Top 10 Best Psychiatric Service Dog Breeds

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

Have you heard of psychiatric service dog breeds? These canines are specially trained to maintain their handler’s emotional state.

In the world of working dogs, there are some truly special pooches whose careers are devoted solely to helping those in need. Therapy dogs bring joy to infirmed or elderly, Service Dogs support the physically challenged, and Emotional Support dogs provide relief in settings such as funeral homes or crisis situations. But there is another hero in this mix known as Psychiatric Service dog breeds, trained to provide one-on-one support to individuals who have autism, schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric challenges. In fact, these dogs are so in tune with their handlers moods that they can be trained to recognize the signs of a sudden deep depression and to operate a special K9 rescue phone to summon a 911 suicide hotline through a pre-programmed phone. These dogs are a new breed of hero who deserve far more recognition.

The Psychiatric Service Dog’s primary function is to maintain their handler’s emotional state and to perform work or tasks the individual is unable to perform. For instance, a psychiatric service dog might be trained to interrupt the repetitive behavior of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or to provide an environmental assessment, or even to remind their handler to take their meds. Having a highly trained dog by their side can help people who have mental health issues lead independent lives and quite often support them in keeping their illness under control. Naturally, as they do complex work, not all dogs can provide service to people with psychiatric disabilities. These tasks are not easy and most pups aren’t up to the task. This service requires a special type of dog that is well suited for a special type of training.

So, what’s a prerequisite for any psychiatric service pooch? Well, the size of breed doesn’t really matter. However, temperament does. This means that the dog must be keen-to-please, must be able to work well with a partner, must be reliable, must not be easily distracted, and of course, they must be highly intelligent given the depth of training involved. Yes, these dogs go through a lot of training before they become service dog. After all, they need to know to perform specific tasks that help their owners lead better lives. This isn’t any easy role for any dog to play.

While any dog can be a service dog if they have what it takes to live up to the title and go through the extensive training program, there are some dog breeds that are naturally more inclined and capable of doing the work of psychiatric service dogs. Which breeds are there? Keep scrolling to find out. Here’s our list of the best psychiatric service dog breeds:

1. Standard Poodle

Kicking off our list of dog breeds that are ideal for psychiatric service is the Poodle. The brightest of the bright, these showy dogs are easily trainable thanks to their exceptional level of intelligence and eager-to-please personality. Poodles are famed for their brilliance, but it’s not just their big brains that make poodles so adept at psychiatric care. While it certainly helps their reputation as an excellent service dog breed, there are more personality traits of these graceful dogs that make them strong companions for people with psychiatric disabilities.

Given that they were originally created to retrieve waterfowl, poodles have it in their genes to respond to cues and work well with people. Throughout the history of the breed, this remarkable ability has been put to good use more often than not. So it’s natural and logical that these majestic pooches would become one of the most popular breeds for both therapy and service dogs. Additionally, their low-shedding and hypoallergenic coat makes them ideal for people with allergies. These are just great dogs to be around, regardless of the specific needs of the client.

Affectionate and good-natured, they excel in obedience training and make for wonderful, loyal companions for those who may be suffering from depression or panic attacks. Poodles are known to be sensitive to their owner’s mood even when they’re not taught to be, which means that with proper training, they become completely attuned to your state of mind. This is of course the most important aspect of being a psychiatric service dog. With such a natural sense of social intelligence, how could any breed other than a poodle possibly top our list?

2. Labrador Retriever

The fab Lab just might be the most recognizable service dog breed, and it’s iconic abilities lend itself well to psychiatric service as well. Due to their superior intelligence and gentle disposition, these easy-to-train pooches are perfect candidates to be psychiatric service dogs. These animals are so naturally intelligent and adaptable that they can be trained to succeed at almost any task!

As their name suggests, this breed was selected to do one job: retrieve. These smart canines were, much like Poodles, expected to pick up the hunted fowl, and carry it reliably through what was often rough terrain before delivering it to their handler. Translated to other environments and situations, Labrador Retrievers display impressive intelligence, obedience, and eagerness to please their owners. All of which makes them ideal candidates for working with people in need of assistance. These highly-versatile dogs have a stable, well-balanced personality. They make loyal companions and their calm demeanor helps children with ADD or autism feel more grounded and settled down in their surroundings. If the psychiatric service dog you seek is for a child, accept no substitutes.

