What are the best service dogs for PTSD?
All dogs can ease emotional suffering to some degree, but today we’ll talk about which breeds do it best.
These top 10 breeds have an almost innate ability to sense what their humans need and offer the right support at the right time.
With the right psychiatric service dog training, they learn to really harness that skill and help those with PTSD live better, fuller lives.
We’ll check them out in just a minute, but first, let’s talk about the overall benefits of service dogs for PTSD.
Benefits of Psychiatric Service Dogs for PTSD
Trained psychiatric service dogs offer incredible benefits to those with PTSD, ranging from simple day-to-day emotional support to “trigger intervention.”
Let’s take a look at some of those top benefits. First, though, I really quickly want to go over PTSD itself, including what it is and who it affects.
I won’t get too detailed because this isn’t a human medical site. 😀
What is PTSD and who can have it?
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is exactly what it sounds like: a medical disorder that some people develop after a traumatic experience.
We usually think of it in terms of soldiers returning from a war zone, but PTSD can affect anyone who has been through something awful.
As NIMH puts it, “not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event,” just like not everyone who does go through a traumatic event will develop PTSD.
If you want a more detailed overview, this video explains it pretty well:
I’ve never lived through a war, but I suffer from PTSD due to another traumatic event in my life.
It doesn’t matter why you have it. What matters is that you get the support you need to live the fullest life possible.
Along with counseling and medication (in some cases), a psychiatric service dog can do wonders with helping you towards that goal.
Top 5 Benefits of a PTSD Service Dog
The primary benefits of a PTSD service dog include trigger avoidance, stress alerting, acting as a calming presence, and medication reminders, according to Pawsitivity Service Dogs.
Let’s quickly talk about each of these in a smidge more detail. Again, we’re not delving too far into the medical side here. Just an overview.
1. Trigger Avoidance
Your PTSD service dog will be trained to help you avoid the avoidable environmental triggers and cope with those that can’t be avoided.
As Pawsitivity puts it, a dog can’t stop a helicopter from flying overhead, but he can help you get a little more personal space in public when you’re feeling closed in.
2. Stress Alerting
A bonded service dog picks up on even the most minor changes in your stress levels, alerting you before you even know that you’re feeling overwhelmed.
These cues help you remove yourself from the situation before it becomes overpowering.
Your dog is also a good excuse to walk away, as you can say that he’s feeling stressed or needs a potty break.
3. Acting as a calming presence
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of service dogs for PTSD is their ability to help keep you calm and relaxed when you’re really feeling the “stress” part of PTSD.
Not only is your dog trained to recognize when you need a break, but you’ll go through training yourself to learn how to focus on your dog instead of the stressors around you.
4. Medication Reminders
If you do take medication for your PTSD, your dog’s training will include reminding you at certain times of the day that it’s time for your meds.
5. Good motivators
My own addition to this list, having a dog (even if it’s not a PTSD service dog) helps you get through emotionally trying times by giving you someone to care for.
Your dog relies on you 100% for everything from food and shelter to affection and play time.
Being responsible for another living being who loves you unconditionally really does help you get out of bed in the morning. I know this from personal experience.
Even before my PTSD-triggering event, my dogs gave me a reason to keep going when I was overwhelmed with depression in my mid-20s due to years of trying to conceive my son.
Now that we have an overview of why you’d want a dog for PTSD, let’s take a look at the top 10 breeds that excel in psychiatric service dog work.
Best Service Dogs for PTSD
It shouldn’t surprise you to know that the list of best service dogs for PTSD is very similar to that of the best dogs for depression.
1. German Shepherd
German Shepherds top pretty much every type of service dog list for a good reason: they’re loyal, intelligent, and eager to please. They also thrive best when they have a job to do.
These same qualities that make them excellent police dogs also make them ideal psychiatric service dogs.
While they’re excellent protectors and will guard you with their lives, they’re also incredibly gentle towards their people.
Want to learn more? Check out ►►► What makes German Shepherds excellent family dogs?
Poodles are a super close second when it comes to the top service dogs for PTSD (or any type of service dog, really).
Although all sizes belong on the list, the standard poodle tends to be the one most often used.
Like German Shepherds, poodles are highly intelligent and easy to train.
They’re also quick to hone in on their human’s cues, since they were originally bred as hunting and retrieving dogs.
Bonus: poodles are hypoallergenic, which makes them the top service dog choice for people with allergies.
3. Golden & Labrador Retriever
The world’s most popular dog breeds have another to reason to celebrate: they’re also among the most popular service dogs.
Both Golden and the Labrador retrievers make the list of the best PTSD service dogs for the same reasons: they’re smart, gentle, and eager to please.
