Service Dogs & Spinal Cord Injury


When adjusting to life after spinal cord injury, many people with SCI find both companionship and physical assistance from service dogs. A mobility assistance dog can help with many duties, and it can increase your autonomy and independence. Most training facilities that offer service dogs or offer to train your dog have long waiting lists, so apply as soon as you can.

What Can a Service Dog Help With?

  • Opening and shutting doors. You can have a rope on the door handle that your service dog can pull open on command.
  • Calling 911. You can use a landline with a big exposed big button pad or an iPad that will be reachable and train your service dog to call 911.
  • Shopping. Teach your service dog to take things off the shelf and put them on your lap and carry your bags either by mouth or by having the cashier put them on your dog’s service animal vest.
  • Elevators. Teach your service dog to jump up on their hind legs and press the elevator buttons.
  • Reposition. Your dog can also be taught to gently help guide a fallen arm or leg back onto the armrest or foot pads.
  • Retrieving. Service dogs can bring items to your hands or retrieve something you may have dropped.
  • Getting help. Train your dog to alert someone in your household when you need help.

What Breed of Service Dog Should I Get?

The most popular breeds for mobility service dogs are Golden Retrievers and Labradors, followed by German Shepherds, Standard Poodles and American Staffordshire Terriers. These breeds love to learn and delight in finishing their tasks. They possess natural behavior of sympathy for their owners and are highly intelligent. They are curious, eager, and easy to train.

While some breeds are typically much better at being trained, it also depends on the dog’s personality and what motivates them. Some dogs may be frightened in public and be unable to perform. That’s OK if you mostly need your dog’s assistance at home with details like dressing, laundry, and emergency buttons, but for public access training, it may be a good idea to get a professional to help.

How Do I Get a Trained Service Dog?

Many organizations provide service dogs to those in need, but the number of applicants for those organizations far outnumber the dogs that are ready for placement. This often creates long wait times for individuals to receive their service dogs. Some of these organizations will train your own dog. Research the training facility and visit if you can.

A good agency will work to match you with the right dog. During the application process you may be required to provide your doctor’s recommendation for a service dog. Some organizations are nationwide and others can be found in your own community. Search your state for dog training organizations near you.

Organizations like Canine Companions for Independence offers grants for four- to nine-month professional training in six regional centers across the U.S. Veterans can check out NEADS.

What Are the Laws on Service Dogs?

Although your dog may receive a training certificate, you do not need to register, certify, or legalize your dog as a service dog in the U.S.

The ADA requires state and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profits that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies to accommodate your service dog. Even places with a “no pets” policy must allow service animals into their facilities.

Business owners can ask you two questions only: “Is your service dog required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” They cannot require you to produce a training certificate, registration, or ask anything specific about your disability.

With housing, you can’t be refused on the grounds of your disability, and landlords can’t ask for “official proof” either. You may need to certify in writing that you are disabled, the dog is needed because of the disability, and the dog assists you.

Contact our Skilled Attorneys For Help Understanding the Role of Service Dogs After a Spinal Injury

When you are unsure about your legal rights for a service dog after you have sustained a spinal cord injury, contact a diligent lawyer from our firm. We could analyze the facts of a case and advocate for you on your behalf.