Service animals’ roles have evolved a great deal since they began helping humans with everyday tasks, and many now rely on a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) service dog for comfort and assistance. The best breed for a PTSD service dog depends on the person, but in general, dogs with calm and easy-to-train personalities can help in many ways.
What is a PTSD Service Dog?
A service dog is a type of assistance animal with the training to carry out tasks for an owner with a disability, such as PTSD. Service dogs often accompany registered blind people and those with hearing impairments but are also just as common for those struggling with mental health disabilities.
Around 61 million Americans live with a disability, according to the CDC, and the most recent figures on service dogs suggest that around 500,000 service dogs were working to support them as of 2016. That figure is likely even higher in 2023.
Research has shown that PTSD service dogs can help with some of the mental health problems that can come from trauma, such as making the person feel safer and helping them control their emotions. Service dogs for people with PTSD are traines to help their handler deal with certain triggers and feel less alone in their daily lives. Some tasks a PTSD service dog may perform include waking their handler up from a bad dream or reminding them to take their medicine.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows service dog owners to bring their dogs into places that don't normally allow pets, travel on planes without paying extra fees and stay in places that wouldn't normally let animals. This provides a sense of security to these service dog handlers, which may help to lessen the impact of certain PTSD triggers in public places.
While any dog can be trained to become a psychiatric service dog, certain breeds possess a better disposition for internalizing the training than others. These eight PTSD service dog breeds have proven to be obedient, understanding and able to intervene in the event of a mental health emergency.
8 PTSD Service Dog Breeds to Consider
When choosing a PTSD service dog, there are certain traits that can make a breed better-suited to the role than another. Here's our list of the best therapy dogs, and why one may be a better fit to you than another depending on your situation.
1. Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers are popular as both service dogs and regular pets because they are friendly and easy to get along with. But don't let that fool you; they're also very hard workers. A high intellect makes these dogs very willing and easy to train.
Despite being a larger breed, Golden Retrievers aren't intimidating in the same way that other breeds may be. This is important when you're choosing a PTSD service dog, as they'll be accompanying you as you go about your day-to-day life. Since ESA dogs aren't seen as service dogs without an ESA letter, you'll want to choose a breed that's immediately associated with calm and friendly behavior.
Keep in mind that Golden Retrievers can shed a lot of fur, so some maintenance will be required to keep your home hair-free.
2. Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers are similar to Golden Retrievers in many ways and have similar benefits. These dogs form strong bonds with their owners, which is an important trait in a PTSD service dog. They like to feel useful and help people, and they are especially good at helping people move around.
But that easygoing attitude and strong bond make them perfect as emotional support animals, too. While they need exercise, their energy levels aren't as high as in other breeds, and they have a great deal of patience. Not to mention, they're highly skilled at retrieving objects with their soft mouths. All of these traits can help when mental health problems make it hard to stay motivated or move around.
Like Golden Retrievers, this breed tends to shed a lot of hair thanks to their long and lustrous coat.
3. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are often used as emotional support dogs. They are also often used in the military, which could provide some familiarity but could also be seen as a drawback—a link to memories that would be better forgotten.
As service animals, German Shephards meet a lot of other key criteria. They're fast learners, fiercely intelligent, and very attached to their owners. More importantly, they also have a very strong sense of smell, which makes them ideal medical alert dogs, too.
Bear in mind, though, that German Shepherds can often have higher energy levels than Golden Retrievers and their close relative, the Labrador Retriever. While similar, German Shepherds were bred to be working dogs, herding sheep for long hours, for example. They might require more time outdoors to be completely satisfied with their recreational time.
Poodles are one of those breeds that people don't commonly associate with being service dogs. The poodle, in fact, makes an excellent emotional support animal. They're capable of learning intricate tasks as well as having a strong sense of smell.
Training is easy with poodles, plus they're small, which means it'll be less difficult to navigate airlines' carrier size and weight restrictions. They also shed far less hair than breeds higher on this list, making for less cleanup at home.
Remember, though, that we're talking about standard poodles. There are also miniature varieties, which are weaker and less capable of physical tasks. How important that is will come down to your unique needs for managing your post-traumatic stress disorder.
5. Border Collie
Due to a high level of intelligence, border collies are often used as show dogs. They are easy to train and willing to work, which makes them great PTSD service dogs. Border Collies have a very friendly and outgoing personality, making them ideal for supporting people with mental health challenges.
The downsides? Border Collies are working dogs who have enormous reserves of energy, though this does not mean that they'll be able to work all day long. The breed’s ancestry as sheepherders means that they'll sometimes try to herd children. They can also be naughty if they do not receive the exercise they need. Be sure to keep them engaged. Proper obedience training is a must for this breed.
