10 Types of Service Dogs and What They Do

Matt Fleming
April 17, 2023
8 minutes
There are many different types of service dogs that assist their handlers in a variety of ways. Learn more about types of service dogs and how they help with 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.

1. Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs, or PSDs, are canine companions trained to assist anyone with a mental disorder mitigate 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 are benefitted by 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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog

If you have a qualifying condition, there are a few ways to become paired with a psychiatric service dog: you can purchase a PSD or acquire in-person or online dog training. 

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.