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I am new to this and I am starting a charity (Sierra Service Dogs) to breed psychiatric service dogs for children and vets.

I, admittedly, have spent most of my free time researching the best way to set up a charity and fund it, buying the property and building the kennel, rather than which lines of dogs are best for working service dogs.

However, I am committed to using German Shepherds. I own 2 and mine will be the first trained by the new trainer I hired. I am looking for a breeder that will help me obtain a great female. Initially, we only plan to start with 1 breeding female as both of mine are fixed.

Any advice would be great. I know that I have a lot to digest before making any decisions, so the more I know, the better. Also, if demand isn't high enough for the charity, we would train any extra pups as Sierra Rescue Dogs for use as search and rescue dogs in Tahoe. Either way, the offspring would not be sold.

Thanks for listening.
 

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I don't know exactly what goes into a psychiatric service dog, but I'm not sure working line GSDs would be the best for that. Could you explain further, what *traits* and *qualities* you are looking for?
 

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From ADI: A Service Dog’s job is to make an individual with a disability more able, not to protect them. The dog’s presence is a natural deterrent. Because Assistance Dogs are taken into public places and some individuals with disabilities are not able to physically restrain their dogs, the Assistance Dog must be safe for the public. Many dogs, especially working breeds, will sense their owner’s disability and their vulnerability. These dogs can learn on their own to protect at inappropriate times. This can be compounded by an individual who doesn’t recognize that they are unconsciously encouraging this behavior.

The most important qualities we look for in a dog, regardless of breed, are excellent health (including orthopedics), a friendly, intelligent personality, a strong work ethic and desire to please.
 

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Given that not all pups in the litters of even highly experienced, successful breeders are suitable for service work (or SAR ...), what are your plans for the pups who wash out?
 

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Magwart voiced my first concern as well. You'll need to account for the pups who aren't suitable for either job, because there will be some even with the most careful breeding and training. FWIW I do have a service dog and I also do K9 SAR, so I've got a little personal experience with the training of both. ;)

I don't know enough about GSD lines to make any specific suggestions, but I'd really caution you to be sure the breeder you work with to help you get started really understands the requirements of a psychiatric service dog. I'd be concerned that a lot of very nice working GSDs I've met are too protective and/or too high-energy to be suitable psychiatric service dogs. The qualities a working breeder might consider ideal in a GSD might be inappropriate for a service dog.

How are you planning on connecting the dogs to the people who need them, and will you charge for them or offer them for free? I ask the latter question just because it seems like a really expensive proposition to breed purebreds for psychiatric service dogs. I volunteered with one organization that took in shelter dogs (usually with the adoption fee waived and all shots/spay/neuter done already) to train as SDs for vets, and even with active fundraising, low overhead and some assistance from the VA (this was before their recent decisions about service dogs), they had to really work to break even. But a lot of people who need a service dog can't pay for them, so it's hard to even make up costs that way. Sorry if you've already thought all this through and have a plan for it, I've just seen a lot of really admirable charities fail before they start because of logistical and funding issues like that.

It is a cool idea though, psychiatric service dogs are such a wonderful thing for people who need them and I hope it works out. :) Also, just out of curiosity, why are you limiting it to children and vets rather than anyone in need?
 

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If you are serious about this project and want to do it the RIGHT way, you need a mentor in the breed. Hopefully someone who is experienced with breeding and raising service dogs. Where are you located?
 

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You'll need a plan for the puppies that do not qualify for work, a good plan.

I agree with Freestep - you need an experienced mentor and partnership with kennels of dogs suitable for this sort of work.
 

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You should contact some other service dog organizations in your area that breed their own dogs and see how they do things. Although its a great goal...to have each and every puppy you produce be able to either be a service dog or a SAR dog...it's extremely unlikely that this will happen.

SAR people will tell you how hard it is to find a dog with the drive for SAR, and service dog trainers and handlers will tell you how hard it is to find a dog with the temperament to be a service dog. Personally, I think you'll have a very hard time breeding for both of those.

I don't want to put down the GSD as a breed...but there are other breeds out there that are much more compatible for service work. They tend to mature faster, be calmer, and just have a better over all temperament for the work. So the other breed is ready at a much younger age (which means a longer time with the handler) to be a service dog.

I've also met a person once who purchased a great working line GSD to be her service dog. The breeder raved to her how great his lines were for work...and they were...Schutzhund work. Well this dog had so much ball drive and prey drive, that there was no way it would ever be a service dog. All it wanted to do was go after a tennis ball. It was also extremely protective of said tennis ball, and would attack other dogs for it. Those drives would've been great for Schutzhund, but not anywhere near what they needed to be for service.
 

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I don't want to put down the GSD as a breed...but there are other breeds out there that are much more compatible for service work.
This is actually my opinion too, and in fact the Women's prison who trains SDs for the public prefers Goldens. Not only are they temperamentally suitable for the work, they are more "public friendly", apparently.

I'm not saying GSDs are not good for SD work but it's just "easier" with other breeds, Labs and Goldens do spring to mind.
 

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"SAR people will tell you how hard it is to find a dog with the drive for SAR, and service dog trainers and handlers will tell you how hard it is to find a dog with the temperament to be a service dog. Personally, I think you'll have a very hard time breeding for both of those."

why? we've done it with guide dogs, SAR and RCMP dogs coming from the same litter - genetics .
 

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I had my trainer pick my SD for me. He looked for proper temperament and I wanted pretty & a snugly dog. Out of 8 puppies he looked at only one had the proper temperament. And if none of those did, I would have had to wait until the next litter. I got perfect temperament and pretty. Fiona does not like to snuggle. Please be aware that psychiatric dogs don't always get the same treatment as a service dog. For example, cannot fly on plane, unless PTSD dog.


