Service Dog Breeds
Breeding dogs is as much an art as a science. It is something that is a part of our daily conversations at 4 Paws. We devote much time and effect to perfecting our breeding programs. What types of breeds we use and why we breed them is always reviewed in the meetings we have. To date, these are the breeds we use and a small piece of information on each. It is interesting to note that some are mixed breed dogs that are purpose-bred.
One of our two most used service dog breeds, golden retrievers ("goldens") are very kind-hearted, loving dogs. They are also quite intelligent and trainable. Golden retrievers live to please those around them making training them far easier than other breeds. They do tend to be more sensitive than the other most popular service dog, the Labrador retriever. As a general rule, goldens are friendly towards everyone and very poor guard dogs. They prefer that their owners lead the pack and seldom challenge that leadership. It is easy for our trainers to work with the golden retrievers and just as easy to transition their leadership and the dog’s affection to the new family. At 4 Paw,s we use American show line goldens as well as English, Romanian, and Russian line goldens. The American line goldens vary in color from the typical golden color to a deep red and our European lines tend to be a light cream to pure white in color.
Along with the golden, the Labrador retriever ("Lab") is one of the most used breeds in the service dog world. The Lab has been hailed as the most popular breed in the United States for years now. Like the golden, they have a kindness about them, and happy/friendly dogs of high intelligence. Labs, as a general rule, are quite easy to train and because they love everyone, they also transition to their new families quite easily. They are treat motivated and will gladly transition to anyone who feeds them. Our Labs tend to be tougher than our goldens and as such are the better choice for those kids who are likely to play hard and rough or to be unpredictable although we do also find some who are more sensitive. At 4 Paws we use the English Labrador retriever and not the American Field Lab. The English type Labs tend to be stockier and more laid back then their counterpart, the American Field Lab bred (the latter specifically bred for hunting.)
One of the mixed breed dogs that we breed here at 4 Paws we call a Golden Lab and are just as you would think looking at the name, a golden retriever and Labrador retriever mix. By mixing the breeds we get a more rounded dog all the way around. Many times we see then being a bit tougher while still being somewhat sensitive. In the 50/50 crosses we almost always get short hair and yet the hair will be much softer than the purbred Lab. The Golden Lab seems to get the best of two phenomenal breeds. This is the most used dog used here at 4 Paws.
Another mixed breed dog that we breed here at 4 Paws is the goldendoodle. Our goldendoodles are mainly first generation, meaning they are half standard poodle and half golden retriever. However, as we strive to meet the needs of families who have more severe allergies, we are also breeding some goldendoodles who are more poodle than golden. It is definitely true in this mixed breed dog that the dog gets the best of both breeds. Goldendoodles are thicker, bigger, and stronger built than the standard poodle and have a stronger, more outgoing personality as well. They typically follow the temperament of the golden while many, but not all, are also hypoallergenic like the standard poodle. The coolest thing about this mixed breed is that they are almost always super cute and look like a stuffed animal you would find in a toy store.
These four breeds make up about 80% of our population of dogs here at 4 Paws. What runs through all four is their cute features, sweet personalities, and inviting, non-threatening appearance. It is important when placing a service dog, especially when placing with the child that the dog act as a social bridge and not serve to further isolate the child. By using breeds that are not only intelligent and easily trained but also well known for their friendly personality it is more likely they will be well received in the community.
That being said, the breeds above are just not right for every single one of our kids or veterans. Because we work with kids who have any disability rather than limiting our placements to just kids with autism, or just kids with seizures, and so forth, we also have worked to maintain breeding programs in smaller numbers knowing that rarely do our kids fit into a single category in their needs. Because of this we are always looking at breeds and trying new ones, or even new mixes. As we work to have a pool of dogs to meet all of our recipient needs, both the kids with their many varied disabilities and the needs of the veterans we serve, we continue to breed at a lower number some other breeds.
When we get families with allergies, typically we can meet their needs with a goldendoodle. However, some of our families have allergies that are more severe and the only dog they can have, if any, is a pure poodle. Poodles, at least the lines we have, tend to be more sensitive than the more popular breeds here. While they are happy, friendly dogs, they do tend to be more reserved and tend to bond more strongly to one person rather than the entire family. Poodles are highly intelligent and trainable dogs, in fact they are typically one of the top three breeds on any list quoting the most intelligent breeds of dogs. The poodle is a more graceful, and dainty breed than the Labs, goldens, and goldendoodles and will not always work for every family regardless of their need for a hypoallergenic dog. For this reason, it will sometimes take us longer to place a dog when the family is limited to only this breed, especially if they need skills that require a stronger dog, like tethering. That being said, we are always working towards perfecting every breed and mix that we use here at 4 Paws and continue to develop our standard poodle line to achieve a line that is a better fit for a larger percentage of our recipients.
