Dogs can be more than simple companions. While we often think of working dogs as guard dogs or hunters, the truth is that some dogs play an incredibly important role in helping humans navigate their activities of daily living.
One of the great things about service dogs is that while they can come in many shapes and forms, they’re all excellent at what they do. Though some breeds certainly do this kind of work more often, it’s usually the dog’s personality that makes him or her a good fit for the job.
The Types of Service Dog Breeds
One of the most confusing things about service dogs is the way that we tend to refer to these animals. Many people use the terms service dog, support dog, and therapy dog interchangeably even though there is a very real difference between the three types of pets. Defining each is easy, but doing so is quite important.
A therapy dog is a pet that’s generally used to help individuals deal with mental health issues. They can be companion animals for those with PTSD or simply emotional supports for travelers, but these dogs always work to help bring those in their care closer to a more positive mental baseline. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, tend to be pets prescribed by a therapist for a specific person. These dogs tend to go into action when their owners have a panic attack coming on or might perk up when they see signs of stress. Emotional support dogs tend to be owned by a single person and work specifically with that person.
Service dogs, however, are dogs who have very specific roles in the lives of their owners. Seeing-eye dogs, for example, help blind owners to navigate the world around them while hearing dogs might help to alert their deaf owners when a fire alarm goes off or the doorbell rings. Service dogs help to provide aid in those situations where their owners cannot help themselves.
With that said, there’s often a fair bit of overlap here. Service dogs, for example, can play a role in helping owners make their way through anxiety attacks even if they aren’t specifically emotional support dogs. Emotional support dogs, on the other hand, might spend their time providing the service of helping individuals with autism cope with unfamiliar situations even though their primary function is providing emotional support.
Given the overlap, it does make sense why so many people would get the categories confused. In truth, though, it’s important to know into which category your dog falls because the classification of these working dogs does impact where they’re allowed to be. While it might not matter to you how your dog is classified, it’s a good idea to learn more about what kind of allowances can be made for his or her presence.
What Makes a Good Service Dog?
Before you start looking at breeds, you should start by thinking about the qualities that make a dog a good service animal. Dogs of all shapes and sizes can have these qualities, but the best dogs have all of these traits.
Intelligence is one of those traits that’s quite important in service dogs. After all, service dogs are often trained to do complex tasks and have to know how to do them without fail. A good personality, however, is just as important – not only must service dogs learn to love their owner, but they need to be comfortable with anyone who happens to come around. In fact, being calm is usually one of the most important qualities that a service dog can have, as they need to work as an extension of their owners rather than causing disturbances when they accompany their owners to new places.
Service dogs also need to be hard workers. While it can be great to have a laid-back pet, your service dog needs to be able to stay on task when he or she is with you. Likewise, you’ll need to make sure that your dog is clean enough to stay around with you in public places.
More than anything, though, your dog needs to be able to form a strong bond with you. Service dogs dedicate their lives to a specific person, so you need to find a dog with whom you click. You are going to be working as a team for a long time, so you need to make sure that you can build a bond together.
The Best Service Dog Breeds
Since all service dogs need a variety of traits, it’s usually a good idea to look for breeds that tend to naturally be bred to express those qualities. Though service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, the ten breeds below tend to be the most popular service animals.
Labs aren’t just the most popular service dogs in America – they’re generally the most popular dogs, period. Excellent pets that tend to be friendly and that bond with their owners quickly, they are dogs that hide a wealth of talents behind their goofy exteriors.
Labs are especially common among those service dog owners who have mobility issues. They’re excellent at retrieving, as their names would suggest, but they’re also surprisingly gentle. This makes Labs a perfect choice for those who need items fetched throughout the day.
Golden Retrievers are another breed of dog that tends to be popular both as a pet and as a service animal. Much like Labs, they’re smart dogs who tend to be easy to train and are more than happy to give any job they’re all.
Goldens tend to be excellent dogs for not only service work, but also for therapy and emotional work. They’re gentle enough that they can interact even with those who tend to be scared of dogs, but still alert enough that they can immediately react to the needs of their owners. Goldens are great at physical work as well, making up a surprisingly large proportion of working seeing-eye dogs in the US.
The German Shepherd tends to be one of the most popular pet dogs in America, but they are also incredibly popular working dogs. While you might think of these dogs as guard dogs, they’re also commonly used as service animals.
