All throughout time, dogs have helped mankind. There is evidence of the domestication of wolves as early as 30,000 years ago (before horses even)! Service dogs now do it officially as a job. A service animal makes life for a person with a disability much easier and service dogs are revered members of society.
What are Service Dogs?
A service dog is legally defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990) as “… 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, 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….” They are further defined as working animals, not pets.
To summarize, a service dog is a dog who is trained to perform tasks their handler or owner with a disability needs assistance with.
The Different Types of Service Dogs
There are many different types of service dogs, all with their own unique training and skills to be a support dog. Dogs are amazing creatures who can be trained to do many things to assist people. Check out a comprehensive list here of types of service dogs. Let’s go over the most common types together.
Service dog: A service dog is the most common type and is the broadest category. A service animal can help with many things, so this category is dogs that provide support to someone who needs some form of physical assistance.
- Guide dogs: These dogs are also known as seeing-eye-dogs and help guide the blind navigate the world. A guide dog will help their handler avoid obstacles, ensure they step over curbs and holes, help them cross roads and open doors, etc. They undergo vigorous training and can accomplish dozens of tasks.
- Hearing dogs: These talented pups assist their deaf handlers as they navigate the world. Mainly, they are trained to help their owners with ensuring they hear sounds and stay safe due to sounds they cannot hear. They’re trained to pick up on sound cues and alert their owners. These cues include smoke or fire alarms, doorbells, door knocking, phones, alarm clocks, and even the person’s name.
- Seizure dogs: These service dogs help owners suffering from seizures or epilepsy prepare for an upcoming one and keep them safe during it.
- 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 them stay standing, open doors, retrieve items, etc.
Psychiatric service dog: This special service dog assists people with mental disabilities. They have all the same rights as the above service dogs, but undergo specialized service dog training to perform tasks their owner needs assistance with. These are often not mobility related, but instead mentally related. People who suffer from depression, anxiety attacks, PTSD and more often benefit from a service dog. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help calm their owner during anxiety attacks, help them feel protected in public, fetch medicine and water, and much more. Any dog breed can become a psychiatric service dog, and size is not as important in this type of service dog.
Therapy dog: A therapy dog is not a service dog, but instead a loyal pet that helps provide comfort to children or elderly people in a hospital or nursing home. They undergo some specialized training, including passing an American Kennel Club Good Citizen test, and then are allowed access into certain institutions to provide comfort to sick kids or adults. A characteristic a therapy dog must have is friendliness and calmness. These traits are important, as they are around people who may be weak or suffering. The biggest difference between a therapy dog and service dog is that therapy dogs are not trained to perform tasks, just to provide comfort. Lap dogs are often a good choice for becoming a therapy dog.
Emotional support animal: An emotional support animal is exactly what it sounds like. It is a companion animal that provides emotional support to their owner. Dogs and cats are the most common type of emotional support animal. An emotional support dog does not undergo any specialized training and is not a service dog. Service dogs are ADA recognized, while emotional support dogs are just friendly pets that help their owner feel comfortable in their home. Emotional support dogs serve an important role to their owners, but an emotional support dog should not be confused with service animals such as guide dogs, psychiatric service dogs, guard dogs, etc.
Working dogs: Other types of dogs are not your typical pets, but are also not a service dog. We often call these pups a working dog. Some types of working dogs include: guard dogs, hunting dogs, cattle dogs, etc. They are not ADA recognized and do not offer any medical or mental support to their owners or handlers. Other examples of this type include police dogs, drug sniffing dogs, bomb dogs, etc. Common breeds in this category include Beglian Malinois, Great Pyrenees, Collies, St. Bernards, etc.
Traits of Good Service Dogs
As you can see, these dogs have very important tasks they do for their owners and handlers. They require extensive training and a lot of good characteristics to be a devoted service dog or assistance dog. There’s quite a few traits you’ll want to look for in dogs if you are considering a service dog.
