German Shepherds are known throughout the world as hard-working, industrious partners. Their breed originated only about 120 years ago in Germany as indicated by their breed’s name. German Shepherds were originally developed as a breed for herding and guarding sheep, but recently we have seen German Shepherds working in a number of different professions ranging from therapeutic service animals who help their owners in high anxiety situations to combat veterans who work and fight alongside the armed forces.
Despite their increasing fame and notoriety as strong working dogs who are building a successful history alongside their human partners, the German Shepherd breed has also seen its share of negative press. So, should German Shepherds be eligible to be service dogs?
Well, first, what exactly is a service dog? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that a service dog is any dog that has been trained to complete work or tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. This can include physical, psychiatric, sensory, and intellectual.
Given this definition, it seems simple enough that any breed, including German Shepherds, can qualify to be a service dog, provided that they have received the proper training, but should just any breed be used in any given scenario, or are certain breeds better suited for specific issues?
While German Shepherds can make amazing partners, it is important that we as owners find them jobs that are suitable to their breed’s characteristics. German Shepherds have been bred to be a strong, intelligent, and furiously loyal breed that exemplifies a number of characteristics that are required to become a service dog.
These include obedience, high degrees of strength, such as in the case of a physically disabled individual needing to use their service dog to maneuver themselves, a good sense of smell, high activity level to match their owner’s everyday life, hardworking, friendly, and protective.
While friendly and protective are considered good qualities for service dogs they tend to need further explanation as they should be seen as the two sides of the ability to discern an individual’s nature and threat. In many situations, service dogs need to be capable of identifying individuals their owner greets with trust and extending the paw of friendship, while simultaneously identifying individuals their owners view with suspicion and acting accordingly to the threat.
Given these innate characteristics of their breed, it seems more reasonable and beneficial to both the dog and the owner, for the German Shepherd to be given a job that is based primarily on physical requirements. than on psychological requirements.
The reason for this is that due to the German Shepherd’s natural protective instinct, there is a chance that an owner who suffers from high anxiety, PTSD, or similar disorders can influence their service animal, causing it to become protective and defensive in situations that do not require this response. This state of mind is not conducive to their therapeutic purpose and can be damaging to their owner’s psychiatric condition.
However, German Shepherds excel when given a job that entails aiding their owner who has a physical disability. German Shepherds in this position help to pick up objects, operate light switches, listen for doorbells or phones, open and close doors, guide their owners through busy streets, and perform a wide variety of other tasks that may be difficult or even impossible for their owner to perform.
Potential Jobs for German Shepherd Service Dogs
These physical tasks can range significantly, but German Shepherds exhibit intelligence and obedience that makes them perfect candidates for the majority of these positions.
Some veterans have used German Shepherds as PTSD support animals due to their use in the military, but as discussed, German Shepherds are better suited to positions that rely more on intellect and physical ability, rather than on psychological support. Retrievers and Labs make better companions for those in need of an emotional support companion due to their naturally laid-back demeanor.
German Shepherds have strong noses that can help an individual with diabetes to know when their blood sugar levels are rapidly increasing or decreasing. By notifying their owner, steps can be taken to ensure that their blood sugar is returned to a normal level before needing emergency medical attention.
They also make great service dogs for people with epilepsy. The dog will alert their owner of a possible oncoming epileptic episode and will then stay with their owner to ensure their safety during the seizure. This gives their owner time to find a safe space while providing the knowledge that they will be protected during this period of vulnerability. The service dog in this position may also be tasked with finding help or bringing its owner a phone to call for emergency medical care.
Similar to their ability to help those with diabetes, German Shepherds can use their strong noses to help warn their owner of possible allergens in their immediate environment that could trigger a severe allergic reaction. They may also be called on to bring help or retrieve medical supplies, such as an EpiPen.
Depending on the size of the dog, they may also be able to work as mobility support dogs, aiding those with physical disorders who need help to get around. This includes their ability to help individuals in wheelchairs, however, for larger people, it would be better to have a larger breed dog, such as a St. Bernard to ensure that the service dog is capable of lifting or supporting the weight of their owner.
Guide Dogs for Visual and Auditory Disabilities
German Shepherds make amazing guides. Due to their high level of obedience and intellect, they can help navigate busy streets for their visually-impaired owners or detect auditory cues for the hearing-impaired.
From this list of extraordinary abilities, we can see that the German Shepherd breed is indeed well suited to the lifestyle of a service dog. Given that a candidate must pass several training courses and tests to be officially recognized as a service dog, we can safely say that any German Shepherd that is capable of overcoming these rigorous tests is equally capable of fulfilling their duties in this position.
The last factor to consider is the cost associated with training or buying a service dog. Service dogs that are fully trained tend to cost anywhere from $6000 to $65000 depending on the amount and scope of training that the dog has received, who the trainer is, and the dog’s pedigree or bloodline.
Training a puppy to become a service dog may seem like a less expensive option, but it will take a strong knowledge of dog training procedures and a whole lot of patience and hard work to be able to train your puppy to fulfill the requirements of a service dog. If you do choose to pursue this route be prepared to spend a lot of time and energy on this training program.
Regardless of the job they are performing, German Shepherds make amazing service animals and benefit their human partners in nearly every way.