HomeShould You Get a Service Dog? A Guide to Help You Decide

Should You Get a Service Dog? A Guide to Help You Decide

Published On: October 27, 2023Categories: Disability Services
Overhead view of a person holding a leash of a white dog with a harness that reads 'service dog'.

Have you asked yourself:  ”Should I get a service dog?”

Service animals can be incredibly helpful for people with disabilities. They are specially trained to provide invaluable assistance and accommodation to people facing physical, mental health, or medical challenges. However, they are not right for everyone.

If you’re considering getting a service dog for yourself or a loved one, here’s what you need to know first.

What Are The Differences Between Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Animals?

When determining if a service dog is right for you, it’s important to understand the distinctions between service, therapy, and emotional support animals (ESAs)–especially in the context of ADA laws:

Service Animals

Service animals, like guide dogs, receive specialized training in obedience and tasks to assist individuals with disabilities. They’re legally protected under the ADA, granting them access to public places.

Therapy Animals

Therapy animals, on the other hand, aren’t covered by ADA laws. They undergo training to provide comfort and emotional support to various people, often in healthcare settings.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

ESAs offer emotional comfort, but their legal status differs. They don’t receive specific training, and their access rights are limited compared to service animals.

Understanding these key differences will help you determine the animal type that best suits your unique needs.

How Do Service Animals Help People With Disabilities?

Service animals are incredible companions that enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities in numerous ways. They ensure outings and daily activities are more accessible and enjoyable. Here are some of the ways they can help:

1. Mobility Assistance: Service animals help their handlers navigate safely, including helping wheelchair users by pulling them uphill and providing balance.

Large service dog helping a person who is using a white cane to walk.

2. Medication And Alert Assistance: Some service animals are trained to remind individuals to take medication at the right times or alert them to impending medical issues, ensuring their well-being.

3. Use Of Adaptive Equipment: Service animals can assist with tasks like opening doors, retrieving items, or even operating specialized equipment for those with limited mobility.

4. Sensory Assistance: Dogs trained for sensory processing disorders can provide deep pressure therapy and alert handlers to sensory overload, making crowded or noisy environments more manageable.

5. Emotional Support: Beyond physical assistance, service animals offer emotional support, reducing stress and anxiety, promoting relaxation, and improving their handlers’ overall mental health.

Service animals can offer practical assistance and emotional companionship, ensuring their handlers can navigate the world with dignity and confidence.

What Types of Disabilities Qualify For A Service Animal?

Service animals play a crucial role in enhancing the lives of individuals with various disabilities, including:

Physical Disabilities

Individuals with physical disabilities like wheelchair users often benefit from service animals trained to perform tasks like opening doors, retrieving objects, or assisting with mobility.

Developmental Disabilities

Service animals can support individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism. These animals can offer emotional comfort, reduce anxiety, and help with sensory regulation, making daily life more manageable.

Intellectual Disabilities

Individuals with intellectual disabilities can also find valuable companionship and assistance from service animals. These animals can help with daily tasks and routines, contributing to greater independence and quality of life.

When you work with a licensed service animal provider, they provide specialized training to ensure the animal can meet the person’s unique needs.

What Is The Process To Get A Service Animal?

In the state of Nevada, the process starts with your healthcare provider.

Speak with your doctor or therapist to discuss your disability and the potential benefits of a service animal. Your healthcare provider can provide valuable insights and guidance on where to apply for a service animal.

Next, look for accredited service animal organizations or trainers in Nevada. Ensure that they have a good reputation for training and providing service animals. Then, contact the chosen organization or trainer to start the application process. You’ll likely need to provide documentation of your disability and undergo an assessment to determine your suitability for a service animal.

If approved, you’ll work with the organization or trainer to select and train your service animal.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the laws related to service animals in Nevada. Under the ADA, individuals with disabilities can be accompanied by their service animals in most public places, but Nevada has additional state-specific protections and guidance.

Obtaining a service animal is a significant decision that should be carefully considered. Following a reputable process is essential to ensure you’re paired with a well-trained companion who can truly enhance your quality of life.

Woman feeding a dog a treat while a veterinarian watches.

What Responsibilities Come With Having A Service Animal?

An important thing to consider when considering getting a service dog is the responsibilities that come with one.

Having a service animal can be very helpful, but they are also a significant responsibility that can be a burden to some. Responsibilities include providing regular meals, ensuring proper exercise, and arranging veterinary care.

These obligations, like vet visits, can come with high costs, so budgeting is crucial.

Further, maintaining a kennel or a suitable living space in housing with a yard is essential for the animal’s comfort. Service animals need adequate exercise, and the breed can influence the level of activity required.

Remember, while service animals offer invaluable support, they are part of the family, deserving of love, attention, and the occasional favorite toy. Ensure you can also make the proper accommodations before getting a service animal.

What Are Some Alternatives to Service Animals?

Service animals are not right for everyone with a disability.

Luckily, there are several alternatives to service animals, depending on individual needs and preferences. For emotional support, cats can provide affection without needing a yard. Equine-assisted therapy can also help without requiring having an animal.

Further, low-maintenance pets are another option. For example, fish offer soothing visuals with minimal care requirements, and hamsters can provide affection in smaller spaces. These alternatives can be excellent options if a service animal doesn’t align with your lifestyle or circumstances, providing emotional support and fulfillment in their distinctive ways.

just for fun infographic, with images of a desert tortoise named Tulip.

Opportunity Village’s Resident turtle, Tulip.


If you’re wondering, “Should I get a service dog?” The answer is it depends on your needs.

Service dogs can truly enhance the life of a person with disabilities. However, they have a lot of responsibility. Thus, the decision shouldn’t be made lightly.

Looking for more topics like this? We are dedicated to helping people with disabilities find the very best version of themselves. Learn about additional disability support resources here.

Opportunity village was founded in 1954 by seven families who were determined to give their children with disabilities the best lives possible. Now, Opportunity Village is one of the most recognized and respected organizations of its type in the US. They are Nevada’s largest employer of people with disabilities and serve over 3,000 individuals annually, providing vocational training, employment, habilitation and social recreation programs and services that improve their lives.

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