German Shepherds were actually some of the very first service dogs, as they have a combination of intelligence, friendliness, and the ability to be trained that’s hard to find in many other animals. Shepherds are attentive enough that they can see when an anxiety attack is coming on, keen enough to tell when their owner’s blood sugar is falling, and strong enough to help with virtually any mobility problem.
Yes, Poodles are more than just show dogs. These smart dogs are very easy to train and actually love to work when they can. Friendly and easy to bond with, these are dogs who spend more time in service vests than you might suggest.
Standard poodles are the norm for service work, though toys and miniature poodles spend a lot of time as therapy and emotional support animals. The bigger poodles tend to be very adept at physical work, though and can navigate a crowd with ease.
You won’t see many Boxers as service dogs, which is a bit odd. Not only are these dogs very popular pets, but they check all of the boxes that are necessary for service work. They’re friendly, they are smart, and they love to work – all key parts of the service dog world.
The biggest problem with having a Boxer as a service animal is that Boxers are very energetic. If they are trained from a young enough age, though, they can be excellent service pets. If you have the ability to let even an older Boxer get some exercise – a yard with a set perimeter is perfect – you will have a dog that can be among the best of the service animals.
These giant dogs are well-qualified for those service dogs that require a lot of extra strength. Fantastic at helping their owners to keep their balance or even to stand up, these dogs have more than enough muscle power to spare for those tasks. At the same time, these dogs are also fantastic at giving emotional support thanks to their generally calm attitudes.
Great Danes do tend to get distracted by people, but a good training regimen can make these dogs remarkably focused. The biggest downside to these giants is that they can be fairly messy, but that’s more than a fair trade-off for those who need a strong dog to help them get around.
Border Collies are well-known for their intelligence, with some believing them to be the smartest breed out there. Many of them work in the service world, both because they are so easy to train and because their history as working dogs gives them a great work ethic.
Border Collies do, however, lose some points because of their energy level. These are dogs who need a lot of exercise, though this can be solved by letting them play before they have to get to work. They also have a tendency to try to herd their owners around, which can be a bit of a problem if their owners already have mobility issues.
Yes, the tiny Pom is actually a great service dog for very specific needs.
Pomeranians tend to be service dogs for those who need smaller tasks done. They can fetch small items, react to sounds, and even do a great job of sniffing out low blood sugar. They’re also excellent service dogs for those who just don’t have room for one of the bigger breeds in their home, as well as for those who want to be able to carry their dogs with them wherever they go.
Bernese Mountain Dogs
This dog is on the other end of the size scale from a Pomeranian, but it’s friendly and intelligent enough to be a useful service animal. These are dogs that excel at not only the physical tasks for which their size makes them perfect but also smart enough to help their owners with complex tasks throughout the day.
A few things do keep these dogs from being ideal service animals. They don’t thrive in warm climates and they absolutely need a lot of exercise to stay happy. If you don’t mind keeping them cool and engaged, though, you’ll be able to make a great service dog out of this breed.
The Pit Bull is an excellent service dog with an awful reputation. Most people think of Pits as violent, but the truth is that most of these dogs are incredibly gentle. A breed that was once known for being friendly and great with children, a well-trained Pit is smart enough to help you with just about any task and patient enough to deal with most public areas.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What breed of dogs are used as service dogs?
Almost any breed can be used as a service dog. Common breeds include Labs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Great Danes, but any dog that is smart, calm, and able to deal with public situations can theoretically become a service animal.
2. What dogs make the best service animals?
Dogs who are intelligent, who can bond with their owners, and who can stay calm in stressful situations make the best service animals. These dogs range from Bernese Mountain Dogs to Pomeranians, but they are all animals who have personalities that make them dedicated to making their owners’ lives better.
3. Which breeds of dogs most commonly become service dogs?
The most common breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Great Danes, and Border Collies. Other commonly-seen service dogs include Bernese Mountain Dogs and Pit Bulls, with dogs of almost every breed work in some capacity for those who need a little extra help.
4. What conditions can you get a service dog for?
There are many conditions for which you can get a service dog. Some people get service dogs for physical disabilities ranging from blindness and deafness to an inability to stand on their own. Others get service dogs for PTSD or extreme anxiety. You can also get a service dog if you have the sorts of difficulties performing activities of daily living with which a dog could help. It’s never a bad idea to ask a doctor or psychologist if you qualify for one of these animals.