There is no dog breed that cannot be trained and used as an assistance dog, but some breeds are better suited to service work than others. That’s not due to any shortcomings on the part of less commonly used breeds; it’s simply that certain temperaments, traits, and physiques make it easier for a dog to learn and perform the variety of tasks of a service dog.
Also, not every individual dog is fit for work as an assistance dog, even with the commonly used breeds. It’s quite difficult to learn all that’s involved and reliably work with a disabled person in this capacity, and it takes a special dog to pull it off. A percentage wash-out during their training because they are simply not up to the necessary abilities needed to perform the job.
Helpful Service Dog Characteristics
Physically, assistance dogs require adequate size, strength, and stamina to perform the specific duties their human partners need them for. These may include feats like carrying around hefty objects, providing support for stability, or pulling a wheelchair. Ideally, service dogs fall somewhere in the middle on the energy spectrum, willing and able to be physically active for prolonged periods, but calm enough to sit still and quietly for stretches of time too.
Dogs that help disabled people need to be highly trainable, as people depend on them to reliably perform all their tasks—some of which can be life-saving. This requires a good deal of intellignece and obedience, but also an inate curiosity and strong desire to be mentally stimulated and solve problems.
Assistance dogs must be consistently well behaved in all sorts of public situations and environements, especially considering that many disabled people aren’t able to physically restrain a canine companion. This calls for a loyal and friendly disposition, ensuring these dogs stick with their partners while readily accepting the presence of strangers, crowds, children, animals, noise, commotion, and any other stimuli without reaction and while staying focused on their partner and responsibilities.
Commonly Used Assistance Dog Breeds
The breeds traditionally and most frequently trained for use as service dogs are golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and German shepherds (the latter are also a go-to choice for police and military working dogs).
But it’s become increasingly common to turn to other breeds for different types of assistance work, especially as our understanding of all the amazing things service dogs can accomplish has evolved beyond the few early uses as guide dogs for the visually and hearing impaired.
Other popular service dog breeds these days include:
Choosing a Service Dog Breed
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to which dog breed is the best match for all people. Individual assistance needs, disabilities, preferences, personalities, living situations, financial means, ability to provide basic care, and other factors all come into play. For more guidance, refer to Some Things to Think About when Choosing an Assistance Dog Breed.
Also, it’s just as important to match the person to the right individual dog. While there are many generalizations to be made by breed, every dog has its own unique personality, preferences, and quirks. The assistance dog relationship is an essential and long-term one, and it requires a considerable time investment, so it must be carefully curated with the help of qualified, reputable breeders or trainers.