Advice on choosing a service dog..

L

lizzie_802

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#1
Hi, I am in the process of choosing a possible breed for a service dog. I am teaming up with Shadow for Life to help train it.

I origionally wanted a german shepherd, However I think it would be too high energy for my lifestyle. I am currently thinking about a standard poodle, however most places point to a labrador being the best. I dont really like labradors but if they really are the best I would get one..

If it helps this is a list of tasks me and Shadows for Life have come up with so far, in addition to those, It would be trained to help with balance and fetching objects as sometimes I am limited to a wheelchair.

I have a daughter, and me and my fiance are planning for more children, also would like to have another dog and maybe a cat in the household as pets in the future after we move!

Thanks in advance..


Symptom Trainable Task(s)
Anxiety Tactile stimulation (Nuzzling at handler to be petted etc)

Social withdrawal/Reclusiveness Initiate interpersonal interaction, Initiate activity outside the home

Feeling overwhelmed Guide handler to a safe place, vehicle or family member

Hypervigilance Search home for intruders

Flashbacks/Nightmares Tactile stimulation, Grounding, Alert family to flashback to come and assist handler

Halluciantions after flashback Trained to go and greet any person his handler points at, on command. The man points at the intruder and instructs the dog to "go say hi." The dog moves in the direction indicated, but can find no person to greet, so he returns to his handler. The handler now knows the person he sees is a hallucination

Startle response Stand between handler and others, Alert to prescence of others

Emotional escalation Alert to escalation, Tactile stimulation, Lead to safer place to help calm the handler

Behavioural cues Alert to dissociative episode

Dissociation Interrupt by alerting, tactile stimulation, distracting with another task

Self Harm Interrupt by alerting or tactile stimulation or offering alternative activities such as bringing a brush to groom the dog

Nightmares Wake up handler

Dissociative Haze Guide home, to safe place, or to family member

Wake incase of smoke alarm etc as often dissociate while asleep and hard to rouse

OCD Behaviour Alert and interrupt with alternative task, such as bringing brush to groom the dog

Dizziness, blackout vision Provide support and grounding until the episode passes
 

Saeleofu

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#2
My advice is to not look for a particular breed, but look for a particular dog.

I spent AGES trying to settle on a breed for my SD. I eventually settled on a standard poodle. Except then this nice smooth collie came along and he was everything I was looking for in an SD. So I took him, and he's now well on his way to being an SD. I had NEVER considered a collie before, but he's an incredibly good match.

The other thing to do is talk to your trainer. Your trainer needs to help you choose a dog - they are the ones with the most experience in training a dog and know what to look for in a dog. You can't take just any dog and turn it into a service dog. Even in the most common SD breeds - lab and golden - you have to select a dog with the specific characteristics that make it a good service dog, or at least the potential to be a service dog (since even the best candidate can wash out for one reason or another).
 
L

lizzie_802

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#3
I totally see what your saying, And im definately not going to pin down "I can ONLY have this breed" , if I find another dog who fits me perfectly, fabby. But I just would like a general idea of what dogs to look for/at with regard to what I need
 

Romy

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#4
Your list of tasks is extremely similar to what my dog is trained to do.

Originally I had wanted a german shepherd as well. We had a german shepherd as a companion, and after someone stole her ended up fostering a couple more. That is when we noticed a potential problem with using them as service dogs for the type of work you're talking about.

They're very handler focused, which makes them excellent. I've noticed they (and a lot of other herding breed dogs) tend to feed off their handler's emotions. The shepherds that we fostered had that typical GSD "I love my handler so much I'm going to stare at them endlessly and oh my gosh I wanna BE them!!!" attitude. It's great if you need a mobility assist dog. It's a problem if you have emotional difficulties. When I got anxious. My dog got anxious. Then she'd start searching for the source of my anxiety. Since it was coming from PTSD, there were no obvious external triggers to her. Instead she'd latch on to whatever was happening at the time (the mailman coming, a car driving by, neighbor cat on the windowsill, etc.) and she'd think, "I'm going to get rid of that horrible thing that's distressing you!!!" She became extremely reactive to all sorts of random things that had nothing to do with my PTSD and triggers, because she happened to notice them when I was anxious.

You can imagine that would be a huge problem in the type of service dog you are looking for.

The best kind of dog for what you're looking for is handler oriented, AND emotionally independent. It is possible to find that in a herding breed. I think overall, a rough or smooth collie is more likely to have that independent streak than a german shepherd but they are all individuals in the end.

Sael's advice to look for an individual dog vs. a breed is sound. After all that, I ended up with a borzoi for my service dog which is soooo not what I expected. :rofl1: He's more handler oriented than a typical borzoi, but has a very strong independent streak that is exactly what I needed in a dog. When I'm having an episode and think there's bad guys breaking in, he just sort of rolls his eyes at me instead of flipping out at random things like the shepherd did. He's an extremely reliable worker and excellent for grounding me in reality vs. feeding into the non reality in my head.

If you're thinking in terms of breed it should be more along the lines of health and longevity than because of a general breed temperament. Collies and labs are typically healthy if you make sure to get them from a breeder who health screens (check for OFA listings on them and their ancestors, not just vet checks). They live a decently long time (over 10 years typically). My borzoi has worked out extremely well, and for a giant breed they are pretty long lived (12-14 years) and don't have nearly as many health problems as danes, most mastiffs, irish wolfhounds, etc. Some other sporting dogs might be gordon setter, and spinone italiono would probably do very well.
 

