Service dogs are an essential part of their handlers' lives. These dogs provide companionship and perform tasks that allow their owners to live rich, whole lives, despite disabilities. In some cases, a service dog's tasks can be life-saving.
Although there are no breed-specific requirements for service dogs, some breeds of dogs have innate tendencies that make them better candidates than others. Australian shepherds have many qualities that make them perfect candidates for service dog training. This in-depth guide will explore what makes a great service dog and why an Australian shepherd can be a perfect choice for some handlers.
The Bottom Line
- What are service dogs? Service dogs are trained to assist an owner with specific physical or mental difficulties.
- Why use Australian shepherds as service dogs? Australian shepherds are intelligent, quick-thinking, strong, good-tempered, and highly trainable.
- How to get an Australian shepherd service dog? Complete a quick and straightforward assessment so that we can better understand your individual needs for pet service.
- What's the difference between a service dog vs. ESA? An ESA (emotional support animal) does not receive special training to assist its owner; service dogs receive comprehensive training.
What Are Service Dogs?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is any canine that has been specially taught to carry out duties for the benefit of a person with a disability, such as a physical, sensory, mental health, intellectual, or other types of mental impairment. This definition states that regardless of whether they are trained to carry out activities, animals other than dogs are not regarded as service animals.
A service animal's job or tasks must be specifically tailored to the person's condition. There are a number of examples of jobs performed by service dogs. Here are a few:
- Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks.
- Alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds.
- Providing non-violent protection or rescue work.
- Pulling a wheelchair.
- Assisting an individual during a seizure.
- Alerting individuals to the presence of allergens.
- Retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone.
- Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities.
- Helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.
Types of Service Dogs
There are many types of service dogs, each specializing in helping individuals with different disabilities. Here are a few common types of service dogs.
Blind and visually impaired people who use guide dogs can better navigate their surroundings. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people can be alerted to critical sounds by hearing dogs. Mobility dogs help people who need wheelchairs or walking aids or struggle with balance. Medical alert dogs may also serve a variety of other purposes, including warning the user of allergens or the beginning of a medical condition such as a seizure or low blood sugar.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Individuals with disabilities including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other disorders benefit from psychiatric service dogs.
Psychiatric service dogs may perform tasks like entering a dark room and turning on a light to defuse stressful situations, stopping repetitive behaviors, and reminding a person to take their prescription.
Pettable offers an online PSD training program that may be the right fit for you if you wish to train your own psychiatric service dog. The program is fully online and can be completed at your own speed, designed to teach you the proper method to confidently train your dog to support your mental health. Additionally, Pettable’s psychiatric serviec dog training program includes basic obedience training to ensure your PSD will behave in public.
Australian Shepherd History
The Australian Shepherd breed was developed in the United States, but it descends from European herding dogs that lived around the Pyrenees Mountains. In the 1800s, some indigenous Basque people took their dogs from this region and traveled to Australia, hoping to find more cattle land.
The Basque herding dogs were then crossed with border collies and other dogs in Australia. And eventually, they made their way to California. Ranchers in the U.S. assumed these Basque dogs were native to Australia and dubbed them Australian shepherds. The breed continued to be refined in the U.S. into what we know as the Aussie today. It became prevalent in Western U.S. culture as a ranch dog and in rodeos.
Why Australian Shepherds Make Great Service Dogs
If you're considering getting an Australian Shepherd as your service dog, below is a list of reasons why an Australian Shepherd would make a great service dog, no matter what disability you are dealing with.
Australian shepherds are friendly animals, but they often reserve their outright affection in human interaction for their owners and other family members. Once they become attached, they are incredibly loyal animals. Because service dog owners rely so heavily on their support animals, a good service dog must remain steadfastly by their side, regardless of the situation. A well-trained Australian shepherd can be relied upon to assist its handler, even in challenging or dangerous scenarios and stressful situations.
Natural Herding Ability
Although many breeds can learn to herd, Aussies come by it naturally and seem to have an ingrained herding instinct. Often, Australian shepherd owners will relate humorous stories about their pet's instinctive herding behavior when talking about their dogs. Their instinct makes the breed particularly well-suited to be a guide dog or seeing-eye dog for the visually impaired or provide physical redirection for handlers experiencing psychological distress.
Handlers need to rely on their service animal to provide support if they have physical disabilities. A psychiatric service dog should also be the right size to provide deep pressure without physically overwhelming its handler. A good service dog must also accompany its handlers on many modes of transportation. Weighing between 40 and 60 pounds, Australian shepherds are ideal for these tasks.
