labrador service dog guiding a disabled person

Dogs are people’s best friends for more reasons than just their friendly, adoring natures. They also have the unique ability to keep us safe and help if we have mental, emotional, or physical health conditions. Service dogs enable many people to manage their disabilities and take part in everyday activities.

If you’ve decided that a service dog is the right choice for you and if you qualify for one, the next step is figuring out whether they’ll fit into your budget. This guide will tell you how much they are and why, along with their ongoing care costs.

What Are Service Dogs?

In the U.S.A., service dogs are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). These dogs are extensively trained to remain calm under any circumstances and help their handler with various tasks. Originally, service dogs were only used as guide dogs, but they’ve expanded into other areas.

The tasks that service dogs are trained to perform include but aren’t limited to:

  • Aiding mobility
  • Blood sugar alerts
  • Helping with anxiety disorders and PTSD
  • Seizure alerts

Under the ADA, service dogs are considered working animals that are allowed to accompany their handlers wherever they go. This means they’re required to meet strict standards — for obedience and the job that they do — before they qualify for work or access to public areas.

service dog lying by the shore
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How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?

The cost of a service dog can vary depending on where you get one from and whether you train them yourself. For example, a fully trained service dog from a trustworthy company will cost much more than hiring a professional trainer. Training your dog yourself can also help lower the costs, but you also have to consider the ongoing expense of taking care of a service dog.

Fully Trained Service Dogs

There are several companies out there that are dedicated to training dogs to do all sorts of tasks. While these dogs are fully trained when you get one, they’re also the most expensive option and usually cost around $25,000. In some cases, the company that you choose can charge anywhere up to $50,000.

Professional Trainer

You can lower the price by hiring somebody to train your dog for you. While hiring a professional trainer can be a cheaper option than purchasing from a company, they can still be incredibly expensive. Depending on the trainer, your dog will probably be trained extensively for several months, and you could end up spending between $20,000 and $30,000.

Training Your Own

If you’re comfortable training your dog yourself, most of the cost is your time and effort. This is not an easy method, however, and you shouldn’t underestimate how much work goes into training service dogs.

Service dogs are trained to exacting standards, and there are several checkboxes that you must tick in order for them to be properly registered. Mandatory seminars, evaluations, applications, a Working Dog Good Citizen Class, and public access tests — among other official tasks — can all cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

girl hugging her pyschiatric service dog
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Additional Costs to Anticipate

Service dogs might not be considered pets under the ADA because they’re working animals, but caring for them is still the owner’s responsibility. There are several other costs to consider for their care after the initial outlay.


When it comes to owning or working with a service dog, the cost of their food is one of the most important expenses to add to your budget. It’s also one of the most regular costs that you will have the responsibility to keep up with.

High-quality dog food will be more expensive but healthier for your service dog than low-quality brands. You can also make your dog food at home if you consult with a vet and pay attention to their nutritional requirements. Most people spend around $300 a year on dog food.

Veterinary Care

Another ongoing cost that can vary depending on the breed of your service dog is their veterinary care. Whether you train your dog yourself or purchase one from a company, their healthcare is your responsibility. This includes anything from regular check-ups and routine vaccinations or tooth cleanings to emergency surgery.

On average, veterinary care can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 a year. Remember that some breeds are prone to more health issues, which can also raise the price.

Why Are Service Dogs So Expensive?

Many people don’t realize how much work goes into training a service dog before they’re considered ready to do their job. Also, there’s no guarantee that the dogs that are chosen to work as service animals will even make the grade at the end of their training.

Before the dogs start training, choosing one with the right temperament and ability to learn can be a challenge. Even if they are chosen, they can develop behavioral issues as they grow that can make them unsuitable for working.

The price of a service dog mostly depends on where you get them from. A company that trains service dogs bases its prices on running costs. Companies usually place dogs with someone when the dog is between 1.5 and 2 years old. Before the dogs are placed with a recipient, though, the company has to supply housing, food, and veterinary care.

There’s also the extensive training that the dogs must go through to qualify as service animals. Obedience and the skills that they need to perform their jobs properly all take time, effort, and a great deal of consistency. Companies that train service dogs must ask for so much money up front in order to cover all these costs.

service dog helping a blind woman
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Can You Train Your Own Service Dog?

One of the ways that you can reduce the cost of a service dog is by training your own. The ADA doesn’t require service dogs to be trained by professional trainers or companies, but the dogs still must meet certain standards.

When you look at working service dogs and their impeccable behavior, it can be easy to forget how much work goes into training them. If you’re training your own, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your dog meets the obedience standards to allow them into public places.

Teaching them the skills that they need to help you when you need them will also fall on you. Depending on what job you need your service dog to do, these skills could include anything from picking up dropped items and using light switches to making medical alerts and doing other tasks. All of these require repetitive training to get right consistently.

There’s also your dog to consider. Not all canines are suited for the rigorous training that service dogs go through, and some breeds are better suited for certain tasks. Age, temperament, and trainability all play a part in how successful you will be training your own service dog.

How to Afford a Service Dog

For most people, spending $25,000 or more on a dog is next to impossible. Even if you qualify for a service dog, the price can be enough to put you off ever using one at all. Fortunately, there are many organizations that can help make the cost of your service dog more affordable.

Non-profit Organizations

Like for-profit companies, non-profit organizations train service dogs for people who need them. Instead of asking for a fee, though, non-profits rely on donations, grants, and fundraisers to cover the cost of the dogs.

While the dogs are often placed with a recipient at no cost, there is a downside. Since non-profit organizations don’t require loans or a hefty down payment, the waiting list is often extensive. It can take several years to get a service dog through one of these organizations.


Another option is to try fundraising opportunities to raise money for a dog. Some organizations will help you organize fundraisers yourself. While you’ll still have to pay for the service dog, especially if you choose a company, you won’t have to worry about taking out a loan or breaking the bank.

Final Thoughts

Depending on whether you visit a trustworthy company that specializes in training service dogs, hire a trainer, or use a non-profit organization, the cost of a service dog can vary. A fully trained service dog from a company can cost around $25,000, if not more. A non-profit organization backed by donations may provide a service dog for free, but the waiting list will be much longer.

If you’ve qualified for a service dog, considering all the avenues in which you can get one will help you determine whether they’re the right choice for you.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock