A service dog can be an invaluable partner in assisting with daily tasks for an individual with specific physical, neurological or mental needs. Considered to be more than a pet, a service dog is trained to support and mitigate a person’s impairment. This is especially true in public environments such as restaurants, schools, hospitals and other establishments. Your disability shouldn’t hold you back from living life to the fullest. By partnering with a canine sidekick, you may be able to achieve newfound confidence and independence.

Owning a service dog is a time-consuming commitment, so make sure you’re ready. Investing in a trained canine companion will include financial, emotional and physical responsibilities. It will be your responsibility to take care of the dog and keep it healthy. This means keeping the canine groomed, flea-free and fed at all times. A family member may be able to help care for the animal if you’re physically unable. 

Remember, a service dog is not like owning a regular pet — its No. 1 job is to serve. The canine can’t be treated like any other four-legged friend. It can’t eat food from your plate or roam the house like a normal dog. A service dog requires a professional relationship from its owner, which means continuously maintaining your canine’s training and skill sets. 

Research the agency thoroughly to find out whether or not it’s a member of an organization such as Assistance Dogs International. Also, investigate the agency’s standing with the Better Business Bureau and IRS. Be wary of service animal frauds from people looking to make quick money. 

For more tips on what to know before integrating a trained companion into your life, see the accompanying infographic.