When living with a disability, it can be life-changing to have an animal companion by your side to help guide you through day-to-day life. There is a range of disabilities that can be easier to manage with the support of a canine companion, from vision and hearing impairments to psychiatric conditions and even mobility problems. On top of the physical support they can offer, dogs of any description can also support their owner’s mental well-being, providing companionship through their unconditional love and loyalty.
Depending on what you need from a service dog, certain breeds will be better suited to your lifestyle than others. In this guide, we will explore which breeds suit different people best, and discuss some of the important benefits these animal helpers can offer their owners.
Service dogs and their importance
Service dogs are incredible animals that play a vital role in the lives of people who face certain challenges with either their physical or mental health. These highly trained, specialist dogs are known for their unique skills in helping their owners to deal with various tasks, such as making them aware of sounds, leading them safely through traffic, and even providing comfort during stressful moments.
Despite their incredible abilities, many people still don’t understand just how crucial a part of their owners’ lives these animals can be. They not only provide vital and ongoing assistance but also love and companionship, making them an invaluable asset to those who need them most. It’s essential for everyone to recognize the significant role these dogs play and understand how we can have better, more useful interactions with them.
Breeds for mobility assistance
While lots of different dogs have the potential to be trained as mobility assistants, certain breeds are particularly suitable for this role. Due largely to their intelligence, physical attributes, and trainability, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are among the most commonly chosen breeds for people with mobility issues.
When trained, each of these breeds can become adept at performing a wide range of tasks that can help their owner navigate the challenges of daily life, from retrieving dropped items to pulling wheelchairs. However, as with any service dog, it’s important to remember that breed alone does not necessarily determine a dog’s suitability to perform the role – temperament, health, and training are also important factors to bear in mind.
Breeds for hearing assistance
For people living with severe hearing loss, an assistance dog can help serve as their ears, while also providing companionship. These dogs are trained to primarily help their owners to identify different sounds around the home, including doorbells, phone calls, alarm clocks, or smoke detectors. There are several requisite traits that hearing assistance dogs will need to have, including being alert, hard-working, and having a calm temperament. Some of the most common breeds who can be particularly effective in this role with the right training include Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers.
An effective assistance dog in this role can help to improve its owner’s confidence and sense of security when completing daily tasks. What’s more, dogs of any description are naturally excellent social facilitators and can help you to have more meaningful interactions with friends, family, and even strangers as your furry friend will happily act as an icebreaker in social situations.
Breeds for seeing assistance
Primarily, guide dogs are trained to help their owner with spacial awareness, to avoid bumping into things or other people. Due to the similar traits required, breeds that are best suited for mobility needs are also compatible with partially sighted or blind owners. That means German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors are most commonly employed as guide dogs.
While they each have their own unique personality traits and physical attributes, these breeds share a few things in common that make them suited to the role. As we alluded to above, they’re highly intelligent animals and are great at storing new information. In addition, their size stands each of them in good stead to protect a visually impaired handler, without being too large that they become awkward or difficult to walk with. They’re often also highly food-orientated, which makes them easier to train.
Breeds for mental health assistance
When it comes to mental health assistance, there is a far broader selection of breeds to choose from that can all fulfill the role. That’s because, by their very nature, dogs are all able to provide their owners with unwavering support simply by interacting with them. According to recent research, 87% of dog owners said that their furry friends have a mostly positive impact on their mental well-being.
But there are some breeds that are particularly adroit at providing their owner with some extra emotional support. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Yorkshire Terriers, and Corgis are just three examples of dogs that have the necessary personality traits to act as a source of mental health support. These traits include friendliness, playfulness, and confidence. Through physical touch, these dogs can help to ease anxiety or manage panic attacks, as well as provide reminders to take any medication. They can have a similarly positive effect on people living with depression, particularly through tactile therapy.
How to behave around service dogs
As a member of the public who may be unfamiliar with the specific behavioral traits of service dogs, it can be difficult to know how to interact with them and their owners. Generally, however approachable they may look, it’s often best to avoid interacting with them in any way. This includes giving them food, petting them, or allowing your own dog to play with them. However harmless a small interaction may seem, distracting the dog in this way can be very dangerous for the owner. And remember, even if it looks like they’re taking a rest or having a nap, they’re still on duty and you should still respect their space.
If you do want to interact with the animal or feel like the owner may need some assistance, it’s always best to speak with them first. Not only is it respectful to ask the owner before playing with their helper, but it will also prevent any situation from escalating, and avoid confusion on both sides.
Finding the perfect fit
Ultimately, finding the right dog requires careful research, consultation with experts, and a willingness to devote time and effort to training and caring for your new companion. Though it’s a big commitment and responsibility, the rewards for bringing a service dog into your life can be endless.
Related article: The Cost of Owning a Dog