Choosing A Service Dog Breed

Discussion in 'Service Dog Training' started by tx_cowgirl, May 26, 2011.

  1. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    As some of you may know, I am very interested in becoming a Service Dog Trainer. In the long run, I want to have my own facility. Part of my organization will utilize shelter dogs, but being that service dogs must meet very very very specific requirements, it is just not possible to run a service dog organization solely with shelter dogs(or so I've been told by numerous people in the field). Anyway....
    Although it's a long way in the future, I have racked my brain for a very long time trying to figure out what breed I would use. If possible, I would like to use something less common but still well suited for the job. I personally am not a Lab person; nothing against the breed, just that here having a Lab is like owning a pencil. There are so many of them with such poor breeding, I don't know that I have EVER met a truly good example of the breed.
    I don't want to use Poodles, and would like to avoid other long-haired breeds as many of the people needing service dogs either cannot afford or are not physically capable of caring for a long-haired dog. If they are physically capable, they still have to be able to afford the upkeep, and grooming is expensive. So I'd like to steer clear of a long-haired breed.
    Other breeds I have either heard of being used, or have considered:

    -Dobermans: When I first heard of them I would think that Dobies might be too high strung for this.....in general, of course. And if you're dealing with a high-strung breed, wouldn't your percentage of potential service dogs in a litter decrease? Theoretically, anyway. Heck I don't know.
    -Pit Bulls: I would love to use Pitties, as this is great because it also will help change the view of the breed. Would like some input.
    -Corgis: I think a larger dog could be better depending on the disability of the person. But those that I've seen do a great job, but (no pun intended) fall short when it comes to something they can't reach or physically just cannot do due to their size.

    Just an idea...
    -Greyhounds: The only Greyhounds I have ever met have been rescued racers. They are very very calm, and non-reactive to even the busiest and loudest of places. But, I know that racers typically do not have the best upbringing. So are most Greyhounds calm, or are ex-racers this way simply because of their history? I have never had experience training Greyhounds. Are they intelligent and trainable? Also, being capable of such greats speeds, and being sight hounds, is this just asking for trouble? Input here?
    -Rottweilers: Too high energy? Very smart, large enough to do just about anything a service dog might need to do, don't require much maintenance in terms of grooming.
    -Australian Cattle Dogs: I'm thinking probably too high energy....input?

    Does anyone have other ideas? I'm completely open to any and all input; I can't seem to find a breed that is a good candidate all around, aside from Labs and Goldens. Of course if this ends up being a far better option than any other breed, I will use one or both of them; not going to sacrifice the needs of those needing service dogs just so I can try a different breed.

    Thanks in advance, everyone!

  2. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Ok, waving paws for German Shepherds here. They've been used for just about everything for so long - they have the intelligence, the stamina, focus, work ethic, only standard grooming needs if you don't use the long-hairs, etc. AND - there are so many German Shepherd rescue groups that have puppies (along with every age group) so in need of homes, you could probably get puppies galore and raise them from the ground up (so to speak).
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  3. Lexy88 Well-Known Member

    When you say 'service dogs', what 'service' are they providing - ie seeing eye dogs etc. As here in NZ we dont call them 'service dogs' we call them 'guide dogs' [for seeing eye dogs] and when you said 'service' it makes me think of the dogs they train for ex-army personal [who have 'served'] who need that 'help' when they come back from combat.

    Anyway, onwards, as much as I love the GSD, the only problems I see with Jackie's suggestion for using rescued ones is - why are they being rescued? In NZ the majority of GSDs are rehomed for killing stock/pets or generally just being hugely highly strung. And GSDs who are being rescued/rehomed from whatever age also run the risk of having terrible hips from being 'averagely' bred.

    Corgis - according to my vet, this breed worldwide now has 100% hip dysplasia. Apparently there is no Corgi bloodlines without hip dysplasia. I also think you would need a more 'agile' dog, rather than a wee waddler lol.

