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German Shepherd Service Dog - Everything You Need to Know

German Shepherds are widely recognized as excellent service dogs due to their intelligence, versatility, and loyalty. Their trainability makes them well-suited for various service roles, including guide dogs for the visually impaired, mobility assistance for individuals with physical disabilities, and support for those with psychiatric conditions. Their strong work ethic and protective instincts contribute to their effectiveness in providing valuable assistance and companionship.

Susana Bradford
January 12, 2024
April 14, 2023
16 minute read
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April 14, 2023
August 18, 2021
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Explore our complete guide on German Shepherds as service dogs. Discover if they are the right fit for you and gain valuable insights into service dog ownership.

German shepherds are highly intelligent, loyal, adaptable, and protective. They have ranked as the second most popular dog breed in the U.S. since 2014, and they make outstanding service dogs. A German shepherd may be just the dog you need when considering a canine companion to assist you. Choosing the best service dog combines personal choice and individual needs. Here, we've put together everything you need to know to make an informed decision about whether a German shepherd service dog is right for you.

German Shepherd Service Dogs

German Shepherds are highly versatile and intelligent service dogs that can assist individuals with a range of disabilities, including visual and hearing impairments, mobility issues, and psychiatric disorders. Their loyal and protective nature makes them ideal for tasks such as guiding, alerting, and providing emotional support to their owners.

The Bottom Line

  • What are service dogs? - Service dogs perform tasks for people who have disabilities or difficulties with specific tasks.
  • Why German shepherds as service dogs? - German shepherds' loyalty and power make them a good choice for a service dog.  
  • How do you get a German shepherd service dog? - You need to be diagnosed with a disability that can be assisted by a service animal and ensure the dog is sufficiently trained.
  • What's the difference between a service dog vs. ESA? - A service dog receives training to complete tasks for its handler, while an emotional support animal doesn't receive training.  

What Are Service Dogs?

A service animal is any dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Based on this definition, only dogs are considered service animals. A service dog enables its owner to lead an independent life as a disabled person.

A service animal's job or tasks must be directly related to the individual's disability. Work or job examples include but are not limited to the following:

  • Assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks
  • Alerting deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals 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

Many different types of service dogs specialize in assisting people with disabilities. The types of service dogs listed below are just a few of the most common.

Service Dogs

Guide dogs assist blind and visually impaired people in navigating their surroundings. Hearing dogs help deaf and hard-of-hearing people detect important sounds. Mobility dogs help people who use wheelchairs or walking aids or who have balance problems. Medical alert dogs may also alert the user to the presence of allergens, signal the onset of a medical problem such as a seizure or low blood sugar, and perform a variety of other tasks.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs help people with disabilities like obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and others.

Psychiatric service dogs may perform tasks such as entering a dark room and turning on a light to alleviate stress, interrupting repetitive behaviors, and reminding a person to take medication.

Pettable offers a free consultation with a licensed mental health professional to certify your eligibility for a psychiatric service dog. You may then either purchase a psychiatric service dog or train your dog to become a PSD. Pettable’s online PSD training program is an excellent training option for those looking to acquire a PSD cost-effectively and at a comfortable pace.

German Shepherd History

As the name suggests, the German shepherd originated in Germany in the late 1800s. The most intelligent, responsive, and obedient local shepherd dogs in Germany were bred to create what is now known as the German shepherd. This breed was responsible for herding sheep and protecting flocks from predators. They were not considered pets or companions but rather servants for farmers. Their intelligence, speed, strength, and keen sense of smell made them the perfect choice as sheep herders. 

Although German shepherds were considered workers rather than household pets, farmers did provide food, protection, and shelter to the breed. By World War I, the German shepherd was famous throughout Germany and quickly spread to other parts of the world. People loved German shepherds for their loyal and courageous character.

Due to the breed's reputation for being courageous and easy to train, German shepherds were welcomed as police and sight dogs for the blind. Their superb sense of smell and heroic character made the German shepherd an ideal police dog. Their faithful observance of what is going on around them, along with their patience, landed them the role of leader to the blind.

Why Do German Shepherds Make Great Service Dogs?

As much as we love dogs, not all pups are appropriate service dogs. German shepherds have many traits that make them good service dogs.

German Shepherds Are Highly Intelligent

A service dog needs to be smart enough to train. You need the dog to learn appropriate behaviors in public areas and when around other people. You may also rely on them to understand and perform complex tasks. They can't just be intelligent, though. Service dogs must be interested in learning what their owners teach them.

German shepherds are one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world. They are keen on learning and can pick up new skills quickly. GSDs are athletic and like having something to do. Their intelligence and trainability make them popular working dogs, so you often see them used as military dogs, police dogs, and drug-sniffing dogs. It's also why they make excellent service dogs.

German Shepherds Have a Good Sense of Smell

Many people have conditions that would require a dog that can put its nose to work for them. Those with medical conditions such as epilepsy or diabetes use their canine helpers to prevent a medical emergency. Canines have noses anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times as powerful as we humans.