For individuals suffering from illnesses such as schizophrenia or depression, this easy-going pooch helps them not only feel more secure, but allows them to focus on something other than their condition.

3. Havanese

This pint-sized family pooch is revered for his affectionate disposition and highly trainable personality. Their friendly and outgoing nature makes them popular with everybody who meets them, and they’re often the pooch of choice for those who suffer from depression. Havanese are just overflowing with love and live for cuddles and snuggles with their human. Having one of these fluff balls cuddle up next to you is absolutely guaranteed to brighten up your day! They will become attuned to your moods and know when to deploy their furry pawesomeness to help you feel a bit better. It’s something that comes naturally to this breed and can be trained to perfection.

Additionally, these canine cuties are considered to be a rather intelligent breed, which makes training them a surprisingly easy feat. Havanese can be taught a number of tricks, including getting medication for their owner or how to interrupt a repetitive or harmful behavior. They are quite adaptable to the needs of a variety of troubled owners.

Havanese love to play the loyal and loving lapdog or playful childhood companion, which is ideal for children with autism where his presence helps bridge the gap between the two worlds and provide kids with a sense of security by providing a focal point. This is a truly special breed that is very much up to the task of being a psychiatric care animal.

4. Miniature Schnauzer

A loving and cheerful breed, this small dog loves to be part of the family. They are most commonly found romping with kids and burning off some energy. Their spirited personality makes them an uplifting companion, with an adorable pint-size frame that makes them a perfect constant sidekick for adults and kids alike. Overall, the Miniature Schnauzer is a great breed to consider if you are looking for a fun canine that can grab your attention and make you laugh.

Easy to train and obedient to command, the Schnauzer is a true people pleaser. Because Miniature Schnauzers are responsive to training as well as obedient companions, these dogs can work well even with owners who are not too experienced in training pooches. They seem to take to this role naturally.

Although small, these dogs should be exercised regularly and if they are fed a nutritious, species-appropriate diet, they can maintain a healthy weight. Exercising your Miniature Schnauzer could be a wonderful way to pass the time, and it can bring a lot of joy and amusement into your life, which is another reason that this little pooch can make a good psychiatric service dog. They are simply wonderful to be around at all times.

5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

A lapdog fit for royalty, Cavaliers might come in a tiny package but they have a big personality and even bigger hearts. Apart from their lovely looks, these silky pooches are most prized for their exceptionally sweet and loving nature. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that doesn’t enjoy cuddling and snuggling. In fact, it’s their absolute favorite activity! Due to their tendency to bond strongly with their owner and the fact they’re something of a “velcro dog,” they are an excellent candidate for a psychiatric service dog for people with depression or PTSD. Petting their silky coat while they snuggle with you on the couch is certain to keep absolutely anyone calm and tranquil.

Unlike some small dog breeds, Cavaliers are usually not nippy. So you won’t have to worry about them reacting aggressively to strangers when you bring them with you to public places. Of course, it goes without saying that they’ll have to undergo some serious training beforehand, but thankfully these smart puppers won’t have a tough time picking up any new tricks.

A friendly, gentle and quiet breed, this little pooch is highly intelligent and easy to train which makes them excellent and intuitive service dogs. Since Psychiatric Service Dogs are intended to be at their owner’s side 24/7, this smaller breed is a great fit for those who are housebound or living in smaller quarters. They can fill any small space with their large and loving personalities.

6. German Shepherd

It’s no secret that these impressive doggos are born to be service dogs. After all, it’s hard imagining the canine police force without the German Shepherd. There’s a good reason why this dog breed is so popular for the job too: they’re incredibly smart, well disciplined and eager to please their handlers. A win-win combo that ensures a remarkable performance. These loving and wonderful traits apply to any area where that dogs are needed, such as helping those with mental health issues. They will calmly care for anyone, regardless of their mental health challenges.