    You mention the problem of Greyhounds having high prey drive, but are keen on Pitties. All the 'terrier' breeds I know are high prey drive. I see no problem with using Pits or Greyhounds - I say go for it! - just pointing out that there are a lot of breeds with high prey drive - hey GSDs have it too, as do a lot of herding breeds - I dont see a problem though with it if they go through all the necessary training to become service dogs. I mean, hey, Labradors are eating machines - but they dont ditch their 'person' to rush off and grab some food dropped nearby :p

    So I dont particularly see problems with 'behaviours' of breeds, rather, along the lines of you wanting something that is easy to care for [ie not long haired], also consider the health/stamina/agility of a breed :). I see a lot of BCs in NZ as guide dogs. Have seen Dalmations although the only Dal I knew had 'issues'. Have seen lots of GSDs.
  4. running_dog Honored Member

    I may be wrong but I think greyhounds are generally lazy scroungers. They can be very intelligent but they seem to do everything with a, "Do I really have to expression." They expect their owners to serve them not the other way round, they don't have any idea of looking after their owner.

    I have heard of crossbred sighthounds being used as guidedogs and also as search and rescue dogs (120% steady with all prey and farm animals of necessity) so there is no absolute rule. Frankly I think they could do the job but I don't think they'd get much fun out of it...
  5. Lexy88 Well-Known Member

    I have also heard that Greyhounds are pretty lazy lol
  6. JoAnne Well-Known Member

    I'd throw the Aussie's hat in the ring, (Australian Shepherds in S, M & L) except at the moment I wanna kill Asher; he's being very antisocial w/a Shitzu-Bichon X I'm babysitting. Sheeeesh, whatever you get, get a girl! These boys are just buttheads!
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  7. running_dog Honored Member

    Actually I knew a labrador guide dog that did do that, constantly.
  8. running_dog Honored Member

    The more I thought about that horrible labrador guide dog the better greyhounds seem...
    There are a few rescue greyhounds as service dogs on here about greyhounds as service dogs. Maybe I under-rate them :).
    JoAnne likes this.
  9. JoAnne Well-Known Member

    I think it may help if you review your choices as far as what the different breed were originally bred to do. Not to say any breed couldn't be trained to do service work, that just some seem better suited than others, which might make the gratification vs frustration factors easier. And everything but the Mexican Hairless sheds, it's a small trade off in the big picture; I had a plush coat German Shepherd and 13 vacum cleaners; one for every year of her life, like German Shepherd candles on a cake...YIKES...good thing the seven year myth didn't apply!
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  10. fickla Experienced Member

    I understand that some breeds may not be ones you particularly enjoy, but remember there are reasons why certain breeds make up the majority of service dogs.

    Public perception is certainly one reason. There are many fantastic pits, rotties, dobies, etc. but a lot of organizations don't want their clients to be hassled and have any more unwanted attention especially in this day of breed bans. I'm not saying I agree with that reason, I'm just throwing it out there as a factor. Gigantic dogs, very small dogs, rare breeds, and your bully breeds are all going to attract a ton more attention than a typical lab or golden.

    But of course the biggest reasons are trainability and ease of handling. Border collies, cattle dogs, aussies, and other herding breeds are insanely smart and could learn service dog tasks easily. But the fact of the matter is many clients can simply not handle them in terms of exercise requirements and general handling skills. Many people applying for service dogs have never owned a dog before and I'm sure you know how challenging it can be to own such an intelligent breed.

    Non retriever breeds can be challenging to teach skills (although not impossible) plus they have to have that drive to really work for the client long past the food reward stage.

    I am not saying that only labs and goldens make great service dogs, on the contrary an individual of any breed or mix can be fantastic for the right person. But overall those breeds have the highest chances of success for the widest range of individuals. I'm not a lab or golden fan either though :)
  11. running_dog Honored Member

    I'm not sure why we get so breed focussed. I know lots of dogs of traditional service dog breeds that would be totally unsuitable as service dogs (including the labrador I have already mentioned that was a guide dog). In my personal opinion there are several disadvantages to using labradors.

    :(People know they are friendly, and often go out of their way to distract or pet them while they are working. Labradors ARE friendly so they often let themselves get distracted by these people.

    :(Labradors have a relatively short working life, they are prone to certain health problems, and have a tendancy to become overweight.

    :(A labrador's god is his belly. While this makes them easy to train it also makes them easy to un-train, eg/ family members feed the dog thereby undermining the relationship between dog and owner. Also some of them do go on hoovering up throughout their lives (and sicking it all back up over their owners).

    :(A labrador is often a family dog rather than one person dog. This can make it very difficult to maintain a strong owner/dog bond in ordinary family life.

    :(The labrador breed was not generated as a caring breed, shepherding and guarding breeds are far more likely to understand that they have a responsibility towards their owner's well-being. I know that some labs DO get this but others don't.