High Level of Alertness
Bred to be sheepherders and mind and control large herds of animals, Australian shepherds are naturally watchful and alert. Many tasks performed by service dogs demand they be very aware of their handlers' condition. Medical alert dogs must detect physiological changes in their handlers and the onset of mental or emotional distress.
Australian shepherds are brilliant dogs. One of the breed's drawbacks as household pets is its need for constant mental stimulation. The Australian shepherd service dog can be prone to destructive behavior when bored. Their ability to learn and perform complex tasks gives them an advantage in service dog training.
High Drive to Work
Australian Shepherds are known to have a high drive to work on any task they are given to please their owner. Aussies are intelligent, aware, reliable, obedient, and have a strong work ethic.
Australian Shepherds have a lot of energy. When properly trained, Aussies will have no problem completing any task for their owner at any time they are needed. Whether a disabled person needs assistance in the middle of the night or early in the morning, an Australian Shepherd will be eagerly ready to help at any moment.
Aussies are very smart, loyal, and love having someone to be with at all times. Loyalty is a necessary trait for any service dog. Besides being extremely friendly and energetic, Aussies are usually very easy to train and can make great emotional support animals or service dogs.
What Tasks Can an Australian Shepherd Perform?
Their natural inclinations and traits make Australian shepherds trainable for various service dog tasks.
Serving as seeing-eye dogs is a natural fit for Australian shepherds. Bred for generations as herding dogs for sheep and cattle, these beautiful dogs make excellent companions for the blind or seeing-impaired.
Both their intelligence and loyalty make Australian shepherds excellent at medical alerting. These velcro dogs are known to be almost obsessive about the well-being of their handlers, which makes them highly motivated to learn skills about the care of their owners.
People with mental health issues need a service dog with the ability to detect subtle signs of mental and emotional distress. Through specialized training, Australian shepherds can learn to alert their handlers of oncoming panic attacks, spiraling emotions, or dissociative episodes.
Deep pressure therapy can help people with PTSD, autism, anxiety attacks, or Alzheimer's disease relax during a panic attack. Moderately-sized assistance dogs such as Australian shepherds are an excellent choice for this task.
Australian shepherds are big enough to provide mobility and bracing support for a handler of average size. Handlers needing a service dog to support or pull more than 130 pounds should look for a male Aussie at the top of the breed's size range.
Since Australian Shepherds are easy to train, they can be trained to remind their owners to take their medication every day, every four hours, or at any interval a person is required to take their medicine, but may be forgetful or lose track of time due to their disability.
Australian Shepherd can offer physical support to those with disabilities. This can include pushing a wheelchair, leading a person to a bathroom or bed, fetching an item that fell or is out of reach for a person, or any other duties that may assist a person living with a disability.
How to Get an Australian Shepherd Service Dog
Acquiring an Australian Shepherd requires you to either purchase a dog that has already been trained, hire a trainer or to train your own Australian Shepherd. Psychiatric service dogs can be trained by anyone with the correct knowledge and no professional trainer is needed. If you wish to self-train your Australian Shepherd as a psychiatric service dog, Pettable’s online PSD training program can teach you how. The program is completely on-demand and can be completed at any pace. Take our online 3 minute assessment to see if our PSD training course is right for you.
Can I Train My Own Australian Shepherd To Be a Service Dog?
It's crucial to keep in mind that service animals must go through training before receiving certification. This training can be carried out by you or a qualified professional. While Australian Shepherds can be easily trained to serve as service dogs, it is advised that you engage with a professional dog trainer to make sure your service dog is properly socialized and dependable for your needs.
Being patient with your dog is essential if you plan to train your service dog independently because the process can take a while. However, training a service animal can be a time-consuming but highly useful procedure if you're sincere about your commitment to it.
Where Can I Adopt an Australian Shepherd Service Dog?
Australian Shepherds can be adopted through neighborhood animal shelters or from breeders, just like any other assistance dog or emotional support animal. No matter the breed or if the dog is already someone's companion, any dog can be certified as a service animal. Owners of dogs must develop a bond with them, go through training, and receive certification before choosing this choice.
But there are programs that let people adopt service animals who have already received training and need a new owner.
What Disabilities Qualify for an Australian Shepherd Service Dog?
You must speak with a certified mental health practitioner to determine your eligibility for an Australian Shepherd service dog. However, the following mental and emotional conditions frequently make someone eligible for a service dog:
- Depression and Depressive Disorders
- Anxiety Disorders & Phobias
- Bipolar Disorders
- Schizophrenia and Psychotic Disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Addiction, Substance Abuse, and Alcoholism
- PTSD, Trauma & Stress-Related Disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders
- Dissociative and Personality Disorders
- Neurocognitive and Sleep-Wave Disorders
Some physical disabilities include:
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Sensory Disabilities (Blind, Deaf, etc.)
