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Donna Hill's

Service Dog Training Institute


Choosing a Service Dog:
Identifying What You Need
(Part 2)

golden doodle as service dog
Go here to see Part 1

11. Allergies-Do you, a family member or helper, or those around you at work or school have dog allergies?

If so, this may affect the type of fur you choose. The non-shedding breeds tend to be less allergenic. (There is no such thing as non-allergic dog). Be aware that many so-called hypoallergenic dogs still cause allergies. Have the fur tested if this is a concern.

There are different types of fur on dogs. The fur may matter if you are using the dog for emotional support and the physical sensation of long fur is needed. Or if you live in a wet environment, a shorter coat may be faster to dry. In a hot dry environment, a short coat with an undercoat may be preferable to protect the dog from sunburn.

“Guard hairs” are the outer hair that acts like a raincoat to protect the undercoat. The “undercoat” is the insulating layer near the skin that traps air and heat. These two come in a variety of combinations. Within the same breed, you may see different combinations of these so there is varying amounts of shedding. There are short-coated dogs, like labs. They are typically mostly a layer of thicker guard hairs with a lesser layer of undercoat. The guard hairs are shed regularly, to varying degrees. Some shed profusely. Single-coated dogs (those that have only mostly guard hairs tend to shed less. Their guard hairs are heavy and drop to the ground and stay there. They may pierce furniture and go right in. 12 years after my dachshund passed away, we were still finding her hairs coming out of couches and the seat of the car. Labs, Daschunds, German-Short-haired pointers, and Dalmatians have short coats. 

Longer coated breeds like Golden Retrievers shed mostly their undercoat. This fur balls up like cat hair and floats around the room and sticks to clothing. All of the longer-coated retrievers, German Shepherds, Newfoundlands, Great Pyrenees have this type of coat. 

Consider the color of furniture and clothing if you choose this coat type. White hair shows up on black etc.Some silky haired dogs have long fine guard hairs that shed little. Brittanys, Papillions 

Curly coated breeds like poodles have fur that is more like curly human hair but it gets caught on itself when it falls out by the follicle so usually only fall out when brushed. They need to be clipped regularly so add cost or effort on your part. Poodle (all sizes), Bichon Frise.  

Most of the spaniels have a thick undercoat that sheds but also need to be clipped regularly so you have both the shedding and the cost or effort of clipping.

Breeds like Welsh Terriers and Airedales have a harsh curly outer coat that does not shed. With the mixed-breeds, you can get new combinations of these coats. Another reason why you want to meet the dog in person. 

12. How active are you?

Different breeds and individuals have different activity levels. You need a dog to match you. Are you low, medium or high energy? A low energy dog will not be able to keep up to the busy lifestyle of a high energy person or vice versa. Look for breeds that match your energy level. One thing to be aware of is that in many breeds, there is a difference between the field & hunting lines and the conformation lines.  Look at the specific lines they come from and what they have been bred to do and what titles they have. Hunting lines alone tend to need more exercise than those from conformation lines. They tend to be higher energy dogs with a thinner build and faster metabolism which means they eat more. Their coats are different as well. Field dogs tend to have coats that are practical in the field (shorter, longer or thicker as needed by the terrain to repel water and burrs). Conformation coats are designed to look good. A great example of this is the golden retriever. The field lines can be very high energy dogs who need much daily exercise, and then there are conformation Goldens like the dog off “Homeward Bound, The Incredible Journey” with Michael J Fox who are more laid back for both exercise and temperament. I’ve had two of the latter and they were wonderful family pets and made great therapy dogs as they loved people and were sensitive to their needs. A field line golden would have been too much dog (often too excitable) for my family to live with.  

13. Are you an extrovert who likes people or an introvert who likes time by herself?

Again, choosing a dog that is similar to you helps. Be careful not to choose a dog that is too aloof though as even if you are not good with people, your dog needs to be. A dog that loves people will be a challenge to train is you don’t like interacting with strangers. On the other hand, a dog that is naturally wary of strangers may feed off your fear and become protective. 

14. Are you fearful or confident in public or somewhere in between?

Both people need to be careful to choose a dog that is generally confident. A fearful person needs the support of a confident dog, but not one that is so confident you can’t control him. People with medium and high levels of confidence do better with dogs that match their confident levels in public.

15. Do any of the tasks you require dictate the size of the dog needed?

What tasks have you identified? 
What is the size needed for each? small  medium  large  extra large 

16. Do you have access to in-person dog classes or access to many other well-socialized dogs?

If you do not, you may want to err on the side of getting a dog breed that tends to be more forgiving if he doesn’t get as much dog-to-dog socialization rather than one that required extensive socialization to be neutral with other dogs. 

17. Will your disabilities interfere with or limit your ability to socialize your dog with other dogs, people animals, locations air events and you cannot hire help to do it for you?

Again, select a breed that tends to be more forgiving in areas of socialization, resilience and confidence. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, hounds and others are good choices for this. Guarding, fighting and protective breeds tend to need heavy early and continued socialization to be useful in public. 

18. If you are unable to do it yourself even if during short periods, can you hire someone to help you with early socialization and ongoing training as needed? 

This keeps the training uninterrupted. 

19. Does dog need to be able to take direction from more than one person?

For example, if your disabilities don’t allow you to do some of the training or you are feeling well enough to do the training over several days, will the dog be easily able to switch to training with another person? As well, once trained, the dog will need to accept other people helping you in public. For example, emergency personnel who come to take you to the hospital or members of the public helping you if you have a seizure. Choose a dog that will allow strangers to handle her.

20.  How sound reactive does your dog need to be?

An ideal hearing alert dog is calm but ready and willing to jump up from a sound sleep to alert you to a fire alarm ringing. A dog that is less reactive to sounds would be harder to be motivated to do such as task. Mobility dogs are slower to wake and respond as they have a calmer temperament. An ideal anxiety dog is not reactive at all as he needs to keep calm and focussed to help his handler.

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