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Top Five Service Dog Breeds

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It’s incredible how versatile dogs are! One pooch can be an equally great cuddler while on the couch, as well as performing as a search and rescue of a lost hiker.

Any canine can be trained to assist humans, but some are more suited to the task than others. Read on to find out what you should know about service dogs and which breed to go for.

What Makes a Good Service Dog?

Like we said, any dog can do different kinds of jobs as long as they go through appropriate training, but most service breeds share certain characteristics.

For one, service dogs are usually calm and adaptable in a wide range of situations. They’re also friendly, but not overly outgoing. In other words, an excellent service dog will politely stand in a crowd of people, but won’t be lunging at the end of the leash to meet a stranger.

Service dogs are smart and willing. Being of service to humans takes some training, and that means being able to learn new skills quickly, being able to recall those skills when needed, and being willing to respond to command without hesitation.

Most, though not all, service dogs need to be large enough to assist in the tasks that they’re put to physically. A water rescue dog won’t do much good if it is too small to pull you to safety.

With that said, medical alert dogs like those who detect seizures or low blood sugar, or dogs that provide mental health support, can be of any size.

While there are dozens of breeds out there that fit the bill, the following five breeds stand out among the rest.

Labrador Retriever

A Labrador Retriever wearing a service dog vest

A Labrador Retriever wearing a service dog vest

The Labrador Retriever can do it all: police work, search and rescue, border patrol and customs, seeing and hearing assistance, therapy, health monitoring, and physical assistance. There’s no other breed out there that matches their versatility when it comes to service work.

Labs were bred in Newfoundland to be sporting, hunting, and working dogs, so it makes sense that they’re happiest when working alongside their person - it’s what they were made to do.

Labradors make good service dogs for many reasons. They’re strong enough to do all kinds of work without being too large to fit in a car or small apartment. They’re also smart and people-oriented, which means that you can teach them a range of tasks.

They’re eager to please and friendly, which makes them ideal in public settings for a range of duties. And while they’ll protect their people, they aren’t aggressive.

While they can be active dogs, Labrador Retrievers get enough mental and physical stimulation from the work they’re doing while searching, guiding, or monitoring a situation for their humans.

In other words, the Lab is tailor-made to perform different tasks, which is why you see them so often dressed up in a service dog vest.

Golden Retriever

A Golden Retriever service dog helping a woman in a wheelchair with her house chores

A Golden Retriever service dog helping a woman in a wheelchair with her house chores

Goldens also stand out when it comes to service dog breeds. They’re used as physical assistants, medical alert dogs, therapy companions, and seeing and hearing guides.

The Golden Retriever was bred in Scotland as a hunting dog, so like the Labradors, they’re bred to work alongside humans.

Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular breeds out there, and there’s a good reason for that. They’re adaptable, smart, trainable, gentle, loyal, and strong enough to provide physical assistance. You’d be hard-pressed to find a dog that’s better suited to several service tasks.

Part of what makes them such good service dogs is that they’re alert without being reactive. They’re also willing to please and will let people touch them or come near them without getting too excited.

They’re also steady dogs, which means that no matter where they go, they can adapt and stay focused on the job at hand.

As Golden owners know, they like to be with their people all the time. This trait makes them ideal for any service that requires long hours working side-by-side with their person.

German Shepherd

German Shepherd as a police or guard dog

German Shepherd as a police or guard dog

The German Shepherd may be the quintessential police dog. They’re used for search and rescue operations, border patrol, bomb-sniffing, seeing and hearing guide dogs, medical alert dogs, and military service dogs.

GSDs were bred in Germany, as you probably guessed. They were originally herding dogs, but these days, they’re often bred specifically for police, military, and protection purposes.

That’s why if you ask most people what kind of dog they think of when they imagine a police dog, German Shepherds would be their first answer.

There are a lot of reasons why this canine is used by police and military forces around the world. They’re highly intelligent, extremely trainable, and physically capable.

While some service breeds might not want to stand up to a physical attack, GSDs were bred to protect their owners and not back down from a challenge. So when it comes to this fido, expect a courageous and confident working dog.

That doesn’t mean that they’re aggressive, however. Thanks to their intimidating appearance, many people will think twice before going after someone who is in the company of a German Shepherd.

They also have a high work ethic and enjoy having a job to do, so they’re very much capable of learning lots of commands.

On top of that, their heavy coat makes them perfect workers in the cold or bad weather.

Poodle

A standard-sized Poodle ready for different kinds of tasks

A standard-sized Poodle ready for different kinds of tasks

The Poodle isn’t quite as common in the service world as the German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, or Labrador Retriever, but they’ve made a name for themselves when it comes to working as assistance dogs.

You can find them assisting people with visual or hearing impairments, being used as medical alert dogs for people with life-threatening allergies or diabetes, and as mental health and therapy dogs.

Poodles have a reputation as a fussy, fancy dog - a perception that might be caused by their over-the-top show haircuts. But they’re athletic, intelligent, and one of the most easy-to-train canines out there. After all, they’re the 2nd smartest dog breed in the world.

Poodles were bred to be hunting dogs, and they retain many of the characteristics that made them useful companions for hunters. They’re people-oriented, quick learners, and versatile enough to do different tasks.

They come in three sizes, and all do well as service dogs, though only the standard breeds are large enough to assist with physical work.

Because they’re focused on their people, they’re particularly suited to work that involves alerting their humans to potentially scary situations, like low blood sugar, a pending seizure, or a panic attack.

They’re also known for their focus. When given a job to do, they can tune out everything else and have laser-focus on the task at hand.

They aren’t large enough to help with some of the more physically demanding tasks, like search and rescue work or pulling people, but they can flawlessly perform in other duties.

Border Collie

Border Collie resting after a day of work

Border Collie resting after a day of work

Border Collies, like Poodles, aren’t quite as common as Labs, Goldens, and German Shepherds. But they’re ideal for helping people with diabetes, for detecting impending seizures, as therapy dogs, and as search and rescue dogs.

They were bred in Scotland and England as a herding dog, a job that they still do today. Although they’re famous for their crouch and stare, that doesn’t mean that this breed is limited to rounding up livestock and excelling in dog sports.

Borders are actually the smartest breed in the world, and they’re very eager and willing to learn. They’re also highly energetic, which means they need to have a sense of purpose, or they can quickly get bored. This is definitely not a couch potato dog.

They’re also incredibly sensitive and seem to be tuned in to their human’s needs. In fact, they can learn to react to simple gestures like a nod or a raise of a brow from its owner. Border Collies can also be trained to do all kinds of tasks that other dogs might struggle to learn, thanks to their smarts.

With their intelligence and no-nonsense traits, Borders are better suited for experienced owners. They can be excellent service dogs as long as you can provide them with the right training.

Service Dogs Are Here to Work

Even the best breed won’t be able to do their job if they aren’t trained well, so personality is just part of the equation. That’s why trainability is such a pivotal element to a good service dog.

But these five breeds have a leg up on the competition thanks to their size, temperament, and intelligence. Each one is well-suited to helping people with many different tasks, which is why you’ll see them out there working hard to aid their humans.

We’d love to hear of any experience you have with these breeds - be sure to share with us in the comments.

Author

Alexandra Seagal

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