Australian shepherds’ history of herding and guarding livestock gives them a natural trainability as service dogs. Their intelligence has set them apart from other breeds as family companions, service and therapy animals, and even in the entertainment industry. The talents for the Australian Shepherd, also known as Aussies, are seemingly endless.
Australian shepherds can be successfully trained for service because of their intelligence, dedication, and herding behavior. As service dogs, Australian shepherds can guide, search and rescue, or provide mobility, therapy and comfort assistance to children and adults.
Ever popular with ranch owners and farmers because of their herding behavior, the dedication and working nature of Australian shepherds can also make for an efficient service dog. With rewards for good behavior, your Aussie could end up being a brilliantly trained service dog and companion for years. Read on to learn about how Australian Shepherds can become service dogs.
Can Australian Shepherds Be Good Service Dogs?
A service dog needs to be obedient, well-trained, and intelligent, and Australian shepherds encompass all of these qualities and more. They are calm, approachable, and family-friendly dogs with the perfect temperament and character for service training. They are also loyal to a fault and cautious of strangers when protecting their owner.
Australian shepherds are extremely popular family dogs, placing 17th out of nearly 200 dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). As a member of the AKC Herding Group, Australian shepherds have a proven track record of skill, obedience, and instinct that allows them to handle multiple tasks for their chosen handlers with ease.
Aussies may weigh anywhere from 40 to 65 pounds and stand 18 to 23 inches tall, so they are a compatible size to service most individuals. Whether it is assisting with disabilities, providing companionship to nursing home patients, or comforting sick children in hospitals, these loyal dogs have numerous pros as a service dog:
- Lovable disposition
- Devoted to loved ones
- Eager to learn
The outcome of Australian shepherds being a working and herding dog means they need daily exercise to satisfy their limitless energy. They also have a lot of fur, which means they need a lot of grooming because of constant shedding. But the pros still outweigh the cons when considering an Aussie for service.
What Is the Best Age to Start Training an Aussie as a Service Dog?
Your Australian shepherd should be socialized at an early age so that he is comfortable interacting with different individuals as a service dog. Service dogs in general usually begin training around six weeks of age, and no later than during the first two years of your dog’s life. A service dog will need to pass his first test at two years of age.
Socialization is also important at an early age when training to be a service dog. You need to socialize your puppy with other humans and animals, and then socialize some more. Australian shepherds can actually be reserved animals, so this socialization must begin young to ensure they will be able to handle service situations with others.
Their history as herding dogs makes Australian shepherds exceptional contenders to become service dogs. They have literally been bred with an urge to herd and guide, which would work perfectly as a seeing-eye dog. Their high intelligence makes them quick learners, and because they are energetic, they love to stay busy with work.
Although Australian shepherds are naturally inclined to a life of service, there are steps you can take early on to help your dog with the training process. Having a qualified trainer to teach your pet how to be a service dog is best, but there are also things you can do at home for your young puppy to ensure he will succeed in the future.
Steps to Training Your Young Aussie
Since service dogs need to begin their training at such an early age, you should socialize your Australian shepherd early so that he is acclimated to work in a variety of situations with a variety of people. You can start socializing your dog at around seven weeks of age since this is the beginning of a dog’s prime socialization period.
Australian shepherds flourish in reward-based training situations. This positive reinforcement will motivate your dog to complete his tasks while also promoting good behavior through rewards and constant praise of a job well done. Do not punish bad behavior; instead, use positive reinforcement so that your dog becomes obedient early.
You can start training your Australian shepherd with basic commands like sit, stay, and lie down since the beginning of the training process is the most difficult for the dog and the owner. When your dog completes the basic task, reward him right away for a job well done. The repetition of the command and rewards will train these intelligent dogs.
- Socialize your dog at 7 weeks of age
- Practice positive-reinforcement training
- Start with basic commands
- Repeat these short training sessions often for consistency
Australian shepherds are motivated by rewards and praise, which is advantageous when training them to be service dogs. Take some time after the training session is complete to show love and play with your dog so that he is excited for the next training session. And remember that consistency is key for these dogs that are eager to learn.
