Those who struggle with physical, mental, or emotional health challenges will often find that trained service animals can make their daily lives much easier. While most dogs can be trained to provide service work, there are specific breeds that are more likely to excel in a wide range of situations. Below, we talk about these breeds, outline the traits that make them suitable for this line of work, and ultimately reveal the 15 best service dogs.
Types of Service Dogs
The terms service dog, emotional support dog, and therapy dog will often be used interchangeably but actually mean different things. Here are a few definitions of the various jobs and daily tasks that service dogs can help with.
Emotional Support Dogs
Emotional support animals (including psychiatric service dogs), can help their owners cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, fear, and many other mental disabilities. They can provide relief from panic attacks and more just by hanging out with their humans and generally by just being a dog. For instance, when an emotional support dog senses that its owner is showing signs of an upcoming anxiety attack, it springs into action by providing affection and kisses, helping its owner feel safe and relaxed.
These great service dogs are also used to help with mental illness, specifically to reduce fear and anxiety in people who are dealing with some kind of trauma. With proper training, these dogs can help people suffering from life-altering events or traumatic experiences. Therapy dogs will often be seen at hospitals to cheer up patients — these pups aren’t expected to serve their owners but are mainly tasked with helping others feel better.
A service dog is different from both emotional support dogs and therapy dogs. While they provide hugs and kisses to encourage their owners and other people, a service dog can perform specific tasks for people with specific needs. Service dog training covers a wide range of service work for people with physical disabilities, which can be placed under these categories.
- Service Dogs: This is the broadest category of service dogs and is the most common kind. Service animals are able to help with physical tasks, making them a popular choice for those who need assistance with daily life.
- Guide Dogs: Also known as seeing-eye-dogs, these excellent service dogs can help to guide their blind owners wherever they go. They play an important role for their handlers, helping them to cross roads, open doors, avoid obstacles, and more. They also undergo a rigorous training process to learn complex tasks.
- Medical Alert Dogs: These dogs are trained to assist their owner in the event of a medical emergency. For example, diabetic alert dogs can detect when their owner’s blood sugar levels are too high or too low. A seizure-alert dog can help their owners by preparing for an upcoming epileptic attack or seizure and by helping them stay safe during one.
- Autism Support Dogs: Autism service dogs work particularly well with children and can help to decrease levels of anxiety at school and other stressful situations.
- Mobility Service Dogs: Mobility assistance dogs help people with leg injuries, spinal injuries, and other injuries that make standing, walking, and balancing difficult. These dogs will typically come from larger breeds to provide balancing support for their owners.
- Police Dogs: A police dog will go through extensive training to assist police, military, search and rescue teams, and other law enforcement officers around public areas.
- Guard Dogs: A guard dog is the best choice for protecting people or property from unwanted intruders. They are trained to be able to discern members of the family from unwanted visitors. The best dog breeds for this job include the Doberman, Giant Schnauzer, Chow Chow, and Bullmastiff.
What to Look for in Good Service Dogs
While good service dogs can come in a wide range of breeds, shapes, and sizes, the best service dog breeds will have these characteristics:
- Friendly Disposition
- Tidy and Well Kept
- Calm Demeanor
- Strong Work Ethics
- Tendency to Form a Strong Bond
- Provides mobility support
- Affectionate nature
- Strong desire to help their owners
Best Breeds for Service Dogs
Below are some of the most successful service dog breeds for all kinds of important tasks and service dog work.
1. Golden Retrievers
Thanks to their size, this large breed is an excellent choice for people with mobility issues. They’re friendly, smart, and easy to train, and love having a job where they get to help a disabled person. Moreover, they can quickly make strong bonds with their owners, and despite their bigger size, Golden Retrievers are known for their sweet and gentle nature which can put others at ease.
These great dogs are the ideal choice for people in need of emotional support and are one of the best dogs for PTSD and reducing anxiety. But they are also great for fetching items for people in wheelchairs and for guiding blind individuals. One thing to note about Goldens is that they can shed a lot, so be sure that you’re prepared to do some maintenance for them before choosing these lovable pups.