NicoleLJ

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#5
Romy and Sael's advice is excellent. Though I personally would not totally write the GSD off your list. I have a WGSD as my Service dog and she does many of the tasks you listed and then some. She is very attentive to me but when I am experiencing anxiety and so on she doesn't look for outside reasons. She was trained not to. Instead she follows my training of her and responds as her training dictates. But not all GSD's will be like this. It is all in the breeding, socialization, personality of the dog, training and so many other factors. I don't think either of them was excluding the GSD, I think they were just saying it might be easier to find a dog with the traits you are desiring in other breeds. As they both said keep your mind open to many breeds. It is the dog its self that is the most important. Not the breed. Good luck
 

RD

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#6
What Romy and Sael said is spot on. Especially Romy's bit about how dogs like GSDs might feed off of your anxiety.

I have a border collie who performs many of the tasks you listed for me. Border collies are very handler oriented, but my dog still keeps a cool head when she needs to do her job. You can pick literally any breed to work with you, as long as your individual dog is up to handle the tasks.

Collies (not borders or bearded, just rough and smooth) are a terrific choice, IMO. They are calm, level-headed workers with a bit of an independent streak, much more so than german shepherds, aussies or border collies.
 

Skivvies

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#7
Romy, I was going to say borzoi as well. Through my work, I've met veterans who have borzoi service dogs to help them with PTSD. From what I've heard, they're good at staying calm when the handler is anxious.

Good luck in your search!
 

AdrianneIsabel

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#8
I have noticed my malinois, not gsd but still a shepherd, feeds off my anxiety far more than my apbt. Something to definitely consider and a good reason why many with anxiety based service needs often lean towards a more stoic, less handler sensitive breed.

Good luck!
 

Romy

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Romy, I was going to say borzoi as well. Through my work, I've met veterans who have borzoi service dogs to help them with PTSD. From what I've heard, they're good at staying calm when the handler is anxious.

Good luck in your search!
I wonder if they came from the same program Strider came from. He was the pilot dog for an org that supplies borzoi service dogs to veterans with PTSD. :)
 

Skivvies

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I wonder if they came from the same program Strider came from. He was the pilot dog for an org that supplies borzoi service dogs to veterans with PTSD. :)
Operation Wolfhound? My workplace also puts together a veterans newsletter and they wrote an article about them. The group was featured on Dogs 101 recently too.
 

Romy

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Operation Wolfhound? My workplace also puts together a veterans newsletter and they wrote an article about them. The group was featured on Dogs 101 recently too.
Awesome! Yeah, that's the one. He's the brindle dog with the blue vest on their homepage.
 

Kat09Tails

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#12
Halluciantions after flashback Trained to go and greet any person his handler points at, on command. The man points at the intruder and instructs the dog to "go say hi." The dog moves in the direction indicated, but can find no person to greet, so he returns to his handler. The handler now knows the person he sees is a hallucination
Normally I would be in agreement that breed does not matter - it's 100% job ability but the above makes me think that in this case breed might matter a little. Let's face it - some dogs - some breeds have an intimidation factor that may make the public in general a little uneasy about this kind of function. You are asking them after all to accept your dog and say Hi. Being approached by a GSD with intent is not the same as being approached by lab with intent to Joe Blow and his wife.

I think your dog exists out there. I would personally however be very conscious of how my dog might appear to a stranger in this situation along with sharpness to pick up what you are asking of it along with the ability to work independently but also referencing the handler frequently.

I would be looking in a couple different directions if I were you. I would be looking at medium size dogs that are a little bit cute - a little sharp (sharp being the ability to pick up and act upon small queues) - and *highly* trainable. The breeds that come to mind to me are australian shepherds, a small yellow lab, cattle dogs, Tollers, and springer spaniels.
 

Zoom

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#13
I've got Sawyer trained to "Go say hi", which is his cue to go greet strangers. Otherwise, he is to stay by my side. He's not a service dog, this was just a polite greeting behavior I taught him. It's not that hard and it would work well in this situation. If I was telling him to go say hi to "nothing", then he'd give me this funny look like "really? you sure?"

Aussies are really tuned into their handlers, but can retain independent streaks, dependent on training.
 
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#14
I would suggest talking with Suzanne Clothier and attending one of her seminars.

Here is her website: http://www.suzanneclothier.com/
Her book: Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs
She also breeds German Shepherds and has extensive experience with service dogs, training, etc. etc. Her kennel name is Hawks Hunt German Shepherds.
 

NicoleLJ

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#15
I've got Sawyer trained to "Go say hi", which is his cue to go greet strangers. Otherwise, he is to stay by my side. .
This is what Sheena is trained to do as well. On command she will greet people. For us the command is "Go Visit". If the command is not given then she will not leave my side when in vest. When the vest is off she will look at me first and if I don't say anything then she will go visit with various people. People on my weekly darts team and the opposing teams love this. As we play Sheena stays by my side and ignores everyone. When darts is over both teams know I will take Sheena outside, remove her vest and then she gets to visit with anyone who wants to pet her. And that is usually everyone. lol They love her at darts.
 

Red Chrome

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#16
I have noticed my malinois, not gsd but still a shepherd, feeds off my anxiety far more than my apbt. Something to definitely consider and a good reason why many with anxiety based service needs often lean towards a more stoic, less handler sensitive breed.

Good luck!
I have Judge who is a GSD and what Adrianne said completely fits him. He feeds off my anxiety and it has really affected our trialing. I get really nervous at competitions and trials and he feeds off that bad. Whereas my APBT doesn't feed off my anxiety and thus we have and are doing some awesome things.
 

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