German Shepherds are continuously one of the top dog breeds in America year after year according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). This is for a large number of reasons, such as their temperament, loyalty, size, strength, and much more, which we will get into later.
Mainly, German Shepherds’ loyalty is what sets them apart from other dog breeds. They are often seen in law enforcement as police dogs, or excelling in obedience classes, acting as a farm dog, being military dogs, or providing protection and search and rescue services. They are a very loyal, intelligent breed, making them perfect for being a service dog.
Service dogs must be intelligent, work-minded, well-focused and calm, all of which are traits the German Shepherd is known for. Before we delve more into the breed of German Shepherds and why they make great service dogs, let’s learn more about service dogs themselves.
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.” On a broader spectrum, a service dog is a trained dog that provides assistance to a person with a disability or impairment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act 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.”
Essentially, service dogs are any type of assistance animal that provides support for people with a disability, whether that be physical or mental. These service animals serve a very important job for hundreds of thousands of people across the USA, so let’s discuss the different types of service dogs.
Types of Service Dogs
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. Morris Frank founded the first seeing eye guide dog school, which offered guide dogs for the visually impaired and helped boost service dogs’ popularity and the development of the guide dog.
- 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 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 condition of the situation.
- Medical alert dogs: These service dogs help owners suffering from seizures or epilepsy prepare for an upcoming one and keep them safe during it. Another type of service dog under this category is a diabetic assistance dog, who help alert their owner when their blood sugar is low.
- 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 all the above mentioned service dogs, but undergo specialized service dog training to perform tasks their owner needs assistance with. These service dogs help with mental health issues rather than mobility issues. Someone who suffers from depression, anxiety attacks, PTSD, and more would likely benefit from a psychiatric 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, then visit sick children, adults, or people of any age to provide comfort.
Emotional support animal: An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides emotional support to their owner. 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.
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, herding 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 force dogs, drug sniffing dogs, bomb dogs, etc.
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. They undergo specialized training and have federally protected rights. They can accompany their owner anywhere, such as businesses, schools, non-pet friendly housing, on airplanes, etc. To get a psychiatric service dog, you must be diagnosed with a disability and prescribed a service dog who undergoes vigorous training to support you.
An emotional support dog only requires a letter of recommendation from a doctor. They are simply a pet who offers mental and emotional benefits to their owner. They can’t accompany their owners in public places, on flights, etc.
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.
Why German Shepherds?
You may have noticed while you read all of the above types of service dogs and working dogs that German Shepherds are a common breed used for these services. This is not a coincidence. German Shepherds were bred for excellence.
In Europe during the 1850s, people were working to standardize dog breeds. Dogs were bred to preserve traits that assisted in their jobs, such as herding sheeps, protecting flocks, guarding humans, etc. In 1889, Capt. Max von Stephanitz took interest in a medium-sized black and yellow dog for its herding tendencies, intelligence, and especially its ability to take direction quickly and efficiently, with minimal training. Thus, the German Shepherd dog began its growth to one of the most popular breeds around.
The German Shepherd is a medium-to-large size dog, with a built and lean conformation, with a few distinctive colors: black, black and tan, sable, and a few other variants. They typically weigh between 75 to 95 pounds at full size, and stand between 22 to 26 inches tall. This breed can reach impressive speeds of 30 mph at maximum speed. The German Shepherd lives between nine and 13 years on average.
German Shepherds as Service Dogs
Physically, German Shepherds are extremely impressive. Their size gives them great strength and speed, but it’s not that that makes them outstanding dogs. What really sets them apart is their amazing temperament and incredible obedience. Their breed characteristics include a strong desire to please, an excellent work ethic, and extreme loyalty. They’re extremely courageous and their versatility is truly impressive. Their temperament is calm enough to be a family dog, but also a trained work dog. They make great service dogs and guide dogs for this exact reason.
German Shepherd service dogs are great due to their size. They’re large enough to help with mobility issues and provide a solid support system. They are also extremely intelligent and learn tasks easily and are willing to work at any moment. They’re a service dog trainer dream! Service dogs must be smart, devoted and hard working, which GSDs certainly are.
The German Shepherds’ extreme trainability is what sets them apart from the rest. German Shepherd service dogs are great service dogs and psychological service dogs. They even make amazing therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, search and rescue dogs, and more. As dogs, German Shepherds are one of the best out there. They’re essentially Labrador Retrievers with more strength and loyalty. Even as puppies, they form very strong bonds with a person and excel in both owner training and program training.
If you look at service dog breeders, many swear by the breed as an excellent choice for a service dog. They have solid bodies and incredible strength. They love to work, which is essential for a service animal, and love having a job. They are confident and love to please someone, but are friendly to everyone if trained well, another very important part of being a service dog. German Shepherds are extremely intelligent, and according to many rainers, are the easiest breed to train. Shepherds in general are extremely smart and athletic, but add in the loyalty of the German Shepherd, and you have a top notch service dog.
How to Get a German Shepherd Service Dog
Are you interested in having a German Shepherd service dog? It’s very much possible! Many German Shepherd puppies are bred solely for becoming service animals.
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.
If they recommend a service dog, the next step is finding a psychiatric service dog for you. There are a few various methods to this. You can look at rescues in your local area to see if they have any German Shepherds available, or you can purchase a German Shepherd dog from a breeder or service dog organization. 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 German Shepherd becomes the best service dog possible.
Look for reputable breeders that stick to the breeds’ standards. This is the best way to ensure you get a German Shepherd that is healthy, loves their job, and has all the characteristics we love about the wonderful breed. What makes German Shepherds good service dogs is their amazing personality, so we don’t want to sacrifice some of those things for a cheaper price or more convenience. In breeding, we want the breeds to stay regulated and standardized.
It’s okay if you adopt, too! German Shepherds are not only one of the most popular breeds ever, but also one of the most common components of a mixed dog! Even a little bit of German Shepherd in a dog is a great addition. It may have plenty of that German Shepherd charm, intelligence, and athleticism. Visit your local shelters and consult with their staff about any available German Shepherds and their personalities to see if they could be a good service dog for you.
Now you see why German Shepherds are such a beloved breed, not only as pets, but also as service animals. Breeders love them, training schools love them, people love them, we all love them. And what’s not to love? Their strength, intelligence, athleticism, and temperament make them a great choice for any household or any person looking for a service animal.
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 German Shepherds make such great service dogs?
German Shepherds are loyal, intelligent, work-minded, a good size, and extremely athletic. They are also extremely friendly.
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 are German Shepherds commonly used for?
This breed is very versatile! They are beloved pets, police dogs, bomb sniffing dogs, military dogs, working dogs, herding dogs, and much, much more.