- Cerebral Palsy
- Parkinson's Disease
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Chronic Pain
- And more…
What Is the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Psychiatric assistance dogs and emotional support animals are very different. The following are some key distinctions between ESAs and psychiatric service animals that you should keep in mind.
An emotional support animal can be any animal. Only dogs and miniature horses are permitted to be assistance animals under federal law.
An emotional support animal might help just by being there. In contrast, service animals undergo special training to be able to perform chores for a person with a disability.
A letter from a qualified mental health practitioner outlining the therapeutic value of an emotional support animal is all that is required for an ESA—no training is needed. Service animals, however, need to go through specialized training. You are able to train your own service animal without the need of a trainer as long as you have the correct knowledge. PSD training typically includes:
- Basic obedience training to ensure your dog is capable of remaining well-behaved in public. This includes not barking or biting in public places and avoiding damage to property from reckless behavior or relief.
- Skills-based training to allow the PSD to fully understand and repeat tasks that benefit its handler’s mental health in some way. A fully trained PSD should be able to perform these tasks at a moment’s notice, regardless of whether their handler can command them.
Service animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, however emotional support animals are not. Only when an authorized ESA letter is present are emotional support animals covered by the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act
A service animal may accompany its owner wherever they go. The only locations that are legally required to accept emotional support animals are housing units and aircraft, where they fly for free in the main cabin. However, owners of emotional support animals may get away with taking them into locations that do not allow pets.
Frequently Asked Questions About Australian Shepherd Service Dogs
How Much Does an Australian Shepherd Service Dog Cost?
Some organizations help specific disabled populations to attain service dogs at little cost. If no such organization exists for your disability, you will find that getting a service dog of any breed could be pretty expensive. Some estimates place the cost of professional training as high as $25,000 over the puppy's first two years of life.
How To Catch a Fake Australian Shepherd Service Dog?
Unfortunately, pet lovers sometimes misrepresent their pets as specifically trained service dogs to take them places where a regular pet or emotional support dog is not typically allowed. While many service dog handlers have their dogs certified to avoid suspicion, service dog certification is not required. Handlers often utilize a service dog vest to prove their animal's identity.
The ADA only allows two questions to determine if a service dog is needed. People can ask if the dog is necessary for a disability and what task it does that assists with a disability.
Can You Get an Australian Shepherd Service Dog for Anxiety?
A professional trainer can train an Australian shepherd to perform tasks targeted to assist with anxiety. However, you can always choose to train an Australian shepherd to help with anxiety without the need for a professional trainer. Our online PSD training program can teach you all you need to know about the training process.
Can Any Dog Be a Service Dog?
Yes. The ADA places no breed restrictions on animals to become service dogs. Depending on your disability, many different breeds of dogs may be good service dogs for you.
Do Australian Shepherd Service Dogs Have To Be on a Leash?
The ADA states that service dogs must be harnessed or leashed in public places. There are a few exceptions to this dictate. If your disability makes a harness challenging, or if a leash interferes with your dog completing necessary tasks, you can ignore this requirement.
Does Insurance Cover Australian Shepherd Service Dogs?
Neither private insurance nor Medicaid cover a service dog's purchase, service training, or upkeep. However, you may be able to claim these expenses on your taxes at the end of the year.
How To Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?
All that is required to get a psychiatric service dog is for the dog to behave well in public and be trained to accomplish tasks that aid with a mental ilness. You can learn to train a PSD yourself through our online PSD training program.
How Long Does It Take To Train Australian Shepherd Service Dogs?
Length of training will depend on the complexity of the skills needed and the age and breed of the individual dog. Professional trainers typically begin working with a potential service dog as young as six weeks old. The assistant dog will learn basic obedience training and pass a public access test before moving on with further training. The process could take up to two years. Intelligent therapy dogs, such as Australian shepherds, may complete training quicker.
Are Australian Shepherd Service Dogs Allowed Everywhere?
Your full-sized or miniature Australian shepherd service dog should be allowed in all public spaces and anywhere you go, including food service areas and hospitals. The ADA allows only one concrete exception, and that is if the animal poses a threat to health or safety. Successful service dog training should make such incidences rare.
How To Get an Australian Shepherd Service Dog for PTSD?
There are no special requirements for getting an Australian shepherd service dog to help with post-traumatic stress disorder. To qualify for a service dog instead of an emotional support animal, you will need a licensed mental health professional to diagnose your disability and state that a psychiatric service dog can positively impact your well-being.