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You also should find someone who is experienced in training psychiatric service dogs, to help mentor you as well...

Also I am a member of a forum for service and therapy dogs and I've seen several conversations there that GSDs are not the best suited for this job, due to the reasons mentioned in this thread, and this was from trainers and handlers who are experienced with what psychiatric service dogs are required to do...
 

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"SAR people will tell you how hard it is to find a dog with the drive for SAR, and service dog trainers and handlers will tell you how hard it is to find a dog with the temperament to be a service dog. Personally, I think you'll have a very hard time breeding for both of those."

why? we've done it with guide dogs, SAR and RCMP dogs coming from the same litter - genetics .
I don't think it's impossible, but I think it would be difficult for an inexperienced breeder to reliably turn out dogs who are suitable for both purposes, even with good mentors (particularly if the mentor didn't know much about psychiatric service dogs). The temperament and drive you look for in each is very different. I know that some bloodlines can be very versatile, but from my experience with both, it seems like you're breeding for nearly opposite temperaments if your goal is to produce PSDs and SAR dogs.

Also, psychiatric service dogs and guide dogs are kind of different, and some of those differences make GSDs overall somewhat less suitable IMO. One of the big ones is the protective aspect, as the OP's own quoted description noted. Psychiatric service dogs, especially ones for people with PTSD, may have to assist in keeping others away and "guarding" their owner during anxiety attacks--but it isn't really guarding, the dog can't be aggressive or dangerous to well-meaning but ignorant bystanders during this. Because of this, I've met some people who train psychiatric service dogs won't accept breeds known for guarding, including GSDs.

The other issue is one of physical and mental activity. Guide dogs tend to get a lot of exercise throughout the day. It's not necessarily high-energy work, but it's constant. A psychiatric service dog may have a very different life, especially one for a young child or for a veteran who may be suffering from physical injury as well as mental trauma. I've seen more than one psych dog placed with an owner who is confined to a hospital for months while going through physical rehab. The dog's job is mostly to chill out with the veteran and provide emotional support. Further, people suffering from severe mental illness may be largely confined to their homes even with a service dog, due to fear, anxiety, depression, etc. The dog helps with that, but it still may take time for the owner to gain enough confidence to have an active life outside the home.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think GSDs are unable to be psychiatric service dogs and I have even met one who was very good at his job. I also know that in any given litter, you're going to have a variety of different temperaments regardless of their breeding. I just think the OP needs to be realistic about the drawbacks of this particular breed for this particular job overall.

And this isn't a knock on GSDs either. My other favorite breed, ACDs, are also largely unsuitable as psychiatric service dogs because of this as well, and for largely the same reasons (guarding instinct, significant exercise requirements). My service dog is Scooter, my ACD/BC cross, who I trained for it while I was dealing with PTSD after a violent crime was committed against me. But, he's also a very unusual dog and not at all like most ACDs and mixes I know. So I'm not even saying that it's impossible to find suitable dogs from a breed that is generally unsuitable, but since the OP has some hurdles here, I think she needs to be really realistic and careful about the potential problems with her plan.

I also don't want to discourage her from pursuing it though. We need more support and awareness of psychiatric service dogs and I'll support anyone who wants to try to help. I just think she needs to be very cautious and probably spend more time learning about breeding before she jumps in headfirst. :)
 

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My point was that its a great goal...but I know people that work with service dog organizations that have their own breeding programs and they've told me that they do not place 100% of their dogs in working environments. These aren't GSDs but they are realistic and understand that they aren't going to get 10 dogs a litter with the temperaments they're looking for.

Even the best breeders in the world can't do this, have litter after litter of dogs that get placed into public service in some way. The military doesn't even get this kind of retention rate with their breeding program. So I just don't want the OP to be set in their way that they will not put any dogs in pet homes. I'm guessing its inevitable that some dogs will end up as pets.
 

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... Please be aware that psychiatric dogs don't always get the same treatment as a service dog. For example, cannot fly on plane, unless PTSD dog.

That is not correct. A Psychiatric Service Dog is allowed to fly in cabin.
 

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This is actually my opinion too, and in fact the Women's prison who trains SDs for the public prefers Goldens. Not only are they temperamentally suitable for the work, they are more "public friendly", apparently.

I'm not saying GSDs are not good for SD work but it's just "easier" with other breeds, Labs and Goldens do spring to mind.
In this case it is not the dog more than it is the training methods used. In general I agree and so do other Orgs that the LAB/Golden is easier to train for this work. Truth is IMO the GSD does not adapt well to cookie cutter training methods of a lot of orgs. They need more personalized attention for both the dog and the disabled handler. On the flip side IMO when you are able to give the dog (GSD) and the handler personalized attention that is tailored for both of them specifically, the results with the GSD are just amazing in comparison to the cookie cutter trained LAB/GOLDEN SD. More time and versatility = more costs associated with the raising and training of a SD. That is also a factor with a lot of SD orgs. LABS/GOLDENS are cheaper to train and adapt better to a mass production format. Also, a LAB/GOLDEN (So I have heard) is easier for the public to accept VS a GSD as they view a GSD as thetening in general by false perception IE Police Dog.
 

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The retriever breeds are universally used for this endeavor as well as for scent detection by police and military. I have several as well as GSDS. So articulate if you will with regard to "cookie cutter" training
Also why do you feel retrievers are cheaper to train?
 
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