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German Shepherd Service Dog — Everything You Need To Know

A German shepherd service dog offers emotional and functional support for those with physical and mental health challenges. Find out if it’s a good fit for you.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

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.

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 a letter from a mental healthcare professional to qualify for a service or therapy dog.
  • 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?

The Americans with Disabilities Act gives dogs used in support of people with disabilities protections not offered to other pets. Trainers teach service animals to assist individuals with physical disabilities, while a psychiatric service animal helps those with mental health conditions. As of 2011, the only animals approved as service animals under the ADA are dogs.

Why Do German Shepherds Make Great Service Dogs?

As much as we love dogs, not all pups are appropriate service dogs. GSDs 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 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.

German Shepherd Service Dog

How Do You Get a German Shepherd Service Dog?

If you think a German shepherd service dog is right for you, Pettable can help.

Complete Our Assessment

First, complete our short assessment to see if you qualify for a psychiatric service animal. The next step is to determine what kind of emotional support animal letter is appropriate for you, whether for housing, travel, or both.

Consult With a Therapist

We have you complete some privacy and consent forms that allow our clinicians to work with you. You meet with a clinician who conducts an evaluation to determine if you qualify for an ESA.

Get a Psychiatric Service Letter

The licensed mental health professional writes an official PSD letter if you qualify. You have the option to get your ESA letter within 24 hours of your consultation unless you live in California.

We commit to your satisfaction, providing a 100% refund if your ESA letter gets denied.‍

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

Yes, you can train your German shepherd dog to be a service dog, but it will depend on what kind of service animal you need. A medical support dog requires specific service dog training that generally requires the services of a specialized dog trainer. It's simpler to make your dog an emotional support animal. You may need to take your pet through obedience training and do owner training yourself.

Where Can I Adopt a German Shepherd Service Dog?

You can adopt a shepherd service dog from breeders specializing in training service dogs. Often, these dogs begin their training from a young age. Find out which adoption services specialize in the type of support you need. If you plan to train the dog yourself, look for reputable breeders that focus on mental and physical traits, require an application, allow you to see their facility or home, and understand German shepherds well.

What Disabilities Qualify for a German Shepherd Service Dog?

A wide range of physical and mental disabilities can qualify you for a German shepherd service dog. The primary factor is that the dog provides physical or emotional support for a medical or psychological condition. Medical diagnoses such as epilepsy, diabetes, paraplegia, quadriplegia, cerebral palsy, and visual and auditory impairments are qualifying conditions.

Mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression can also qualify. If you feel you would benefit from a shepherd service dog, you can get a licensed professional to assess your condition and write a qualifying letter for housing, travel, or both.

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

A psychiatric service dog and an emotional support dog are very similar. Both often perform the same kinds of tasks, providing their handlers comfort and companionship and alleviating the symptoms of their mental health condition. However, psychiatric service dogs are generally more highly trained and may be able to perform such tasks as warning their handler of anxiety attacks before they occur. An emotional support animal also doesn't have as many legal protections as a psychiatric service dog. 

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.