Like poodles, pomeranians are small dogs. Even though they aren't big enough to help with physical tasks, their stature can be an advantage if you're going to be flying a lot. It's also useful when you don't have much space at home.
Pomeranians form very strong bonds with their owners and have seen a lot of success in other service dog roles, including the detection of complications linked to Parkinson's, diabetes and more. This breed is also super-intelligent and alert, not to mention that their general appearance and playful demeanor are often enough to lift anyone's spirits. This breed is excellent for those who often require some comfort to manage their PTSD.
7. Great Dane
Great Danes are, of course, incredibly strong, making them a valuable support animal for many. They're also great emotional support dogs for this same reason, and. despite their intimidating stature, this breed is very loving and become easily attached to their owners. They're also well-behaved in public spaces and don't get riled up easily, maintaining a calm disposition by default.
In terms of downsides, be aware that this dog can drool! That might not be a dealbreaker for you, but get used to seeing drool around the house. The size of a Great Dane can also put people on guard, especially if you're taking your Dane into an establishment that's less dog-friendly (we advise getting an ESA letter; there's more on this below). Flight may also be difficult for a dog of this size, but if travel is something you rarely engage in, this breed will likely check a lot of boxes.
8. Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dogs are just stunning creatures, and they're also ideal as PTSD service dogs. This breed is incredibly strong and fiercely intelligent, yet also very loving toward their owners. It’s intelligence also makes learning complex tasks a breeze, key to acquiring a PSD that can tend to mental health needs quickly.
Taking care of a Bernese is also quite straightforward. While they need a lot of grooming and regular exercise, their energy levels aren't quite as high as some of the dogs we've listed above. Bernese Mountain Dogs do, however, shed fur like crazy, and like the Great Dane, they can drool quite a lot.
Important Traits for a PTSD Service Dog
When you're choosing a service dog, it's best to consider the traits that are most important to you. People who struggle with mobility, for example, will want to choose a larger breed with the strength needed to provide proper support.
Most service dogs also qualify as an emotional support animal, with the key difference being that ESAs alone are not granted the same privileges as service dogs when it comes to airline travel and access to private spaces like storefronts. Ensuring your PSD offers traits associated with ESAs is key for those struggling with PTSD, as comfort is essential to maanging this disability. An ESA letter may also be required by some landlords to have your service dog live with you. Here, we'll focus on the key traits an emotional support dog needs, and why they will be important for you to look for when choosing a service dog.
An easygoing nature
Some dog breeds can be very overprotective of their owners. For a dog that's going to spend a lot of time in public spaces, this can be a problem. While your PTSD service dog needs to protect you and provide support, they shouldn't act out against other people. A good service dog and emotional support animal should also be able to handle loud and crowded places without getting nervous or excited. This lets the person who needs the dog remain at ease.
A strong work ethic
Some breeds, like German Shepherds and Border Collies, have a strong work ethic. They want to feel useful and have an assigned role. This is part of what makes these two breeds so suited to service dog work.
While this is more important for dogs performing physical service dog roles, it can also be beneficial for emotional support animals. When you need to head out, you don't want your dog throwing a fuss and refusing to go with you.
A strong bond with their owner
Look for a breed that develops strong bonds with its owner. You need your dog to be there for you when you have a tough day, and choosing a loving breed will ensure that they're always there to lean on.
This is important because some breeds are more independent and quite content to spend their days alone with minimal attention. While you don't want an overprotective PTSD dog, you also don't want to be paired with a canine who never wants to spend any time with you.
The Importance of an ESA Letter for Your PTSD Dog
You might encounter some trouble if you require a service dog but want to live in a place that doesn't allow pets. However, service dog and emotional support animal owners are protected by the ADA, and are allowed to have their service animal in a domestic living situation that wouldn’t otherwise allow threats, so long as the dog does not cause harm or property damage. In order to ensured you are protected, it is important to acquire a legitimate ESA Letter that states your right to an emotional support animal.
Get an ESA Letter for Your ESA Dog
At Pettable, we understand how difficult it can be to motivate yourself to seek help when things are tough.
That's why our ESA letter consultation process will only take three minutes of your time. We'll show you how to get an ESA letter by connecting you with a licensed therapist that can provide the referral you need. An ESA letter recognizes that a licensed mental health professional deems an emotional support animal necessary for someone’s mental health treatment plan, but the support animal doesn't need to have specific training.
Those who already have a dog and are in need of a psychiatric service dog should consider Pettable’s online psychiatric service dog training program. This 15-video series will allow you to train your pet at a pace that is most comfortable for both you and your dog, providing you with the resources and know-how to properly train your dog in obedience and how to intervene when symptoms of mental disabilities emerge.