If you ever needed a good service dog, which breed would you turn to? No doubt you would consider the size, strength, and cooperative spirit of any service animal. Do Great Danes make your shortlist? Are Great Danes good service dogs?
Great Danes are excellent service dogs. A relatively recent addition to the lineup of potential service breeds, the Great Dane’s loyalty, willingness to please, and physical strength are undeniable attributes.
Despite their tremendous size, Danes also prove helpful in the realm of psychiatric assistance. Where they excel is in the area of mobility assistance to those with any kind of physical impairment.
Great Danes can aid a person whether his or her challenge is from traumatic injury or secondary to a debilitating disorder.
What makes a good service animal?
You may wonder why you usually see dog breeds listed as service animals. A service animal must legally be a dog with a miniature horse as the only viable alternative.
Loosely, a service animal simply needs to be able to perform specific duties or tasks that a disabled person cannot do for themselves. Many disabilities are not evident upon meeting a person. An example of a largely invisible disability is a seizure disorder.
Service animals receive specific training and cover a diversified range of species.
- Bird – parrots, ducks
What qualifies a breed as a good service dog?
Service dogs must have personality traits that enable someone to reap the benefits of having a service animal.
- Friendly – not so effusive as to be easily distracted from her duties
- Stable and predictable temperament – calm
- Trainable – can be difficult but not impossible to train
- Sociable – socialization is a must for service dogs; they must be unflappable in unfamiliar environments amid loud noises and large crowds
- Attentive – ability to tune into owner’s needs and retain reasonable focus regardless of what is going on around them
- Energy – sufficient activity level and stamina to address someone’s needs for extensive hours
- Task suitability – there are different types of service dogs based on a person’s needs; breeds often are better in some categories than others
- Breed reputation – it is advantageous that your dog’s breed does provoke widespread fear
Size is important for mobility assistance and some guide dogs but not the others.
Types of Service Dogs
Dogs help humans in a variety of ways. The earliest service dogs were guide dogs for the blind, taking off after World War I. However, the categories of services where dogs have proven crucial have exploded.
- Mobility – helps the owner with balance and locomotive challenges
- Guide – dog helps visually impaired or blind people navigate their surroundings safely
- Hearing – alerts deaf or hearing-impaired handler with alarms, doorbells, and other important everyday sounds
- Autism support – improve communication and anxiety; often used specifically for children; can keep an autistic child more emotionally grounded and may prevent the said child from running away
- Seizures – some dogs are trained to alert a person of an oncoming seizure while others respond to the emergency of an epileptic attack by sounding an alarm; ensuring the patient is in a safe location or does not hit their head, and getting help
- Psychiatric – help people diagnosed with depression or other emotional disturbances; similar to autism support animals in that they help their handlers better cope with their environment and also aid in effective communication with others
When are Great Danes less than ideal service animals?
You do not see many Danes working as service animals, but that is changing.
Ranking No. 17 among the AKC’s most popular dogs, it stands to reason that people would eventually recognize their suitability for service work. However, Danes are not ideal for all lines of service.
Why Danes Are Not the First Choice for Guide Dogs
For mobility assistance, size is one of the most crucial factors. According to expert recommendations, a physical assistance dog should be at least 65% of a person’s weight and 45% of his or her height. Guide dogs most commonly involve one of five breeds:
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Goldador – Golden retriever x Labrador Retriever cross
- Doodle – usually a Goldendoodle or Labradoodle
There are a few reasons why guide dogs involve one of the above breeds.
- All above dog breeds rank within the top 10 of Stanley Cohen’s most intelligent dog breeds specifically referring to working intelligence
- Adaptive intelligence – above dogs can use logic and perform intelligent disobedience whereby they will disobey a command that would put their handler in danger
- High trainability
- Strong working ethic drive and single-minded ability to focus (GSD most notable, but retrievers including the Poodle also make excellent candidates)
- Calm nonreactive personality
- Polite and sociable – especially the Golden and Lab
- Highly recognizable – people are accustomed and comfortable seeing these breeds in a working capacity
- High percentage pass requisite temperament assessments
- Tradition – among the first breeds that succeeded at guide dog work; GSD and Poodle were first in modern guide dogs work
- Size – most have a shoulder height between 19 and 25 inches and weigh 50 to 85 pounds; manageable and at a comfortable walking height with a harness; large enough to physically stop someone from walking into traffic or making a similar safety error
Other breeds that have been successful guide dogs are Vizlas, Dobermans, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Airedales, and Smooth-Coated Collies. Other retrievers like the Chesapeake Bay and the Curly-Coated have also been used.
