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German Shepherds as Service Dogs: A Complete Guide

Categorized as Working & Service Roles
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German Shepherds are one of the most popular dog breeds chosen as service dogs. Their intelligence, trainability, protective nature and eagerness to work make them excellent candidates for a variety of service dog jobs. This comprehensive guide will provide key information on German Shepherds as service dogs – from their suitability to training methods.

Key Takeaways

  1. German Shepherds make excellent service dogs due to traits like intelligence, trainability, protective instinct, eagerness to work, and public confidence.
  2. Common jobs for German Shepherds include guide dog, hearing dog, seizure alert dog, mobility assistance dog, allergen detection dog, and psychiatric service dog.
  3. Obtaining a fully-trained German Shepherd from an accredited organization provides the best results but has high costs and long waitlists.
  4. Owner training a German Shepherd puppy as a service dog takes 1-2 years but allows customization to your unique needs.
  5. Early and extensive socialization/training, heavy public manners work, solid obedience, and task-specific training are key to developing a German Shepherd service dog.
  6. German Shepherd mixes can succeed as service dogs with proper breeding selection and training. Avoid mixing with aloof/stubborn breeds.
  7. Partnering with professional service dog trainers is highly recommended to properly train your own German Shepherd service dog.

An Overview of Service Dogs

Before diving into the specifics of German Shepherds, let’s first understand what service dogs are.

Service dogs are working dogs that are specially trained to help people with disabilities or special needs. They live with their handlers full-time and accompany them everywhere.

Some common types of service dogs include:

  • Guide dogs – Help visually impaired people navigate their environment.
  • Hearing dogs – Alert those with hearing loss to important sounds.
  • Mobility dogs – Assist with balance, retrieve items, open doors etc. for those with mobility issues.
  • Seizure alert/response dogs – Sense oncoming seizures and get help or provide comfort during a seizure.
  • Psychiatric service dogs – Help people with mental illnesses like PTSD, anxiety, depression etc.
  • Diabetic alert dogs – Detect and alert their handler to changes in blood sugar levels.
  • Allergen detection dogs – Warn those with severe allergies about the presence of allergens.

Service dogs undergo extensive specialized training tailored to their handler’s needs. Their services are invaluable to those with disabilities.

What Makes German Shepherds Excellent Service Dogs

Now that we know what service dogs are, let’s look at why German Shepherds make such great service animals.

Obedience

Obedience is the most fundamental quality in any service dog. German Shepherds have been selectively bred for their willingness to follow human commands promptly and precisely. With proper training, they will obey their handler reliably in any situation.

Protective Nature

German Shepherds are known for being protective of their family and home. This trait translates into protecting and watching over their handler. Their presence provides a sense of security.

Strength and Good Health

These large, sturdy dogs have the physical strength and stamina required for mobility and retrieval work. They are an overall vigorous breed with few major health issues.

Intelligence and Trainability

German Shepherds are highly intelligent, ranking 3rd among dog breeds. Combined with their eagerness to please, this makes them easily trainable. They excel at learning specialized skills.

Confidence in Public

Well-bred and socialized German Shepherds are confident in public settings and chaotic environments. They remain focused on their handler despite distractions.

Loyalty and Bonding

This breed forms strong bonds with their owner. They are devoted companions that faithfully work for and protect their human.

In summary, German Shepherds have the right combination of traits – intelligence, trainability, confidence and loyalty – that allow them to successfully serve people with disabilities.

Jobs Suitable for a German Shepherd Service Dog

Thanks to their versatility, German Shepherds can fill a number of different service dog roles:

Guide Dogs

Their trainability, confidence and bonding make German Shepherds well-suited to guide blind or visually impaired people. They navigate routes, avoid obstacles, stop at curbs and respond to voice commands.

Hearing Dogs

German Shepherds can alert those with hearing loss to sounds like alarms, doorbells, crying babies, timers etc. Their protectiveness ensures they get their handler’s attention.

Seizure Alert/Response Dogs

With their keen sensing abilities, German Shepherds can detect oncoming seizures. During a seizure, they can get medication or the phone, block the handler from injury and give comfort.

Mobility Assistance Dogs

Their strength allows them to perform tasks like opening/closing doors, turning lights on/off, retrieving dropped items, and helping with balance and transfers.

Medical Alert Dogs

German Shepherds can be trained to detect medical crises like low blood sugar in diabetics or fainting episodes in those with heart conditions. They alert the person to take medication or get help.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Their comforting presence and ability to “interrupt” harmful behaviors makes German Shepherds ideal psychiatric service dogs for conditions like PTSD, anxiety, OCD, panic attacks etc.

Allergy Detection Dogs

With their strong scenting ability, German Shepherds can be trained to detect minute amounts of allergens and alert their allergy-prone handler to avoid exposure.

