Some dogs tend to make better service dogs than others.
I mean, there’s a reason why guide dogs tend to be labradors, right?
But, Labs aren’t the only choice for a service dog, and in fact, there are 5 dog breeds that are famed for their ability to stand up as service dogs, train easily and wash out as few times as possible.
So, what I wanna go through in this piece is what sort of dogs are really well suited to service dog work.
The Quality Of The Breed Is Important
The quality of breeding is really important! Not just the breed. It’s going to be really important for the success of your service dog that they come from good stock. Yes you can risk it with a rescue dog, but the chances of success decrease vs a purpose bred dog. It’s like asking a bernese mountain dog to do the job of a border collie – they might do it – but they’re just not going to be as good.
So, when you’re looking for a service dog prospect, ensure that you elect for an ethical breeder who socialises early, follows puppy culture, doesn’t over breed and is breeding for health and temperament.
The Fab 4 or Fab 5?
These dogs are all dogs who are known to be easy to train. and that’s a large reason why these dogs make up the “fab 4” dogs breeds recommended for training for service dogs. However, whether this is a four or a five is a strong debated about in the service dog community.
All we can say for sure is that Poodle, Labrador & golden retriever are definitely in there.
Some people combine the Lab & Golden category, other people will exclude the collie or switch a border for a rough, and some will exclude the German shepherd…
I’ve decided that this works for everyone, and that we’re just going to make it a fab 5, and that’s that.
A lot of this is subjective, but I’ve tried to create a shortlist, a slightly longer list, and then addressed the fact that it’s always need before breed. and personally? I’d strongly advocate picking a breed that thinks in a similar way to you. This is something I recommend for all dog parents because it makes it a million times easier to train your dog and bond with your dog!
1 – Poodle
Smart, adaptable, conscious & easy to train, but high maintenance coat
To be a service dog, a breed needs to be intelligent and motivated, and the Standard Poodle is one of the smartest, eager-to-train dog breeds available. Originally bred as retrievers for waterfowl hunters, these dogs are high-energy breeds that are task-oriented—they love having a job to do.
Despite their reputation as an unfriendly or aloof dog breed, Poodles tend to love people, making them great companions for their recipient. They are friendly and easily form bonds with their families.
Poodles are also highly adaptable, a crucial skill for service dogs. They can adjust quickly to changes in schedules, the weather, and their environment, including loud noises and strangers. This makes them an excellent breed for helping a recipient navigate through ever-changing public spaces.
Another key advantage that Poodles have is their low-allergen coat. While their coat does make them kind of high maintenance, they shed very little because of their curly coat, making them a great choice for people with allergies – but it is good to note that they are not “hypoallergenic”, they’re just low allergy, because even a poodle will shed skin cells, and bring in dirt or pollen in their coat.
Because of these qualities, Poodles are great for:
- Retrieving items medication or a phone in the event of an emergency
- Interrupting harmful behaviors for those with mental disabilities
- Hearing and vision impairments
- Assisting those with diabetes
- Providing tactile stimulation for someone with seizures
2 – Golden Retriever
Smart, adaptable, friendly, patient but not always focused
If a marshmallow were made into a dog? That’s the golden retriever. Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular service dog breeds because their size, temperament, and intelligence are the perfect combination for the role.
Similar to the Poodle, Golden Retrievers were originally bred to fetch waterfowl from lakes and ponds for hunters. Because of this natural desire to retrieve, these breeds are highly motivated, quick learners that are great at performing tasks.
Golden Retrievers are also incredibly friendly and loyal. They naturally love to follow their owners around, making it easier to train them for roles that require them to be near their recipient for long periods of time.
Their friendly demeanors also help them remain calm in different social settings and adapt to new environments, people, and animals. They are dependable and focused, no matter what distractions are around them, while keeping everyone around them calm as well.
Their medium size is also an advantage, making them the perfect height and strength for tasks like opening doors and pushing buttons, as well as offering mobility support for their recipients.
Because of these qualities, Golden Retrievers make great:
- Seeing eye and guide dogs
- Mobility assistance dogs
- Therapy dogs
- Retrieval dogs for medications and other items
3 – Labrador Retriever
Smart, adaptable, confident and friendly, but can be a little over excitable
Labrador Retrievers have been voted the most popular dog breed every year since 1991, and it’s easy to see why.
These friendly, easy-going dogs have the best of all the qualities someone would be looking for in a companion, not just a service dog, including high intelligence, sociability, loyalty, and an eagerness to please.
Labrador Retrievers are one of the friendliest breeds, making them perfect for a role that requires them to not only form a bond with their recipient but to be calm and personable with strangers as well. Their mild temperament also makes them great for children.