    :(I understand that labradors used as assistance and guide dogs in the UK are bred not to bond strongly with an owner as they change hands so many times between kennels, puppy walkers, trainers and their final owner. I think this undermines some of their effectiveness.

    :(Limiting the choice of service dog breeds primarily to labradors and the like is a bit like saying that nearly everyone with a disability is the same. Each of the "problems" (as well as the many good reasons for using labradors) I have listed above would assume greater or lesser importance in different people's lives. Some people WOULD like a "scary" dog because it saves them having to socialise and stops people spitting at them in the street. If someone just needs a guide to get to work and back a greyhound might do, if you need 100% attention all day to fetch and carry and do then a border collie might fit the bill. There is not a one size fits all solution, we tell people to choose a dog that fits their life style, why on earth would we assume that a lab or other traditional service dog breed will fit the lifestyle of every person who needs a service dog?

    So while if looking for a breed to train I think it does always come back to a handful (for the reasons given clearly by Fickla) and the labrador is at the top of the pile, there is a place for individual dogs of other breeds. I think that if I was looking to train service dogs I'd keep an open mind as to breed. I'd go to a rescue centre and look for dogs (pedigree or mutt) that COULD live as ordinary pets but would like to do something more.
  12. jackienmutts Honored Member

    Well said, running dog!!!
  13. reveuse Well-Known Member

    I like what you said running dog! I know several service dogs in various stages at the moment. A labradoodle, a schipperke puppy (in training to replace a ten yr old one) for a teen with autism, and a three yr old four pound maltese who among many things alerts his owner to oncoming asthma attacks. Each one has a different skill set and personality based on the owners particular needs.

    So maybe depending on what type of service dogs u want to produce , it would decide or narrow down the appropriate breed....
  14. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    Ugh, after my computer troubles I've been soooo busy. It's so easy to get behind on all these posts!! I'm lost!

    Anyway....
    Lexy:
    As far as I have always known, "SERVICE" dogs is a general term for guide, assistance, austism, etc etc etc...dogs. That's what I've always been told. I personally am interested in assistance dog training, specifically. Dogs trained to assist the paraplegic/quadraplegic. Pick up things, open doors, etc.

    Thanks for the info on sighthounds being lazy. ^^ Definitely loses them some points.
    Fickla, well put. Definitely not going to put my own desires above the needs of the potential clients, really just brainstorming right now as to what other breeds could be used. I do think Pitties could be excellent assistance dogs, but I do know that it would be extremely difficult to find willing clients, and they would have a greater probability of issues with the general public. If the world were not so judgemental, using Pits for assistance dogs would be wonderful for their reputation...but then again, if the world were not so judgemental, they wouldn't have a bad rap in the first place.

    I think Rotties could also be excellent service dogs. Very devoted, smart, not too high strung for the job(typically), large enough for just about any physical task, and highly trainable. Dobies I'm just not entirely sure of. I think they may be too high strung, for a person needing an assistance dog anyway. ????
    I do know that I do not want to use Poodles, simply because of grooming needs. If the person were to be physically incapable of brushing the dog as much as it really needed, then the dog would be subjected to mats which to lead to other skin problems, simply because its handler could not care for it. Plus the cost of taking a dog to a groomer....just doesn't seem like a win-win for anyone to me. I think YoYoPoodle(Jillian) has some kind of program where dogs from her facility get groomed by her or something, which is excellent, but not everyone has that kind of capability.
    I do have a fondness for Goldens, and I know they are excellent candidates for the job. I have seen lots of Labs that are great assistance/guide/etc dogs. To be 100% honest, I have never ever ever met a well-bred Lab here, so I don't think I have ever known a good example of the breed. Like I said, owning a Lab is like owning a pencil. Everyone has one or has had one at some time in their life. I have met a couple of "field" labs, but a field lab and a companion-type Lab are two entirely different dogs, in build and in personality. So I really just don't know what a "real" Lab is like, from personal experience. I only know what I have read, and what I've learned from working with poorly bred Labs here.

