Alternate Breeds for Service Work

The Service and Therapy Dog forum is for all service and therapy dogs regardless of whether or not their status is legally defined by federal or state law, how they are trained, or whether or not they are "certified." Posts questioning or disputing a person's need for a service or therapy dog, the validity of a person's service or therapy dog, or the dog's ability to do the work of a service or therapy dog are not permitted in this forum. Please keep discussions fun, friendly, and helpful at all times.


Member Since
Barked: Mon Aug 13, '12 3:30pm PST 
I've been researching different breeds that would be suitable for psychiatric service work. I'm thinking Rottweiler, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Curly Coated Retriever, Siberian Husky, etc. Each breed has their downfalls and I would have to work that much harder to over come it. Could you please list the breeds that you think would fill this need adequately? Thank you in advance!

The Boy Wonder
Barked: Mon Aug 13, '12 3:57pm PST 
This is directly cut and pasted from part of a blog post I wrote on the subject because picking a breed isn't about what breed you like. But more about picking a breed that suits your disability, your needs as well as your lifestyle. You need to go into the choice informed and ultimately I'd pick several breeds to look at before you start looking for breeders.

Sorry it is long but it's a complicated subject that deserves a lot of attention to detail. I'm including the information I drew up on the basics of picking a breeder because that is just as important if not more so than picking your breed.


Choosing a breed to be a service dog is not as simple as choosing a breed for a pet.

Choosing a breed(s) to be your service dog is the first step. More has to go into this than what kind of coat do I like, how much energy do I want, and what does it look like. Choosing a pet actually should be a lot more complicated than people make it... but again this is service dogs we're talking about. So you are about to have to make a lot of lists.

When choosing a breed you have to take a very objective look at your disability and the first list you should draw up before you even start thinking about breed and breeders is how your disability affects your daily life and what tasks you think your potential service dog could do to help with your disability. IAADP has a decent list of tasks that you might take into consideration, there are a number of other places you can look. If you're unsure if a dog can actually preform the task you're considering find a trainer (this is a good time for this step anyway ) who has worked with service dogs and ask if what you're thinking is realistic.

Now that you have a list try to fit traits that will fit with your tasks. If you need a dog to pick up and pull items you don't want a dog that is known for it's dislike of retrieving. If you need a dog for mobility support the breed's size and structure should accommodate that.

Your second list should include traits that you just can't live with. This is important because it's hard to build the bond you need with your service dog if you can't stand something about them. The bond you have with your service dog will be as strong as, and in many ways stronger than the one you will have with parents, friends, children or spouse. A service dog is your closest partner... so if you don't like dogs who snore or you can't stand a dog that sheds this is the time to put this on the list. Keep in mind however that a number of things are going to be training issues... barking in the house, and counter surfing... these are training issues, and must be considered as such.

*Note* There is No such thing as a hypo allergenic breed. And All dogs shed, it's just a matter of degree unless you're talking a hairless dog. Do not allow anyone to tell you different. Even traditionally non shedding breeds such as poodles and the like Do shed, it just tends to fall into the coat and must be brushed out. In addition allergens are not just isolated to shedding hair, shed skin, dust, and saliva can also trigger an allergic reaction.

Next you need to write out a list of things you Like in a dog. You can include anything your heart desires but realize that you might have to be flexible on this list. But do include things you like. Personally I like a dog that is an independent thinker, I like dogs with a little bit of hair (but I hate having to wash it all). I like some colors of dogs better than others. This is the list those things end up.

I can't tell you what breed to pick here, because everyone's needs are a little different. But keep in mind even if you fancy a particular breed as a pet, that doesn't mean they will make a good service dog. You need a dog that is going to be easy to train, willing to learn and not overreact. There are service dogs of every size and nearly every breed. If you pick a controversial breed though be ready and willing for the public to fight you. Pitbulls are one that come to mind, they make very good service dogs (for the right people), but you will always get more drama from the public than you will with a more traditional breed (golden retrievers/Labrador retrievers).

You're next step is to decide if you want to go with a puppy, or a young adult. And if you want to go to a good breeder or if you would rather work with a rescue. I personally can not recommend the second option as there is way too much that can go wrong with a rescue. People do train rescues for service work, and can do a really good job with them but they do rate higher with risk because you do not know the dog's background and often don't know the dogs lineage and health risks. I almost always prefer to go with a good breeder.

