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Which Breeds Make the Best Service Dogs?

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Breeds By Ben Team 12 min read April 9, 2020 90 Comments

Best Service Dog Breeds

Many people who struggle with a mental, emotional, or physical health challenge have found that a well-trained service dog makes daily life much easier to navigate.

Service dogs can help their owners in a variety of ways, ranging from monitoring their owner’s blood sugar levels to helping their owner walk!

Just about any dog can be trained to perform service work, but some breeds are especially likely to excel in such capacities.

Below, we’ll talk about some of the breeds that are best suited for service work and examine some of the traits that make some breeds stand out in these contexts more than others.

But first, we need to briefly discuss the differences between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs.

The Different Types of Service Dogs

Although the terms therapy dog, service dog, and emotional support dog are often used interchangeably, they do refer to different things. We’ve written about how to identify a service dog extensively before, but we’ll provide a quick synopsis below.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are used to help reduce anxiety and fear in people who are typically coping with some type of trauma. This includes people who are dealing with relatively minor traumatic experiences or life-altering events.

For example, some therapy dogs work in airports where they allow weary or nervous travelers to spend a few minutes petting them. Others visit hospitals to help cheer up patients and frightened visitors who often have a lot on their minds.

therapy dog breeds

Note that therapy dogs are usually not expected to help their owners feel better – they are primarily tasked with helping cheer up other people.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs are usually expected to help their owners cope with fear, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or other emotional challenges.

emotional support dog

Some do so by simply hanging out with their person, soliciting scritches, and generally being a dog, while others will intervene during acute attacks of anxiety or fear.

For example, if the owner of an emotional support dog starts showing signs of an impending anxiety attack, the dog may jump up on his person’s lap and start doling out kisses and affection. This is often helpful for stopping the attack and allowing their owner to relax and feel safe.

Service Dogs

Service dogs are quite different from therapy dogs and emotional support animals. Unlike these other dogs, which primarily provide value by just being lovable floofs, service dogs are trained to perform specific and essential tasks for their owner.

The classic example of a service dog is a German shepherd leading a blind owner around, but there are a variety of other tasks service dogs have been trained to complete.

service dog for blind

Some help wheelchair-bound owners open doors, while others are trained to notify deaf owners of ringing doorbells, fire alarms, and other important sounds.

There is occasionally a bit of crossover between the various categories.

For instance, a dog that is trained to take active, well-defined steps to help stop their owner’s anxiety attacks (as in the earlier example) is probably better characterized as a service dog for anxiety rather than an emotional support dog because he’s performing a specific task.

Some dogs are trained to monitor autistic children and even sit at their feet during meltdowns to help calm them.

The exact way your four-legged assistant is classified will affect the logistics of having him accompany you in your daily activities (for example, service dogs are allowed nearly everywhere, but therapy dogs are restricted from some places).

However, it won’t matter to you or him – you’ll just know that you make each other’s lives better.

Traits of Good Service Dogs

Although good service dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and breeds, most of the best exhibit a few common traits. This includes:

Intelligence

Pet dogs needn’t be especially smart – it doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to follow you around, shower you with love, and randomly do cute stuff.

But service dogs must often perform complex tasks, which require considerable intelligence to pull off. So, most of the best service dogs are smart cookies.

 Friendly Disposition

Because your service dog will frequently be required to work in public settings, they need to be comfortable around and friendly with other people and pets.

dogs-that-like-people

Dogs who are aloof or overprotective may make good pets or guard dogs, but they rarely make good service, therapy, or emotional support dogs.

 Calm Demeanor

Service and support dogs must be relatively calm to ensure they don’t cause disturbances when you are in public. And this not only means avoiding dogs who tend to run, jump, and play during inappropriate times, it also means avoiding dogs who are reactive or easily startled.

 Strong Work Drive

Some dogs have a strong desire to work with their owner, while others are happy to lounge on the couch all day and have their stomach scratched.

If you are in need of an emotional support dog, you may be able to get by with one in the latter category, but a strong work drive is an important trait to seek when picking a service dog.

therapy-dog-breeds-with-focus

 Tidiness

For the sake of social harmony, you’ll want to make sure that your service dog doesn’t drool and shed everywhere you go. This will just lead to unnecessary conflict and strife, which may cause some to resent service and support dogs.

