A dog of any breed can be a service dog if he has the right temperament and training, though not all breeds can perform all types of service. For instance, a small dog could not pull a wheelchair or carry heavy items for a physically disabled handler. A small dog could, however, alert a hearing impaired handler to sounds or alert a handler to an oncoming seizure.
Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers are often used as service dogs because they are friendly, laid back, easy to train and enjoy having a job to do. Labs also tend to be very energetic. Of course, not all Labradors or golden retrievers have these traits and they aren’t all suited to being service dogs. In general, though, they often are. They are also large enough to handle tasks like turning on lights (they can easily reach most switches) and carrying heavy items (heavier than small dogs can carry, anyway).
German shepherds are often used as service dogs, too. Like Labradors and golden retrievers, they are large enough to handle most tasks. One trainer described German shepherds to me as “mouthy,” meaning that they like to hold and carry things in their mouths, making them well suited for retrieving. Some dogs don’t like the feel of metal or fabric in their mouths and have to be convinced to take those materials into their mouths, but German shepherds usually don’t mind. They are also very smart. However, they have a tendency to be protective of their owners, which is why they are often used as guard dogs. Service dogs aren’t supposed to be protective, so in order to become a service dog, a German shepherd has to be carefully trained not to behave in a protective manner at all.
Mastiffs and Other Large Breeds
Mastiffs are sometimes used by people that need help with balance and mobility. Large, sturdy dogs are needed for that job. Mastiffs are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, though, according to the Dog Breed Info Center website, so they should be examined carefully by an orthopedic veterinarian prior to beginning training to become a service dog.
Smaller dogs can be used as service dogs for people with hearing impairments, seizure disorders, some psychiatric disabilities and other conditions. There are some disadvantages to using very small dogs as service dogs, though. For instance, very small dogs may have trouble walking long distances and service dogs aren’t supposed to be carried around or pushed in a stroller. Some service dog handlers with very small dogs also worry that their dogs might be stepped on or otherwise injured in crowded places.
People that choose small dogs as service dogs may face more access disputes because business owners and employees may not realize that small dogs can be service dogs. People that choose certain other breeds of dogs may also face more access disputes, such as those that use pit bulls or Rottweilers as service dogs. The law is not clear right now about whether or not you can keep a service dog of a certain breed in areas where that breed is currently banned. In addition, while landlords are typically required to allow service dogs even if they don’t normally allow pets, they usually are not required to allow service dogs of a banned breed if that would cause their insurance to go up significantly or otherwise cause them a significant hardship.