What breed of dogs do you use for Service Dogs?


Service dog being petted

A short answer might be, "We use rescues, so it could be anything". 

A slightly longer answer is "Usually choose Goldens and Labs and mixes of Goldens or La

bs for service dog work." 

But both those answers have a LOT of exceptions, and in general, how a specific dog tests out is much more important that what breed he/she is. 

  • An exception, for example, pictured here, is a gentle German Shepherd we trained for an adult. Usually, service dogs are not allowed to be petted when working, but his handler would occasionally make an exception with children because so many children are afraid of that breed.
  • Note that we have started using more mixed-breed dogs in the hope of seeing fewer genetic problems.
  • Note also that German Shepherds (which can be aggressive) and Bernese Mountain Dogs (which can be short-lived) and Beagles (which are too focused on smelling to do other tasks) and Standard Poodles (which are pretty rare) are sometimes used in other service dog programs, although we choose not to use those breeds for the reasons listed here.

These are a lot of exceptions, we realize. The problem is that there isn't a specific breed that has been bred for generations to be service dogs. Instead, there are a few, rare individuals that could be good candidates for service dog work (we estimate that about 1 out 1000 dogs is a good candidate for this job).

We wish there were more breeds that made good Service Dogs, but other breeds don't have a good track record. Personally, we LOVE each and every AKC dog breed, but...each breed was originally created for a specific purpose and their resulting characteristics don't match the requirements of a Service Dog. 

The Service Dogs we choose to train need, for our program, to have a rare combination of: A. Low energy, and B. High intelligence. This combination is not common in dog breeds (smart dogs tend to be high-energy, while low-energy dogs tend to not be very trainable).

In addition to those requirements, Service Dogs also need to have the following three attributes: A. Have low prey drive, B. Be good with all strange dogs, and C. Be good with all strange men.

If all these requirements aren't enough, the breed also needs to be the right size because small dogs can grow fearful from being stepped on in crowds, and also because overly-large dogs are difficult to put under tables and out of the way in airplanes and buses.

That's a lot of requirements!

If you want an even longer answer, click here.