The heroes of the canine kingdom, service dogs are taking on increasingly diverse roles. We have hearing dogs for the deaf, diabetic alert dogs, psychiatric service dogs, visual assistance dogs, seizure assistance dogs, and wheelchair assistance or brace/mobility support dogs, to name a few. Before we talk about service dog breeds, let’s define what a service dog is.
First, what is a service dog?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as one specifically trained to perform tasks for a disabled individual who would otherwise have trouble completing those tasks. A service dog is expressly trained to assist with his human partner’s particular disabilities. While some mixed breeds are used for service, much work is performed by purebred dogs. Certain temperaments, traits and physiques make it easier for these dog breeds to learn and perform the tasks of a service dog. Let’s meet five top service dog breeds right here.
German Shepherd Dog
Of course, we lead the list for service dog breeds. We’ve been serving humanity in countless roles for over a century. We’re a highly-intelligent, loyal and hardworking breed, developed by Captain Max von Stephanitz in late 19th-century Germany. A popular breed for military and police work, we’re also frequently chosen for guide and hearing assistance work. Bred specifically to work with humans, we’re among the service dog breeds that are easily trained to perform many tasks.
Perhaps you’ve heard of our forefather, Buddy, a German Shepherd Dog trained by Dorothy Harrison Eustis in the Alps to lead the blind? Buddy came to the States to partner with Morris Frank, the first American to benefit from a Seeing Eye dog. As sight dogs, we’re trained to guide our handlers with both obedience and intelligent disobedience (ignoring commands that might endanger our handlers). In addition, we’re celebrated deterrents to criminals.
Let’s talk first about energy. Preferably, service dog breeds fall mid-range on the energy spectrum: capable of extensive physical activity, but also ready to sit quietly. While we Labs were originally bred for sport, we were expected to relax with family, too. Our ancestors worked with fisherman off the Labrador Sea shores. Our lively forefathers were further developed in England for hunting and retrieving. Perceptive and good natured, we make outstanding service dogs, whether we’re guiding the vision-impaired or alerting a person with diabetes to sugar levels.
Now let us clarify a frequently asked question about service dogs and service dog breeds. A dog whose sole function is to provide emotional support does not qualify as a service animal. The ADA distinguishes between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. Here’s an example: A dog that provides comfort to an anxious individual is an emotional support dog. But if the dog has been trained to sense anxiety attacks and take specific actions to lessen the attack’s impact, he’d be a service animal.
Never fraudulently represent your dog as a service dog to take him places he isn’t allowed. This poses obstacles to the true service dogs. Service dogs are well trained and well mannered, far more than the typical dog at home, and have to pass tests to be certified. At least 19 states are now cracking down on pet parents who fraudulently pass off their dog as a service dog when he is not.
Before we brag on our breed, let us mention that a large number of prospective service dogs don’t make the cut. While the consistency of traits (within each of these service dog breeds) offers a rather dependable prediction of outcome, all dogs are individuals. Some of us might lack the drive, physical abilities, bravery or stick-with-it personalities needed for service work.
Now, let’s talk Golden history and what lands us on this list of service dog breeds. We were developed in mid-19th-century Scotland as gun dogs for retrieving fowl. Lord Tweedmouth fine-tuned us for a delight in water work, as well as superior retrieving skills. Bred hardy for work, we were yet expected to have a gentle mouth and spirit. No birds to be retrieved? Our working skills and gentle nature transfer effectively to service work. And moreover, we’re a highly biddable breed. That’s code for: we love to learn and please our people.
Some of our service work requires harmonizing vigilance with calmness, strength with tenderness. We service Goldens also readily accept the presence of strangers. But you won’t likely see us wildly greeting new people. We mustn’t let new people or situations distract us from our important work.
We may not be the first breed that comes to mind when thinking “service dog breeds.” But us Standard Poodles are a highly trainable, loyal and dependable breed. Our low-shedding coat is also a benefit for allergy sufferers. Developed first in Germany for water retrieving, we’re brainy and obedient, as well as suitably sized at about 45 to 70 pounds for service work.
Our innate curiosity and desire for mental stimulation facilitates our work and responsibilities. We’re eager and ready to problem solve as necessary. No service dog can be rehearsed for every situation that may occur; we need the resourcefulness and intelligence to generalize our training into new circumstances.