German shepherds' noses are one of the reasons they are used as drug-sniffing dogs and in search and rescue. They can learn to pick up on changes in chemical compounds through odor detection. When you combine their intelligence with their sense of smell, GSDs make excellent service dogs for those with certain medical conditions.

German Shepherds Are Very Loyal

Matching a canine helper with the right owner is essential to ensuring the pup is up to the tasks required. When you get a service dog, you need to know you can count on it to do its job. Likewise, it needs to be able to count on you. Trust establishes loyalty. A loyal service animal is committed to its owner, continuing to take its job seriously through the years.

German shepherds make outstanding service dogs because they are very loyal. Though they are often stand-offish at first, they are fiercely loyal once there is trust between them and their owners. GSDs are more loyal than some of the other breeds people frequently use as service dogs, including Labrador retrievers.

GSDs Are Protective of Their Families

Good service dogs look out for their owners. They need to care enough to warn or protect them from situations that could cause harm. A strong bond between a service animal and its owner is critical. The loyalty these dogs feel towards their owners translates to a desire to protect them.

German shepherds are often used as guard dogs because they have a protective instinct. Shepherd guide dogs protect their owners' safety. These pups aren't quick to warm up to strangers and often need socialization training to ensure they can handle their tasks without becoming aggressive or anxious if their owner is in trouble in a public environment.

German Shepherds Are Adaptable

When you think about what service animals do, you can see why they need to be adaptable. Service animals often accompany their owners everywhere they go. They are frequently faced with new environments and novel situations and must be able to do their dog work in any situation.

GSDs are highly adaptable, making German shepherds one of the most popular service dogs. They can transfer their learning from one situation to another, and trained dogs aren't typically confused when routines vary. Their ability to focus on their jobs is why they are so adaptable.

German Shepherds Are Courageous

German shepherds are the best breed to become service dogs or police dogs due to their courageous nature. This breed will not hesitate to risk their safety or perform brave tasks to ensure the safety and well-being of their owner. You can always rely on a German shepherd.

German Shepherds Have High Energy

German shepherds have a lot of energy. When properly trained, they 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, a German shepherd will be eagerly ready to help at any moment.

German Shepherds Are Patient

German shepherds are known for being patient and having excellent temperaments. They are willing to learn, obey, and please their owners, with lots of patience and character. These traits make this breed easily trainable to become service dogs.

German Shepherd Service Dog

What Tasks Can a German Shepherd Perform?

GSDs are outstanding dogs for people with physical disabilities and medical conditions requiring an alert to keep them from danger. Some of these dogs may be capable of serving as psychiatric support dogs.

Physical Guide

These guide dogs often perform as seeing-eye dogs, helping owners with visual impairments navigate safely, avoid obstacles and get where they need to go. They may assist their owners in using public transportation, crossing streets, and moving through stores to find what they need. They may also perform as hearing dogs for those with auditory impairments. These dogs give their humans a head's up when important sounds occur in their environments, such as a baby crying or the doorbell ringing.

Medical Alert

GSDs make good service dogs for people with life-threatening allergies, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), diabetes and epilepsy. Medical alert dogs let their owners know when there is a threat related to their medical conditions. They may also carry medication in a vest and know to seek help when their owners have a medical emergency.

Daily Task Assistance

Trainers teach service dogs to help their owners with physical disabilities perform tasks that might otherwise be hard for them. They may deliver household items, open and close doors, turn lights on and off and pick up dropped items. German shepherds often perform these tasks for owners who use a wheelchair.

Physical Support

If you have a physical disability such as cerebral palsy or a similar condition, German shepherds have the strength to offer stability as a counterbalance. The breed weighs an average of 55 pounds and are good physical assistance dogs for those weighing less than 130 pounds. GSDs are prone to hip dysplasia, so it's essential to find one that doesn't have that issue.

Emotional Support

A psychiatric service dog helps people with mental disabilities or mental health. A German shepherd service dog that fills this role can sense anxiety and warn its owner of panic attacks. It offers emotional support, comfort, and companionship. Not all German shepherds can perform this role, and other breeds that are generally calmer, such as Labrador retrievers, are more often used as psychiatric and emotional support dogs.

Medication Reminders

Since German Shepherds are easy to train and reliable, they can be trained to remind their owners to take their medication every day, at the designated time, or at any interval a person has to take their medicine but may forget or lose track of time due to their disability.

Sniff Out Illnesses

German shepherds have a strong sense of smell. This allows them to be able to sniff out perpetrators or illegal substances for the police or military. For those with disabilities seeking a service dog, German shepherds can also be trained to sniff out certain cancers or other serious health concerns that a person may be experiencing.

German Shepherd Service Dog

How Do You Get a German Shepherd Service Dog?

In order to get a service dog you must first be diagnosed with a disability that can be aided by having a service dog. The service dog will need to be trained to perform specific tasks that assist you with your disability such as deep pressure therapy or interrupting self-harming behaviors. You can train your own psychiatric serviced dog by taking Pettable’s online PSD training program, which is a self-paced, expert-led video training program designed to help you effectively train your dog in mentally supportive tasks and basic obedience over a comfortable period of time. Take our online PSD quiz to get started.

