Breed Selection For Service Work


Service Dog Definition

A Service Dog is a canine specifically trained to minimize functional limitations of a person with a disability.

  • Service dogs may also be referred to as assistance dogs.
  • Includes but not limited to guide, mobility, medical alert, medical response, hearing, psychiatric, autism and PTSD.
  • Does not include therapy, emotional support, companion, facility, or comfort dogs.

What is “PTSD”?

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

People with PTSD experience three different kinds of symptoms. The first set of symptoms involves reliving the trauma in some way such as becoming upset when confronted with a traumatic reminder or thinking about the trauma when you are trying to do something else. The second set of symptoms involves either staying away from places or people that remind you of the trauma, isolating from other people, or feeling numb. The third set of symptoms includes things such as feeling on guard, irritable, or startling easily.

PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that people with PTSD often may develop additional disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting. (Department of veteran affairs)


Service Dog Definition

A Service Dog is a canine specifically trained to minimize functional limitations of a person with a disability

  • Service dogs may also be referred to as assistance dogs
  • Includes but not limited to guide, mobility, medical alert, medical response, hearing, psychiatric, autism and PTSD


How does a Service Dog help “PTSD”?

There are a few different methods to help those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder including: medication, counselling, and support groups. Though these methods can help they may not always help the person deal with day-to-day activities such as going to the store or going for a walk down the street, this is where a Service Dog can come into play.

A service dog trained for “PTSD” can do a multitude of helpful tasks to help a person get through their everyday life including, but not limited to:

  • Grounding, distracting, or guiding their handler in an event such as dissociation or panic
  • Provide tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy
  • Interrupting potential disruptive behaviour toward self or others
  • Find objects for handler
  • Alert to oncoming panic
  • Blocking handler in public when people are too close
  • Wake handler during a night terror and keeping handler calm upon awakening

While these are only a few tasks that can be trained to help a person with “PTSD” there are also many other ways to help, such as getting the handler out of the house or simply providing companionship.


Breed Selection

For insurance reasons, Holdfast K9 will not work with certain breeds. If you are considering entering our program, we recommend you contact Holdfast K9 prior to enrolling to verify your dog meets the breed and age requirements for training.

Based on an International PTSD  Service Dog study by K9 Think Tank in 2016, the preferred breeds with the best likely hood of success for owner training are listed below. Holdfast K9 is  not stating that other breeds do not make good service dogs however the study concluded that  the best breeds with the greatest amount of success for working in the field of PTSD are

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Poodles

Labradoodles (A mixture of the Poodle with the first two – Labradoodles, Golden Doodle, etc.) have shown some success but Holdfast K9 experience has shown this mixed breed to not be consistent with performance as the dog ages.

Proper breed selection is determined by the  tasks needing to be trained into the dog, allergies, handler experience and work environment. A PTSD Service Dog Study conducted by K9 Think Tank in 2015 utilized 500 service dogs teams in 18 countries. The study determined that dogs bred for guard work require confident handlers and are not recommended for psychiatric work – i.e. shepherds, mastiffs, terriers have a lead or follow mentality and can treat the handler as a resource or possession and protective traits become prevalent.


  • A person suffering from PTSD sexual assault may collapse upon themselves and the dog must be an anchor, provide compression and direct attention to the handler. Not protect the handler
  • A person suffering with PTSD from military conflict can be combative when approached, react in anger, and may bolt. Thus, the dog needs to interrupt and deescalate the situation and redirect the handler’s attention. Not protect the handler

Desirable character traits of a service dog candidate include:

  • good temperament or psychological make-up
  • good health including physical structure
  • biddability (obedience) and trainability


Holdfast K9 understands the complexity of PTSD, and this must be reflected in the training of the service dog.

Note*** It is impossible to have one PTSD service dog type to meet all the different requirements and triggers of the handler so the focus needs to be on the primary triggers of the handler and not try to cover a truckload of medical issues the handler may have.