Can Rescue Dogs Be Service Dogs?

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Service dogs are exceptional animals that help an individual with a disability in various ways. These highly trained dogs can handle many tasks, from preventing someone with anxiety from lapsing into a panic attack to assisting an individual with a physical disability by providing mobility assistance.

Most service animals are trained by experts from a young age and graduate from service dog schools to ensure they execute every command perfectly. However, it’s not just puppies that grow up to be service dogs. A service dog can be any dog trained for a specific duty.

If you’re wondering whether rescue dogs can become service dogs, the answer is a resounding yes! Coming from a rescue or a shelter does not exclude them from becoming a service dog.

Rescue dogs can be service dogs, but there’s more to this topic than a simple yes. Our article will cover important points about rescue dogs becoming service dogs for those considering a rescue dog as a service animal.

Why Rescue Dogs Can Become Excellent Service Dogs

There isn’t a rule that says rescue dogs can’t become service animals. Any dog that receives proper training can be a service dog. In fact, a rescue or shelter dog can become an excellent service animal by not only performing tasks to help their handler but also showing undying gratitude. Rescue dogs may also have a background in assisting their previous owners, which gives them an advantage during training.

5 Considerations for Training a Rescue Dog to Become a Service Dog

Rescue dogs can become service dogs, but not all are suitable for service animal work. You’ll need to do some research before adopting a rescue dog to train them for service dog tasks. Below, you’ll find some of these considerations for training a rescue dog to become a service animal.


Training a service animal takes time, and it’s significantly harder to train an old rescue dog to help an individual with a disability. Generally, the younger the rescue dog, the easier it is to train them for service animal work. A younger dog also assures they will serve their handler for a longer period.


What was their situation before adoption? Are they properly socialized? Did the rescue dog receive any training prior to coming to the shelter? Asking questions about the dog’s background and understanding where they’re coming from makes it easier to find the right rescue dog for service dog work.

Since a rescue dog’s background will tell a lot about their upbringing, you can set realistic expectations about training them to become a service animal.


Depending on the type of service dog you need, the size is another aspect to consider. For example, a small dog wouldn’t make a fitting mobility assistance dog but could be an excellent hearing assistance dog.


Not every dog breed is suitable for service dog work. For example, a psychiatric service dog may need to comfort their handler in crowded public spaces. A protective breed, such as a livestock guardian, may view others as a threat and get distracted instead of preventing their handler from lapsing into a panic attack.


The general temperament of a rescue dog makes all the difference when figuring out whether they are suitable for service dog tasks. If a dog has a desire to listen to your commands, they will be much easier to train for service dog work than another with a more independent spirit.

Importance of Service Animals

Yes, rescue dogs can become service dogs. However, the importance of service animals goes beyond their background. A service dog’s job is to make their handler’s life easier.

Take a service dog for the visually impaired as an example. These dogs help their handlers navigate through obstacles and dangers, such as potholes and cars on the road. If a service dog upholding these duties would get distracted, it can go as far as risking their handler’s life.

That said, whether a rescue dog or a puppy grew up to become a service dog, all service animals must be exceptionally trained to ensure they stay on the job no matter what.