Complete Our Assessment

To assist us in determining your needs for a psychiatric service dog and your current condition, you must first complete our brief evaluation.

Consult With a Therapist

You will then be matched with a licensed mental health professional and offered a link to schedule a live consultation with them after completing privacy and permission paperwork authorizing our doctors to work with you. After that, you'll meet with a mental health professional and have an assessment to see whether you're eligible for a psychiatric service dog.

Train Your Service Dog

If you qualify for having a psychiatric service dog you will then need to ensure that the animal is properly trained in performing specificl tasks that assist you with your mental health. Pettable’s online training program enables you to train a psychiatric service dog yourself and includes a 7-day money-back guarantee if you are unsatisfied with the program for any reason.

Can I Train My Own German Shepherd To Be a Service Dog?

German shepherds can easily be taught to serve as service dogs, and can be trained either by a professional dog trainer or by yourself at home. If you wish to self-train your German Shepherd you may benefit from Pettable’s online PSD training program, an on-demand video lesson curriculum that will walk you through the train process.

Being patient with your dog is crucial if you plan to train your service dog independently because the process might take a while. However, training a service animal can be a time-consuming but extremely worthwhile procedure if you're completely committed to them.

It's crucial to keep in mind that service animals must go through training before receiving certification. This training can be carried out independently through an online PSD training program or via a professional trainer.

Where Can I Adopt a German Shepherd Service Dog?

Just like any other emotional support animal or service dog, you can adopt Germn shepherds from your local shelters or through breeders. No matter the breed or if the dog is already someone's companion, any dog can be certified as a service animal. Owners of these dogs must make sure to develop a bond with them, go through training, and receive certification.

There are also programs that let individuals adopt service animals who have already received training and need a new owner.

What Disabilities Qualify for a German Shepherd Service Dog?

You must speak with a certified mental health expert to see if you are eligible for a German 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
  • Autism
  • Neurocognitive and Sleep-Wave Disorders 

Some physical disabilities include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Sensory Disabilities (Blind, Deaf, etc.)
  • ALS
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Pain
  • Stroke
  • Paralysis
  • Vertigo
  • And more

What's the Difference Between Psychiatric Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs?

Psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals are quite 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 animal that provides emotional support might help just by being there. On the other hand, service animals are specially trained to carry out chores for a person with a disability.


A letter from a licensed mental health practitioner outlining the therapeutic usefulness of an emotional support animal is all that is required; no training is required. Service animals need to go through specialized training.

Legal Protections

Service animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but emotional support animals are not. Only when an authorized ESA letter is present are emotional support animals protected by the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

Public Access

A service animal may accompany its owner wherever they go. The only locations that are legally obligated to accept emotional support animals are housing units and aircraft, where they travel for free in the main cabin. However, owners of emotional support animals may get away with taking them to locations that do not allow pets.

German Shepherd Service Dog

Frequently Asked Questions About German Shepherd Service Dog

How Much Does a German Shepherd Service Dog Cost?

The cost of a shepherd service dog varies widely, ranging between $5,000 and $65,000. The price depends on how much training is received and what it received training for. The more specialized the training, the higher the cost.

How Do You Catch a Fake German Shepherd Service Dog?

Often, your most significant clue to whether a service animal is fake is its behavior. A service dog should be focused, well-disciplined, non-reactive, and stays close to its handler. A service dog trainer has references and credentials.

Can You Get a German Shepherd Service Dog for Anxiety?

Yes, you can get an emotional support dog for anxiety. Some of these dogs learn to warn their owners of an anxiety attack. A licensed clinician can assess your condition to see if you qualify.

Can Any Dog Be a Service Dog?

No. Most dogs don't make good service dogs. A service dog needs to be well-behaved, adaptable, intelligent, and focused. They are usually trained for specific services and can perform tasks to improve their handlers' well-being.

Do German Shepherd Service Dogs Have To Be on a Leash?

When a service dog is in public, it needs to be on a leash, except when the dog can't perform its duties wearing a leash or the handler is physically unable to use one. The owner still must maintain control.

Does Insurance Cover German Shepherd Service Dogs?

No, insurance doesn't cover paying for a German shepherd service dog or caring for it. You may be able to use a health savings account or flexible savings account that saves you money on your taxes.

How Do You Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

A licensed clinician needs to evaluate your condition and write you an official PSD letter to get a psychiatric service dog. You can either put your dog through service dog school or adopt one already trained.

How Long Does it Take To Train German Shepherd Service Dogs?

Training service dogs can take a significant amount of time, but how much time depends on what they're training for and their characteristics and intelligence. German shepherds are usually quick learners.

Are German Shepherd Service Dogs Allowed Everywhere?

All locations that allow the general public to enter must allow service dogs. No business can deny entry to a service animal, not even apartments that don't allow pets. Service dogs are not pets but working dogs.

How Do You Get a German Shepherd Service Dog for PTSD?

If you have PTSD, a licensed mental health professional can write you a legally recognized psychiatric service dog letter for travel or residential purposes. You can then adopt a German shepherd service dog or put yours through professional training.







Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.

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