8 Types of Service Dogs That Aid People in Need


Your pup might be your most loyal friend, but to many, dogs are much more than loving companions. They play a vital role in helping around 80 million Americans as various types of service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as one that has been specifically trained to perform a task or action to help a person with a disability.

Although dogs have provided support to humans for thousands of years, the modern service dog movement began after World War I to assist returning soldiers who had been blinded in combat. But there are many types of service dogs beyond Seeing Eye dogs. These smart, capable canines provide all types of aid, from seizure alert and assistance to guide dog services, allergy detection, hearing assistance, and PTSD, autism, and emotional support.

It can take years for animals to learn how to function in certain support roles, which is why dogs that are easiest to train, like Labrador and golden retrievers, are frequently used as service dogs. Other top contenders for service dog roles? Calm dogs and some of the smartest dog breeds, including golden retrievers and poodles.

Breeds that make the best service dogs

While any dog can be a therapy dog, some breeds are better suited to the task than others. An assistance dog should be:

  • Calm
  • Friendly
  • Obedient
  • Intelligent
  • Able to adapt to new environments or routines
  • Able to ignore distractions

Smart, calm, and loyal dog breeds tend to carry those traits, which is why they’re often tapped for service dog work. Size makes a difference for certain types of service dogs as well. Think about it: A toy dog breed won’t be able to brace a person with mobility issues, but a larger dog will. But smaller dog breeds can be useful for things like alerting people with diabetes of a drop in blood glucose levels.

Common types of service dogs include:

  • Labrador retriever: easy to train, highly adaptable, enjoys mental stimulation
  • Golden retriever: intelligent, easy to train, highly adaptable
  • German shepherd: intelligent, easy to train, highly adaptable, enjoys mental stimulation
  • Bernese mountain dog: calm, eager to please, loyal
  • Poodle: intelligent, easy to train, enjoys mental stimulation
  • Papillon: alert, easy to train, highly adaptable
  • Great Dane: dependable, patient, strong and sturdy
  • Saint Bernard: adaptable, eager to please, strong and sturdy

Types of service dogs

There are a number of ways service dogs assist and comfort their human companions. Most fall into one of the eight categories below.

1. Guide dogs

Out of all of the types of service dogs, guide dogs are perhaps the most well-known. These dogs assist visually impaired people with daily tasks, helping them safely move throughout their homes and public spaces with independence. The dogs help with tasks such as avoiding obstacles, crossing the road, walking safely, and finding doors.

As you can imagine, a lot of training is required for a dog to perform such complexities. The training process can take up to two years, with ongoing training throughout the animal’s working career. Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and golden retrievers are often the best types of service dogs for guiding because they’re easy to train, smart, and have an even temperament. Incidentally, they’re also the top three most popular dog breeds.

2. Emotional support dogs

An emotional support dog provides support and comfort to someone with a mental health condition or disability, like depression or anxiety. For a pet to legally qualify as an emotional support animal, owners must first meet with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, who will verify the condition and license the pet.

Any dog can be an emotional support pet, even small and medium dog breeds. The best apartment dogs, including pugs and greyhounds, are loving companion animals who always want to spend time with their humans, so they make great emotional support pets.

While comforting companions have their place, know that there’s a difference between emotional support animals and service animals. Because emotional support dogs haven’t been trained to perform a task—a key element of a service animal—they’re not considered service dogs by the ADA and aren’t always allowed in many public places the way guide dogs are. Still, they play a vital role in offering support to those in need.

3. Allergy detection dogs

For people with severe allergies to foods like peanuts, an allergy detection dog can be a lifesaver. Dogs have around 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses (compared to our six million), which means they’re capable of tracking many scents, even in tiny amounts. Indeed, dogs can smell many things humans can’t.

Using reward-based training, these dogs learn to seek out a certain smell, such as peanuts, and alert their handler to the danger. These helpful pups can prevent anaphylactic shock or other severe allergic reactions.

4. Hearing dogs

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