Guild of Shepherds & Collies

Why Herding Breeds Make Superb Service Dogs

Herding Breeds Make Superb Service Dogs

superb service dog

Since the beginning, herding breed dogs have led the way as superb service dogs in the United States. It all started when Morris Frank, a young blind man, heard about dogs helping people with vision problems in Europe. He contacted the American trainer, who was working with German Shepherd Police Dogs, and asked her to help him train a dog as his personal guide dog. Upon returning to the US with his guide dog, their successful debut in New York City opened up the possibilities for many people with disabilities.

While dogs were originally only used as guides for people with vision problems, dogs have branched out as assistants to many people. They can work as hearing dogs, as well as service dogs for mobility-challenged owners, too.

Why would herding breeds make excellent service dogs? The reasons are many. Herding breed dogs tend to be very alert and almost hyper-aware of their surroundings. They respond to sudden movements and have an innate sense of space since they work with the pressure bubbles of livestock. In general, the herding dogs are healthy and reasonably long-lived. Many herding breeds are large enough to work both as effective guides and as service dogs for people with mobility handicaps.

Shannon Chilson is a Belgian Sheepdog breeder who received a tough diagnosis four years ago - she was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth Disorder or CMT, an inherited neurological muscular disease, which is a progressive, and painful, problem with no cure in sight at this time. Physical therapy and pain management are the only treatment options Shannon was given to mitigate the effects of the disease. Falling and tripping are common symptoms of this illness. Shannon is determined to keep her mobility as long as possible, but it quickly became obvious that she needed help. A service dog was suggested by her healthcare providers.

Enter Jensen – a young, male Belgian Sheepdog who Shannon and her husband had been showing in conformation. Young, with sound structure, a solid temperament and bonded with Shannon already, training Jensen to work seemed like a great option. Not every dog can be a good service dog but Jensen had many of the characteristics you look for. Service dogs need to meet minimum standards to truly be of assistance to their owners.

Shannon found a local trainer, Mary Cummings, with experience in training service dogs as well as many dog sports. She has taken Jensen and Shannon under her wing and is working to make them a great team. Having an experienced trainer is very important. Your life may depend on your service dog in some situations. Counting on a loving, but not trained pet could lead to serious injury or setbacks. Mary has experience with a wide range of herding breeds as well, so she understands the aptitudes, strengths, and weaknesses of herding dogs.

As Shannon says, “In training, we work on Jensen stabilizing me while walking in all situations. He is learning to help me up from sitting and from a fall. He is also learning to retrieve a cell phone in case I need emergency help. He is already accompanying me everywhere I go and takes his tasks of supporting me very seriously. We will add more tasks as needed and my life changes.” As with so many herding dogs, Jensen loves having a job to do. Being with his beloved human 24/7 is perfect for this young, active Belgian.

While most service dogs are purpose-bred and trained from day one for their life’s tasks, Jensen is an example of how a well-bred herding dog can adapt and learn to work as a service dog with a dedicated owner and a talented trainer.


Article By:
Deb M. Eldredge, DVM
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