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Can Australian Shepherds Be Service/Therapy Dogs?

Australian shepherds are attentive to their owners and highly intelligent, so can they make it as good service or emotional support dogs? It’s a great question that I receive frequently… So here’s everything you need to know, explained simply and honestly.

The truth is that some Australian shepherds will make great service/therapy dogs, and others will not. While some Aussies can be very obedient, calm, and attentive, others will not have such a reliable temperament that’s necessary to be a service dog.

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The Temperament To Be a Service Dog

It takes a specific kind of temperament to make a good service dog. Of course, the term “service dog” encompasses varying roles, some very different from others (from police dogs to dogs for the blind, etc.)

In the case of Australian shepherds, however, most people are referring to whether they can make it as therapy/emotional support dogs.

Necessary traits for therapy/support dogs:

  • Intelligent
  • Highly trainable
  • Naturally affectionate
  • Attentive to their owners
  • Sensitive and situationally aware
  • Reliable obedience
  • Calm and reassuring demeanor

Ideally, a therapy/emotional support dog has all of these traits and rarely deviates from them.

Emotional support dogs need to be reliable, calm, sensible, and attentive to their owners. The dogs need to be alert and able to spot when their owner is about to experience an episode and react accordingly.

Service dogs must remain constant in their behavior and dedicated to their owner’s needs.

Are Australian Shepherds Good Service/Therapy Dogs?

Now we know what it takes to make a good service dog, do Australian Shepherds make the cut?

The answer, despite not being so definitive, is both yes and no. Some Australian shepherds can be great service dogs, while others will make terrible ones.

It mostly comes down to how the Australian shepherd is raised and trained.

Why some Aussies won’t make good service dogs:

  • They can be very stubborn
  • It can take a long time train some Aussies
  • Many Aussies suffer from anxiety themselves
  • Some Aussies may prove unreliable in their behavior and mood

In my experience, I’ve met many Aussies that had the perfect temperament to be service dogs (although they weren’t). And this was achieved by the way their owner raised them and trained them consistently right from puppyhood… (which is so much easier said than done!)

On the other hand, some Aussies quickly develop too much of a sassy, stubborn and independent character that they either won’t be trained to the necessary level or will prove to be unreliable when their owner needs them the most.

What’s does it come down to?…

Well, how the Australian shepherd is raised has probably the biggest influence on its temperament, character, and obedience when older. In addition to this, any lifestyle issues (being left alone too often, inappropriate environment, or trauma) would almost definitely cause the Aussie to develop their own anxiety issues. In this case, an Aussie wouldn’t be calm and reassuring enough to support someone with psychiatric challenges.

3 Service Dog Traits That Australian Shepherds Have

With the right training and environment, Aussies can learn to be great service dogs (so it’s not all negative!). Many Australian shepherds possess the following qualities, all of which help towards making a great therapy/support dog.

Attached to their owners

One thing Aussies are known for is building strong emotional bonds with their owner. This breed absolutely loves being with their owner and family at all times, to the point that they become very anxious without them.

Having a dog that’s both attentive and connected to their owner is essential for anyone with psychiatric challenges. Aussies will have no problem being by their owner’s side at all times, ready to spot triggers and help when needed.

Highly intelligent

Although Aussies can be stubborn at times, there’s no doubting their level of intelligence and ability to understand. Service dogs need to be switched on and smart in order to understand and perform their role.

Depending on their owner, service dogs might need to do certain tasks and help in various ways, all of which requires the dog to be pretty intelligent in the first place. One things for sure, you won’t have any issues in this department with an Aussie.

Alert and aware

Many confuse this with intelligence, but it’s important to state the difference. Not only are Aussies highly intelligent, but they are extremely alert and situationally aware. Service dogs must be sensitive to their environment and to their owner’s triggers.

Dogs that aren’t aware would happily lay down, take a nap, and not give a care in the world as to what their owner is up to… This isn’t how Aussies roll! If you make a move, your Aussie will see it, hear it, sense it, and get up to see what’s going on. This is a crucial trait to have for any service dog.

What Aussies Need on a Daily Basis

In order for an Australian shepherd to become a reliable service/therapy dog, it’s crucial they receive the following needs on a daily basis.

Exercise:
Aussies are a high-energy breed and in order for them to be calm and obedient, they must receive sufficient exercise. 60-90 minutes should be a minimum for a healthy adult Aussie. Ideally, exercise is split up into two sessions, one in the morning and again in the evening.

Mental stimulation:
Aussies are overthinkers, and they need their minds to be properly challenged and worked in order to be calm and content. Australian shepherds that are not properly stimulated usually end up anxious, nervous, and disobedient (exactly what you don’t want to see in a service dog) Stimulation can be in the form of training, socialization, puzzle games, nose work games and general interaction.

Training:
In order for your Aussie to be sufficiently obedient and sensible, they must be trained to a high level. The key to training an Aussie is to start EARLY and be consistent. Training for 45-60 minutes per day, every day is necessary. An Aussie will need basic command training (sit, stay, down, come) as well as all other forms of training like leash training, crate training, potty training, and more.

Company:
Something that makes Aussies anxious and nervous is when they spend too much time alone. Aussies hate being left alone, so this should be avoided if you have future plans to train them into service/therapy dog. Having multiple dogs in the household does help in a way, but nothing beats having company from their owner or human family member.

High-quality diet:
It goes without saying that Australian shepherds need a high-quality diet. These working dogs have finely tuned bodies and deserve proper nutrition. In my opinion, a raw food diet is likely the most superior for a dog, but it’s incredibly hard (and expensive) to get right. If you opt for kibble that’s fine, just ensure the macronutrient breakdown is correct (high protein, medium to high fat, low carbs). And avoid those brands using preservatives, additives, flavorings, fillers, and more.

Other Breeds More Suited To Be a Service Dog

Although Australian shepherds can be nurtured into great service dogs, it doesn’t come naturally to them. There are, however, many breeds that make excellent service dogs without much additional effort.

Great service dog breeds:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Poodle
  • Boxer
  • Havanese
  • Pomeranian
  • Great Dane
  • Border Collie
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • American Staffordshire Terrier

Thank you for reading! Back to more Australian Shepherd articles >

Additional reading https://hub.jhu.edu/2018/02/12/therapy-dogs-could-help-icu-patients/

Disclaimer

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