Great Danes are rarely used for guide dog work. Their size range of 28 to 34 inches tall at the shoulders frequently places them out of consideration for guide work.
Not only do they pose an awkward harness angle for many blind owners, but they require a lot of space in normal situations such as riding on a bus, walking down a busy street, or strolling into a restaurant. Moreover, there are many more suitable candidates when it comes to trainability.
Although Danes seem quite eager to please, they often can prove resistant to training or slow to pick up certain commands. It is difficult to justify the time and effort it would take to train a guide dog if its working intelligence ranks 88th among 138 dogs.
Danes can certainly learn effective guide work but may face cognitive challenges with decision-making, attentiveness, and rapid command responses. The best guide and seeing-eye dogs are often retrievers or herding dogs.
Finally, Great Danes may prove too much of a spectacle. Their unusual size makes them a target for curious people who might not otherwise approach a working dog.
Great Dane Traits that Are Bad for Service Work
Great Danes have a number of qualities that make service work more difficult for them or may give you pause in utilizing the breed. These traits present additional challenges outside the realm of guide duties.
- Size – Dane’s giant size is great for some service work but can be unmanageable for some people; Great Danes are very powerful with a stubborn streak
- Lifespan – some programs that breed Great Danes for service work strive for longevity in their lines; otherwise, consider a Dane is 18 months before it can undertake serious mobility training and will spend 12 to 24 months in training; some Danes only live six or seven years
- Attention span – Danes do not have the attention span of some other breeds; their looks can be a distraction for owner and dog
Aggressive and timidity issues should be nipped in the bud as such dogs should not receive consideration for any type of service animal training.
Personality and socialization defects are not unique to any breed but are important to the viability of any training program. Expect that your pet will have to undergo a personality test before training to become a service dog.
If you train your dog yourself, you should still seek out some kind of professional evaluation of its disposition.
Moreover, you will need to enlist the help of a professional trainer so your dog learns appropriate skills to help you effectively and receives proper accreditation as a service animal.
What makes Great Danes excellent service animals?
A move has started to include Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Pyrenees, and Great Danes as service dogs because they are proving their usefulness in several categories. Danes are good guide dogs with more attributes than faults.
The Dane’s substantial weight makes it quite an effective wheelchair assistant. Some breeders select dogs from Germany to add even more bulk to their animals to provide more hauling strength and greater support for individuals with balance and coordination challenges.
Great Danes are ideal in the category of mobility assistance as such dogs must be at least 65% of their person’s weight and 45% of their height.
Great Danes can receive training to work with Parkinson’s patients and others that have special needs to remobilize after a “freeze” incident.
A Great Dane is a large and comforting presence to many because of its gentle nature and calm energy.
They can excel in categories that involve PTSD support for veterans and victims of violence. Great Danes also are good for mood disorders, anxiety, depression, as well as autism.
Because Great Danes are eye-catchers and yet generally calm and gentle around strangers, they can keep lines of communication open between the public and socially challenged owners.
Since people are often drawn by their curiosity for the dog, they are more likely to strike up conversations with oft-isolated individuals like autistic children. By the same token, the dog can provide an icebreaker and calm anxieties in their handlers.
Although not like a Poodle or a retriever, a well-socialized Great Dane is friendly and approachable. Danes are also ideal service dogs because they are steady-headed, fearless, calm, and loyal.
- Great Danes excel with motility assistance which is relatable to PTSD, inner ear disturbances, MS, cerebral palsy
- Great Danes can be excellent for psychiatric support as well as emotional support animals (not a service animal per the ADA; emotional support animals do not require specialized training)
- A Dane’s size makes it fabulous for tasks that require height such as flipping a light switch
- A Great Dane can serve in newer categories such as hearing dogs and medical alerts (epilepsy, PTSD episode)