The Best Service Dogs for the Elderly
Service dogs make excellent companions for seniors due to their calm dispositions and intelligent, friendly natures. Service dogs for seniors can be trained to help owners with many tasks, from standing up and answering the door to getting a cold drink from the refrigerator to wash down a medicine tablet. In other cases, emotional support dogs for seniors provide companionship and relief from anxiety and many mood disorders.
The Best Emotional Support and Service Dog Breeds for the Elderly
The first breed of dog that was used as a service dog was the German shepherd. Intelligent, loyal and patient, German shepherds were the original seeing-eye dogs. The breed is still regularly found in the service industry, but now it is often joined by other friendly and clever breeds like Labrador retrievers and poodles.
While training a service dog for elderly owners, it’s important to select a gentle and patient dog. Those are the characteristics that trainers—and potential owners who intend to train a dog themselves—are looking for first in their candidates. Though any type of dog—purebred or otherwise—can become a service dog or emotional support dog, there are still a few breeds that are most popular.
Here are the best service dog breeds for the elderly, plus tips to help you find the right dog for you.
Strong, alert and brave, the German shepherd has helped blind people and those with vision impairment to make their way in the world for at least a century. A sharp-minded breed, this dog is adored by experienced trainers as a quick learner. German shepherds are so easily trainable that service dogs of this breed have often been trained at home by their owners. If you’d love to train your own dog to help you navigate the physical world, consider beginning the process with a member of this breed.
Labrador retrievers are sweet, family-centric pets who make wonderful service dogs for seniors. They are also much-loved by children, seniors and families alike. Bred and used as hunting and fishing dogs, Labradors love interacting with and assisting people on a regular basis. Their love of humans and great desire to please their owners makes these dogs ideal emotional support or service dogs. This is another breed that can often be trained from home to assist owners with personal tasks.
The golden retriever, like other retriever breeds, is naturally sensitive to the emotions and physical pain of humans. A sweet and concerned dog, the golden retriever is easy to train. This breed is especially great for sensing medical emergencies in owners, including diabetic coma and anxiety attack. If you are looking for a dog who is not only able to help you with physical tasks but also to provide emotional support, the golden retriever is an excellent candidate.
The strong and bulky Saint Bernard is a dog bred for working hard in the cold, snowy mountains of Switzerland. A dedicated and loving dog, the Saint Bernard makes for an indominable service dog. Well-known as the rescue dog of the Alps (or your local ski hill) the St. Bernard is often used in snowy search-and-rescue missions. Calm and patient, this is also a great emotional support dog for seniors or anyone in need of a canine companion.
The classic “Lassie” dog, or collie, is a clever herding dog with a luxuriously long and soft coat. Famous for their patience and ability to bond with humans, collies are large, strong, and they make great candidates for physical service. Protective of their human families, collies are instinctually well-mannered with strangers and visitors. Gentle and caring as well as capable, the collie makes a proud and dedicated service dog for seniors and other in need.
The poodle is one of the most loved breeds for its intelligence, hardiness and work ethic. That’s why they have been used for hundreds of years as hunting dogs, and why now the poodle is one of the most common dogs used to create designer mixed breeds. Even better, they come with a low-shedding coat that is gentler on allergy sufferers. Poodles enjoy daily exercise and learning new games, including new service tricks!
Emotional Support vs Service Dog for Seniors: What's the Difference?
Service dogs are not quite the same as emotional support dogs, as they play different roles in the lives of their owners.
Service dogs are selected especially for service training when they are young. They receive basic training (sit, stay, heel) and then more specialized training depending on the needs of their future owners. Trainers show future service dogs how to perform many tasks, including calling 911 and helping someone walk. They can also be trained to provide assistance for people with psychological disorders.
In contrast, emotional support dogs are there to make their owners happier and more comfortable. That may sound like the role of every dog, but emotional support dogs for seniors can provide affection and care for their owners to get through difficult places and situations, and back to a place (physical or mental) that feels safe.
The dogs who receive the most training are service dogs, since they will need to help their future owners in very specific ways. The first wave of training is the same as any pet—dogs learn how to sit, stay, heel, and socialize with other dogs, people and animals. They also are taught how to relieve themselves outside instead of in the house or in other types of buildings—something every dog needs to know!
Following basic training, service dogs get one-on-one lessons with trainers. Lessons are based on rewards in the form of edible treats, praise and petting. At this stage, a service dog for elderly owners can learn unique tricks to provide support or even save the lives of its owners. Some learn to recognize the signs of a medical emergency and bring medicine, or how to call an ambulance. Others learn how to pull a wheelchair or help you answer the phone.
Service dogs can be certified, which is a good idea so there is never any trouble with them entering public spaces and buildings where dogs aren’t otherwise allowed. Emotional support dogs can also be certified, but they don’t necessarily have any special training. The latter are simply kind, sweet, friendly and patient.
You can register your dog as an emotional support pet, but legally, the most important piece of documentation is a formal letter from your doctor prescribing such a dog. It’s that letter, and potentially a certified document that declares you the handler of an emotional support dog, that will get you and your dog into every location.
As for service dogs, these can be registered with one of several organizations, like the AKC. Once a service dog is registered, they are issued a certificate and formal documentation. These are important for owners to keep with them to prove that their dog can enter any premises. You’ll need those papers especially when travelling on public transportation such as trains and airplanes.
The Benefits of Emotional Support and Service Dogs for Seniors
Not every senior citizen needs the help of a service dog. For older people who can still stand up, walk, and generally take care of themselves, there are other pet options. In particular, emotional support dogs for seniors are a great idea. Support dogs give owners all the regular benefits of having a pet, and then some!
Support dogs are, most importantly, a constant friend and companion. For seniors who often find themselves without a social group, or living away from their grown families, companionship is priceless. A live-in friend and family member with four paws not only gives you a reason to get up and go for a walk outside, but it also keeps you from feeling lonely. Hence—the “emotional support” part of the title!
Which one is right for you?
If you’ve been a dog person your whole life, you probably already have some ideas about your favorite breeds. Keep in mind that you might not want to deal with the high energy and maintenance levels of certain dogs, like Pomeranians or beagles, the same way you did as a younger person.
That said, maybe you do! Just give yourself some time to think about what activities you’d like to do—or not do—with a new pet. Are you still into weekend hiking and daily jogs? Then a more spunky type of dog is definitely a contender! On the other hand, if you’re enjoying more of a sedentary life, then a less boisterous breed is a better match.
What to Look for in an Emotional Support or Service Dog for the Elderly
The most important things to look for in a support dog are simple: Intelligence, a friendly manner, eagerness to learn, and the desire to please you. If you can foster a positive relationship with any dog who shows all these characteristics, you’ll have a wonderful working companion on your hands soon.
Not quite sure what you’re looking for in a service or emotional support dog? No problem! Let our Puppy Match Quiz help you figure it out.
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