- Friendly and calm deposition
- Strong work ethic
- Low maintenance cleanliness
- Able to form strong bonds
Service dogs must learn many different things. They are required to open doors, fetch medicine, guide their owners, command a crowd of people if necessary, support their owner’s weight, and much, much more. These are not easy tasks to train, and if you want a service dog for life, you’ll want to look for a dog with a strong mind and a desire to please. This makes them easy to train and helps ensure they are good service animals. Quite a few dog breeds are a great choice for a service dog that is intelligent and easy to train. Consider a breed such as a German Shepherd, Border Collie, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Poodle, etc. These are intelligent dogs who are receptive to training. Other breeds, such as a Husky or Cattle Dog, are extremely intelligent, but generally not as receptive to training.
Friendly and calm deposition
Service dogs must not only be smart, but also have a good demeanor. They must be calm and able to do their job at all times. A service dog cannot be anxious or vicious or easily excitable. They need to be able to tolerate a big crowd, noise, distractions and many other factors.
Service dogs must be friendly and okay with people around them, but not so friendly that they seek out constant attention and get distracted from their important job to support their owner.
When it comes to breed for friendliness and calmness, look at the following breeds: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane, Golden Retriever, etc.
Strong Work Ethic
A common pet, or emotional support animal, doesn’t necessarily need a strong work ethic. They are mainly to provide companionship and comfort. Lap dogs are great for this! But a service dog has tasks they must perform at any given time, even if they don’t necessarily feel like it. This is the biggest difference maker in a service dog versus a normal pet.
Look for a breed that has a strong work ethic and a desire to please for service dogs. Their support is vital and they should thrive off of doing work for their owners. Dogs with the will to work will make excellent service dogs for their handler.
You will often see these dogs not only as service dogs, but also as working dogs and police dogs. They tend to be obedient and love to perform the tasks they are trained to do. Some breeds with a strong work ethic include: Belgian Malinois, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, German Shepherds, Collies, and Labrador Retrievers.
A service dog is assigned to someone who needs their support for a variety of reasons. Usually, this means the person has a mental or physical disability that prevents them from doing some tasks or being able to be self-sufficient. Handlers need a dog that is low maintenance to care for, as they cannot independently groom them or bathe them often.
Dog breeds that drool or shed often may not be the best choice for a service dog, as their handlers would be tasked with cleaning up after them, which they cannot do. These traits cannot be helped by the dog, so it’s important to think of that before you choose a companion for life.
Some clean breeds include: American Staffordshire Terrier, Boxer, Beagle, Greyhound, etc. Goldendoodles are a new popular breed on the scene as well, due to their hypoallergenic nature.
Able to Form Strong Bonds
A service dog is a partner for life. There’s a strong feeling of trust from both owner and dog as they navigate life together and overcome many hurdles. No specific service dog breed is better at this than any other, and a bond can develop between any dog and human, but there are a few who tend to form strong bonds quickly.
Look for breeds that bond with people for life. These are commonly also great working dogs, such as police dogs or obedience dogs. Look at breeds such as Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Belgian Malinois.
10 Best Service Dog Breeds
1. Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers are not only the most popular household pet for the past 30 years, but they are also a great choice for becoming service animals. Owners sing praises over their friendly demeanor, desire to please and intelligence. Labrador Retrievers are commonly referred to as the friendliest dog breed, which makes them a good choice for a service dog as you know they will get along with anyone you may encounter. They are a good size to help with mobility issues, and have what is often referred to as a “soft mouth”. This means they are very gentle when grabbing and retrieving items, which is in their DNA (hence their name!). A labrador retriever is easily one of the best service dog breeds out there.
2. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are often seen as a working dog. They’re one of the most popular breeds police and armed forces use out in the field, but they also are a staple in many homes. This is because they are one of the most trainable dog breeds, and owners love their loyalty. German Shepherds were first bred as military dogs, which explains their fierce loyalty owners love. They are one of the easiest breeds to train and form very strong bonds with their owners or handlers. They are very receptive to training and willing to perform many tasks. A german shepherd has some traits that make them not ideal, including a decent amount of shedding and not necessarily being the friendliest or unfriendliest breed, but they still are a great choice for a service dog.