An even-tempered German Shepherd is a great choice for people with anxiety and OCD issues. With the right training, these dogs can learn how to detect flare-ups in your condition such as panic attacks and successfully prevent them. Or at the very least, they will interrupt unwanted behavior by “pawing” at you to get your mind off the action in question and give you something far more fluffy and lovable to focus on.

This obedient, gentle, and exceedingly loyal breed is a natural fir for our psychiatric service dog breeds list. Dependable, calm, and easy to train, the Shepherd is considered to have human-like intelligence. That’s an absolutely perfect trait for owners suffering from psychiatric challenges. Their fondness for children would make them a great fit for a family living with autism as well.

7. Lhasa Apso

Originally bred in Tibet to alert Buddhist monks to intruders, this alert and personable little pooch may be wary of strangers, but is tremendously loyal to those closest to him. You might not think that a tiny, fluffy pooch is suitable to be a service dog, but you’d be surprised how intuitive and supportive Lhasa Apso dogs are to their owners.

Provided that they have been trained as a psychiatric service dog, Lhasa Apso can be an invaluable companion to people suffering from PTSD, depression, or bipolar disorder. Their cheerful disposition is sure to put a smile on your face when you need it the most, and they can also learn to recognize the different moods and react appropriately, “nudging” you back to the right course of action in certain triggering situations.

Highly tactile, Lhasa Apsos are entertaining and comical buddies who are easily trained and highly demonstrative. Perfect for individuals in need of uplifting companionship during troubling times. These pups know how to put a smile on the face of any owner.

8. Doberman Pinscher

These imposing doggos might look like they’re all about tough love, but you definitely shouldn’t judge this book by its cover. Dobermans are unjustly perceived as vicious and dangerous by certain segments of the population. In reality, these dogs are just fiercely loyal and extremely affectionate. The connoisseurs of this breed know that Dobies are what you’d call a “velcro dog” in that they bond strongly with their handler. This dog will always be by your side, anxious to provide heaping helpings of support and love.

Dobermans trained as psychiatric service dogs can be particularly suitable for people whose condition requires them to have a dog that gives them reality affirmation. They can be trained to provide tactile stimulation (licking, nudging) when summoned, which “roots” the handler in the moment and prevents the escalation of the problem.

Known as exceptional guardians, military, and service dogs, the Dobie is also a trustworthy and affectionate breed whose commanding presence makes him a great fit for those suffering from PTSD or panic attacks. When simple tasks such as a walk to the corner store are too daunting, the presence of this loyal pupper can help deliver a sense of safety and security.

9. Boxer

This breed is known to be a gentle companion who just loves to hang out with humans – a perfect psychiatric service dog whose role is to provide around-the-clock companionship. Boxers are usually known as guard dogs, but once properly trained, they can channel their protective nature quite well and become attuned to their owner’s moods and patterns of behaviour.

Much like all of the dogs pm our list, Boxers can be trained to provide invaluable assistance to people with disabilities. An experienced service dog trainer can teach a Boxer to retrieve medications or use tactile stimulation to interrupt the obsessive-compulsive or harmful behavior of their handler. Their guarding nature makes them particularly suitable to keep strangers at bay. It is quite easy for them to learn how to “bluff” on your cue.

Loyal, alert and friendly, boxers are a great fit for families with kids who may have ADHD. They are also a quick study when it comes to training and easily adaptable to most situations.

10. Border Collie

Easily one of the most intelligent breeds around, this working dog is devoted, friendly, and a loyal companion whose focus in life is to please their owner. Bred to herd cattle, this pooch will definitely try (and succeed) to keep you in line!

Border Collies are energetic and lively dogs who are very affectionate to their owners. They will motivate you to get up and get moving even when you might not be in a mood, and their cute antics will brighten your day. This makes these canines might an choice for anyone living with depression. Additionally, they are big cuddle bugs and snugglers. There’s nothing better at making you calm and content than petting a pooch.

Because Psychiatric Service dogs are intended to ground their owner during panic attacks by providing physical comfort, this pooch’s highly intuitive personality makes them a great fit for those prone to panic attacks.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Psychiatric Service Dog

Certain canine breeds are better suited to being psychiatric service dogs than others, but because there are so many great breeds to choose from, it can be a daunting task to narrow down those breeds to the one that will work well with you and fulfill your needs best. This is not a decision to take lightly as the right psychiatric service dog can save the lives of those with debilitating mental health issues.