Another natural-bred retriever, these dogs are intelligent, motivated, and task-oriented. They learn quickly, and they enjoy being given orders from their owner—the perfect candidate for a service dog.
Their keen senses, especially of smell, are also an advantage. They can be trained to sniff out almost anything, from cancer to earthquakes. Their fearlessness also makes them great for emergency situations of many kinds, including police, military, and rescue operations.
Because of these qualities, Labrador Retrievers make great:
- Guide dogs
- Mobility assistance dogs
- Seizure-detection dogs
- Service dogs for the armed forces
4 – Border Collie
Focused, determined, smart as a whip, but may struggle to switch off.
Border Collie’s consistently top the list of most intelligent dog breeds, making them ideal for learning any number of complex tasks that they’ll need to know to help their owner. They’re fast learners who love a challenge, and service dog training is one of the most fulfilling challenges they can take on.
They are a herding breed, originally bred to herd sheep between Scotland and England. Because of this, they’ve developed a strong work ethic, great stamina, and the determination to do whatever they set their minds to. They need a job to continue to be happy and motivated.
Their history as a herding breed also makes them naturally protective of their family and keenly perspective to body language, a great skill for a variety of service tasks, including detecting a change in their owner’s emotional state.
Border Collies are also naturally gentle, affectionate dogs that make great companions. They’re typically friendly with strangers, and they’re fiercely loyal to their owners.
Because of their high energy and desire to keep pushing, they aren’t the best choice for all service dog positions, however. People with certain physical disabilities may find it difficult to give this breed the exercise and enrichment they need.
With that said, Border Collies are great at:
- Alerting their owners to potential threats
- Sensing emotion changes like oncoming panic attacks
- Detecting physical changes like an oncoming seizure
- Learning complex tasks like finding objects and opening doors
5 – German Shepherd
smart, determined, focused and powerful, but can be temperamental
Historically, German Shepherds have held many jobs from herding sheep to guarding humans. They were bred to be hard workers that can easily follow instructions, making them a popular breed for police work and search-and-rescue, but this natural obedience is also great for disability assistance as well.
German Shepherds are another breed that is highly intelligent. Combined with their natural desire to work hard for their person and listen to their owners, they’re a trainer’s dream, picking up on new commands quickly.
Despite their intimidating appearance (which can be a useful feature if one of your dog’s tasks is to create space for their handler), German Shepherds are also affectionate, friendly dogs who love their families.
Their large size also makes them great for individuals with physical disabilities who need to lean on their service dog for support. German Shepherds are large, sturdy, strong dogs that can take the weight being pushed on them (if this is what we choose to do, ethically speaking, because I’m aware that this is a debate currently)
Because of these qualities, German Shepherds make great:
- Guide Dogs
- Diabetic alert dogs
- Seizure alert dogs
- Allergy alert dogs
- Mobility support dogs
- Therapy dogs
5 Other Surprisingly Good Dog Breeds You Might Want To Consider
6 – Labradoodle/Goldendoodles
Combining the poodle and the larador or the golden retriever was something that was aimed for originally as a service dog prospect. However, back in the 80’s they were rejected for temperament problems. Now, I don’t know what happened with the original breeding program, or what the selections were for breeding, but my instinct is that they weren’t being bred properly, because a nicely bred doodle? Is a great dog. I’ve known several who are just the most scrumptious little dogs.
It is worth noting that doodles come with high coat maintenance, and that they are low allergy but not hypoallergenic.
Note: Anyone who says that these dogs cannot be bred ethically? Fight me, cos they absolutely can, and I’m sick of it, go read Why Do Dog People Hate Doodles?
7 – Bernese Mountain Dog
These dogs are known for their sensitivity towards their doggy parents. These gentle giants are solid dogs who have a phenomenal, resilient termpament. They can be mischievous as puppies, but, typically, they have a wonderful even temperament.
8 – Rough/Smooth Collie
Another sensitive dog, but you can absolutely use their sensitivity to your advantage. They’re smart and hardworking dogs, who have that collie determination!
Need Before Breed
It’s good to remember that a service dog can be any breed, it’s just that these breeds are typically easier to train for more intense work, and it depends what job the service dog needs to achieve! Everything from a coonhound to a husky can make a good service dog, they just may take more work to get them there, and as it happens, something like a coonhound, if you’re looking for a medical alert dog might be a phenomenal choice if you’re a very active person who wants a hiking partner and a cuddle buddy.
If you need help picking the perfect breed, why not get in touch? I love working with people to choose their breed!
Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!