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Types of Service Dogs and What They Do

There is a broad range of service dogs that help individuals with a variety of mental and physical disabilities. Types include psychiatric service dogs, guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and allergy detection dogs.

Matt Fleming
February 14, 2024
April 17, 2023
8 minutes
Updated By
Matt Fleming
September 29, 2023
Expert Reviewed By:
Grant FiddesGrant Fiddes
SEO Associate
April 17, 2023
August 18, 2021
8 minutes
September 29, 2023
Explore diverse service dog types and their invaluable assistance. Discover how these remarkable dogs help in various ways on Pettable.

If you’ve ever seen someone with a canine companion in an uncommon setting, such as a grocery store, lecture hall, or restaurant, chances are likely that this is one of many types of service dogs at work. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is a dog of any breed and size that is trained to perform one or more tasks directly related to an individual’s disability and any associated challenges. The ADA also permits service dogs to accompany their human in places traditional pets are not allowed, such as restaurants, schools, and medical facilities, or in apartments and housing units that don’t allow standard pets.

Service dogs may be trained to assist with various disabilities, disorders, and afflictions. They could help an individual with limited mobility retrieve objects or remind someone with a mental health disorder to take their medication. They could even identify the onset of a seizure and keep the afflicted person safe until further help arrives. Let’s look at 10 types of service dogs and how they can help people live better lives.

Types of Service Dogs

Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities or medical conditions. There are different types of service dogs, including guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, mobility assistance dogs, and psychiatric service dogs.

What is a Service Dog

Quite simply, a service dog is a canine that has been trained to help its disabled owner as they navigate everyday life. Unlike a household pet, a service dog is a worker, taught to perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability. According to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), the tasks must be directly related to the person’s disability, which excludes simple emotional support. 

What Are The Best Service Dog Breeds?

With such a sprawling array of dog breeds around the world, it might surprise you which ones worked best for work as service dogs. Of course, the best service dogs must be trained to suit an individual’s specific disability, which means some breeds work better in different roles. For example, a small breed such as a French Bulldog might make a great psychiatric service dog (PSD), but it won’t be as well-suited for those who need a physical service dog, typically a larger breed. Whether as a PSD or a physical support animal, some of the best service dog breeds include:

  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Corgi
  • St. Bernard
  • Great Dane
  • Poodle
  • Pug
  • Beagle
  • Giant or Standard Schnauzer

Additionally, many adoptable mixed-breed dogs are more than capable of working as a beloved service dog.

Types of Service Dogs and What They Do

Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and are specially trained to assist with a broad array of tasks. From helping individuals with their mental health to guiding visually impaired people through their day-to-day lives, there is a service dog for just about everything. Heres a comprehensive list of types of service dogs and how they help their handlers.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs, or PSDs, are canine companions trained to assist anyone with a mental disorder in mitigating the challenges associated with their daily lives. They can provide services such as fetching medications or performing deep pressure therapy (DPT). As a bonus, PSDs can also provide much-needed emotional support for their owners, offering stability and serenity as their human lives with their disorder.

Common psychiatric disorders that benefit from a PSD include:

  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 
  • Schizophrenia

With such a wide spectrum of mental health disorders, several dog breeds are especially well-suited for performing the tasks of a PSD. Labrador Retrievers make for devoted service dogs; the breed’s naturally cheerful demeanor is sure to lift the spirits of anyone with mental or emotional struggles. Known for loyalty and trainability, German Shepherds are also great PSDs, offering strong emotional support, protection, and much more.

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs are tasked with assisting visually impaired or blind individuals as they navigate their daily lives — and the physical world. They are trained to safely lead their human through obstacles such as stairs, sidewalks, and crosswalks, using a combination of hand and voice signals. Just as they make great PSDs, Shepherd and Retriever breeds make ideal guide dogs, as do standard-sized Poodles.

Hearing Dogs

Just as guide dogs assist the visually impaired, hearing dogs use their exceptional auditory skills to help hearing-impaired humans. They help by identifying and alerting their owner to important sounds such as alarms, sirens, or a ringing doorbell. In addition to the previously mentioned breeds, Cocker Spaniels are popular hearing assistance dogs thanks to their natural ability to pick up noises and recognize hand signals.

Diabetic Alert Dogs

Individuals living with diabetes have distinct needs that are greatly served by diabetic alert dogs DADs), which can provide vital assistance. Their keen noses can detect changes in blood sugar levels during hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic events, prompting the DAD to warn their owner or fetch food, drinks, or emergency equipment (such as a blood glucose monitor). Like other skilled breeds, Collies and mixed sporting breeds are excellent attendants to diabetic individuals.

Allergy Detection Dogs

For many people, even the slightest interaction with an allergic substance can cause them to go into anaphylactic shock; allergy detection dogs help to prevent that from happening. Individuals with severe allergies to things such as peanuts, eggs, wheat, perfume, and more. These dogs make great companions for children with severe allergies, providing them with crucial protection as well as a greater degree of freedom.

Mobility Assistance Dogs

Mobility assistance dogs are trained to aid anyone with severe mobility issues, such as people with arthritis or the wheelchair dependent. They can help with an array of tasks, including opening automatic doors, retrieving medication, dressing or undressing, and many more. Like other service dogs, in addition to their expertise in mobility assistance, they can offer emotional support and provide a greater sense of confidence and independence.

