Yes, small dogs can be service dogs too

Today, I returned to the store to find a Yorkie wearing a (lopsided!) service dog harness. This reminded me about an issue that sometimes arises.

Fake service dogs is one of those issues that can get a bit exaggerated. It’s not “transgender persons peeking in bathrooms”, because some pretend that their dog is a service animal when it’s not.

This causes problems for service dog handlers.

People with small service dogs often have more problems.

Our Image of a Service dog

I’m willing to bet that most people have an image in their heads of a service dog similar to mine.

A labrador or golden retriever in a see-eye harness. This is especially true if you are older. A service dog is.

Seeing eye dogs must be at least a reasonable size and must be matched in height to their handlers. You may also see standard poodles.

Mobility assistance dogs can also be large because they are trained in pulling their handler in a wheelchair. Others may be smaller and provide services such as picking up items that their handler has dropped or carrying their purse. Dogs that aid in balance need to be large. Typical breeds include labradors, golden retrievers, large poodles. Bernese Mountain Dogs are sometimes used when large dogs are needed.

Not all service dogs need to be large! Small service dogs can be a great help to their owners, who are more likely to ask about certification and to verify that it is a service dog.

What do small service dogs do?

Small dogs can be used in four areas:

  1. Medical response. You may have heard of dogs being trained to detect COVID infection. Dogs can be trained so that they can detect biochemical changes in their handlers’ bodies. These dogs are often used by handlers with severe migraines or seizures. The dog will alert the handler if there is a seizure or drop of blood sugar. This will then tell them to take their medication. Other diseases can also be detected by medical response dogs. They are trained to help their owners if they have a seizure, or have a health crisis. If you see a service animal that is not attached to a person or dog, it may be trying to get the other person to follow it. This is something I have heard that chihuahuas excel at.
  2. Allergen detection. Allergy dogs can detect and warn of allergens, most often food allergens. The dog will alert the person if they are allergic to peanuts and accidentally eat contaminated food.
  3. Hearing dogs. Deaf owners can train hearing dogs to alert them to certain sounds, such as the smoke alarm, the microwave, and the phone. Sometimes, they are taught to bring the owner’s phone handset. This doesn’t require much size.
  4. Some are used for psychiatric reasons. Some psychiatric dogs need to have a large size to perform a task called blocking. This is where the dog restricts their owner’s personal space. However, dogs that are trained for helping their owners overcome panic attacks, wake them from nightmares and trigger flashbacks don’t have to be very large. Psychiatric service canines are and not emotional support dogs. ESAs are pets that assist someone who is struggling to make ends meet. Dogs that are trained to perform specific tasks are called psychiatric service dogs.

Even small dogs can be used as mobility assistance dogs, if the primary tasks are retrieving dropped objects.

A small dog can still perform the same tasks as a larger dog, but it doesn’t mean that he cannot be used as a service dog.

Why do handlers choose small dogs?

It’s obvious. If you live in a small apartment or travel a lot, smaller dogs will take up less space. They eat less. They live longer because they are trained properly.

They have more problems when they take their dogs out in public.

If you see a small dog at a location where dogs are not allowed or wearing a service harness, assume that it is a service animal.

Because small dogs can also serve… and are adorable doing it.