It’s important to keep in mind that different canine breeds will suit different people. Making the correct choice is a matter of considering the dog’s needs as well as your own. This is a relationship after all, not a service. If you can’t provide your animal with the care they need, then they won’t be able to do the same for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work on selecting the psychiatric service dog that will be right for you:

  • What do you want your dog to be able to do? For example, do you want a dog to be non-reactive or reactive? Do you want your companion to be able to stop you from exhibiting a certain behavior, as well as help you redirect your behavior? Think about the ways that you want your dog to be able to help you through your disability. Certain breeds will be better suited to certain tasks. It all depends on what you need from your dog to make your life better.
  • Are you okay with a dog that is more independent, or do you want a pooch that really prefers being around and working for his owners? Are you fine with having a higher energy canine that requires more exercise? Or do you want a more laid-back companion that won’t require as much daily physical activity? Think about your personality and preferences, and then aim to find a breed that matches your needs. While it’s possible to train a dog to meet your needs, it’s often more difficult to train yourself to keep up with an animal.
  • Grooming is something else to consider. For some individuals, grooming their dog can be a form of therapy. However, some people (such as those who are often depressed and fatigued) might find it challenging to groom a dog regularly. Also, if the idea of having dog fur around your house and on your furniture makes you feel anxious, that’s something that you should bear in mind as you research canine breeds and their grooming requirements. Not all doggos require the same level of upkeep, so it’s important to consider the time and energy that you’re able to dedicate to grooming your animal before selecting your breed.
  • If you do a lot of traveling,choosing a dog that is the appropriate size can also be helpful. While it might be difficult to travel with a large dog breed, a smaller dog might be easier to take on a plane or in your car for your next trip. Fortunately, airlines are much more amenable to having service dogs on flights these days, so at lease you will be able to travel with you animal. This choice just comes down to how easy that travel will be on both of you.

Psychiatric Service Dog Training and Certification

Now that we’ve gone over certain dog breeds and traits that make them the best choice for a psychiatric service dog, the question remains – how are these dogs trained and do they get special certification as qualified service dogs? 

First, to own a qualified psychiatric service dog, you need to have a “psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability” as described by ADA – which includes an array of conditions from clinical depression, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety disorders, autism, and so on. Of course, you will also have to possess written documentation that details and proves your mental disability, as a psychiatric service dog needs to be trained specifically for your condition and needs, as they will be performing tasks to improve your quality of life. 

When it comes to training, a psychiatric service dog needs to respond to their owner’s cues, perform tasks, and naturally be well-behaved and able to ignore distractions as all types of service dogs are. The ADA allows owners to self train their psychiatric service dogs, as there are no predefined set of rules and a universal training process that the dog has to go through – the only “prerequisite” is that the psychiatric service dog has to perform tasks and not just offer emotional support, as legally it wouldn't be classified as a service dog in that case. However, while you can train your own psychiatric service dog, it is not recommended – mostly because it can be a long process that can last even years before your dog is really skilled at performing tasks and responding to your cues, and of course because it means you have to have ample experience, skills, time, and patience needed to properly train a service dog. Needless to say, most people opt for a professional training their psychiatric service dog whenever possible, as it ensures a dog that excels at performing specific tasks while also being attuned and attentive to your needs. 

With the controversial debates going around emotional support dogs and how they differ from actual service dogs, with many people abusing the privileges actually trained and qualified service dogs have by claiming their pets are emotional support animals simply to gain access to different locations, it’s natural that many are interested about proper certification for their psychiatric service dog. It’s not legally required to register your dog as a service animal, nor does registering them grants you any legal rights – but having a certification as well as accessories to clearly display your dog is a service animal, can really make your life easier. Still, it is good to know that if you are at a public venue, staff cannot inquire about the specifics of your disability or your pet’s qualifications – they can only ask you is the dog required because of a disability and what work/task has the dog been trained to perform – so you won’t have to answer questions that make you uncomfortable even if you don’t have a certification with you.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

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