There is no doubt that almost any dog breed could become a service dog given the proper training and motivation. However, some breeds are more often used for this type of task because they excel in those roles.
Before we go too far, let’s define what a service dog is and this is according to the American With Disabilities Act, “service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities." An emotional support dog and therapy dog are different than service dogs.
Therapy dogs help their owners cope with reducing fear and anxiety. You may find a therapy dog in an airport where they offer comfort to a nervous traveler or in a hospital to cheer up lonely or frightened patients.
An emotional support dog helps his owner deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, emotional challenges, depression, and others. An emotional support dog offers comfort just by being with her person.
Service dogs are specifically trained to perform essential tasks for their owners. A seeing-eye dog assists her blind owner. The service dog could help her wheelchair-bound owner open doors. Still, other service dogs are trained to notify deaf owners if an alarm or doorbell is ringing. A service dog is allowed, by law, to accompany her owner everywhere. Therapy and emotional support dogs don’t have those legal protections.
What common traits should a service dog have?
Intelligence and the ability to learn specific and unique tasks
They should be friendly. Even though you are not supposed to interact with or pet a service dog when he is on duty, because he will be in public with his owner, he should be friendly.
The dog must have a strong work drive. Service dogs rarely get a day off and they must enjoy what they are doing as they may be called upon to perform their tasks for many hours a day.
Service dogs should be calm. A service dog shouldn’t bark at other dogs and people in public, nor should he jump on others.
While not required, it may be easier on the person using the service dog to have one that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance and who doesn’t drool – for example.
Because the owner of the service dog will rely so heavily on her the dog needs to be one who will enjoy a hands-on owner with whom the dog will bond.
This list of the best service dog breeds isn’t extensive, it does give a good idea of the breeds that are most often called to perform this required service to their owner.
German Shepherds are well-behaved and intelligent and even though they are associated with being guard dogs, they are ideal service dogs. They are attentive, are strong enough to help a mobility-impaired owner, and have a strong sense of smell – this could come in handy if the service he performs is monitoring the blood sugar of his owner.
Labrador Retrievers are calm and friendly and are one of the most popular service dog breeds. They tend to bond strongly with their owner and never appear to tire of performing their job. They are sturdy and this could be necessary if the dog is performing services for a mobility-impaired person. Their instinct to retrieve and their “soft mouths” make them ideal for retrieving objects and returning them unharmed. Even though this dog has a short coat, he will still shed.
Golden Retrievers are similar to Labrador Retrievers and they are ideal service dogs. They are friendly, smart, easy to train, and love having a job. This breed is also an ideal choice for a person who needs an emotional support dog. This is a breed that will require brushing to keep shedding to a minimum.
Poodles require minimal grooming, love having a job, are smart, and easy to train. Standard size poodles would be best suited to service dog tasks because they are stronger than Toy or Mini Poodles. That being said, depending on what service the poodle will perform a smaller poodle might be a better fit in some cases.
Depending on the task, Great Danes may be well-suited for service because of their size and strength. If the owner needs help standing or walking, a Great Dane would be ideal. This is also a breed that is friendly with strangers but remains focused on his person. They are droolers and will shed, so this may not be ideal for all owners.
If you’re looking for a dog who loves a job, then the Border Collie makes a great service dog. This is a high-energy breed that has a drive for working so the owner will need to make sure his dog is emotionally and physically active. Border Collies are so smart and that is what makes them so well-suited to be service dogs.
This may come as a surprise, but Pomeranians are also great service dogs because of their dedication and drive. They are also highly intelligent, ideal for living in small spaces, and can perform any number of service-related tasks. This small breed is great for the owner who travels frequently because they are highly “portable.”
The Bernese Mountain Dog is strong, smart, friendly, and loves to work. This breed does shed and requires frequent brushing. This is a breed that thrives better in cooler climates – Arizona would not be a good fit for this breed, especially if he was going to perform outdoor tasks.
As mentioned this list is not complete and if you see a breed on here that you know excels in the role of service dog we would love to hear about it. Service dogs perform such essential tasks for their owners and they do it with love and dedication and allow their owners to live life as fully as possible.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.