Why? And What is a good breeder ?

A Good breeder means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some people look at show record, or color, or any number of things. What I look for in a good breeder though is first someone who does relevant health testing on their dogs. Which means not only do They have to know what common health issues are in their breed, but You have to know as well so you can ask the right questions. Heath testing is the number one most important thing you need to look at. If you don't have a healthy dog you're defeating yourself before you even start. I can't tell you here what health tests to look for, because with every breed it's different. This is where you as the consumer have to do your leg work and know what is and isn't important in the breed you're looking at. Don't trust everything you read, a number of 'designer breeders' will try to tell you that because their dogs have 'hybrid vigor' you don't have to worry about health problems. This is terribly untrue and any mix is only as healthy as the breeds that went into it.

Second I look for someone who actually does something with their dogs. For me, it isn't going to be AKC showing... there are a lot of personal reasons for that and a lot of less than personal ones. But the long and short of that is that I want to see that the dogs can do Something. What I look for will often depend on what breed I'm looking at and the purpose of the dog I'm searching for (I also own stock dogs so the issue comes up there too). For a service dog I want to see things that show that the dog is trainable, and stable. For most of the breeds that I personally like this means one of several biting dog sports. I know you're saying Hold up What? but let me explain my reasoning (which shouldn't necessarily be your reasoning). First the biting dog sports are generally multipurpose sports, which generally require obedience, agility and showing control under pressure. Temperament is paramount with these sports, the dogs must be sound in body and temperament, meaning that they aren't going to bite random strangers. Stable temperament is important in a service dog more so than just about any other type of dog. These sports also show a drive to learn and be trained. which is again a good trait. If I were looking at a different group of dogs I'd look for different activities.. Obedience, Tracking, Nose work, Therapy work. All of these are examples of things that you could be looking at depending on what breed you're searching for. What sports and activities I look for also has to do with your task list. If you need a dog to alert to allergens in your environment, or to be a diabetic alert dog I'd lean towards breeders who did sports like tracking and nose work for one example.

I also look for a breeder who is in touch with their puppy customers who follows their success.. and failure. One who can talk candidly about their lines. The breeder is Always going to know their dogs better than you are, and no amount of pedigree digging is as good as hands on experience with their own dogs. Watching trials isn't going to cut it, the dogs you see in trails are not the raw goods, a good trainer can take a horrible dog through a number of titles so while watching a dog in person isn't a bad idea it isn't as important as knowing the dogs.

Finally, I personally like a breeder who at least partially picks the puppy for you. This shows a breeder who is committed to you getting the Right puppy in the litter, not just the puppy you think is cutest. Why is this such a big issue for me? Because as mentioned above, the breeder knows their dogs... I actually prefer breeders who breed more than one litter a year. Breeding frequently shows that they have a Lot of hands on experience with their own dogs and their own lines. It shows that they are committed to the breed and their view on how the breed should be and it means that they have handled a Number of puppies. They have these puppies from the moment of birth, trust me when I say they know those pups better than you will in a 10 minute meeting, or even Ten 10 minute meetings. This is the moment that I do have to caution you that a bunch of litters doesn't mean a puppy mill.. avoid breeders who breed multiple breeds unless it is two or three in a similar family of dogs (a lot of 'working' dog breeders will breed two or three different breeds such as German shepherds, Belgian Malinios and Dutch Shepherds).

Red Flags -

- Breeders who claim their lines are perfect and don't talk about any faults
- Breeders who don't health test, claiming their lines don't have problems (see above)
- Breeders who don't ask you an questions about what you're doing with the pup and your experience with dogs, or do not have opinions on your use for the puppy.
- Breeders who breed solely for color, and have lines full of non standard colors.
- Breeders who charge more for different colors, or worse
- Breeders who advertise non-standard colors as 'rare' and charge more for them.
- Breeders who send you the price, and ask you when you'd like to put a down payment on a litter without asking questions of you.
- Breeders who won't talk about their dogs until you have a deposit on a litter.
- Breeders who have no titles on their dogs and claim that because they breed good solid 'pets' that titles aren't needed.
- Breeders with more than two breeds without a similar 'theme' among the breeds.