2. Labrador Retrievers
Another one of the most common breeds for service dogs is the Labrador Retriever, which is also one of the most popular pet breeds around the world. The reason behind this is their overly friendly disposition and good nature which allows them to completely bond with their owners. These big dogs can also help people stand or walk and will love having a job given to them.
Labs are known for their versatility and can perform a wide range of tasks for those with mobility issues such as:
- Open doors
- Grab items
- Move things
- And more
This is due to the retrieving instinct that comes naturally to them, but also because these dogs have a soft mouth that allows them to lightly grip things using their teeth. As such, they can never mangle your things whenever you need them to fetch something.
3. German Shepherds
German Shepherd dogs are one of the best choices for protection and guard work where they are commonly picked to be police dogs. At the same time, they have many characteristics that make them ideal as service dogs in everyday life. These large dogs are well-behaved, smart, and can be trained easily, usually forming very strong bonds with their owners.
Because they can do almost anything, German Shepherds were most likely among one of the first breeds to be trained as service dogs. They also have the strength and size to help physically-impaired owners have a better quality of life. Most of all, they pay attention to their owner’s feelings and have a superior sense of smell that makes them suitable for monitoring diabetic patients.
4. Great Danes
These gentle giants are highly suitable for many service tasks thanks to their immense strength and size. Their large size allows them to thrive as mobility assistance dogs and can help owners stand or keep their balance without the help of other people. However, they are just as great for people in need of service animals for their mental health as a result of their reassuring and calm demeanor.
While Great Danes will be friendly with strangers and everyone in general, those that are trained for service work will keep their focus on their owners as much as possible. One setback to these gentle dogs is that they tend to drool. But don’t let this stop you from getting quite possibly one of the most attentive dogs that will look out for all of its family members.
5. Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog has many of the most coveted traits needed in a great service dog, such as high intelligence, friendliness, and a great work ethic. These pups are also strong and big enough to do various physical tasks and are smart enough to perform complex tasks for their owners. Another plus is that these dogs are easy to care for, making them a great choice for first-time fur parents.
But because of their thick coats, they aren’t the best dogs for places with warmer temperatures and they also shed a lot so make sure that this won’t be a problem before you take them home. They will also need a lot of space to jump, run, and play, so they won’t be ideal for small apartments. While they also require quite a bit of practice, they are naturally one of the most reliable dogs once service dog trainers are done with them.
6. Border Collies
The Border Collie is often referred to as the smartest dog breed, so there’s no surprise that they’re also one of the best service dogs around. Training them is remarkably easy and just love to do jobs in and around the home. While this dog is usually good with kids, it can “herd” children on occasion, and may lead to accidentally knocking children over.
As such, they might not be the right choice for families that have many kids or young visitors. You’ll also need to know that Border Collies are high in energy, and can become mischievous when they’re under-stimulated. Because of this, you’ll need to give them opportunities to stimulate their brains and to exercise with toys.
7. Standard Poodles
Some people might think that Poodles are all looks and no brains but this can’t be further from the truth — they are clever and capable dogs that love doing jobs for people. If you’re looking for your own service dog, Poodles are a great option since they’re so easy to train and have a great attitude. Most people will opt for a Standard Poodle because they come in a bigger size compared to miniature or toy Poodles.
But if you don’t need a service dog for a wide range of physical work, a smaller variety could work just as well and can be easier to take along with you in public places.
8. Saint Bernards
Here’s another breed that is known to be gentle giants through their patient and calm demeanor as well as their friendly personality. They get along with all people, both children and adults alike, making them great family dogs. Moreover, they get along with other dogs and animals — while they aren’t known for aggressiveness, they will still need socialization as early as possible.
Because of their big size, you’ll need to train them while they’re still young to prevent control issues in the future. These beautiful dogs are eager to please their owners and are highly affectionate. Tolerant, patient, and understanding, Saint Bernard is a wonderful breed for guard dog work that will protect its beloved humans.