The combination is a match made in the heavens when it comes to service dog training!
Like Poodles, they have a genetically ingrained ability to pick up on subtle cues thanks to their “retriever” nature.
If you’re looking for one of the best service dogs for PTSD that’s a bit on the smaller side, the Havanese is an exceptional choice!
Don’t let their size fool you, these pups are all heart!
Their adaptability and social grace combined with their intelligence makes them particularly suited to service dog work.
While they will guard you, they’ll do it relatively quietly since they aren’t big barkers. (a must for those with noise-sensitivity related to PTSD).
One of my favorite breeds of all time, the Beagle is an ideal choice for those looking for a psychiatric service dog in the medium-sized category.
Again, the traits that make him one of the most popular family dogs also makes him ideal for service dog work.
These include his intelligence, trainability, and gentle nature. His happy-go-lucky personality and clown-like nature will also brighten up even the toughest of days.
Plus, since Beagles require plenty of exercise, he’ll help get you out and moving on day when it’s a challenge to get out of bed.
Surprised to see the Rottie on this list? You shouldn’t be! Like the GSD, the qualities that make him suited for police work also make him the ideal PTSD service dog.
He’s a protective breed, but his first instinct isn’t to bark or bite (contrary to belief).
He thinks before he acts, which makes him fantastic at picking up cues and assessing potential triggers.
The only downside: the Rottie appears on most “aggressive dog breeds” lists for insurance purposes and may be banned from apartments.
On the other hand, since PTSD service dogs are protected under the service dog laws, that shouldn’t keep you from getting a place with him.
7. Doberman Pinscher
Another dog that many people don’t think of as a service dog, Dobermans have qualities similar to both the Rottie and the GSD that actually makes them an excellent choice.
As Doberman’s Den explains, not only do they help their people, but giving them service dog work helps the dog’s reputation as well.
Their vigilance and attention to detail helps them assess situations and pick up even the most minor cues from the environment as well as their people.
This video does a great job of showing of a Doberman working as a service dog:
8. Miniature Schnauzer
Like the Poodle, the mini Schnauzer is an excellent hypoallergenic service dog choice.
Bright and charming with an outgoing personality, he’s also a highly trainable dog who is a lot sturdier than he looks.
As the AKC explains, these handsome guys are “fearless without being aggressive,” a combination that makes them ideal for coping with difficult situations.
My aunt, who we lost to brain cancer, had a mini schnauzer. He was never trained as a service dog, yet he still never left her side when she was sick.
He also had a knack for sensing seizures and other medical issues before she even knew they were coming.
9. Border Collie
It should surprise you that the smartest dog breed in the world is also one of the best dogs for PTSD!
Everything that makes the Border Collie such an excellent family dog also makes him suited to psychiatric service dog work.
See, while he may be a bit “too reactive” for certain types of service dog work, his extreme attention to detail is exactly what makes him a great PTSD dog.
Like the GSD, he thrives best when he has a job to do. His physical prowess is also a great motivator to get up and get moving.
The Boxer may be last on this particular list, but don’t let that fool you: he’s a fantastic PTSD service dog for many of the same reasons as the other breeds above.
The qualities that make him the 11th most popular dog in the US also make him well-suited for service dog work.
He’s bright, loyal, and easy to train. He looks powerful (and is), but he’s also incredibly gentle, even with children.
While they’re relatively independent, they are also excellent problem solvers.
Now that we have a solid list of service dogs for PTSD to start with, let’s talk a bit about how to choose the right breed for your needs.
Which Service Dog for PTSD is Right For You?
All of the above dogs have traits that make them the perfect PTSD service dog, so how do you narrow down your choices and find the right one for you?
Your best bet is to talk to a local service dog organization and have them match you with the ideal breed. They’re experienced in finding the perfect fit for each situation.
That said, I also think the most prominent symptom of and reason behind your PTSD plays a role in helping you decide. A few examples:
- For veterans coping with severe PTSD, one of the dogs that excels in picking up subtle cues would be an ideal choice, since they can help avoid triggers before you head into one.
- Women dealing with PTSD after a traumatic assault may do best with a powerful-looking dog like the GSD, Rottie, or Doberman. Basically, breeds that make us feel safer.
- If depression is a defining factor of your PTSD, an active dog like the Beagle or Border Collie can be a powerful motivator to get out of bed in the morning.
- For those with allergies, the Poodle, Schnauzer, or Havanese would be the ideal choice.
Like I said, your best bet is to talk to an organization that specializes in matching people with the right service dog.
You may even find that the perfect breed is a totally unexpected dog that’s not traditionally used for service dog work!
Do you have any thoughts on service dogs for PTSD list? Any other breeds to add? Share below!