We’re another breed that you might not traditionally associate with “service dog breeds.” But we’re remarkably enthusiastic and bright small dogs, bred down from the bigger Spitz breeds in the Pomerania region. We’re pint sized, but we’re brave, sprightly and self-assured. Our small size may even come in handy. You may see us accompanying our owners in stores, restaurants or appointments. Some of us may be emotional support dogs, but others of us are service dogs (as defined by the ADA, and nicely explained by the Labrador above).
Of course, with our height and weight, we’re not expected to physically assist individuals with mobility challenges or guide the sight-impaired. But we may assist an individual with psychiatric conditions such as PTSD, or other indivisible disabilities such as autism, diabetes and epilepsy.
Now, remember, that we working Poms may elicit more disapproving looks in stores and restaurants than other (notably bigger) service dogs. Many people suspect our handlers are simply putting vests on us to sneak us indoors. But invisible disabilities are as real as visible ones. While our size is small, our work is extremely important.
A final word on service dog breeds and service dogs
Looking for general info on service dogs? Check out the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. Interested in the specific canine program (featured in our photos) that helps our veterans? Check out Rebuilding Warriors.
Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Deborah Stern.
Why read breed profiles?
Dog breed profiles help everyone, whether you have a mixed breed or purebred dog, to better understand and improve the quality of your dog’s life. If you have a mixed breed dog, read up on all of the breed profiles that make up your dog. Not sure what breed your dog is? There are a number of easy DNA tests out there to help your find out.
This piece was originally published in 2018.
35 thoughts on “Let’s Meet Some of the Best Service Dog Breeds”
Hi I’m looking for a Sheppard puppy if anyone knows of any please let me know,just got out of hospital again n in really need of 1 for service dog helping me ty
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that first picture is NOT a German Shepherd that my friend is a Belgian Malinois get it right
I suffer with Public Anxiety, do you think a service dog is needed for public places (Schools, restaurants, ect) If so then would a doctor say I needed a service dog or not? Also how do you approach parents about a subject of a service dog. I just want to reccomend it to my mother and have her tell my doctor. I just want to know the best choice.
Hey, just to let u know a service dog attracts so much unwanted attention (staring, coming up and petting without asking, constant questions, and also people trying to talk to your dog). Tharefore I wouldnt reccomend a SD for people with social anxiety as it makes it worse, but im not a medical professional, so ask your doctor (seprately from your mom if thats more comfortable for you).
Our first service dog was a miniature border collie and she was fantastic now I have a German Shepherd bullmastiff mix and he is absolutely wonderful. Both are extremely intelligent and virtually trained themselves once they identified the areas in which they were needed for my Marine combat veteran husband with PTSD.
I am a type 1 diabetic and I lost my companion 2 years ago. My daughter just got me a cavalier/bichon and I was wondering if I could train her to be a diabetic alert or service dog. She is almost 3 months old. Since I got her she has been by my side all the time.just wondering. Also if so I live in the elmira ny area and would like to know where I can take her for the training?????
Great article. I myself have a labrador. They are great service dogs as well as emotional support animals. People though dont know the difference between the two. It is important people get to know their difference. I got him an esa letter from this website myesadoctor and the doctor their told me the difference between the two.
I an on my second service dog, I need them for mobility issues and a amputation. I am a big man sir I use big dogs. My first a 165 pound great pyrenees he worked 8 year now I have my Nava a huge newfoundland sadly I am going deaf so nava is now being trained to pull double duty now. I can tell you service dogs are not friend or pets. There so much more they are soul mates, family you are a team. A truly matched equil team.
My Layla, Border Collie/Jack Russell began as our pet. We soon realized how extremely intelligent she is and we began training her as my service animal. Recently, I had her reviewed by a trainer who specializes in training drug sniffing and service animals. She was astounded as to how much my Layla knows. Layla’s not only my service animal, but she is also my greatest friend. She’ll be 10 in May this year, doesn’t do well in the summer, unfortunately it may be time to retire Layla and train a new dog. We’re looking at a Standard Poodle as I’ve been falling a lot and I would prefer not to have another shedding dog in our home. We’ Keeping Layla as long as she isn’t in pain and are hoping she’ll help us train the new service animal.
You know that ADA does not have any “certification standards” or process for service dogs. To lead people to believe that “certifying ” is required is misleading.