As seen above, German Shepherds can assist with vision, hearing, mobility, medical, and psychiatric disabilities thanks to their versatility.

Obtaining a German Shepherd Service Dog

If you need a service dog, there are a few options for obtaining a German Shepherd:

Get a Fully Trained Dog from an Organization

The most common way is to apply to an accredited service dog organization. They will assess your needs, breed/select a suitable German Shepherd puppy, raise and professionally train it for 1.5-2 years before matching it with you. This ensures you get a stable, well-prepared service dog.

However, this route can be expensive, with fees ranging from $15,000 to $50,000. Waitlists are long too, typically 1 to 3 years.

Top organizations that provide German Shepherd service dogs include:

Owner Training a Service Dog

Some people choose to train their own service dog to reduce costs and wait times. This is very demanding, requiring a 1-2 year commitment to teach the dog all necessary skills. German Shepherd puppies from health-tested, temperament-screened lines are ideal prospects for owner training.

You must invest substantial time into socialization, obedience, public access manners and task-specific training on a daily basis. Getting professional guidance from trainers is highly recommended.

The advantage is that your German Shepherd is customized to your unique needs. You also benefit from the special bond formed through training your own dog.

Getting an Organization Dog at Reduced Cost

Some organizations like Assistance Dogs International provide service dogs at lower costs or free of charge to qualified applicants who demonstrate financial need.

This offers the benefits of an expertly trained dog without the high price tag. However, waitlists are long due to high demand. Rigorous eligibility criteria must also be met.

Training a German Shepherd to be a Service Dog

Training a German Shepherd to properly behave as a service dog in public and perform specialized tasks takes dedication. Here are some tips:

Choose an Appropriate Candidate

Pick a German Shepherd from health-tested, temperament-screened lines. Puppies should come from parents with calm, friendly temperaments.

Start Training and Socialization Early

Expose the puppy to a wide variety of sights, sounds, people, animals and environments starting at 7-8 weeks old to increase confidence.

Focus on Public Access Manners

Train heavily on loose leash walking, ignoring distractions, settling calmly and avoiding jumping/nipping in public places.

Build a Solid Obedience Foundation

Train commands like sit, stay, down, come, heel and place. Proof these in many scenarios until the dog complies reliably off-leash.

Task-Specific Training

Once obedience skills are solid, train the German Shepherd on disability-related tasks using reward-based methods over many weeks or months.

Practice Everywhere

Take the German Shepherd service dog candidate everywhere – cafes, shops, transit, crowds etc. They must remain focused on you and not solicit attention.

Maintain Training

Obedience training and task skill maintenance should continue for the working life of your German Shepherd service dog.

Partnering with professional service dog trainers is highly recommended to properly develop your German Shepherd’s skills and public access manners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are male or female German Shepherds better for service work?

There is little difference in ability. Both genders make excellent service dogs if bred from appropriate lines and adequately trained. Females tend to be more independent. Males can be goofier and less serious when young.

Is it better to get an adult or puppy German Shepherd for a service dog?

Adult dogs from reputable organizations come fully trained, minimizing extra work for you. But trained adults are very costly. With a puppy, you save on costs but invest significantly more time into training.

Can German Shepherd mixes work as service dogs?

Purebred German Shepherds are ideal. However, mixes like German Shepherd/Lab or German Shepherd/Golden Retriever can also succeed with proper breeding selection and training. Avoid mixing with aloof or stubborn breeds.

Are German Shepherds suitable for psychiatric service dog work?

Yes, their loyalty and intuitive nature makes them excellent psychiatric service dogs for anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, and similar conditions. However, prior temperament screening is important.

How do I get public access rights for my German Shepherd service dog?

There is no formal certification required in the USA. After training your German Shepherd thoroughly on public manners, service dog etiquette gives them public access rights under the ADA.

Can I owner train my German Shepherd as my service animal?

You absolutely can. It requires a 1-2 year training commitment but lets you customize your service dog to your needs. Working with professional trainers is strongly advised.

Do German Shepherds make good service dogs for children?

German Shepherds tend to bond most deeply with one handler. So they may not be the best match for a young child’s service dog, as the parents will be heavily involved in care/handling.

Conclusion

German Shepherds possess an ideal combination of traits like intelligence, trainability, stamina and devotion that allow them to assist people with all kinds of disabilities. Their versatility suits them for guide, hearing, mobility, seizure alert and psychiatric service work.

Obtaining a fully trained German Shepherd through an accredited service dog organization provides the best results but has higher costs and wait times. Owner training a puppy incurs more effort but allows customization.

With dedication, German Shepherds can make life-changing service dogs by enhancing independence and quality of life.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.