Golden Retrievers As Service Dogs (Training, Facts & Myths)

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Want to know if golden retrieves make good service dogs?

They do!

Along with labradors, poodles, and german shepherds, golden retrievers are some of the most popular service dog breeds.

But whether you’re considering getting a golden that’s already trained as a service dog, or training them yourself, there’s a lot to know beforehand.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The difference between service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs
  • Newly-changed laws about service dogs (and how some people are accidentally breaking them)
  • What qualities make a good service dog (and why golden retrievers are great candidates)
  • Where and how to get a service dog — including how much they cost
  • And much more

Plus, at the end, you’ll get answers to some of the most common questions people have about service dogs.

Let’s dive in!

What Is A Service Dog?

Here’s the definition of a service dog, according to the ADA:

“…A dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

Some of these tasks can include:

  • Helping blind people navigate the world
  • Picking up or carrying things for people who need help physically
  • Alerting someone who has lost their hearing to sounds like the doorbell
  • Protecting someone with autism
  • Recognizing seizures
  • And much more

Aren’t these incredible dogs?!

Of course, it takes a lot of time and training to build these skills, but it’s amazing how much dogs can improve people’s lives.

Service Dog vs. Therapy Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog

golden retriever as a service dog

A common mistake people make is getting service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs confused.

They’re trained differently, have different rights, and provide different services.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs provide comfort for people in places like hospitals, nursing homes, airports, or even schools.

One popular group of therapy dogs is the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs.

They’re a group of golden retrievers (and their handlers) who are deployed to areas struck by disaster that need their comforting.

For instance, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School and Pulse Nightclub shootings, the K-9 Comfort Dogs were there to help.

One difference between therapy dogs and service dogs is that therapy dogs are trained to help many people, while service dogs are trained to help one specific person.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs help someone handle things like anxiety, depression, phobias, or loneliness.

Like service dogs (and unlike therapy dogs), they help one specific person.

Emotional support dogs need to be prescribed by a mental health professional, and they may have rights such as being allowed in apartments that have no-pet policies.

They used to have the right to fly, too, but that is changing.

On December 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation ruled that emotional support animals are no longer recognized as service animals.

Because of this new ruling, airlines like Delta don’t allow emotional support animals to fly in the cabin anymore.

Why Therapy & Emotional Support Dogs Are Different Than Service Dogs

The main difference between these groups is this: service dogs are trained to take specific action to help their handler, while emotional support and therapy dogs are not.

For instance, a service dog that is trained to help someone who suffers from seizures may alert the person of an upcoming seizure, keep them safe during the seizure, or go get help.

This isn’t to minimize the tremendous value that therapy and emotional support dogs provide, but it does mean that these groups may have different rights.

Service dogs are generally allowed wherever people are, while emotional support dogs and therapy dogs may or may not be (source).

What Makes A Good Service Dog

golden retriever good service dog

The traits that make a good service dog can vary depending on what tasks they perform.

For instance, if they’re trained to help someone physically, then they need to be big and strong enough to perform these tasks.

Besides the task-specific needs, service dogs should be:

  • Smart
  • Easily trained
  • Well-socialized
  • Have a calm temperament

Why Golden Retrievers Make Good Service Dogs

Golden retrievers have nearly all of the characteristics you would want in a service dog.

They are:

  • Loyal
  • Big and strong enough to help their handlers physically
  • Smart
  • Easy to train
  • Have enough energy to help their handlers throughout the day
  • Great sense of smell
  • Get along well with children and other animals

Where & How To Get A Service Dog

To get a service dog, talk with your healthcare provider about whether or not a service dog could help you.

Once you get written documentation from them, then you have two options to get a service dog:

  1. Train your dog to be a service dog
  2. Purchase a service dog (some of these organizations may even offer them for free)

If you already have a golden retriever, then you’re halfway there!

But if not, there are many organizations that breed and train service dogs, and a quick Google search can help you find them (don’t forget to do your research on their credibility, too).

You may or may not have to pay, depending on the company.

However, be aware that the waiting list to receive a service dog may be long (especially if you’re not paying for it).