When it comes to using a small breed dog there is no better option than the papillon. Happy, loving, and fun dogs who unlike most toy breeds are typically confident and adaptable. Papillons, like poodles, also tend to bond more closely to one member of a family than to the family as a whole. It is important that the child be able to foster and nurture this bond. Papillons do not just bond, but they bond “fiercely” and loyally like a German shepherd dog! For this reason, papillons are the number one choice for diabetic alert here at 4 Paws and are used for other types of alert as well providing the recipient can bond to this small dog safely. Certainly the recipient must be able to understand that the small dog is frailer and needs to be treated more gently than their larger dog peers here at 4 Paws. To continue to strive towards the perfect "service dog papillon," we are using dogs obtained in America, Germany, and Sweden.
This mix breed dog is a combination of a Newfoundland ("Newfie") and a golden retriever or golden Lab mix. The main purpose in this mix is to bring size to the dogs bred. As many of our clients come back for a second dog and their child with severe autism or similar disabilities is man size but still has safety issues a larger more substantial dog was needed. The Newfoundland alone had many traits that did not work for our program but bred with a retriever the mix has been a blessing in many cases. We are still working hard to perfect the exact mix of this type of dog that we need and developing a breeding program that will give us a Newfie retriever mix that is consistent and works well.
With our breeding program, no matter what the breed, there are areas we work on perfecting on a daily basis. The first and most important aspect in breeding the right service dog is temperament. As we develop each breed we are careful to only keep dogs in the program who would pass the testing to be service dogs. In addition data is kept on each litter so that we know what the dog is producing. If we see a dog is producing a trait not compatible with service dog work we will first note not to repeat the breeding. With female dogs generally you will know by the second litter if they will produce puppies that will be successful in the program and often dogs are spayed after their second litter if they are producing a certain negative trait such as suspicion, as a high level with different sires. With the males it may take several breeding’s to come to the same conclusion. At 4 Paws in some lines we are into our 4th – 6th generations and as such when we breed a dog we know exactly what we will be getting. As the lines are developed and nurtured, we are able to perfect our breeding program by purpose breeding. By purpose breeding I mean breeding for a specific trait or quality. For example breeding for sensitive dogs who would excel at scent work or breeding for tracking ability.
The next and equally important task in perfecting the breeding program is breeding for a sound body. Service dogs need to be sound in body and mind. Each breeding dog is tested for the “known” genetic conditions for their breed. So, all large dogs are screened for hip and elbow dysplasia and only dogs with good to excellent hips, as well as normal elbows are used for breeding. In addition eye exams are done, hearts are checked, and in smaller dogs knees are checked for luxation of the patellas. DNA tests are done for all possible genetic conditions. When we buy dogs for our breeding program to being in new lines we are very careful to only purchase from responsible breeders who test their own dogs before breeding and have successful lines free from the typical medical problems associated with their breed. However, no matter how carefully you plan and screen, dogs can still produce health issues. We keep a running log on each dog showing the litters produced and if any of the puppies were dropped for medical issues. We are careful not to repeat breeding’s once we know a certain health problem exists.
Finally, though one would argue it is not necessary in with working dogs, we work to perfect the looks and conformation of the dogs we breed. We feel it is important to breed a dog that meets breed standard whenever possible. It is also important to us that because our dogs act as a social bridge that they be physically inviting. We love to hear our clients say that they are told frequently how beautiful their dogs are. As responsible breeders we feel in breeding that we breed for the total dog sound in mind, body, and personality. Part of being sound of body in our minds is being physically appealing. We purchase dogs for our breeding program from kennels who also breed for the total dog. Often the dogs are from top show lines and we even have some Champions in our breeding program! I don’t think anyone can argue the fact, looking through the dogs we have in training, that 4 Paws For Ability does indeed breed beautiful dogs.
Will we ever truly meet perfection in breeding the perfect service dog? Perfection is an ever-changing ideal. We work to breed what would be considered the perfect dog and our goals are always changing and evolving to go a step further towards an ideal, perfect in every aspect, service dog. Can we ever reach that goal, I certainly hope so but in working with dogs, it is like working with people. Each one is unique. So how do we know if we are reaching towards perfection? When our dogs exceed the conformational and temperament standard for their breed and excel at the job they were bred to do. Ultimately, when the family who receives each dog finds that dog to be the perfect match for their family and that they can’t even begin to imagine themselves with any other service dog.