Fact checked

What Animals Can Be Service Animals?

Matt Fleming
February 20, 2024
May 16, 2023
6 minutes
Updated By
Matt Fleming
September 29, 2023
Expert Reviewed By:
Grant FiddesGrant Fiddes
SEO Associate
May 16, 2023
August 18, 2021
6 minutes
September 29, 2023
If you have a dog or miniature horse, you may be able to make them a service animal. Find out more about what animals can be service animals with Pettable.

A service animal can act as a lifeline for many people living with mental, emotional, or physical disabilities, but finding the right type to fit your life can be challenging. After all, a service dog is quite different from an emotional support animal (ESA); while many different animals can serve as an ESA, your options for a psychiatric service animal or a physical service animal are limited. Thankfully, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about what animals can be service animals.

What Animals Can Be Service Animals?

Service animals eligible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are limited to dogs and miniature horses. These animals are trained to assist individuals with disabilities, providing essential support and companionship.

What is a Service Animal?

A service animal is a dog of any breed or size that has been trained to provide support for its owner’s disability, either physical or psychological. Through its training, a service animal learns how to perform tasks designed specifically for the owner’s mental or physical disorder, which helps them better enjoy their life. Whether it’s a Labrador Retriever guiding the visually impaired or a beagle that eases the symptoms of someone living with a mental health disorder, service dogs are an essential part of many therapies.

Which Breeds Make the Best Service Dogs?

Just as every dog lover has favorite breeds and sizes, different challenges call for different types of service dogs. For example, a small breed such as a Chihuahua might not make the best visual guide dog, while a German Shepard might be oversized for someone who needs a portable psychiatric service dog. Let’s see which breeds suit different assistance jobs best.

Types of Service Animals

There are two types of service animals, each of which provides a specific set of skills to aid their owners: psychiatric service dogs and service animals for physical disabilities. Both types of service animals are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners, whether dealing with mental or physical challenges.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

For individuals with mental disorders or disabilities, a psychiatric service dog, or PSD, can make a world of difference. They are trained to provide an array of services, from fetching medications to performing deep pressure therapy (DPT), and their sheer presence can help alleviate emotional pain. Some common psychiatric disorders that a PSD can benefit include: 

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

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs are assistance animals trained to lead blind or visually impaired people as they navigate their daily lives. They lead their humans around obstacles, alert them to danger, and generally keep them safe in public. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Poodles, and German Shepherds are all well-suited for this valiant job.

Hearing Dogs

Service dogs for the hearing-impaired are trained to respond to specific household sounds such as telephones, doorbells, and smoke alarms. Cocker Spaniels are great for this auditory assistance job, as are Poodles and Retrievers.

Medical Alert Dogs

This type of assistance dog is trained to respond to its owner’s medical needs, including mental and physical disorders. For instance, a trained medical alert dog can sense if its diabetic owner’s blood sugar levels drop before it kicks in for the human, and others can fetch medication. In addition to previous breeds that are suited for most service tasks, Collies and Setters make great alert dogs.

Mobility Assistance Dogs

These service dogs help owners who live with severe mobility challenges, such as balance problems or reach limitations. Since the tasks required to serve these humans can vary significantly, the breed and size should be suitable for the specific needs. Larger dogs such as Great Danes, Mastiffs, and St. Bernards often thrive in this role.

Service Animals for Physical Disabilities

When an individual has a physical disability that limits their daily lives, a properly trained service animal can make everything substantially easier. Guide dogs can assist the visually impaired as they navigate the world, just as mobility assistance dogs can bridge the gap between an individual and their limitations. Some service animals can even be trained to detect allergies or alert a diabetic patient when their blood sugar levels are low, proving that sometimes all it takes is the love and support of a furry friend.

Other Types of Working Dogs

As you can see, our dogs are capable of handling much more than playing fetch and doing tricks. In addition to service animals, dogs can work with law enforcement or military units as detection animals or in search and rescue. Therapy dogs can be found helping out in hospitals and nursing homes, while some breeds live up to their names and actually herd sheep or cattle.

Who Can Benefit from a Service Animal

Many people living with mental or physical challenges can benefit greatly by adding a service dog to their lives. Qualifying mental health conditions include:

Many physical disabilities can benefit from a service dog, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic fatigue or pain
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy and other seizure disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Narcolepsy
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Stroke
  • Vertigo

What Kinds of Animals Can Be a Service Animal?

Only two types of animals can qualify as a service animal:

  • Dogs of any type of breed, if they are trained to perform a specific job or task.
  • Miniature horses, typically ranging from 24–34 inches in height and weighing 71–100 pounds; these are only permitted in certain circumstances.

While service dogs are more common, sometimes a miniature horse can provide assistance for an individual with psychiatric or physical challenges. 

What About Emotional Support Animals?

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are different beasts altogether. Most domesticated animals can serve as an ESA, providing their owner with the emotional care only an animal can offer. However, ESAs are not protected by any of the federal laws that protect service animals, giving their owners less freedom in bringing their animals to public spaces, housing, or air travel.

Service Animal Laws

There are some strict rules and regulations that protect PSDs and physical support animals and their owners from undue discrimination in public accommodations. These federal laws make it possible for these owners to bring their companions wherever they need them, whether it’s a restaurant, an apartment or condominium, or on an airplane. As long as your service dog is well-behaved, they can accompany you virtually everywhere.

However, in some cases, a miniature horse can act as a PSD or physical service animal, as long as they adhere to a few standards:

  • The miniature horse must be housebroken
  • It must stay under the owner’s control
  • The facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight
  • The animal’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of the facility

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The most significant law to protect service animals and their owners is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among the many regulations included in the ADA, some permit service animals to accompany their humans in “public accommodations” — settings that are either privately or publicly-owned, such as bars, restaurants, medical facilities, and stores. 

Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects individuals and their service dogs from discrimination in housing accommodations. For apartments, houses, or condos that don’t typically permit pets, the FHA ensures that service dogs (or miniature horses, in some cases) are allowed to live in their owner’s home. It may also require the housing provider to waive a pet deposit, fee, or other rules as to the service animal.

Air Carrier Access Act

Finally, there is the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. This requires airlines to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities and to recognize their service animals, allowing them to accompany their owners on a flight. However, airlines may deny a service animal if they are threatening the safety of the passengers and crew.

Service Animal Training Requirements

When it comes to service animal training, there are fewer federal requirements than you might expect. According to the ADA, a PSD is not required to undergo a specific professional training program to be certified as a service animal. Nor must they wear a vest or carry certification in public. However, they must be trained to perform a specific task or service for the owner. 

Some cities and states may have their own laws or regulations that require service animals to be licensed and vaccinated or offer voluntary service dog registration. However, they can’t require the service animal to be certified or registered, nor can they deny a service dog based on its breed.

Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable

Once you have been qualified for a service dog, Pettable offers an online psychiatric service dog training course that can help transform your pet into a fully qualified psychiatric service dog. Our 15-part online video series, led by a certified professional trainer, enables you to train your dog for specific tasks related to your mental disorder. You can set your schedule and go at your own pace with our program, giving you the flexibility to train your dog.

After completion, we can give you a certification of your dog’s training to make life with your newly trained service dog easy.

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.

See Archive