Australian Shepherds are consistently one of the most popular breeds in America, especially in recent years. The Aussie breed is known for its gorgeous, unique coat and adorable personality. They’re a fine example of athleticism in dogs, seen by their presence in many agility contests and frisbee contests.
The Australian Shepherd breed began solely as sheep herders, but they’ve now been used in many ways. They are not only a working dog, but are also used as search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, partners for a veteran, part of canine frisbee teams, and of course, beloved pets.
The Australian Shepherd is one of the most athletic, versatile breeds out there, and this is what makes them a great emotional support animal is considered an assistance animal. They provide care and comfort to their owner who suffers from a mental illness. But there are other animals that fall into this category. A service dog. They are highly intelligent, love being a part of a team or being a partner to a person, and love to please. They are an excellent choice as a service dog due to their great temperament, loyalty, intelligence and athleticism.
What are Service Dogs?
The definition of a service dog according to the U.S. Department of Justice as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” This is a very broad definition, but the bottom line is service dogs help people with disabilities accomplish tasks they otherwise couldn’t. They undergo vigorous training and are not household pets, but rather working dogs.
Luckily, more legislation was provided on the definition of service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 gave a more specific definition for service dogs: “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, alerting owners to a panic attack, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.”
Types of Service Dogs
There are many different types of assistance dogs for different disabilities. While some disorders are physical, some are mental. Service dogs help their handlers with many things and work a very important job. There are a few different types we will discuss in this article.
Service dog: A service dog is the most common type and is the broadest category. A service animal can help with many things, but in this category, it is most often pups offering assistance with physical disabilities or impairments.
- Guide dogs: These dogs are also known as seeing-eye-dogs and help people with vision loss navigate the world. A guide dog will help their handler avoid obstacles, open doors, maintain a steady piece, board public transport, etc. These are the oldest forms of service dogs, and date back to Pompeii, where illustrations show a blind man being led by a dog.
- Hearing dogs: These intelligent dogs assist their deaf handlers with sounds they cannot hear. They are trained to help their owners receive vital cues of sounds they cannot hear themselves. These cues include smoke or fire alarms, doorbells, door knocking, phones, alarm clocks, and even the person’s name. They will guide their owner to the sound or to safety, depending on the situation.
- Medical alert dogs: These service dogs help owners suffering from seizures or epilepsy prepare for an upcoming seizure episode and keep them safe during it. Another type of service dog under this category is a diabetic assistance dog, who helps alert their owner when their blood sugar is low or can seek medical assistance if necessary. There are many other types of medical assistant dogs for dozens of diseases. Some dogs can now even sniff out
- Mobility assistance dogs: A mobility assistance dog is a type of service dog that helps humans with spinal injuries, leg injuries, or any injury that makes walking, standing or balancing difficult. These are typically larger breed dogs since they provide balance support for their handler. They help their human stay standing, open doors, walk, retrieve items, etc.
Psychiatric service dog: This special service dog assists people with mental disabilities or mood disorders. They have all the same rights as all the mentioned service dogs, but undergo specialized service dog task training to help their owners with mental needs. Some examples of this could be retrieving medication, providing comforting touches, finding a quiet place for their owner, making sure no one touches their owner, etc. These service dogs help with mental health issues rather than mobility issues. Someone who suffers from depression, anxiety attacks, PTSD or other mental disabilities could greatly benefit from a psychiatric service dog.
Therapy dog: A therapy dog is not a service dog, but instead a dog that provides emotional support and comfort to people in stressful situations. This is often a hospital or nursing home, but can also be schools, natural disaster sites, etc. They are not service animals as they don’t perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, but they do undergo specialized training, including passing an American Kennel Club Good Citizen test, then visit anyone who could need comfort. They have a home and are a pet at the end of the day. Find out more about training your dog to become a therapy dog here. Dogs of any age, including puppies, can become therapy dogs or a canine companion. They form important bonds with people who need their help.
Emotional support animal: An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides emotional support to their owner. They do not undergo any special training, and are not a service animal. They do not provide assistance to any other people besides their owner, and mainly stay at home or can sometimes accompany their handler during travel. Any animal can become an emotional support animal with a doctor’s note, but they do not have the same rights as service dogs or assistance dogs. Newer laws have become more strict with emotional support animal’s ability to fly with their owners.
Emotional Support Dog vs. Psychiatric Service Dog: What’s the Difference?
While both emotional support dogs and psychiatric service dogs provide emotional and mental support to their owner, only one is a recognized service animal, and that’s a psychiatric service dog. These dogs undergo specialized task training and have federally protected rights, such as the right to accompany their owner anywhere, including businesses, schools, non-pet friendly housing, on airplanes, etc. They learn specific tasks to help their owner. Emotional support dogs and others do not go through task training, so they are pets. To get a psychiatric service dog, you must be diagnosed with a disability and prescribed a service dog, who you will work with a trainer to train or train yourself, though we recommend working with a professional.
An emotional support dog only requires a letter of recommendation from a doctor. They are a pet who offers mental and emotional benefits to their owner, which can be very helpful, but they can’t accompany their owners in public places, nor do they have access on flights, in schools, etc. and have no federally protected rights. Dogs and cats are the most common types of ESAs, but any animal has the chance to become an ESA with a doctor’s note. There are no formal papers besides your doctor’s note.