 Tendency to Bond Strongly

Although independent dog breeds can be wonderful in some circumstances, most good service and support dogs tend to be touchy-feely dogs who bond strongly with their owners. Besides, you are going to end up depending on your dog pretty heavily, so it’ll just work better if you pick one that’ll develop a strong bond with you.

10 Best Service Dog Breeds

It’s important to select a service dog that suits your specific needs, but the following ten breeds are some of the most popular choices by those who need a four-footed assistant!

1. Labrador Retriever

Service Dog Breeds

Labrador retrievers are one of the most popular pet breeds, and they make fantastic service dogs too.

Most Labs are ridiculously friendly and good-natured. They also tend to bond very strongly with their owners and often love having a job to do. Large individuals may even be able to help you stand or walk.

Labs can perform a variety of services for their owners, but they’re especially helpful for mobility-impaired owners who need help grabbing or manipulating items. This is partly due to their natural retrieving instinct, but Labs also have “soft mouths,” which means they grip things lightly with their teeth. This will help ensure they don’t mangle the objects you expect them to fetch.

2. Golden Retriever

Breeds for Service Work

Given their similarity to Labs, it shouldn’t be surprising that golden retrievers also make excellent service dogs. They’re smart, friendly, and easy to train, and most enjoy having a job to do.

Additionally, despite being pretty big dogs, goldens look gentle and sweet, which can help put other people (who may be afraid of dogs) at ease.

Goldens are ideal for emotional support work, making them one of the best service dogs for PTSD and a great breed for reducing anxiety. But they can also handle more physical work, such as guiding blind owners or fetching items for those confined to wheelchairs.

Do note that goldens shed quite a bit, so you’ll need to decide whether or not you can deal with this issue before selecting one of these lovable canines.

3. German Shepherd

Service Dogs

German shepherds are most commonly associated with guard and protection work, but they also make good service dogs.

German shepherds have all of the things you’d want when picking a service dog, as they’re intelligent, well-behaved, and easy to train. They usually bond very strongly with their owners too.

German shepherds were likely among the first dogs to be used for service work, and they can do it all.

Many have enough size and strength to help mobility-impaired owners get around, they are attentive enough to notice when their person is feeling anxious, and they have a powerful sense of smell, which makes them well-suited for monitoring blood sugar levels.

4. Poodle

Good Service Dog Breeds

Many people think of poodles as prissy dogs with fancy haircuts, but they’re actually very smart and capable dogs who often love having a job (and for the record, you can give your poodle a pretty normal-looking haircut if you like).

Poodles have a great demeanor for service work and they’re very easy to train. Plus, they look great in a service vest!

Most people who plan to use a poodle for service work should probably select a standard poodle (poodles come in several different sizes – standard poodles are the largest), as they’re bigger and stronger than toy or miniature poodles.

However, if you don’t need your service dog to perform exceptionally physical work, smaller varieties may be easier to take with you into crowded locations.

5.  Boxer

Dogs That Make Good Service Dogs

Boxers aren’t often used for service dog work, but they certainly exhibit most of the traits that you want in a service dog. They are big enough to perform physical tasks, but they’re still small enough to comfortably navigate crowded locations.

Boxers are exceedingly good-natured dogs who are not only friendly with adults, they’re marvelous with children too. They do have high energy levels, like Labs and golden retrievers, so you’ll need to provide them with plenty of time to exercise.

That said, they can actually adapt quite well to apartments and small homes.

6. Great Dane

Dogs for Service Jobs

Great Danes are uniquely well-suited for some service tasks, given their immense size and strength. They’re often helpful for owners who need help standing or keeping their balance, but they are also great for people who need emotional support, given their calm and reassuring demeanor.

Great Danes are typically pretty friendly with strangers, but those who’ve been trained for service work will remain focused on their person at all times. Great Danes do drool quite a bit, so they aren’t ideal for all owners.

You needn’t take my word for any of this – look at how well this Great Dane is helping his person.