How Do I Train and Certify My Aussie to Be a Service Animal?
Service dogs perform an important role in their community, and Australian shepherds in particular are qualified for service work. The first step is deciding whether you want to use a professional trainer or train your dog yourself. Service dogs are not required to have professional training because there are no ADA certifications for service animals.
When deciding who will train your dog, it is important to remember that training a service dog takes a huge time commitment. There is not a minimum training requirement in the United States, but there are international benchmarks that suggest training your service dog for approximately 120 hours over six months.
This time commitment alone may make hiring a trained professional more attractive than taking this obligation on yourself. Since your Australian shepherd will also need to learn how to service specific ailments or disabilities, someone who is acclimated in these prerequisites may be better than an owner having to learn along with their dog:
- Reminding someone to take medication
- Retrieving dropped items or stabilizing balance for someone with limited mobility
- Sensing a medical emergency or alert
- Using tactile stimulation during someone’s panic attack
- Inspecting a room for someone with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD)
- Guiding someone who is blind or vision impaired
- Trained to alert a person who is deaf of sounds and alarms
- Blocking or grounding public areas
- Comforting the elderly in nursing homes or sick children in hospitals
- Alerts an individual of oncoming seizures or stands over the individual during an episode
- Alerts an autistic individual or provides distraction during repetitive movements or episodes
These are just a few of the many tasks your dog may need to learn during his training. As an owner, you may be a loving family member to your dog but not acclimated to teach your dog efficiently how to be a competent service dog. In addition, he also needs to be trained competently to be able to handle himself appropriately in public.
Passing a Public Access Test Is the Next Step
Your Australian shepherd will need to pass a public access test that proves he is capable of accompanying his handler and controlling himself appropriately in public. This test ensures your dog will not get overexcited in public, will refrain from excessive barking and other disruptive behavior, and will not be aggressive towards others.
Other aspects of a public access test include making sure your Australian shepherd properly starts and stops his sniffing behaviors, does not plead or request attention, affection, or food while he is on duty, has the ability to control himself in unique situations that may have new sights and sounds, and refraining from relieving himself.
If your Australian shepherd exhibits aggressive behavior, such as excessive barking, growling, biting, showing teeth, or raising hackles, he will not pass the public access test or qualify to be a service dog. Any type of unmanageable behavior can disqualify him because your dog needs to prove he is in control and safe in public.
If your dog is going to be an “on-leash” service dog, it will need to pass verbal commands, hand signal commands, and a combination of both:
- Wait in a vehicle in a controlled manner until told to come out
- Stay in a heel position after approaching a building, wait quietly, and then calmly walk with you
- Have controlled entry through a doorway and not wander off alone
- Healing throughout the building and walking in a controlled manner
- Sit and go down on command
- Be able to sit within six feet of you until called for retrieval
- Not be distracted, show aggression or fear due to outside noises
- Refrain from going under the table at a restaurant
- Maintain control if the leash is dropped by the handler
- Approach a heel position when leaving a building and not display fear from outside sounds
It is important that your dog is properly trained to be a service dog so that he can pass all the requirements in order to remain manageable in public. If you are confident your Australian shepherd can accompany you and his handler while maintaining control, he should have no problem going through the next steps to become a service dog.
Service Dog Certification and Registration
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) clearly defines a service dog as a dog that is specifically trained to perform the tasks needed to benefit someone with a disability. This is why your Australian shepherd needs to be trained to provide service for a specific disability to qualify for service. Disabilities may include but are not limited to:
Although not a requirement in the United States, officially certifying your service dog will ensure he is allowed access anywhere their handler is allowed access.
You may want to certify your service dog so that he has the official paperwork, service dog vest, service dog ID license, and will be entered into a global database. Having this proof literally on your dog’s body will also help ease any potential issues with employees of businesses, restaurants, public transportation, or housing.
