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Why Shelter Dogs Make Fantastic Service Animals - And Tips to Train Your Own

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.

Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Did you know that you can adopt a shelter dog to train as a service animal?

The criteria for a potential service dog do not require the dog to be from a breeder. There are many reasons why a shelter dog can make a great service animal.

Reasons Shelter Dogs Can Be Fantastic Service Animals

Shelter dogs find themselves surrendered to a shelter, or they were found abandoned, mistreated, or neglected. They have no limits to their abilities to make great companions or working dogs. Shelter dogs can indeed be trained to become service animals. Below are some reasons why they’re often excellent for the role.

Shelter Dogs Provide Unconditional Love

Shelter dogs are often very loving and grateful for a second chance, which makes them bond quickly and deeply with their new owners/handlers.

Training a Shelter Dog Has Its Advantages

Service dogs can have one of many specific roles in the tasks and duties they perform. They could be trained to specifically assist visually-impaired individuals, or they could be trained to assist people with mobility challenges. Some are trained as emergency medical response dogs.

Some are specifically trained as psychiatric service dogs to help individuals with various types of mental health challenges. Considering their high intelligence, likable traits, and suitable temperaments, most shelter dogs can have a great advantage to being trained for one or more roles as an assistance animal.

Shelter dogs often have had some sort of training before coming into the shelter, which means they may already have some basic obedience skills (such as sit, down, stay, come) or have been exposed to other commands that could be useful for a potential service dog (such as targeting or fetch). They also were likely in some sort of routine either in a foster home or in the shelter environment with walks or potty breaks,

They May Have Suitable Temperaments

Because they come from a variety of backgrounds, shelter dogs tend to be more adaptable to new environments and situations than dogs who have always lived in one home their entire lives or are very young. Shelter dogs are often as loyal, grateful, and emotionally resilient as dogs from breeders. Among the good things about adopting a shelter dog is that most of these friendly and people-loving canines are also quite confident, smart, and possess a great drive. For service dogs to gain public access, it is important to find a dog with a sweet, caring, and calm disposition or the potential to be trained to remain calm and obedient in public settings.

This makes them suitable candidates for the service dog role. If you visit your local animal shelter, you’ll be surprised at how many shelter dogs you will find with these temperaments.

They’re Likely to Be Healthy

At an animal shelter, dogs are provided the medical care, vaccinations, and necessary vetting prior to being adopted. They are also spayed and neutered, which means you have one less doctor's visit to worry about with your new furry friend. A shelter dog is likely to be in great health and fitness, some of the most crucial aspects considered before a service dog is recruited.

Available in Different Ages, Sizes, and Breeds

Last but not least, shelter dogs are also available in a wide range of sizes, ages, and breeds in most shelters. This means that you can easily choose the right breed, age, or size depending on what the dog will be trained for, and the kind of people they’ll be assisting.

For example, light shedders are more suitable for people with allergies. On the same note, larger canines would serve better in assisting physically-challenged individuals, whereas smaller dogs may provide better comfort to people with mental issues like PTSD, chronic stress, or depression. There are absolutely no limits to the type, size, or breed, or mix that a service dog can be. A service dog does not have to be purebred or be under or over a certain weight. Therefore, you get to choose the right dog for YOU that fits your specific lifestyle and service assistance needs.

How to Train Your Own Shelter Dog into a Service Dog

Once you have already identified a great shelter dog, and after bringing it home, the next thing to think about is training. Usually, you have three major options.

1. You can reach out to one of the many service dog organizations that offer training programs.

2. You can find an individual trainer dedicated and experienced in training service dogs.

3. You can train the dog yourself. With some guidance, research and dedication, you can absolutely train your newly adopted dog into an amazing service dog for you.

Teach Them Foundational Skills

Start with the fundamentals, such as teaching your dog how to ignore distractions in public spaces, how to behave around the house, where and when not to eliminate, and how to stay calm and polite for petting or grooming. Teach them how to walk on and off the leash and how to stay focused while avoiding distractions even in unfamiliar surroundings or situations.

Make sure your pooch learns to come when called and follow other commands when instructed. Your dog should also learn how to behave politely and calmly when in a crowd or when around other canines. They should also learn to stay in place and on task when instructed by their handler.

Teach Them Specific Tasks

Once your dog gains the fundamental skills and learns important tasks, you can then up the bar and start teaching them specific roles depending on the handler or owner’s needs. Training your own service dog is usually a gradual process and every day is a new opportunity to teach them new skills and build on to their knowledge.

If you're considering getting a service dog, please consider adopting a Shelter Dog first! They will be eternally grateful to you, and you'll be getting a phenomenal furry friend in the process. Many of our own alumni at HSNT have become working service animals to their owners!

Visit for more information on service animal requirements.

Ready To Add Another Furry Friend To Your Pack?

HSNT has 5 locations in North Texas with the most amazing pets available for adoption!

Weekend Adoption Events:

Our adoption events are held every weekend at various PetSmart® and Petco® locations in the Fort Worth metroplex. We often post a few of the highly anticipated pets you can expect to see available the night before each adoption event. Our adoption events are very popular, and many of our kittens and puppies coming to them are coming straight from foster care! You never know who you are going to meet!

Pets and People, Saving Each Other®

HSNT’s mission is to act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and to ensure their legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection; to provide for the well-being of animals who are abandoned, injured, neglected, mistreated or otherwise in need; to promote an appreciation of animals; and to instill respect for all living things.

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