7. Border Collie

Dogs for Service Work

Border collies are often considered the smartest breed in the world, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they make excellent service dogs (note that many of the other brainy breeds, including Labs, poodles, and German shepherds are also on this list). They’re also remarkably easy to train, and most love having a job to do.

Border collies are pretty good with kids, but they will occasionally “herd” children, which can lead them to accidentally knock toddlers over, so they may not be the best choice for those who are frequently around unfamiliar kids.

Border collies are a high-energy breed, and they can be mischievous if under stimulated, so you’ll want to be sure you can provide plenty of opportunities to exercise and brain-stimulating interactive toys before adding one to your home.

8. Pomeranian

Therapy Dog Breeds

Most service dogs are on the large side, but the Pomeranian is a small breed that is often quite capable of helping in service-related capacities.

A Pomeranian isn’t going to help you keep your balance or walk, but he can learn to perform a number of tasks that don’t require a ton of size or muscle. They’re very attentive to their owners, and most will enjoy having a job to do.

The Pomeranian is probably the best choice for owners who need the help of a service dog but don’t have a lifestyle that is suitable for big breeds.

Given their small size, it is easy to carry a Pomeranian with you in a small pouch or backpack, and they are so cute that they’ll rarely frighten anyone when you are in public!

9. Bernese Mountain Dogs

Service Breeds

Bernese mountain dogs exhibit many of the most important traits to look for in a service dog, including a friendly disposition, impressive intelligence, and a strong work ethic.

They’re big and strong enough to perform some physical tasks, and they’re smart enough to learn how to perform complex jobs to help their people.

Bernese Mountain dogs aren’t ideal for warm climates, and they do shed quite a bit, so you’ll want to be sure these things won’t be a problem before adding one to your home. They also require plenty of time to run, jump, and play, so they aren’t well-suited for apartment life.

10. Pit Bulls

Dogs Good at Service Work

Pit bulls (and their American Staffordshire terrier cousins) often make excellent service dogs, although you’ll have to be prepared to deal with the negative (though mistaken) perception of the breed.

Many people fear pit bulls, but these fears are the result of ignorance and sensationalistic coverage by the media – in truth, the vast majority of pits are loving, gentle dogs.

In fact, pit bulls are one of the friendliest breeds around, and well-trained individuals are generally very well-behaved in public situations. They’re also pretty smart and easy to train, and most pit bulls have a strong work drive.

   

While the ten breeds discussed above are some of the best breeds for service work, there are plenty of exceptions and you should always try to find a dog who’s well-suited to provide the kind of service you need.

For example, Jack Russell terriers aren’t often used as service dogs given their penchant for mischief and independent nature, but I saw an elderly lady at the DMV a few weeks ago who was accompanied by a darling little Jack Russell in a service dog jacket.

I didn’t want to impose, so I didn’t ask her what service her dog performed, but whatever his duties entailed, he carried himself with a sense of purpose and appeared very observant of his mom. Unlike many other Jack Russells, who tend to be perpetually scanning the surroundings for potential adventure, this little fella kept his eyes locked on mom the entire time.

So, while you should certainly consider the breeds we listed above, don’t hesitate to stray from the list!

Do you have a service or support dog? Tell us all about him! You don’t have to share any details you don’t want to, but we’d love to know the services your dog provides, the breed he belongs to, and whether or not you feel like he’s helped make your life easier.

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Written by

Ben Team

Ben is the senior content editor for K9 of Mine and has spent most of his adult life working as a wildlife educator and animal-care professional. Ben’s had the chance to work with hundreds of different species, but his favorite animals have always been dogs. He currently lives in Atlanta, GA with his spoiled-rotten Rottweiler named J.B. Chances are, she’s currently giving him the eyes and begging to go to the park.

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90 Comments

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Andrew Ridgway

I normally don’t leave comments but I feel my story might help people. I will go into far more detail then I woud like because I want to help.

My service dog Molly literally saved my life , I was extremely suicidal at the time due to poor mental and physical health and was cutting a lot causing me to need stitches thus ending up hospitalized.

