On the subject of high-maintenance dogs, the German Shepherd might not be among the first breeds…
There was a time when service dogs were mostly guide dogs and virtually all of them were German Shepherds. Nowadays, a wide variety of breeds assist individuals with all types of disabilities.
If you are wondering whether German Shepherds are still good service dogs, this article will discuss the factors that can make German Shepherds ideal service dogs in detail.
Are German Shepherds Good Service Dogs?
Yes, German Shepherds are good service dogs. In fact, they are among the most common breeds trained to assist individuals with various physical or mental challenges. However, the suitability of each dog really depends on their individual personality, their training, and the disability they’re expected to assist with.
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs are canines that have been trained to provide assistance to or perform certain tasks for people with disabilities. These disabilities can be in the form of physical or mental conditions.
To qualify as a service animal, dogs must do work that relates directly to the person’s disability.
For example, the dogs of visually impaired people can only be considered as service dogs (specifically called guide dogs or seeing-eye dogs) if they help their humans navigate their environment and enable mobility as well as independence.
Otherwise, the dog is merely a pet and will not be afforded the same privileges as a service animal (ex., being allowed to enter a public space where dogs are otherwise prohibited).
What Factors Make German Shepherd Good Service Dogs?
The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most versatile breeds. People all over the world do not just love them as personal companions but also rely on them to perform various types of work.
As assistance dogs, they are particularly suitable because of the following typically GSD attributes:
German Shepherds are built to be big dogs and grow up to be sturdy. When partnered with people with physical disabilities, this large-built body can be incredibly useful for providing stability or assistance with certain movements.
German Shepherds are typically aloof. This is an especially useful trait for service dogs whose attention must be focused on their humans. They also tend to be calm and even-tempered dogs when properly trained and socialized.
GSDs are known for their superior intelligence. This makes them relatively easy to train for specific tasks. Additionally, they can be taught to perform those tasks at every command and with precision and accuracy.
German Shepherds have a remarkable work drive. They are eager to please, are most fulfilled when working, and are not easily distracted.
These characteristics make them excellent service animals, especially for people with physical disabilities.
GSDs are loyal dogs. They are able to form deep bonds with their handlers, who they will instinctively protect against perceived threats.
This loyalty gives their humans a good sense of security. German shepherds also provide incredible affection, which helps address feelings of loneliness and isolation that often comes with being differently-abled.
What Factors DO NOT Make German Shepherds Good Service Dogs?
Although the German Shepherd breed has an excellent combination of traits to assist people with disabilities, the suitability of an individual dog depends on a number of factors. This includes their unique personality, socialization, and training.
Generally, the following factors affect a GSD’s ability to become a good service dog:
By nature, German Shepherds are active both physically and mentally. They need plenty of exercise as well as opportunities to use their mental faculties and natural abilities. Otherwise, they might develop destructive habits.
This characteristic might not be useful for someone whose disability will get in the way of providing the GSD a means to be mentally and physically stimulated.
German Shepherds are headstrong and confident. They need to be raised and managed by a firm handler. Otherwise, they may become stubborn and develop demanding behavior to get their way.
If your disability will keep you from providing firm leadership, a GSD might not be your best choice.
Without proper socialization, German Shepherds can develop fear-based anxiety or aggression towards certain environments, people, and other animals.
It is critical that they get plenty of exposure as puppies so that they may develop the confidence and social skills to interact properly with their environment.
Without proper training and socialization, German Shepherds could become overprotective of their handlers. This might lead to antagonistic behavior, like barking or lunging when others approach their humans.
Such dogs will be difficult to control, especially for people with physical disabilities.
Under the ADA, What Qualifies a Dog as a Service Dog?
According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a dog can only qualify as a service animal if they are trained to perform tasks for people with either physical or mental disabilities.
An animal in the mere presence of a disabled individual is not necessarily a service dog. It must serve a specific function that is directly related to the individual’s disability.
For example, a service dog will assist a person with an anxiety disorder by sensing an impending attack, bringing medication, or providing pressure and stimulation to avoid emotional overload.
If the animal provides comfort merely by being present, they would be classified as an emotional support animal, which is not afforded the same privileges as a service dog.
What Disabilities or Reasons Can You Use a Service Dog for?
Service dogs are useful for both physical challenges (ex., blindness, multiple sclerosis, seizures) and mental disabilities (ex., post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, psychotic disorders).
To qualify for a service animal, a person must first have a condition that qualifies as a disability according to the ADA.
What Type of Training Should a GSD Have to Become a Service Dog?
A service animal must be trained specifically to address the needs of their handler. According to the ADA, service dogs need not be professionally trained, as their handlers should have the right to provide training themselves.
However, it is highly recommended that a German Shepherd be selected and trained by a professional specializing in service dogs before being turned over to a disabled handler.
Because of their size, strength, and drive, German Shepherds can be a handful. Selecting a GSD for service should begin at puppyhood.
After a stringent selection process, the puppy must receive obedience training and proper socialization.
They must be well behaved in all scenarios and must have the right temperament to interact properly with other people and animals. Only then should they receive training to assist with their handler’s specific disability.
How Long Does it Take to Train a German Shepherd to be a Service Dog?
German Shepherds are among the world’s most intelligent and trainable breeds. Even so, it could take 1-2 years to train them to become suitable service animals.
This is because they need to be taught not just to address their handler’s specific needs but also to have proper manners for public access.
Additionally, training is a continuous process. A GSD will qualify as a service dog at a certain point in their training.
However, their training will continue as they develop stronger bonds with their humans who will inevitably rely on them increasingly throughout their service.
Are German Shepherds Good Psychiatric Service Dogs?
Yes, German Shepherds can be good psychiatric service dogs. In fact, many people rely on this breed for a variety of mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
However, not all GSDs are equally suitable. Every dog must be evaluated, selected, and trained to ensure they can meet the specific needs of their handler.
Are German Shepherds Good Service Dogs for Anxiety?
Yes, German Shepherds can be good service dogs for anxiety. Due to their intelligence and keen senses, GSDs are quick to pick up signals of an impending anxiety attack and can easily be taught to respond accordingly.
Their response will depend on what works best for their handler.
Some psychiatric assistance dogs are taught to provide pressure by laying on top of their handler while others are trained to retrieve medication or a phone for easy access to support.
Nevertheless, a GSD’s suitability would depend on the individual dog as well as the specific tasks they are expected to perform.
Can German Shepherds be Both Service Dogs and Family Dogs?
Generally, it is not recommended for a service dog to also be a family pet. Although German Shepherds can be taught to co-exist with other family members, they need to develop the strongest bond and loyalty to the person they are assisting.
That means they must prefer to be in the presence of their handler and follow their commands above anyone else’s. Treating them as a family pet will be confusing and will interfere with their value as assistance animals.
Their solid build combined with their intelligence, work drive, and tendency to bond with a single person makes German Shepherds an excellent breed to use as service dogs. However, the individual dog’s personality and temperament need to be carefully considered before training them to assist persons with disabilities.