If you are looking for an assistance dog, it’s important to select a breed with a combination of a calm temperament, and physical size that suits your specific needs.
Assistance Dogs bring many benefits to people with disabilities; a reduced need for carers, greater freedom and self-confidence. Handlers also enjoy the constant emotional support, companionship and love of the animal.
What is an Assistance Dog?
Also known as a Service Dog, Assistance dogs are trained to perform a range of tasks and behaviours for people with a disability. Assistance dogs can also be trained to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to access and participate in the community.
The tasks that assistance dogs can be taught include:
- opening and closing doors, fridges, cupboards, and drawers
- picking up clothing and helping take washing from a machine
- assisting with making beds
- retrieving or picking up items like mobile phones or keys
- helping people to balance if they have walking difficulties
- turning on light switches
- pulling a wheelchair
- moving the arms or legs of people who are paralysed
- pushing pedestrian crossing buttons
- paying cashiers
- barking to alert their owners to danger
- alerting people to seizures (sometimes before they occur) or other medical issues, such as low blood sugar in a diabetic child
- finding and leading another person to the owner or affected child
The following five breeds are some of the most popular choices by those who need a furry assistant.
1. Labrador Retriever
Labradors make great assistance dogs. Labrador retrievers are one of the most popular pet breeds, and they make fantastic assistance dogs too.
Most Labrador retrievers are ridiculously friendly and good-natured. They also tend to bond very strongly with their owners and often love having a job to do. Large individuals may even be able to help you stand or walk.
Labradors can perform a variety of tasks for their owners, but they’re especially helpful for mobility-impaired owners who need help grabbing or manipulating items. This is partly due to their natural retrieving instinct, but Labrador retrievers also have a “soft mouth,” which means they grip things lightly with their teeth. This will help ensure they don’t mangle the objects you expect them to fetch.
2. Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers are good assistance dogs. Given their similarity to Labs, it shouldn’t be surprising that golden retrievers also make excellent assistance dogs for people. They’re smart, friendly, and easy to train, and most enjoy having a job to do.
Additionally, they form strong bonds with their people, and despite being pretty big dogs, goldens look gentle and sweet, which can help put other people (who may be afraid of dogs) at ease.
Goldens are ideal for emotional support work, making them one of the best assistance dogs for PTSD and a great breed for reducing anxiety. But they can also handle more physical work, such as guiding blind owners or fetching items for those confined to wheelchairs.
Do note that Golden retrievers shed quite a bit, so you’ll need to decide whether or not you are able to vacuum up their fur (or have assistance from someone who will) on a regular basis before selecting one of these lovable canines.
3. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are very intelligent, well-behaved, and easy to train. They usually bond very strongly with their owners too – all traits you want in picking an assistance dog. German shepherds are most commonly associated with guarding and security protection work, and they’re also frequently used as police dogs.
German Shepherds have enough size and strength to help mobility-impaired owners get around, they are attentive enough to notice when their Handler is feeling anxious, and this breed has a powerful sense of smell, which makes them well-suited for monitoring blood sugar levels.
Poodles are good assistance dogs as they have a great demeanour for tasks and they’re very easy to train. Many people think of poodles as fussy dogs with fancy grooming, but they’re actually very smart and capable dogs who often love having a job, and you can have them groomed and clipped in a different way.
Most people who plan to use a poodle for assistance work should select a “standard” large poodle size and not a “mini” or “toy”, as they’re bigger and stronger to be able to pick up or reach switches and handles.
However, if you don’t need your assistance dog to perform physical tasks, then mini and toy poodles will be easier to take with you into crowded locations.
5. English Cocker Spaniel
English Cocker Spaniels are a calm dog breed that’s eager to please and easy to train. When you’re snuggled up close and patting it, don’t be surprised if they nuzzle you or lick your face as a gentle reminder to keep going.
You might not think that a traditional hunting dog would be content being inside and curled up next to the family, but English Cocker Spaniels are. They still love being taken for inquisitive walks and love to retrieve stuffed toys in the yard, but this sporting breed has the “work hard, play hard” mantra nailed.
So, while you should certainly consider the breeds we listed above, don’t hesitate to stray from the list!
Do you have an assistance animal or support dog? Share their photo or videos with us and tell us all about them. Also, be sure to mention the assistance dog organisation who helped match you with them, if you worked with one. Email:
You don’t have to share any details you don’t want to, but we’d love to know the assistance your dog provides, the breed they are, and whether or not you feel like they’ve helped improve your quality of life.
How to get an assistance dog
Training assistance dogs is complicated and costly, so only people with certain disabilities qualify to get one. If you think an assistance dog might help you or your child cope better with a disability or a mental health condition, apply for an assistance dog via an organisation such as Assistance Dogs Australia. The animals are given free of charge to people who qualify.
Want 100% NDIS Funded assistance with the Care and Maintenance of your Assistance Dog or Household Pets? PetCloud is an NDIS Registered Organisation who has Carers right across Australia who are able to assist.