In modern days, emotional support animals are a hot topic due to their loose regulations. Some lack vaccinations, aren’t the proper age, or people pay high prices for a form that is fake to recognize their pet as an emotional support animal or even worse, a service dog. It is very important to recognize the difference between these two types of dogs. Service dogs wear vests to set themselves apart, as they have a very important job and should be recognized as working dogs. Pretending a dog is a service dog is actually illegal in 20+ states and is very damaging to service dogs’ reputations. It makes life for people with disabilities much harder, and poses a challenge to service dog owners, making the conditions of service dogs worse.
Why Australian Shepherds?
If you research the Aussie breed, a few words you will see are: energetic, loyal, intelligent, motivated, working, and athletic. These words sum up the breed pretty well. Let’s talk about the history of the breed and how they turned out this way.
By nature, dog breeds names’ usually reflect their place of origin, hence German Pinschers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, etc. The Australian Shepherd is the exception to this rule. This breed actually did not originate in Australia, but rather the United States. The ancestral history of Aussies is a bit of a mystery. The most likely scenario is they are a descendent of the Carea Leones, a small, energetic sheepdog from Spain. They herded sheep and though there is no proof to show they came to the United States, the resemblance is striking. As years went on, these dogs spread and spread like wildfire thanks to their herding nature. Soon, they were all over New Mexico, Wyoming, California, and beyond. Soon, Australian Shepherds were everywhere.
Soon, people caught onto how intelligent this breed really was. They’re one of the most intelligent breeds and commonly learn dozens of tricks. This really contributed to the Aussies’ popularity. They are easy to train, though very energetic. The Australian Shepherd requires vigorous exercise and plenty of mental stimulation, or else they can end up being destructive.
Aussies are great working dogs, but also a great family member, which people soon discovered. They’re extremely friendly and energetic, and maintain their youth throughout their lifespan, which is about 10-14 years. The Australian Shepherd stands 18-23 inches tall at the shoulder, weighs between 40 to 65 pounds, and comes in many colors, including merle, red merle, blue merle, tricolor, black, and more.
Australian Shepherds as Service Dogs
The Australian Shepherd is an extremely intelligent breed, who picks up on learning new things very quickly. This is a great trait for service dogs to have, as it makes task training much quicker and easier. Aussies aim to please as well, which is another good trait.
The Australian Shepherd is one of the “velcro dogs”, meaning they love to be near their person. This makes them immensely loyal and dedicated to their person, which is another positive trait for assistance dogs. They’re large enough to provide balance support and open doors as well.
Aussies are extremely athletic and energetic. This is good because they’re always willing to work, whether that be with a trainer or with their handler, but they do need constant stimulation. For someone with a physical disability who can’t exercise them daily, this could be a downfall of the breed. They need an hour of exercise a day, and it has to be high energy, like frisbee.
Australian Shepherds are beautiful dogs, but their coat does require some maintenance. They must be regularly brushed to avoid tangles, knots and clumps. It’s important to be able to handle their grooming needs and to know they are a bit of a shedder if you have allergies.
Aussies thrive when they have space to roam and a job to do. They require mental stimulation and things to keep them busy to avoid destruction. The breed is very friendly, outgoing, and loves to make new friends. Overall, they are an excellent choice for a service dog as long as you know their requirements.
How to Get an Australian Shepherd Service Dog
Are you interested in having an Australian Shepherd as a service dog? Australian Shepherds aren’t the most popular choice, but are fairly common as service dogs! With the right service dog training, an Aussie can make an excellent assistant dog.
First, you’ll want to make sure you are able to receive a service dog. Service dogs are only given to people with disabilities that hinder their quality of life. For a psychiatric service dog, you must consult with a licensed mental health professional. This is the only legitimate way to acquire a service dog. For physical disabilities, you must consult with a doctor in your area.
If they recommend a service dog, the next step is finding a service dog for you. Look at rescues in your local area to see if they have any Aussies or Aussie mixes available. If you adopt one or purchase one from a breeder, you will want to work with a service dog trainer or service dog program training to make sure your pooch becomes the best assistance dog possible.
If you go the route of a breeder, be sure to look for reputable breeders that stick to the breeds’ standards and treat their puppies and mothers ethically. This ensures you receive a healthy dog who will be the best assistant dog for you.
Now you see why Australian Shepherds are such a beloved breed, not only as pets, but also as service animals. They are extremely intelligent, friendly, loyal and love to serve.
Are you looking for a psychiatric service dog?
Here at CertaPet, we can help. Certapet is an online telehealth platform that improves access to mental health care in the U.S. with a focus on providing services to individuals who are seeking animal assisted interventions as part of their treatment plan.
We are currently coordinating with dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free. We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options. In the meantime, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!
Why do Aussies make good service dogs?
Aussies are a good size for physical support, extremely intelligent, very loyal and extremely friendly. All of these traits make them excellent service dogs!
How do I get a psychiatric service dog?
First, you must consult with a mental health professional to see if you qualify. If you are diagnosed with a mental disability, you will begin your search for a dog and begin training
What does a psychiatric service dog do?
Every psychiatric service dog is specially trained for their handler, but some tasks they can accomplish include: fetching medicine, providing calming touches, leading their owner to a safe place, helping their owner calm down during an anxiety attack or PTSD episode, and much, much more.