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February 11, 2020 | money-management

Service Dog Costs 101: How to Budget for a Canine Companion


Service animals provide thousands of individuals with disabilities assistance in their everyday life. Though the help that they provide is essential to the lives of many, they aren’t inexpensive. Because of the extensive training they must undergo, purchasing a service dog can be a stressful and expensive endeavor. Luckily, there are ways to lessen the financial load. We’re here to answer some common questions like:

  • Who can benefit from a service dog?
  • Should you buy a trained dog or train one you already own?
  • How much does a service dog cost?
  • Are there financial assistance programs available for those who need a service dog?

Who Can Benefit from a Service Dog?

The first thing that usually comes to mind when thinking of a service animal is a guide dog for the visually impaired. But service dogs can be of assistance to people with all sorts of disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” The definition goes on to add that, “The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

Conventional roles that service dogs fill include:

  • Guide dogs, also known as Seeing Eye dogs, can assist the visually impaired in travel and a range of other tasks.
  • Signal dogs for the hearing impaired are used to alert owners to sounds such as knocks on the door.
  • Seizure response dogs learn to assist those with seizure disorders. Some are even carefully trained to detect seizures before they happen, allowing the individual to get to a safe place. 
  • Sensory signal dogs are utilized by those with conditions like autism. They can alert owners when they are engaging in repetitive movements like hand flapping, helping them control the urges.
  • Psychiatric service dogs help those with disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can detect the onset of episodes, keep their handler calm and safe, and perform a wide array of other tasks. 

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Therapy Dogs

Emotional support animals, while often used as a valid medical treatment plan for many conditions, are not considered service animals under the ADA. The difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal is a service animal receives specialized training to perform specific tasks. ESAs and therapy dogs don’t have any training but instead provide their owners with therapeutic contact. 

Should You Buy a Trained Dog or Train One You Already Own?

There are two routes that you can take to get a service dog: adopting a dog that has already been trained or training the dog that you already own.

The benefit of purchasing a dog that has already been trained is that you can start benefiting from their services quickly. If you decide to train your dog, the process can take months, if not years. In some cases, a dog that you already own may not even be a service dog candidate.

Trained Service Dog Costs

It takes a lot of training for a service dog to be skilled enough to aid a person with a disability. Trainers put hours of work into each animal, so buying a service dog is not cheap. According to the National Service Animal Registry, the average cost of a service dog is around $15,000-$30,000 upfront. Some can even cost upwards of $50,000 depending on their specific tasks and responsibilities.

Cost of Training Your Dog

The ADA does not require service or support animals to receive professional training. This means that an owner could theoretically train their dog if they desired to do so. There are training programs and service dog certifications available online that can assist in this, including the Canine Good Citizen program sponsored by the American Kennel Club.

However, most experts agree that it is a task that is usually best left to the professionals. According to the experts at Service Dog Certifications, professional dog trainers might charge anywhere between $150 and $250 an hour. They also state that it can take up to two years for a dog to be trained for the full range of support services a person may need. The amount of training may vary depending on the tasks you need your service dog to perform, making it difficult to come up with a single estimate, but this can quickly add up.

How Much Does It Cost to Own a Service Dog?

Like any other pet, you’ll spend a considerable amount of money on your service animal over time. Typical expenses for a healthy dog include:

  • Food. Everyone has to eat! Service dogs are typically larger breeds that go through quite a bit of dog food. It is important that you budget around $400 a year for dog food.
  • Veterinary Care. At a minimum, your dog should have yearly checkups at the vet, along with any routine shots. Annual visits and the occasional shots may cost as much as $260 a year depending on your provider.
  • Preventative Medicine. Dogs should take preventative heartworm medication. If you live in an area prone to ticks or fleas, it’s also a good idea to take measures to keep your furry helper pest free. All-told, this medicine will often cost you and your family about $300 a year.
  • Supplies. Toys, leashes, collars, vests, beds, etc. will wear out and need to be replaced occasionally. Miscellaneous clothing and supplies for your service animal can run upwards of $100 yearly.

These are all costs that assume nothing drastic happens. Emergency vet care can cost you thousands, making pet health insurance a worthwhile expense.

Are There Financial Assistance Programs Available for Those Who Need a Service Dog?

Even years of saving sometimes aren’t enough to cover the cost of a service animal. Luckily, there are several options when it comes to financing the purchase of a service dog. Some of the most common include:

  • Home Equity Loans. If you are a current homeowner, using the equity in your home to cover the cost of your new service animal may be the best approach. Do your research and see if a home equity loan (HEL) or home equity line of credit (HELOC) will feature a lower interest rate than a personal loan or credit card purchase.
  • Fundraising. This approach has become more feasible with the advent of online fundraising platforms like GoFundMe. These platforms can make it possible to share your campaigns and personal story across the world. Even donations of a few dollars here and there start to add up.
  • Grants and Nonprofits. Donations from both government and nonprofit organizations aim to provide service dogs to those who need them for little to no cost. Some service dog organizations cater to individuals with particular needs, while others serve groups such as veterans. Others provide resources and funds for keeping your dog healthy once you own it.

You can find a terrific list of organizations that provide financial aid here.

Conclusion

While getting a service dog may seem like a daunting task, it certainly isn’t an impossible one. There are people and organizations out there designed to help people find and afford a service dog. The right companion can improve your quality of life and serve its owner for years to come.

 

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