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Guide to Service Dogs: Common Breeds, Tasks & Uses | Pupford

September 30th, 2023

Filed under Lifestyle + Stories

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All dog lovers know how special the bond can be between a dog and its parent, but service dogs take that relationship to a whole new level.

Service dogs provide their companions with a quality of life that would not be possible without their assistance, making them indeed women's and man's best friends. However, the world of service dogs is very complex, and this blog post outlines how things work.

In this blog post, you'll learn:

  • What is a service dog?
  • What are common service dog breeds and characteristics?
  • Training a service dog
  • Why should you not pet a service dog?

If you're considering getting a service dog, you may have questions about how to proceed. As you research the topic, it can be confusing and complicated. However, we've come up with some answers that might help.


what makes a service dog

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, "service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities." Service dogs are specially trained to assist the handler with something directly related to their disability. Neither emotional support dogs nor therapy dogs are considered service animals in the eyes of the law.

Service dogs can represent the path to increased mobility and enhanced quality of life for those with a disability.

While they significantly benefit those requiring them, having a service dog is not as simple as picking out a pet. Service dog guardianship and the rights of those who have them are part of a complex environment, which can confuse first-time service dog handlers.

A service dog has a huge responsibility to carry out. It must always be under the control of its handler. The dog is not allowed to go beyond the boundaries set by the handler. This is because people with disabilities often rely on their service dogs for various tasks, including assisting them in daily tasks and providing stability during mobility challenges.

🐶 Don't miss out! Get access to the Intro to Service Dogs Course for a deep dive into this topic. Get started here!

Most service dogs receive training in one of the following areas:

Mobility Assistance:

  • Open doors using a strap
  • Close doors
  • Assist with dressing/undressing
  • Assist wheelchair user to an upright position when slumped over
  • Move feet onto wheelchair footrests and moves arms to wheelchair armrests
  • Prevent fall by bracing handler
  • Retrieve wheelchair or walker when out of reach
training a service dog

Medical Response (seizures, diabetes, severe allergies):

  • Retrieves medication
  • Calls 911 in an emergency with a K-9 alert phone
  • Opens the door for first responders
  • Identifies medical symptoms and gets help
  • Lies down on the chest to help the person cough or take a breath
  • Barks for help or finds help on a command

Signal (Hearing Impairment):

  • Alerts handler to the presence of people or sounds
  • Retrieves unheard dropped objects
  • Carries messages
  • Warns of a vehicle approaching from behind

Guide (Visual Impairment):

  • Avoids obstacles or moving vehicles
  • Signals changes in elevation
  • Locates object or person on command
  • Retrieves dropped objects

Autism Assistance:

  • Braces handler for stability while walking
  • Finds specific places such as home or car when the guardian is disoriented
  • Finds and retrieves wandering handler to a safe place
  • Helps handler fall asleep during insomnia episodes
  • Signals self-stimulatory behaviors
  • Interrupts self-harming behaviors
  • Places body on chest or lap for deep pressure during a panic attack or meltdown
  • Signals significant sounds such as smoke alarm
  • Guides around obstacles in visually confusing situations

Psychiatric Assistance:

  • Assesses safety of the situation in cases of paranoia or hallucinations
  • Guides handler away from stressful situations
  • Interrupts flashbacks and self-harming behaviors
  • Reminds handler to take medication
  • Retrieves medication and other important objects
  • Braces handler to prevent fall
  • Calls 911 with a K-9 alert phone or gets help in an emergency


breeds that make for good service dogs

Many service dogs share the following key characteristics:

  1. A desire to work: Your service dog should be happier doing a job than lying around at home.
  2. A calm demeanor: Your service dog can't cause disturbances in public or be easily startled by their surroundings.
  3. Intelligence: Your service dog has to perform complex tasks that require innate intelligence and sound decision-making.
  4. A friendly disposition: Your service dog must be friendly and comfortable around people and other animals.
  5. A loving disposition: Your service dog must be able to form a solid bond to serve your needs best.

Before we share the list of certain breeds that generally make for good service dogs, it’s important to note that no two dogs are alike, and not all dogs listed below will be well-suited for this role. That being said, here are common service dog breeds:

  • Labradors (American and English): Intelligent, eager to please, and friendly
  • Golden Retrievers: Even-tempered, bred to retrieve things and carry objects, gentle with kids
  • German Shepherds: Loyal and obedient, protective of their parents, and easy to train
  • Poodles: Active and fun-loving, intelligent and easy to train, strong instincts
  • Boxers: Playful and friendly, loyal to their parents, and love to work
  • Great Danes: Gentle, quiet giants, strong and sturdy, can provide balance for people needing mobility assistance
  • Border Collies: Quick learners, intuitive problem solvers, full of energy
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs: Loyal to their parents, easy-going, eager to please
  • Pomeranians: Extroverted and social, quick learners, great service dogs for small spaces
  • Portuguese Water Dogs: Curious and outgoing, obedient, gentle with children
🐶 Don't miss out! Get access to the Intro to Service Dogs Course for a deep dive into this topic. Get started here!


training a dog to be a service dog

Under the ADA, you have the right to train your service dog yourself. If you elect to go this route, your training should start similarly to how most dog training begins - with the basics.

Even in professional training settings, service dog dropouts are extremely common because the skillset and temperament required can be hard to come by, but that doesn't mean you can't be successful.

Individuals who wish to train their service dogs should work with their candidate dogs on foundation skills.

Socialize the dog to remain on task in the presence of unfamiliar people, places, sights, sounds, scents, and other animals. Teach the dog to focus on the handler and ignore distractions.

The AKC Canine Good Citizen program can provide guidelines and benchmarks for foundation skills.

In addition to socialization and basic obedience training, a service dog must be trained to perform work or specific tasks to assist with a disability. Under ADA rules, in situations where it is not obvious that a dog is a service animal, only two questions may be asked:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

The reply to question (2) must affirm that the service dog has been trained to take a specific action to assist the person with a disability.

After you have mastered the basics, you may consider professional assistance. Your dog needs to master the next series of tasks to ensure it is reliable—even in unfamiliar situations like near cats, squirrels, and loud noises. Your dog needs to be as well-behaved off a leash as it is on a leash, which is no simple task. Your dog also needs to respond to you first, which means forgoing interacting with other people or animals he may meet during his daily activities.

It is essential to take your training slow and steady and ask for help if you need it. Training should take place in short sessions and remain fun and engaging for your dog. If you are frustrated or not making the necessary progress, consider consulting with a professional trainer.


do not pet service dog

The most common question people with service dogs get is – Is it ok to pet the dog? This is a very common question, and the short answer is “no.”

We completely understand that it can be challenging to resist the temptation of petting a sweet dog! However, it’s important to remember that when a guide dog is wearing his harness, it is hard at work, and you should not attempt to get its attention, pet it or give it a treat.

Distracting a working service dog creates the same dangers as grabbing the steering wheel away from a driver. Additionally, keeping your pets on a leash and close to you when crossing paths with a service dog is important. Even the best-trained service dog may be tempted to engage with other animals, and again, distracting a service dog can be dangerous to its handler.


Finally, it’s important to respect the relationship between the service dog and the handler. For example, don’t interfere when a service dog’s handler is giving a correction.

While corrections may seem abrupt and appear to startle a service dog, rest assured that the handler is professionally trained in giving corrections, and they would never hurt their beloved dog.

For more information about Service Dogs and the difference between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Dogs, be sure to check out our course in Pupford Academy+ taught by Amber Aquart.

🐶 Don't miss out! Get access to the Intro to Service Dogs Course for a deep dive into this topic. Get started here!


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