I have PTSD and social and general anxiety along with chronic depression from a young age. Fibromyalgia and general daily pain. I have an improperly treated migraine causing me multiple health issues. My brain damage causes me to think I need more water than I do and if I don’t drink several gallons a day I will have panic attacks. Combined with my dizziness and nausea and general fatigue causing me to sleep 12-18 hours a day keeping up my water intake is very difficult.

I have PTSD and formerly considered myself transgender. I STILL somewhat often wish I was a girl but by purposefully ignoring that part of me I am far less distressed. The current treatments and cost wouldn’t get me nearly as female and feminine as I would need to be satisfied with myself in any way. My situation likely doesn’t apply to most trans people since my social anxiety along with general physical prefrences for females (including who I woud be) and my sexual attraction to only women for the most part would prevent this.

My dog’s love and actively distracting me when I become distressed keeps me from dwelling on anything related to my mental health thus keeping me almost normal compared to other people. Mentally I am alright except for my autism and akwardness. Currently it’s ONLY my physical health holding me back which she can’t help with. I don’t think anyone can.

P.S. I no longer consider myself female but a MALE who simply wishes he was BORN female and not MADE into one. I’m a dude and I accept it even if I don’t particularly like it. The social advantages don’t hurt either I have had enough abuse and bullying to last a lifetime.

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I’m Stephanie and my dog is reece

Reece Is a pet lab mix. helps with my ptsd anxiety depression literally leaving my home. He is aware of my seizures before I do. We visit my upstairs neighbor whom has cancer. He checks his home before jumping in his lab. We have a female pit upstairs and are best friends. I also have nightmares and night terrors. He usually put his paw on my chest and kissed me. Which is random.

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Bryan K Raisor

I have PTSD and everything that comes with o. Looking at an English Mastiff for service dog.

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Paige Wright

I’m trying to decide on a dog breed for a service dog for depression/anxiety/PTSD for emotional abuse. My nephew breeds Stackhouze Bulls which I love. She said they are great with kids. I know their beautiful I love those but would it be a good and safe breed?

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Ben Team

Hey there, Paige.
Pibbles can absolutely make good service dogs or ESAs in the right circumstances — it really has more to do with your needs and the individual doggo. As you may already know, most pitties are ridiculously friendly and bond strongly with their peeps. Just be sure to socialize the little pooch as you would with any other dog.
Best of luck!

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DAVID WENTZ

i CAN NOT FIND A Pomeranian
WHO WOULD BE A COMPANION, AND FRIEND. EVERY ADD i ANSWER FOR A Pomeranian
GOES UNANSWERED. IT IS REALLY FRUSTRATING. PARTICULARLY i HAD A Pomeranian
UNTIL IT PASSED AND LOVED IT. i STILL MISS HER.

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Amber Jordan

I have a flat-coated retriever/Australian shepherd mix. She helps me with letting me know when I’m going to have a really bad TLE and makes sure I set down some place safe. She also helps me with my bipolar depression too. The one I had before her was a German/Australian Shepard mix and he did the same thing but when him and I were walking a lot back then, he was there to catch me if I was about to fall because he was so big. He hated when he was told he had to retire but glad to help my soon to have to retire in a few years girl in his final years when she was only a year old. I find Australian Shepard mixes to be very smart and quick learner with a gentle attitude to be helpful with seizures, depression, and anxiety.

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Ben Team

Hey, Amber.
Glad you’ve found some four-footers to help you out!
Thanks for sharing.

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Dave

My standard size labradoodle is an excellent service dog for me. She is not only large enough to help with my mobility both in a wheelchair and on my prosthetic legs but she is excellent at fetching or picking up objects that are difficult for me to reach

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Ben Team

Glad you found a pooch that helps you in the way you need, Dave!

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LaShelle

You missed a powerful and very clever dog breed- a purebred rough coat collie. Bigger than the border collie and not nearly as hyperactive. Also some mixed breeds are good too.

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Ben Team

You’re right, LaShelle — rough-coated collies may work in some cases, though I’m not sure I’d consider them “powerful” in the same way that some of the other breeds discussed above are.
And you’re also right that some mixed-breed pups may work, but you have to be a little more flexible as it’s harder to know what to expect.
🙂

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