Skip Navigation

Frequently Asked Questions

professor paws project website wormark
OU Tulsa home Professor Paws Project
Skip Side Navigation

Questions and Answers About Service Dogs

Professor Paws



What is an assistance dog?

Assistance dogs provide specific services to their handler, which can increase independence for their handler. There are three types of assistance dogs: guide dogs (who aid the visually impaired or blind), hearing dogs (who aid the deaf or hard of hearing), and service dogs. Therapy dogs are not considered an assistance dog.


What is the difference between a service dog and therapy dog?

According to the American Kennel Club website, “Service dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability. An example of a service dog is a dog that assists someone who has a physical disability. Service dogs stay with their person and have special access privileges in public places such as on planes, restaurants, etc. Therapy dogs do not have the same special access as service dogs. Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.”


How are service dogs utilized?

Service dogs assist people with various types of disabilities. According to the Assistance Dogs International website, service dogs “can be trained to work with people who use power or manual wheelchairs, have balance issues, have various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to other medical issues like low blood sugar, or have psychiatric disabilities. These specially trained dogs can help by retrieving objects that are out of their person’s reach, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, providing deep pressure, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability.”


Where are service dogs allowed to go in public settings?

Under the American Disabilities Act, “state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.”


What is the training process for a service dog?

Service dogs receive, on average, over 150 hours of training that lasts over 2 years. The training process is vigorous. The dog must be able to respond to a variety of commands (both skilled and basic obedience) in private and public settings. The service dog must provide skilled commands that aid the handler with the disability.


What is the average age of placement?

Generally, service dogs begin training as a puppy between 8 weeks and 1 year old. The training process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Once the dog is fully trained, it can be placed.


What is the pairing process?

There are many organizations that train and place service dogs. Each organization has specific criteria and an application process for service dog placement. Generally, requirements include the person must be a minimum age, have a disability, be in stable home environment, and have the ability to participate in the training process. Sometimes an approved applicant must wait years before receiving the service dog. Because most people who qualify for a service dog live on a limited disability income, many organizations donate the dogs to qualified applicants.