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How to Get a Service Dog for Free

How to Get a Service Dog for Free

Many people feel they might need a service dog in their lives but are afraid of the costs. Indeed, a fully trained service dog purchased from a reputable organization can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The high cost of a trained service dog leads many to wonder: “How can I get a service dog for free?”

The good news is that while costs are unavoidable, there are ways you can significantly reduce the cost of service dog ownership. This article will guide you on how you can acquire or train a service dog without a hefty price tag while still adhering to the regulations set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Training a Service Dog Yourself

The ADA does not require service dogs to be trained by a third-party professional or organization. Thus, individuals can train their service dogs. This is more common than people think. Many handlers choose this route and develop a deeper bond with their dog in the process. 

If you are not experienced with dog training, however, it’s wise to seek the help of a professional. Self-training a service dog takes major effort and commitment, and has to be done the right way. 

A properly trained service dog is essential for the safety and well-being of not only the handler, but also of the service dog and the public at large. 

The essential elements of training a service dog are: 

  • Basic Obedience Training: Before specialized training, the dog must master basic commands such as sit, stay, come, heel, and down.
  • Task-specific Training: This involves training your dog to perform tasks directly related to your disability, like retrieving items, providing balance, or alerting to certain medical conditions.
  • Public Access Training: Your dog should behave impeccably in various environments, from busy streets to quiet libraries. Service dogs should be able to pass a public access test with flying colors. 
How to Get a Service Dog for Free

Lowering the Cost of Training

Training a dog yourself can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are resources available to help:

  • Hire a Professional Trainer: While hiring a trainer obviously incurs costs, it can be significantly less than purchasing a trained service dog. A trainer can also ensure your dog doesn’t get on the wrong track, which can lead to more time and investment to correct later. Seek trainers with experience in service dog training.
  • Training Videos & Books: There’s a wealth of information online and in libraries. Websites like YouTube have numerous tutorials on service dog training. Books can provide in-depth guidance and step-by-step methods.
  • Local Support Groups: Many areas have local service dog groups or organizations that offer support and training advice.

Adopting a Service Dog

Most people are not in a position to adopt a fully trained service dog because of the high cost. Given the time and effort required to train a service dog, it’s no wonder they are very expensive to purchase.

You can, however, adopt a dog yourself to train. If you are choosing a dog to train yourself, it’s important to find a suitable candidate. The dog should be of the right age, temperament, and health. 

Some dogs from shelters and rescues have the potential to be trained as service dogs. Adopting is often less expensive than purchasing a dog from a breeder. It’s essential, however, to ensure the dog has the right temperament and capabilities for the job. 

If you plan to use a dog you already own, be realistic about what your dog can and can’t do. A service dog must be able to reliably complete tasks in a wide range of environments. 

Avoiding Service Dog Fees

One popular misconception about service dogs is that you need to pay to register them. Many people also think IDs, tags, and vests are also mandatory. This is not the case.

The ADA gives rights to service dog handlers regardless of whether they have these items. If you’re on a tight budget, you can forgo specialized service dog gear. However, most service dog owners use these items as visual aids to identify that service dogs are instrumental in facilitating undisturbed access in public. 

Remember, there is no special fee or mandatory documents or accessories you need to buy in order to qualify for a service dog. If you’re on a tight budget, spend your resources on the most important aspect: proper training.

Service dog in training
Proper, personalized training is the most important aspect of making a dog become a service dog.

Funding and Financial Assistance

For those who need assistance with the financial aspects of acquiring or training a service dog, there are options:

  • Insurance: Currently, many health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover the costs associated with service dogs. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your specific insurance provider.
  • Grants: Some non-profit organizations and foundations offer grants for individuals needing a service dog. 
  • Crowdfunding: Many people have turned to platforms like GoFundMe to raise funds for their service dog needs.

Further Tips for Lowering the Cost of Service Dog Ownership

Network with Service Dog Owners: Join local or online groups to meet service dog owners. They can offer insights, share resources, or even provide hands-on assistance.

DIY Equipment: Some equipment, like vests or harnesses, can be made at home or adapted from standard dog equipment rather than purchasing specialized – and often more expensive – dog gear. 

Veterinary Schools: Some veterinary schools or colleges offer discounted medical services, which can help reduce the overall cost of maintaining a service dog.

Seek Donations of Supplies: Local pet stores or businesses might be willing to donate supplies like dog food, toys, or even training gear.

Stay Updated: Regularly check with service dog organizations for any new grants, programs, or opportunities that might arise. The landscape constantly evolves, and new funding or assistance avenues might become available.

Start Small: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that every step, no matter how small, brings you closer to your goal. Even if it’s just reading a chapter from a training book or teaching your dog a basic command, progress is progress.

Owning and training a service dog on a limited budget undoubtedly presents challenges, but with resourcefulness, determination, and community support, it’s achievable.


While the journey to acquiring a service dog can be daunting, especially when faced with financial constraints, there are viable paths to achieving this without breaking the bank. 

Whether you decide to train a service dog yourself or seek financial assistance, the companionship and assistance provided by these incredible animals make the effort worth it. 

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