    In Texas, it seems to me the only dogs that really have an absolutely terrible rap is the Pit Bull. People throw their children at Labs, Goldens(oh look, like Air Bud! Bah.), often GSDs... Dobies aren't always welcomed with open arms, but people don't seem deathly afraid of them. People sometimes react with a little hesitation towards Rotties, but only due to their size--large, muscular dogs with huge blocky heads, and typically, a big toothy smile. :) But walk into a public place with a Pit Bull and it's like you have a deadly disease and should be quarantined. Some people point and whisper, some people observe cautiously, and then the smart few simply watch the dog's behavior and talk with the owner before deciding anything about the dog. Personally, I treat Pits just like any other dog....depending on the dog's behavior, ask owner, then pet--or don't, depending on whether or not dog is comfortable. Really, the general public here has every reason to fear the Pit....I would bet that less that one percent of Pit owners here actually knew what they were getting into and devoted the time necessary to keep their Pitty happy, healthy, and sound, just like any other dog. The other 99% are idiots wanting a "scary" dog and often do in fact end up with a scary dog. Low and behold, people fear the Pit. Such a lovely dog in educated hands, people just don't see.

    Anyway...definitely will put the needs of the person first, but just would like to see another breed used, especially since there are others that would be wonderful for it. I am sure that my favorites will be the rescues, when I get to that point in my career. Saving dogs saving people. :) A win-win-win for everyone involved, including the dog.
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  15. abby_someone Well-Known Member

    I agree Cowgirl. A dog is really a reflection on its owner (most of the time). I would really like to see the Pit Bull get a better image. I only see them in the scary capacity here, but I know they make great pets. AND they are strong in body and spirit. I think you are right, they would make excellent service dogs.

    Seeing a Pitty in a service capacity would help that breed considerably, but you would have to get past the dog breed bans. And who would believe that a Pitty could wear a service dog vest for real. Aren't they all just mad killer type dogs? People are really narrow minded generalists.
    JoAnne likes this.
  16. running_dog Honored Member

    Any thoughts on the Hungarian Vizsla as a service dog? They tick a lot of the right boxes but may be too high energy.
  17. Lexy88 Well-Known Member

    Id vote for Vizlas. My boss used to breed them, still has one left. The ones I knew werent too high energy. Lovely friendly dogs.(y)
  18. fickla Experienced Member

    They may not be too high energy but I would think they need to be very well socialized. I love the breed but they can be shy and more easily startled.
  19. running_dog Honored Member

    Thanks fickla, I didn't know that. Maybe it depends a little on the bloodline? Either that or the one I know is the exception that proves the rule, she is VERY bouncy, a bit like a Tigger :ROFLMAO:, she greets everybody by hurtling towards them them, taking off and licking their faces during the fly past. I know that this isn't really a desirable attribute in a service dog :D but I think that if she had a job to do she'd be much more settled - she is very inquiring and the devil finds work for idle paws, as it is she hasn't had much training at all and she's only just starting to calm down at 6 years old.
  20. tx_cowgirl Honored Member

    In general Vizslas are too high energy, I think. Finding enough calm ones well-suited for the job would probably be a chore in itself. Funny that they are shy and easily started, being that they were initially intended for hunting purposes. Who knew? :rolleyes:
    I'm thinking Rotties might be the way to go, if not the Labs or Goldens. Rotties, in Texas at least, are not generally associated with child-killers by the public; they have a fairly good reputation. Any fear of them is mostly just because they are large, muscular, big-headed dogs, usually wearing a big toothy grin. :) They are smart, trainable, typically fairly calm, devoted, and large enough for any physical task a service dog may need to do. I've been thinking about this a lot, and I can't see why Rotties aren't used a lot. They seem to fit perfectly. Am I missing something here? I've known lots of Rotties, of various personalities, and they all had those traits. I've pretty much decided that when I go to Bergin University in Cali, I will probably be getting a Rottie to go through this schooling, which will help me determine how suitable they really are for it. Of course, I can't say that that one dog is how all Rotties will be as assistance dogs, but it will give me some insight. Basically the Assistance Dog Program in Cali is you have a dog, and you learn about training and working with assistance dogs by going through the program with that one dog. By the end, you have a fully trained service dog and know how to train and place assistance dogs. The dog can either be yours, or actually be intended for placement.

    Anyway....any one see any obvious cons with using Rotties? Any other breed suggestions? General input? If Labs or Goldens were to end up being the obvious out-in-front candidate, then certainly I would use them for the sake of the people needing assistance dogs. That is still quite a few years away, so it's not like I'll be doing this tomorrow, lol.

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