Which leads us to the next big question…

How Much Do Service Dog Costs?

Service dogs cost a lot.

For most organizations, it costs more than $30,000 to raise, train, and place a service dog.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to pay $30,000 to get one.

There are some places that charge the full amount, others that will split it with you, and others that will give you one at no cost to you.

The organizations that split or cover the full cost rely on donations, so if you can, definitely consider donating.

How To Train Your Golden Retriever To Be A Service Dog

golden retriever service dog training

As you saw, it can be really expensive or take a long time to get a service dog.

The other option is to train your dog yourself or work with a professional trainer.

Training your golden to be a service dog will start with the basics, like potty training, socialization, and walking on a leash.

After your dog has mastered basic training, then it’s on to more advanced training and task-specific training.

This will vary based on what you need your golden retriever to do, and I recommend reaching out to a professional.

P.S. Getting a golden retriever puppy? Check out the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook!

Scams & Warnings About Service & Emotional Support Dogs

These special categories of dogs have gotten their fair share of attention and controversy.

Here are two rampant ones:

Myth: Your service dog needs to be registered

If you do a Google search about service dogs, here are some ads you might see:

scam advertisements for registering service dogs

All these ads about registering your service dog…

But according to the ADA, service animals don’t need to be registered.

So don’t fall for these scammy companies trying to take your money to register your service dog.

Warning: Don’t pretend your dog is a service dog

Needing a service dog is a serious thing.

Can you imagine if you were limited to living in a wheelchair and needed a dog to help you move or help pick things up for you?

Life would be tough, and unfortunately, imposter service dogs have made life even harder for those that actually need them.

Here are two scenarios where pretending to have a service dog can make it tougher for real service dogs:

Scenario #1:

You go to a restaurant with your dog wearing a service dog vest and present your “certification papers” to the new manager (even though neither of these is needed).

They let you in because you look official and they’re not fully aware of the rules.

The next day, someone with a real service dog comes in with no vest or papers and is given a hard time by this new manager because they assume all service dogs need to wear a vest or be registered.

Scenario #2:

You’re in a store with your dog when they see a service dog walk through your aisle.

They start barking or lunging at the service dog, causing a scene.

Other people are staring, wondering why dogs are even allowed in this store, and the manager tries to kick you both out.

Impersonating a service dog is illegal in some states

If someone truly needs a service dog, life is hard enough without distraction or discrimination.

And it’s not just rude, in some states it’s illegal.

Here’s what the Florida House of Representatives says about this:

“A person who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree…”

It’s illegal and harmful, so please don’t do it.

Golden Retriever Service Dog FAQ

do golden retriever service dogs need a vest?

There’s a lot of confusion about service dogs, but the ADA has a great FAQ regarding them.

Here are some of the more popular questions:

Can I train my golden retriever to be a service dog?

Yes, the ADA does not require service animals to be professionally trained.

Does my service golden retriever need a service dog vest?

Service dogs are not required to have a special vest, tag, or harness.

Do I need to register my golden retriever service dog?

The ADA does not require service dogs to be registered.

But here’s how organizations can determine if a dog is a service dog or not (source):

“In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”


golden retrievers are good service dogs

Golden retrievers can make great service dogs because of their temperament, trainability, and eagerness to learn and please.

If you need a service dog, talk to your healthcare provider about it.

But if you don’t need a service dog, please do not fake it.

It makes life harder for those who do need them, plus it’s illegal in many states.

Have any questions about service dogs?

Have you had a service dog?

Let me know down in the comments.

And if you liked this article, then you’ll love our guide to raising a golden retriever puppy.

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1 thought on “Golden Retrievers As Service Dogs (Training, Facts & Myths)”

  1. Our English creame 4 monthly old make puppy is quite stubborn, making training difficult at best. Treating worked with the small stuff (sit, stay) but leash walking is a challenge. He also seems to have a sensitive stomach so we are hesitant to treat other than with his natural science dog food.

    We are working with a service dog trainer who uses a shock collar, I’m not thrilled by it but understand the method. We are having mixed results there as well.

    Any recommendations are appreciated.


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