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Best Service Dogs to Choose for You or Your Loved One

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Service dogs are some of the noblest working dogs. The tasks they perform – often in conditions our family dogs would panic over – are exceptional. Is it any wonder they’re so special? You may have noticed that more and more breeds are donning the “Service Dog” vest. It turns out any dog can step up as a service dog! If they meet the criteria and complete their training, no breed gets excluded. However, there are some breeds recognized as being the best service dogs time and time again.

Qualities of a Service Dog

Service dogs endure a lot. And not just the rigors of training (over 120 hours – and that’s to start!) In their day-to-day lives, they go out into public where there are sights, sounds, and smells they may not have encountered before. Meanwhile, they have to remain on-task and focused. While we often marvel at these dogs for their sweet appearance, we can forget they’re working dogs. (Not all service dogs wear vests)

So what makes a good service dog? It turns out they have some distinguishing characteristics:

  • Intelligence: Not only do these canines perform complex tasks, but they learn A LOT of commands. Even trickier, they have to know when NOT to obey. Guide dogs, in particular, need to recognize dangerous situations their handler can’t see.
  • Friendliness: Service dogs go out in public. As such, they need to have an approachable demeanor. After all, if their person needs help, they can’t frighten that help away. While Pit Bulls make great service dogs, the negative image of the breed often hampers them.
  • Calm Demeanor: Again, these dogs are in public A LOT. They can’t disturb the environment around them. Even with new or novel stimuli, the service dog can’t react or startle. Doing so could put their person at risk.
  • Work Ethic: Service dogs are working dogs. A couch potato isn’t going to benefit someone who needs help throughout the day. These dogs need the drive to work.
  • Bonding: While some service dogs are returned and adopted out again, this isn’t the norm. Most service dogs get paired with their person for life. A connection is vital for a functional relationship. Dogs that don’t form attachments aren’t great choices.
  • Reliability: A lot of the tasks a service dog performs are repetitive. Not only can they not get bored, but they also need to repeat that task consistently.

Some people throw “tidiness” into the mix. However, a lot of the most recommended breeds? Yeah, they’re big shedders. So I’m going to skip that one. Why? Because what better bonding activity is there than brushing your dog every day!

Best Service Dogs

No one breed of dog is suited for one particular type of service. These breeds exhibit the above qualities in spades. What makes them excellent service dogs suits them to just about any service (exceptions are noted).

German Shepherds

German Shepherds are one of the best service dogs

Most people think of German Shepherds in the guard dog business, but they’re instrumental service dogs. In fact, Buddy was the first guide dog back in 1928! No wonder – a lot of the same characteristics of a guard dog parallel a good service dog. Shepherds are large enough to assist with mobility and guide work, while their sensitive noses make them great alert dogs. They attach to their person and remain focused on them without prompting. Unhappily, Shepherds shed – A LOT. So while they make fantastic service dogs, that’s something to take into consideration.

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers are one of the most commonly seen service dogs

Goldens are popular family dogs due to their sweet, patient natures. That same patience makes them ideal service dogs for people with psychiatric concerns or children with autism. Goldens are large enough to help those with mobility issues. As a breed with a “soft mouth,” they can retrieve objects without damaging them. They’ve worked as guide dogs for years. Goldens are brilliant, and they’re easy to train. Who doesn’t smile when they see a Golden’s grinning face? These cheerful dogs get welcomed everywhere. However, they do shed quite a bit, so regular brushing is in order.

Great Danes

Great Danes are one of the best service dogs due to their size

Great Danes have the stamina and temperament to carry out service work. They remain calm in unusual situations, and their attention is entirely for their person. Danes are ideal for mobility work – no one can claim they can’t support a person! Service Dog Project works exclusively with Danes. It turns out their sweet temperament also makes them great for psychiatric service dogs. They’re intelligent, and they WILL keep you out of trouble. While Danes don’t have long or thick coats, they do DROOL. (A little different tidiness issue to cope with)

Labrador Retrievers

Labrador Retrievers are versatile breeds

Labs share the family dog list with Goldens. No surprise that they also share the service dog list for a lot of the same reasons. Labs are powerful dogs, and they form strong attachments with their people. Labs work as service dogs in every capacity, from mobility to guide to alert dogs. They also have soft mouths – it’s a hallmark of the Retriever Group. Fun Fact: Chocolate Labs have proven to be the calmest of the three color variations. If you notice more Chocolates in vests, this is why.


Pomeranians are one of the smallest of the best service dogs

I know what you’re thinking – Pomeranians? But they’re small! True, but Poms fill an essential niche in the service dog world: alert dogs. Poms have an incredible sense of smell, and they work to save the lives of those with diabetes and epilepsy every day. No, a Pom isn’t a great choice if you need physical assistance. Need a hearing dog, though? A Pom can do that! Poms are important reminders that not every disability is apparent at first glance (invisible illnesses exist). Also, though tiny, these dogs aren’t afraid to work! Poms have fluffy coats that require regular grooming. However, if your disability allows for a mini worker, they’re ideally situated for apartments.