Anxiety Service Dogs

Many PSDs are trained specifically to comfort and assist individuals living with anxiety disorders, giving them a sense of calm and joy. Not only can they detect signs of an imminent anxiety attack, but they can often perform deep pressure therapy (DPT), providing the comfort of their body warmth and weight, acting much like a weighted blanket. While they can also remind their owner to take their medications, an anxiety service dog can encourage routine exercise and outdoor activity.

PTSD Service Dogs

Anyone who has lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) understands how difficult basic everyday functioning can be; PTSD service dogs can help alleviate these challenges. In addition to performing DPT on their owner, the canine companion can intercede in difficult emotional moments or prevent potentially harmful behavior. A simple lick to the face or paw on the lap can provide the solace and relief that only a trained service dog can deliver.

Autism Support Dogs

For both adults and children on the autism spectrum, autism service dogs can provide invaluable support, physically, emotionally, and mentally. The constant companionship can work wonders for their emotional stability, as well as offer protection and improve socialization. These dogs are trained to keep their human secure and to prevent them from wandering off and track them if they do.

Medical Service Dogs

A medical service dog is a ‘terrier of all trades,’ trained to support individuals with unique medical needs. These canines can fetch medications, detect and respond to medical crises, and in some cases, take emergency action — even dialing 911 with a special service dog-friendly phone. For individuals living with epilepsy, a medical service dog can provide lifesaving help in the event of a seizure.

Seizure Alert/Response Dog

A well-trained service dog can be an indispensable aid for anyone living with epilepsy, as a seizure can come from out of nowhere. There are two jobs these dogs can do: seizure alert and seizure response. A seizure alert (or prediction) dog may exhibit specific behaviors when it senses the imminent onset of a seizure, while a seizure response dog is trained to perform specific tasks during or immediately after this medical emergency. They can activate pre-programmed devices to alert emergency services, bark as an alert to others nearby, or use their bodies to prevent injury. German Shepherds and Retriever breeds fit this role easily.

FASD Service Dogs

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can cause a wide array of life-long challenges for the afflicted, including physical, emotional, and mental disabilities. For many children with fetal alcohol syndrome or drug exposure (FAS/DE), a service dog can make a world of difference. These service dogs can interrupt disruptive or hyperactive behavior, enhance security and safety, or perform necessary tasks. In many cases, these disorders are similar to autism, so some service dogs are trained for both disabilities — collies and beagles are just two breeds that can help in both cases. 

Cardiac Alert Dogs

Cardiac-alert dogs are gifted with an innate ability to detect drops in blood pressure or changes in heart rate, making them indispensable to those living with heart conditions. These cunning canines can intervene to warn their owner or alert others to the impending emergency, or in some cases, they can use their bodies to prevent injuries from or break a fall. Larger breeds like St. Bernards and Great Danes are among the best for this job.

Emotional Support Animals

Despite the similar language, emotional support animals are different from service dogs in some significant ways. While service dogs require specialized training to perform specific tasks, emotional support animals do not. They are considered pets and can include any kind of domesticated animal, including cats, ferrets, birds, and rabbits. Unlike PSDs, these animals are not protected by the ADA, so businesses or other facilities are not required to welcome them.

Other Types of Working Dogs

There are plenty of other jobs our canine companions can occupy aside from serving as support animals. Some of these include:

  • Police Dogs: K-9 crimefighters, can help police officers solve crimes with the use of their keen olfactory senses to sniff out drugs and other substances or by chasing down suspects.
  • Search and Rescue Dogs: These first responders use their senses of smell and hearing to track down missing persons during catastrophes such as avalanches.
  • Military Dogs: Like their counterparts in the police, military dogs help soldiers and officers detect, track, and scout. They are also useful for search and rescue and for detecting explosives.
  • Guard Dogs:  Some homeowners and business owners utilize guard dogs to protect and defend their safety and property. Much like other working dogs, they are loyal, and in many cases, they can spot threats before their humans.

How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog

If you’re ready to add a PSD to your life, Pettable has you covered. Take our quick and easy online assessment to determine your eligibility and get diagnosed by one of our licensed mental health professionals. For optional support, we can issue you a PSD letter, but to make sure you’re compliant with regulations, you should also sign up for Pettable’s PSD training course.

Purchase From a Reputable Service Dog Organization

If you don’t have the capability to train a service dog yourself, you can consider purchasing a canine that is already trained to support your disability. However, the biggest downside to this option is the price tag. These dogs can cost upwards of $20,000 or more, so it’s a choice usually reserved for those with more money to spend.

Adopt an Untrained Dog and Pay For Professional Training

An option that is both beneficial and affordable is to adopt a dog and enroll it in Pettable’s online PSD training program. For a fraction of the price of buying a trained service dog, you teach your own new furry friend, growing the bond between you as you go.

Train Your Own Service Dog

If you already have a canine companion you want to promote to a service dog, our training course can help just as well. Contact our professionals or take our online assessment to get started with Pettable today!

Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable

Once you have been qualified for a service dog, Pettable offers online psychiatric dog training services that can transform your pet into a professional. Led by a certified dog trainer, our 15-part video series enables you to train your dog for specific tasks related to your mental disorder. We can even provide you with certification of your dog’s training to make navigating public life with your newly qualified service dog a breeze.

Meet the author:
Matt Fleming

Matt is a Midwestern-based writer and devoted dog dad, living with a sweet mixed-breed pup named Robin. A life-long dog lover, he had the pleasure of growing up with several German Shepherds, a Cocker Spaniel, and a Black Labrador. He is a full-time editor, as well as a musician and poet, who loves basketball, birdwatching and listening to The Cure and Nick Cave.

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