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Can Small Dogs Become Service Dogs?

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Large dogs don’t have the monopoly on being service dogs, though it may seem like they do. The gorgeous Golden Retrievers and regal German Shepherds seen on the streets as service dogs immediately stand out and get our attention. At the same time, small breed dogs are out there working hard as service dogs, too, and they deserve the same credit. 

What is a Service Dog? 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is trained to complete a task directly relating to their owner’s disability. A service dog is not a pet and, under federal law, is allowed into public areas where pets are not typically allowed. Some examples of service dogs assisting visually impaired people, helping mobility-impaired people with walking, and dogs who obtain life-saving medications for their owners in times of need. 

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Small Service Dog to Match the Task

The American Kennel Club (AKC) acknowledges that service dogs can be of any size. The public’s familiarity with larger breed service dogs can lead them to believe that small service dogs don’t exist. However, service dogs typically match the tasks they need to perform.

A service dog must be the right size to effectively and safely perform the necessary task to help with their owner’s disability.


For instance, it would not be safe for a small Pomeranian to be a mobility service dog trying to prevent an adult person with mobility concerns from falling. However, there are a variety of tasks that small service dogs are ideal for. 

1. Retrieval Dogs

Small breed dogs are ideal for retrieval tasks. Particularly in crowded areas like stores or restaurants, small breed dogs can maneuver through objects and crowds much more efficiently than larger breed dogs. Picking up dropped items, obtaining medication, and retrieving writing and work tools are tasks that small breed dogs excel at. 

2. Seizure Alert Dogs

For people who travel or work, a smaller breed seizure alert dog can be less intrusive to others than a larger breed dog. Smaller breed dogs can be carried, kept on a person’s lap, or placed into a carrier when traveling. They also take up less space in a work area, especially for people who work in cubicles or crowded offices. Because seizure alert dogs must be with their owners at all times, a small-sized dog makes daily commuting less cumbersome. 

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3. Hearing Dogs

It doesn’t take a large dog to hear sounds well. Most dogs have excellent hearing, and small dogs can hear as well as large dogs. People with auditory disabilities may choose small hearing dogs because they’re easier to transport. Having a small dog on their lap or in their arms allows the dog to alert them faster to doorbells, alarms, crying children, and other people. 

4. Psychiatric Service Dogs or Hallucination Discernment

Small dog breeds can also perform well as psychiatric service dogs. Some dogs help their owners confirm whether a vision or sound is real or not, which allows them to discern hallucinations. Other psychiatric service dogs alert their owners to psychiatric triggers, leading them to safety. In these cases, the size of the dog depends on the owner’s preference, and small dogs are just as capable. 

If you’re interested in knowing if you have a qualifying condition for a psychiatric service dog, therapists and doctors can assess your mental health and issue you a signed PSD letter.

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5. Diabetic Alert Dogs

Many smaller dog breeds serve as a medical alert or diabetic alert dogs. These dogs warn their owners of low blood sugar and can bring medication and blood sugar kits. Smaller dogs are quick and agile, allowing them to maneuver around objects during emergencies. 

Small Service Dog Considerations

The progression of a person’s disability might be a point to consider when choosing a small service dog. Service dogs can be a costly, though necessary, investment, and a service dog may remain with its owner for a decade or more. Understanding the progression of the disability and anticipating future needs can impact the choice between a small service dog or a larger one. For instance, a person with diabetes who might have signs of diabetic neuropathy in their legs may opt for a larger service dog trained to help prevent falls in the future. 

But what small service dogs have over larger service dogs is their convenience. Due to their size, small service dogs fit more readily into areas like crowded subways and aircraft. Small dogs also take up less space, making them ideal for urban apartments and cramped office environments.

Can small breed dogs be service dogs? Absolutely. They’re just as intelligent and practical as large service dogs, at only a fraction of the size!

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