9. Cocker Spaniels
Cocker Spaniels are some of the most friendly dogs, which is why they’re always at the top of the list when it comes to the best service dogs. They are the perfect addition to families with elderly people in need of companionship and everyday assistance. Moreover, these pups can also accompany those suffering from epilepsy, making them great therapy dogs.
Because Cocker Spaniels can become very close with their owners, they won’t do well when left alone for longer periods of time. But if you find that your pup is antisocial, you may need to look into research for socialization training. Doing this can significantly improve your dog’s behavior with people and other dogs.
10. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
These small dogs are also at the top of the service dog list — this small package comes with a big personality and bigger hearts. Apart from their gorgeous coats, this breed is prized for their loving and sweet nature which makes them receptive to cuddles and kisses. King Charles Spaniel is a wonderful choice for a smaller breed service dog due to their versatile and lovely disposition.
These dogs are able to adapt to any kind of environment and lifestyle, whether you’re active or sedentary, and are able to participate in a wide range of activities. A few of these activities include sports such as rallies, agility, and obedience. Unfortunately, their elegant coats will need constant maintenance, but should be fine with just a good brush regularly.
11. Bichon Frise
Don’t underestimate the small size that the Bichon Frise comes in; they are highly trainable and have amazing personalities, making them great for service work. They’re also very friendly and don’t see anyone as a stranger — they do well with other dogs and children and love their families very much. In fact, they become so attached to their family that they’re prone to behavioral issues if they’re alone for long periods of time.
Bichon Frises are quick learners and are very easy to train, so you’d be lucky to have one as a service dog by your side. Because they were formerly known as circus dogs, they can learn the many tasks needed for service work. While this dog has a low-shedding coat, you may need to get professional grooming to ensure that it’s short and manageable.
When Boxers aren’t really used for work as service dogs, they certainly have many of the traits required of one. These dogs are big enough to do a wide range of tasks but are still small enough to move around public spaces. They also have an exceedingly good nature that allows them to become friends with everyone, including adults and children.
However, they also have high energy levels, so you will need to give them plenty of exercise. At the same time, they’re also highly adaptable and will do well inside small homes and apartments.
While most service dogs are rather big, the Pomeranian is on the smaller side; even so, they are capable of giving services, and assistance for all kinds of situations. These dogs can learn a wide range of tasks that don’t require big muscles and are highly attentive to their owners. Pomeranians enjoy undertaking jobs and are the best choice for individuals in need of service dogs but don’t have the lifestyle needed to care for bigger breeds.
14. Pit Bulls
Pit Bulls make for excellent service dogs, but you may need to prepare yourself for the negative (but mistaken) reputation of this breed. Unfortunately, many people will be scared of Pit Bulls but this is the result of sensationalistic media coverage and ignorance. The truth is that most Pits are very gentle and loving dogs, and are some of the friendliest breeds of dogs.
Well-trained Pits are well-behaved dogs in many kinds of situations. They also learn quickly and are smart — most Pits also come with a strong work ethic.
15. Yorkshire Terrier
If you don’t want dogs with curly hair like the Bichon Frise or Poodle and are looking for a pup with an allergy-friendly, hypoallergenic coat, then the Yorkshire Terrier is for you. These dogs come with straight, long hair that barely sheds but you will want to have them clipped regularly at a groomer. Otherwise, you may need to spend a lot of time trying to maintain their coat to keep them from becoming matte.
On the plus side, these dogs love their families and are always looking to spend time with them. They are good with children and other dogs and are loving pups who are eager to please their humans. Intelligent and easy to train, Yorkies have a reputation for being the best therapy dog and will have no problems with being a service dog.
As you can see from the list above, not all service dogs are big and muscular. Even smaller breeds are capable of helping their humans and are willing to give them the love and care they need. However, before picking out one of these dogs, be sure to do research ahead of time to ensure that you take home the best service dog that can answer all your needs.