I need help finding a service dog to be a seizure response dog…the problem is I cannot afford it…I can try2train him myself but are there any organizations that could help me…I am a 28yr old mom and I cannot live w. My husband or daughter cuz I can’t be left alone during the day but my dr. Said with a service dog I can live with them…it has been 8years since we lived2gether…
We suggest researching organizations in your area. Here are some articles that might provide helpful insight.
Hi Christine, it has been some time since your post, however I may can help. Please let me know if you have received a dog.
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Looking for a good non shedding dog for disabled son.he has had his dog for nine years and they have become very close but the vet said he is sick with laphomia and will have to be put down.my son is a quaderpelegic do to getting injured while active duty in Marine Corps.If you have any dogs that would be good companion and watch dog
Thanks for reaching out! Here’s a list of nonshedding dogs. We suggest asking a service dog organization to find a dog that best fits you and our son’s needs:
My service dog is a pit bull and I know someone else who has a pit for a service dog Harley learned things very quickly and has been great they are being used as police dogs now a days as well I got Harley when she was a little over a year but knew instantly she was it and we started at home training she would learn new tasks within days and be on to the next one and despite the bad reputation she has a great tempermant and when she is “off duty” is great with my kids other dogs and cats I recommend this breed as well for a service dog
I agree with you about pit bulls. They are great service dogs and companions. It’s sad that bad breeders and owners have damaged their reputation. The reason they are so abused is because of their loyalty and tolerance.
How do you get home owners insurance?
Im getting a bit bull today do u do the Traing please im Deaf can u call my Husband around 10 am please his name is John Blaxkburn 713 289 9444 thank u so much Kimberley Blackburn
I totally 100% agree. I have a Pitt and they are more loving and caring than any breed I’ve seen. They learn fast they thrive on pleasing their owners and need a job to do to be happy themselves. I would never consider any other breed.
It sure was nice when you said that said golden retrievers are effective services dogs because they are highly gentle and skillful and are ready to work with people. I think my sister needs a golden retriever since she is injured and now, she needs something to work with her so that she can get by with ease. Of course, she needs to get one with a certificate or get one certificated, either way will do as long as she is satisfied.
I think I may need a bigger breed….. and def short/ no shedding if I have to take him/her to school. I personally don’t think I can get bpt from a Pom or poodle
The Poodle they are referencing for SD work isn’t a toy or a mini. It is a Standard which can be 27” at the withers and weigh 80#! The coat does require a lot of maintenance (brushing/combing and shaving) so if you’re not into that sort of thing steer away.
There is no such thing as a certification or certified service dog. There are dogs brought up and trained through a program as well as registered with that program, but if what you are referring to is the certification programs you see online, those are all scams. If you read up on the ADA website under the service dog topic you’ll see there is no registration or certification necessary for a dog to be a service dog.
Also, it takes two years minimum for a dog to be fully trained for service work. If your sister is injured now getting a service dog would be moot since you would be either on a waiting list through a program or waiting to find the proper tempered dog and train it.
I’m currently working with my third service dog; the first was a Collie mix, the second and current dogs, both purebred Collies.
I’ve encounter one golden retriever, supposed service dog and one Lab, also a supposed service dog. Both of these allegedly ‘great breeds’ for service dogs were I’ll behaved, lunging and growing (!) at my dog.
I’ll stay with the Collie breed.
The manners of a certain breed are not defined by a few individuals. Mostly, the temperament of an animal is shaped by the owners and circumstance, not a generalisation about the breed.
I have Border Collie Service Dog.My 1st Service Dog was an ACD …I chose for Intelligence & Loyalty these dogs,They LOVE A JOB & I am getting another Border Collie puppy in 2020 to train along side my 12yr young current SAVIOR to be her successor.
SO glad you mention border collies! We have rescued them for 35 years and unfortunately our late 30’s son was recently in a motorcycle accident and is now a paraplegic. We currently have 2 BCs and think the 4 year old larger stature one and about 60 lbs. would be a good service dog for our son. He was planning to specifically train his purebred very smart Weimaraner but sadly she was diagnosed with lymphoma (at 6 years) and recently crossed the rainbow bridge. I love Goldens, Labs but seems these days their life span is too short. All of our BCs have lived to at least 15 years.
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I had absolutely no idea that Pomeranians work as service dogs. I’ve always viewed them as lapdogs, but I guess I have to change my perception of them now.