3. Border Collie
The border collie is commonly seen in obedience competitions and out herding cattle and sheep. After all, this is what they were bred for. Border collies are very active dogs in the canine kingdom, and while that energy can be too much for some, it makes them a great choice for others. A border collie is very eager to please and can be trained to perform dozens of tasks easily. Collies in general are known to be very intelligent and make great service dogs. The only downfalls with having a Border Collie as a service dog are they do shed and require grooming, and their energy can be too much for immobile owners. If someone is entirely immobile, other dog breeds may be the best service dog breeds for them.
4. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are America’s sweethearts. This breed is known for their friendly demeanor and gorgeous coat. They are playful, smart, loving and form very strong bonds with their owners. They are one of the most popular breeds as not only pets, but also service animals, for a reason. They are big enough to provide stability support for service dog owners, have a great personality, love people, and can perform tasks such as fetching items with ease due to their retriever nature. They make excellent service dogs and emotional support animals for people struggling.
5. Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dogs are a newcomer on the most popular breeds list, not only for pets, but also for service dog breeds. This gentle giant makes a great service dog for a number of reasons. The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large breed, which helps with mobility issues and balance. These dogs have a great demeanor that makes them one of the best service dog breeds out there. They have a kind deposition, love people, and form strong bonds with their owners. They do require grooming and may drool a bit though.
Poodles have been a popular breed for both service dogs and pets for many years. Standard poodles are known to be very intelligent and are large enough to help their handlers with mobility. Toy poodles are just as intelligent, but much smaller in size. Poodles make excellent service dogs, as they are hypoallergenic and low maintenance in terms of grooming. They make such great service dogs that they recently have been cross bred with Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers to create Labradoodles and Goldendoodles, which make some of the best service dog breeds. Poodles are a very loyal dog breed to people and are recognized as one of the smartest dog breeds in the world, making them one of the best service dog breeds out there.
Boxers are a loveable, goofy breed that are also extremely friendly and intelligent. They make excellent emotional support animals, therapy dogs and service animals. They are a good size, intelligent and have very friendly personalities. They are also a calmer dog, but don’t worry, they still have their fun zoomies at times! Boxers are pretty low maintenance when it comes to grooming and get along with everyone. This makes them a great choice as a service dog and explains why they’re one of the best service dog breeds out there.
8. Great Dane
Great Danes may seem like an odd choice for ideal service dog breeds, but it makes sense when you investigate the breed more. Service dogs must be friendly, which Great Danes are, of a good size to support with mobility issues for physical impairments, which Danes are, and intelligent, which they also are. Great Danes are also pretty low maintenance when it comes to grooming, but they are prone to a number of health issues, which is something to keep in mind when it comes to a service animal. While they aren’t the most common service dog breeds, they still make an excellent service animal.
Let’s talk about the little guys! Dogs don’t have to be large to become service dogs. Small dogs are great for psychiatric service dogs and service dogs for people with mental disorders. Pomeranians are very smart, spunky, loving, and receptive to training. Their coat will require a bit of maintenance, but since they are so small, they are easier to handle and maintain. As a service dog, they are very receptive to human emotions and make one of the best small service dog breeds out there, especially as psychiatric service dogs.
10. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Another small dog that tops the list of best service dog breeds is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This breeds’ title fits them with their elegant coats, which aren’t the easiest to maintain, but just require a good brushing now and then. They are a smaller breed, but still make an excellent service dog.
Any dog can become a service dog. While some breeds are more common or predisposed to catch onto it more quickly, any breed of dog can be trained to be a service animal. Common breeds like German Shepherds, Border Collies, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers may have some tendencies that make them better candidates, but it can almost always be trained. As long as the dog has a good demeanor, is receptive to training, easy to maintain and intelligent, they can make an excellent service dog. Service dogs all require vigorous training, so make sure the dog you look at can handle that. Size will matter depending on the type of service dogs you need, but other than that, most all tasks can be trained to dogs with good temperaments.
Are you interested in getting 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!
Can any dog become a service animal?
Any breed of dog can become a service dog! While a breed like a German Shepherd is very common, many breeds of dogs thrive as service dogs.
How do I get a psychiatric service dog?
The first step to getting a service dog is talking to a mental health professional to see if you could benefit from one.
What breed of service dog should I get?
Check out our recaps of each breed above and consider your specific needs and what size service dog you would need. Consider other factors such as ideal temperament as well.