Cheers from Jeanene and Happy

Member Since
Barked: Mon Feb 18, '13 10:03pm PST 
My PSD is a Boxer, but that's definitely not for everyone. One trait that I was actively looking for was the propensity to jump up on people (Easier to train him to distract me - I need BIG cues. So he gives me a hug if I need distracting from a bad activity). But you really do want a dog that fits well with you. My PSD is actually a rescue dog, I was fostering him and decided within a couple of hours that he would be the dog I was train for his current calling. I don't know if it's the same for anyone else, but the second I met him we connected on a very simple level. He was very attuned to me almost immediately, and even to this day uses cues taht I never trained him to do - he just knows instinctively what I need. I hope that you find that right dog for you. One thing I learned in my serach - Don't rush it. Your perfect dog for this will come along and it'll be right when it happens, whether it be from a training company or a dog that comes into your life. All I know is that no other dog would be as good for me as my Hunter is. He's the perfect first service dog.


Wag more, bark- less!
Barked: Tue Feb 19, '13 11:26pm PST 
Happy's already posted a realy good post about finding good breeders, so I thought I'd be a little more specific.

One thing about the breeds you've picked is that I don't really seem much of a theme beyond rarity. I think you need to very carefully consider what it is that you need in a dog as far as training goes.

I've addressed how I feel about Husky SDs in this thread - http://www.dogster.com/forums/Service_and_Therapy_Dogs/thread/722645 - and I should also add that since I wrote that, Jack has washed out of training. He's a WONDERFUL dog, and he's doing great in sports (admittedly, not obedience - but he's having a blast in dock dogs and lure coursing) and we may do therapy work- but he's just not got the work ethic it takes.

There are a number of people with Chessies as service dogs out there and they can be a good choice IF you have the right Chessie. There are a lot of downright weird temperaments in the breed, and as a 'protective retriever' there's some pretty weird stuff accepted as 'normal' behavior that *I* would call bad temperament.

I've only met three curlycoated retrievers. Based on those three, I just couldn't recommend them. Flighty, flakey, lovely dogs, but they were like an even sillier flatcoat. I'd also be very concerned about health. I think if you like curly, you'd be better off finding a well bred standard poodle or portie. Yes, you have to clip them, but you'd have a LOT more options for breeders who DO stuff with their dogs (although msot curly people do apparently hunt. YMMV).

Rotties, we've got rottie folks on the board and hopefully some of them will speak up. smile

Barked: Thu Feb 21, '13 5:31am PST 
My next dog will be a Rottweiler. I have chosen the breeder already even though I know it may be 10 years before I get another dog. Their breed has a beginning in carting. This will be helpful should I need to progress into a wheelchair. My breeder has dogs that are carting champions. So I agree that it is good to see not only that the dogs have all the health qualities but also working titles too.
I have worked with rotties before. They like to chew if they are not kept busy and cheap toys (sometimes expensive) won't hold up. They have a pretty even temperment if bred and socialized right.
There is something about that big teddybear head that makes you want to smoozle too.
Crazy Sadie- Lady

Im a SD and- proud of it so- there!!!!
Barked: Thu Feb 21, '13 5:20pm PST 
Emily it is nice to see another Bull terrier here... I got Sadie for my service dog in maine thank God there is no breed discrimination. I don't plan to go on any trip really out side of maine with her but
won't say never. Sadie is a gental and loving pup of 3-4 years of age and I have had her since she was 7 months. She has pretty much trained her self. I read up on this breed and all the coutions about the breed and I was prepared to be met with an aggressive breed of dog. but she was not that but the sweetest dog and loving loyal friend. silly and fun and a joy. She also so smart and learns stuff so easy. She all but trained me more then I trained her. She picked up on so much more then I knew I wanted form her. I am not here to tell people what or etc. to do with their dog or what kind of dogs to pick. I just wanted to tell you how I picked and am very happy to have Sadie I have her to attend my many needs of disabilities one of them is a mobilitie issue. She is strong and gental. witch is another reason I picked her breed. Her breed also has the puppy soft features that I endear to.