Can Shelter Dogs Be SERVICE Dogs? (Best breeds)

There’s a lot of debate surrounding the topic of whether or not shelter dogs can be service dogs.

Some people believe that only purebred dogs can be service animals, while others think any dog can do the job.

But, can shelter dogs be service dogs?

In this blog post, we will explore both sides of the argument and also discuss how to determine if a shelter dog is right for you and your family.

What Are Service Dogs?

Service Dogs
Service dogs go through intense training in order to become certified.

Service dogs are specially trained to assist people with disabilities.

These dogs can perform a variety of tasks, such as opening doors, picking up dropped items, and providing balance assistance.

Service dogs are usually partnered with people who have physical disabilities, but they can also be trained to assist people who have invisible disabilities such as autism, PTSD, and seizure disorders.

Service dogs undergo an intense training regimen that teaches them how to respond to their partner’s specific needs.

In addition to their practical duties, service dogs also provide companionship and emotional support for their owners.

Thanks to their skillful training and dedicated work, service dogs improve the lives of countless people with disabilities every day.

Read our related article on the Best Dogs for Anxiety. If you suffer from panic or anxiety attacks, these lovable dogs are sensitive to your needs.

What Types of Dogs Make the Best Service Dogs?

Best Service Dogs
What Type Of Dogs Make The Best Service Dogs

Service dogs are increasingly being used to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities.

While any type of dog can be trained to provide some level of assistance, certain breeds are more commonly used as service dogs due to their special qualities.

For example, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are popular choices for service dogs due to their gentle dispositions and eagerness to please their owners.

German Shepherds and Brindle Shepherd Dogs are other popular breeds for service dogs, as they are highly intelligent and easily trained.

Regardless of the specific breed, all service dogs must undergo extensive training to perform their duties effectively.

As a result, choosing the right dog for the job is essential to ensure that the service dog can meet the needs of the individual.

Read More: Do Dogs Get Killed in Shelters? Yes (in some shelters). We lay out the facts about euthanasia in dog shelters in this guide.

Best Dog Breeds for Service Work

Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but not all breeds are equally well-suited for the job.

When choosing a service dog, it’s important to consider the dog’s personality, energy level, trainability, and health.

The following dogs make the best service dogs:

  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Shetland Sheepdogs

These dogs are often used as service dogs because they are intelligent and easy to train.

Smaller breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Poodles are also sometimes used as service dogs because of their low shedding coats.

This is especially helpful for people with allergies.

Ultimately, any breed of dog can make a great service dog if they have the right personality and training.

Read More: Why Are So Many Chihuahuas in Shelters Today? Chihuahuas are often surrendered to animal shelters. We explore the potential causes in this guide.

How to Train Service Dogs

Train Service
Depending on the disability, training a service dog to be a reliable helping hand can take months of training – sometimes even years!

The specific duties of a service dog vary depending on the needs of the individual.

Common tasks include:

  • Helping with balance
  • Providing support when walking
  • Picking up things that have been dropped
  • Providing visual assistance for those who are blind or have low vision
  • Acting as a calming presence during anxiety attacks or episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder

Working to train a rescue dog is a lengthy and complex process that requires considerable patience and skill.

But the very first step is to select a suitable dog.

Once a suitable dog has been selected, the next step is to begin basic obedience training.

This will lay the foundation for more advanced training later on.

Once the dog has mastered the basic obedience commands, it can then begin to learn disability-specific tasks.

This process can take months or even years, depending on the complexity of the desired tasks.

With proper training, any dog has the potential to become a life-changing service animal.

Read More: Can You Find Puppies at Shelters? Believe it or not, some shelters do see litters! We cover puppy adoption in this guide!

Can Shelter Dogs Be Service Dogs?

Service dogs are a vital resource for many people with disabilities, providing them with independence, assistance, and companionship.

While most service dogs are bred and trained specifically for the job, it’s also possible to adopt an adult shelter dog and train them to be a service dog.

Interestingly, research suggests that there may be some benefits to choosing a shelter dog over a purpose-bred service dog.

One study found that people who adopted their service dogs were more likely to report higher levels of satisfaction with their pets than those who purchased a purpose-bred dog.

Additionally, people who adopted their service dogs tended to have a stronger bond with their pets, as evidenced by higher levels of attachment.

Finally, people who adopted their service dogs were more likely to say that their dog added meaning and purpose to their life.

While there are some challenges associated with adopting an adult shelter dog and training them to be a service dogs, the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks.

If you are considering adding a service dog to your life, adoption should not be overlooked as an option.

Not only will you be giving a dog in need a loving home, but you may also end up with a stronger bond and a more satisfying dog-owner relationship.

Here’s a great video from Medical Mutts, an organization that turns shelter dogs into service dogs:

Read More: Can I Volunteer to Walk Dogs? If you want to help your local shelter dogs, walking them is a great way to socialize them! 

Advantages of Adopting a Service Dog From a Shelter

There are several advantages to adopting a service dog from a shelter.

  • First, it can be cheaper than purchasing a purpose-bred dog.
  • Second, you may have more control over the adoptive process and be able to choose a dog that is already housebroken and knows basic obedience commands.
  • Third, by adopting an adult shelter dog, you can assess their personality and energy level to see if they would be a good fit for service work.
  • Finally, adopting a shelter dog can provide a great sense of satisfaction, knowing that you have saved a life and given them a second chance.

Read More: Do Animal Shelters Put Dogs to Sleep? Kill shelters will euthanize dogs. Here’s why and how.

Disadvantages of Adopting a Service Dog From a Shelter

While there are some advantages to adopting a service dog from a shelter, there are also some disadvantages.

  • First, it can be more challenging to find a dog that meets all of the necessary criteria for service work.
  • And second, adult shelter dogs may have behavior issues that need to be addressed before they can begin training.

Read More: How Long Do Shelters Keep Lost Dogs? If you’ve recently lost your dog, you may wonder how long shelters will keep them before putting them up for adoption. We give answers here!


So, can shelter dogs be service dogs? Yes!

Research suggests that these dogs can be more emotionally intelligent and caring and you can form a stronger bond with an adopted shelter dog.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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