Poodles work well in any size

The Standard size of Poodle is used the most frequently for service work from a practical standpoint. A Miniature Poodle simply can’t support a human. However, if you don’t have physical needs, the smaller sizes ARE available. Poodles are smart, highly trainable, dependable, and loyal. Their innate curiosity makes them capable of puzzle-solving. They’re capable of applying their training to unforeseen circumstances, which is extremely helpful in a service dog. Poodles are as close to hypoallergenic as you can get. While their coat requires regular grooming, they DON’T shed. And people respond positively to Poodles. They have friendly faces and are instantly recognizable.

All Service Dogs are Champions

The best service dogs? Every service dog! These canine champions are heroes for the work they do every day to bring normality to their people’s lives.

And the simple reality is that ANY dog has the potential to be a service dog. As a matter of fact, Assistance Dogs International rescues dogs from shelters for their training program!

So while you can’t interact with that service dog on duty, maybe tip your hat or give a little salute. That furry hero deserves it!

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria grew up in a pet-friendly household. On weekends, the family made trips to zoos and aquariums in the area. So it wasn’t a surprise when she gravitated toward a career with animals.

After six years working among the background operations at the Philadelphia Zoo, she gained a unique insight into the veterinary world. The vet staff provided her first lessons in terminology, the identification of medical equipment, and glimpses of radiographs (x-rays). She also enjoyed plenty of opportunities to talk with everyone, including the veterinary technicians. And they offered an alternative for someone NOT interested in surgical pathways: Namely, their course of study.

Andria enrolled at Harcum College. Philadelphia boasts two programs for vet techs, but only Harcum works with the Ryan Veterinary Hospital and New Bolton Center (University of Pennsylvania’s small and large animal facilities, respectively). Harcum’s vet tech students receive six months of hands-on teaching and experience alongside Penn’s vet students.

With the opportunities and connections available with one of the top veterinary schools, the decision was easy for her to make.

New Bolton Center: Large Animal Medicine
Andria ended up trudging through snow up to the knee and shivering in subzero temperatures during her winter semester, but she wasn’t disappointed with her choice. New Bolton provided a thorough grounding in large animal medicine. A horse-lover as a child, the experience renewed those old emotions.

And a few memories stood out and remained to this day:

  • Standing alongside a Clydesdale and feeling TINY
  • Holding the reins of a horse galloping at top speed on a treadmill
  • Nursing tiny foals through the first days of their life

Ryan Veterinary Hospital: Small Animal Medicine
Veterinary students can legally work at a practice while studying. Andria took advantage of the opportunity, gaining “real life” experience while attending class. It provided a slight advantage when she entered her three months at the small animal hospital.

However, as Ryan Veterinary Hospital offers treatments unique to the veterinary community, she continued to gain valuable experience. For instance, she spent a day working alongside their Chemo Team. The positivity of everyone she encountered – staff, clients, and patients alike – left a lasting impression.

Additional standout moments included:

  • An afternoon spent with the head of the feline kidney transplant program
  • A day serving as the anesthesia technician in their new radiation unit
  • Recognizing a radiograph of a giant elephant shrew (applying her previous zoo knowledge)

Emergency/ICU Veterinary Technician
Accompanying her Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology, Andria received a passing score on the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). The two led to her certification/license as a veterinary technician – first in Pennsylvania (CVT) and later in Virginia (LVT).

Emergency medicine appealed to her from the beginning. The flux of ailments, injuries, and even species kept her mind sharp at all times. The knowledge required to handle cats, dogs, exotics, and even wildlife is highest in an ICU setting. When a vet tech never knows the patient’s stability coming back to the treatment area, skills and the ability to respond in an instant always stay in peak shape.

With treatments evolving at a constant basis, Andria sought out the best Continuing Education opportunities. She attended the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (IVECCS) Conference whenever possible. This allowed her to discuss the latest wound treatments, medications, and advancements in diet formulations.

Cardiology Veterinary Technician
With the increased knowledge and experience, Andria noticed gaps in her abilities. Her grasp of cardiology remained at the basic level. She wanted to boost her skills and understanding as much as possible, improving her patient care. When an opportunity within the practice arose to move into the cardiology department, she accepted.

She sharpened her ability to read ECGs, recognizing arrhythmias of every type. Speaking with the cardiologist, she learned to read echocardiograms, picking out the most common disease processes. And, courtesy of her position in the department, she took in everything she could regarding the grain-free diet concern.

And throughout her ten-year career, she built her store of client interactions. She learned stories of heartbreak and hope. In the middle of the night, she shared touching and humorous conversations. Every moment taught her to engage with people. And the skill blended into her writing ability, capturing the interest of pet-lovers everywhere.

Check out Andria’s LinkedIn here

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