Service dogs are instrumental in helping people with disabilities to function independently. They act as a pair of eyes for a blind person, ears for a deaf person, they detect seizures in epileptics and help people with autism with social skills. Service dogs are often trained by professional service dog trainers, but an owner may also train the dog himself. While the advantages of service dogs are many, there are also disadvantages to service dogs.
Training a service dog costs about $20,000 per dog or more, depending on the training program. Some dog-training programs are nonprofit, charitable organizations that provide dogs free of charge to qualified individuals. Not all people who could benefit from a service dog can meet the strict requirements of some programs and, in some cases, there is a waiting list of several years for those who do qualify. This leaves it up to the owner to cover the cost of the dog, a price that may be as low as $5,000 if the dog is trained by its owner, up to the full training cost of a program-trained animal. For a person who is disabled and unable to work, this cost could be impossible to afford.
Service dogs can cause an allergic reaction to anyone who comes in contact with the dog. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 15 to 30 percent of allergy sufferers have an allergic reaction to cats and dogs. It is very likely that a disabled person who could use service dog assistance is allergic to allergen-containing fluids and dander from dogs. Even if the owner himself is not affected, the dog is bound to affect an allergy sufferer. Laws guarantee the right for persons with guide and service dogs to enter public places, which means that any allergy sufferer in a public place will be subject to allergens.
It is a sensitive subject, but service dogs must do their business like any other dog. This is not a disadvantage for all service dog owners, but this leaves a predicament for blind owners. When a dog leaves its waste, the owner is tasked with figuring out where the waste is and picking it up to be discarded. Many dogs are trained to allow the owner to feel its back while it relieves itself, which aids in pinpointing the waste location, but this still leaves a margin of error that could mean a messy situation if the owner is unsuccessful.
Bringing a service dog into a home can be a difficult transition if the owner or a roommate already has pets in the home. No matter how well-trained the service dog is, there is no way to guarantee that the service dog and other pets will get along, even if it is not the service dog that has the territorial problem. If the two animals cannot adjust to living together, the owners are faced with the difficult decision of giving up a beloved pet or giving up an animal that is of great assistance to a person with a disability.