Registering your service dog is not required by law in the United States but still good practice. Service dogs can be registered online by filling out the form and paying the fee. Your dog can even be registered based on the disability in which he was trained, such as registering him through “Hearing Dogs for the Deaf” if that is his specialty.
Further Training Is Needed to Become a Service Dog
It is important to be aware of the amount of training that is needed in order for your Australian shepherd to become a full-fledged service dog. The training does not just start at seven weeks of age and stops after six or seven months. Your dog will need to continue different aspects of training to be prepared to handle a specific disability.
At two years of age, your Australian shepherd will need to pass a “First Service Dog Test.” After passing this test, he will need to attend more classes with his trainer to learn more advanced tasks. This advanced training should happen monthly for another year so that he is prepared to pass a “Third Year Test.” But the training does not stop there.
Becoming a service dog is a lifelong commitment for both you and your dog. He will need to be tested every 18 months for the rest of his life in order to keep his Service Dog Certification valid. This lifelong training is not just completed by the trainer, but also at home every single day with different family members in the household.
Your skilled service dog trainer can give you and your family tips as to what your dog needs to know depending on the disabilities he will be working with. Knowing what tasks your dog needs depending on who he is working with, whether it is the visually or hearing impaired, someone with PTSD, or with anxiety, is important for success.
Training Your Service Dog for Disabilities
A service dog is an animal that is trained to help with its handler’s specific disability. This could be any person who has a physical, emotional, mental, or psychiatric disability. Australian shepherds have the ideal demeanor for this task because service dogs must be well-mannered at all times and trained to perform specific tasks for aid.
Although most service dogs help the vision and hearing impaired, they can also be trained to help emotional, mental or psychiatric disabilities. Your Australian shepherd may be categorized as a “psychiatric service dog” if he ends up being specifically trained to detect, identify, and reduce the effects of psychiatric episodes:
- Disrupt or stop anxiety attacks that may be caused by social settings
- Help keep disoriented individuals out of danger through tactile stimulation (i.e., licking the face, lying across the individual’s body for comfort)
- Bringing someone a medicine box to remind them to take psychiatric medicine
- Provide safety checks and/or room searches for someone with PTSD, like turning on lights or creating a barrier to a difficult situation
Emotional support animals are technically not considered service animals by the ADA, which means they are not given the same full access rights as an official service dog. However, they can still help individuals who are suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other emotional, mental, or psychiatric disabilities and issues.
Australian shepherds are arguably some of the best dogs for emotional, mental, and psychiatric support. Their natural ability to be obedient, loyal, protective, good-natured and loving give them the perfect combination to provide the emotional, mental, and psychiatric support a handler may need during stressful, anxious, and tough situations.
A Certificate Test Is Required for a Therapy Dog
If you decide your dog will engage in more therapeutic efforts than service efforts, he will need to complete a Good Citizen Certificate Test. This will make sure your therapy dog can walk with you on a loose leash without pulling or straining. Other tests include not barking, growling, or biting around other animals and “heeling” on command.
If you are training your Australian shepherd for the Good Citizen Certificate Test, you need to make sure he can be calm and well-behaved in any situation. Your dog should remain calm with strangers, a groomer or vet, and anyone else who may approach the two of you. He should also respond to the normal commands like sit, stay, and down.
You are allowed to talk to your dog during this test and even pet him, but you cannot offer any rewards to encourage him, such as food or toys. If your dog misbehaves during the test, including barking, growling, snapping, or having a housetraining accident, he will automatically fail the Good Citizen Certificate Test.
Some Australian Shepherds Can Be Service Dogs
As noted earlier, the training involved in becoming a service dog is a lifelong process for the dog, the professional trainer, and the entire family. Service dogs need to prove that they are intelligent, have the ability to work calmly in stressful situations, have a sensible temperament and have a readiness to learn and work hard for their handler.
