Selecting Quality Service Dogs Part I: Morphological and Health Considerations

Service dogs include dogs for mobility, vision, hearing, developmental disabilities, diabetic alert, seizure alert, and psychiatric support. They are trained to “provide work or perform tasks related to an individual’s disability.” When accompanied by a service dog, the individual with a disability is afforded some public access protections ().

Current demand for service dogs outweighs supply (), and average wait times of up to three years for a well-trained dog are not uncommon. Service dogs are generally trained for a minimum of 18 months, and training can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 (). According to some estimates, only 50% of dogs entering training progress to the level of service dog (), increasing the cost of training and limiting the number of available dogs. Hereditary diseases and behavioral problems are the most common reasons for a dog to be released from a training program ().

Targeted selection and breeding of physically and behaviorally healthy dogs would allow organizations to allocate their resources more efficiently, reduce training costs, and increase the supply of service dogs to those in need. Service dog training programs nationwide can benefit from selecting and breeding dogs based on characteristics relevant to their service dog specialty.

This is the first of three articles on the selection and breeding of dogs for service work. The current article addresses morphological and health considerations; the remaining articles will focus on behavior and temperament characteristics and research in the field of service dog training.

Read the full article at:

Lindsay Parenti, MA, BCBA; Matthew Wilson, PhD; Anne M. Foreman, PhD; Oliver Wirth, PhD, and B. Jean Meade, DVM, MD, MPH, PhD

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