maturity appropriate training opportunities. Public outings for young dogs should be limited to 5 mins per months of age.

Programs and Trainers shall follow all federal, state and local laws while training, require clients to do the same, and should educate clients as to what the applicable laws are.

Programs and Trainers shall only train dogs for mobility work that meet the height and weight ethical guidelines for such work.

Mobility work should not begin until joints growth plates have been confirmed closed and hip and elbow joints have been rated by the OFA or PennHip.

Service Dogs in Training should be a minimum of 1 year (preferably 18 months) and have a minimum of 6 months training and 3 months public access training before *graduating* to full Service Dog status

 Ethical Guidelines for the Placement of Service Dogs

Applicable health testing should be completed before being released to client (programs)

Dogs will not be placed into an unsafe or unstable environment (programs)

Dogs will be trained, placed and “graduated” based on their own individual maturity levels rather than an arbitrary age or length of training (programs and trainers)

Clients should be able to provide for the the dog's mental, emotional and physical needs

Clients should have a disability according to the ADA definition, with the nature of their disability being such that a dog can be trained to mitigate it.

Minimum Standards of Behavior for Fully Trained Service Dogs

Service Dogs should remain focused on their handler and not attempt to solicit attention from others while working.

Service Dogs should not be disruptive or out of control.

Service Dogs shall not also be trained for any type of protection or bite-work. These do not qualify a dog for service work and in fact disqualify the dog from service work.

Service Dogs should be clean, groomed, and free from illness when in public.

Service Dogs should be completely house-trained before working in public.

Service Dogs should not vocalise unless it is a task.

Service Dogs should not sniff people, animals or objects unless tasking.

Service Dogs should ignore any food in public places

Service Dogs should not attempt to gain access to items unless specifically cued to do so.

Service Dogs should be individually trained to perform work or tasks to mitigate the handler's disability.

Service Dogs should be able to perform their trained task(s) in public with 90% reliability.

Service Dogs should maintain a loose leash at all times unless performing guide or forward momentum work.

Service Dogs should be able to settle out of the way when the situation calls for it without blocking the walkway or causing a tripping hazard.

Service Dogs should be proficient at basic commands including: Sit, Down, Stay, Recall, LLW, Settle and should perform each with 90% reliability.

While a formal public access test is not required, fully trained SDs should be able to display the following skills:

90% reliability in performing a disability related task

Entering and exiting transportation safely

Calmly and safely riding in transportation

Calmly and safely walking through a parking lot

Calmly and safely entering and exiting a building

Calmly and safely walking through a store on a loose leash without interacting with other people, animal or objects, unless instructed to do so for a task.

Sit-stay and down-stay in the presence of a shopping cart, food on the floor, people walking by, a child walking by, another dog walking by, being touched by a stranger.

Responding to their name or a focus cue despite distractions.

Remaining settled and tucked away in a waiting room or restaurant.

Calmly and safely riding in an elevator and navigating stairs.

Inclusion in the Directory

In order to be considered for inclusion in the Service Dog Society business directory, programs and trainers must confirm their adherence to these standards and agree to operate by them in the future.

Membership is free at this time. Members will have available Service Dog Society logos to use in their marketing materials (website, pamphlets, emails, etc) to indicate their adherence to these standards.

Programs and Trainers shall provide the following documentation to be considered:

3 clients with fully trained Service Dogs to be contacted as references.

10 minutes worth of video demonstrating training sessions with client dogs.

10 minutes worth of video demonstrating public access behavior and skills for a minimum of 3 fully trained client service dogs. There should be a minimum of 2 minutes of video for each individual dog.

If offering boarding services - pictures of the sleeping areas, training areas, and equipment dedicated to client dogs.

A blank copy of the contract provided to clients.

A signed copy of this document.

Membership Renewal

Membership is required to be renewed yearly.

Programs and Trainers shall provide the following each year:

1 new client reference (with a fully trained Service Dog)

1 new client reference (with a Service Dog in Training)

2 minutes of video showing training sessions with 1 or more client dogs.

If offering boarding services - pictures of the sleeping areas, training areas, and equipment dedicated to client dogs.

A signed copy of this document.

Removal from the Directory

Any breach of these standards shall result in immediate removal from the directory, with no exceptions. Programs and Trainers must wait a minimum of 1 year before re-applying.

Clients are encouraged to come forward with their feedback of trainers and programs as pertains to these guidelines.  Complaints will be promptly investigated.

Programs and Trainers are expected to respond to the Service Dog Society's attempts at communication regarding these standards within 2 weeks, or membership will be put on hold.

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