Even though Australian shepherds are near-perfect canines to be trained as service dogs, not all of them will make it through the strenuous training and tasks required to take on such an important responsibility. There have been dogs that have come from a well-bred family line that does not make it through the training and socialization required.
There are more dogs out there that are not suitable as service dogs than have the qualifications. Even some of the best, most intelligent dogs may not make it through all the rigorous service dog training. You should be sure your dog is prone to success. Luckily, Australian shepherds have the personality traits that put them above the rest.
Australian shepherds are highly intelligent and prone to train successfully, but if you do not properly train your dog, it does not matter how smart he is, he will end up training you instead. If he does end up passing for a service dog, you cannot become lazy and stop the lifelong training. Again, if you stop training him, he will start training you.
Understand Your Aussie’s Personality
Although the pros outweigh the cons, Australian shepherds have certain personality traits that may be seen as problematic as a companion and service dog. For example, they become territorial and may need extra training to accept and tolerate strangers in service dog situations. This should be noted during the service dog training.
Australian shepherds do not automatically like other dogs and cats and need to be taught to bear both during service dog duties and normal playtime. They also get bored easily, which could be a benefit when working hard on service, but problematic during downtime. Their stellar watchdog abilities need to be balanced with unstoppable energy.
Because Australian shepherds are so territorial, they tend to only want to be with their companions and no other people. This could be an issue if the service dog is not properly trained to handle certain situations in stores, at places of business, or even in the park. They need to be able to handle strangers to properly service their handler.
Do Aussies Get Attached to One Person?
One of the cons about Australian shepherds is that they tend to become attached to one person over others. This could work out perfectly if your dog is being trained as a service dog in that he will be loyal and protective of his handler. However, this could prove difficult if you are also having your Australian shepherd as a family dog.
Just like becoming a service dog, you can also train your Australian shepherd so that he does not become attached to just one family member. The first thing to do is have everyone in the home spend equal amounts of time with your dog so that he will not bond more intimately with one person over another.
A professional trainer may not just be for service dog training, as you could also hire someone to train your dog to settle into his life with the entire family. However, there are things you can do without a trainer, such as ensuring that everyone in the family contributes equally to your dog’s daily well-being. Some tasks that can be split up are:
- Walks and exercise
- Grooming and care
- Training and socialization
Daily activities should be divided equally. If your Australian shepherd does not have one family member who is more accessible than others, he will be less likely to become attached to that person. This is important with the tasks your dog enjoys, such as going for walks, playtime, and getting treats after the consistent training sessions.
Attaching to One Person Can be Problematic
If you are planning on having an Australian shepherd as a pet and then possibly training it to be a service dog, it is important that he does not get attached to only one person. What could start off as a close and healthy bond between dog and human could end up turning into problematic separation anxiety and aggression towards others.
Both the separation anxiety and aggression towards others will hurt any chances of your Australian shepherd becoming a service dog. Both of these issues could put other people in harm’s way when your dog is out with his handler. It could also put you in a dangerous, and costly, position if your dog becomes aggressive while working outdoors.
Separation anxiety can cause panic, grief, and even depression in an Australian shepherd. It will also make the lives of each family member, including the member with whom he is so attached, difficult. You may end up being confronted with an overly needy or aggressive Australian shepherd every time you leave the room.
If you are interested in having your Australian shepherd become a service dog, you will need to split up all of his daily tasks with everyone in the home, ensure he is properly socialized, and work with a professional dog trainer to guarantee he does not become a one-person dog and bonds with other family members to help the service dog training.
Australian shepherds have the natural inclinations to become wonderful service dogs for a variety of disabilities. They are loyal and calm, obedient and energetic, and highly intelligent for the responsibilities of a service dog. They make good trainees and have the mental alertness to handle even the most difficult situations for their handlers.
If you are interested in having your Australian shepherd become a service dog, you need to start training when he is young. Becoming a service dog is a lifelong commitment for your dog, but the service can be rewarding for you both!