The pinto puppy featured in the first part of this article is one who did start into training with me as a Service Dog and eventually washed out. Her name is Adara and she is currently living with a wonderful family as their companion and protector! You will also see pictures of some of my other dogs training in public and on the farm.
I occasionally get inquiries about Anatolian Shepherds to train as Service Dogs, so I decided to write about why they are very often not the ideal breed for owners needing a service dog. As a note for people to keep in mind while reading this, I do train and work with my Anatolians in a variety of situations in the public eye. So, this isn't just generics based on dogs that solely work in the pasture, this is coming from personal experience with having a number of dogs in many, many different situations.
Let's first look at what a Service Dog is. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) or work performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability. Tasks can be many different things including guide work for people who are visually impaired, hearing tasks, mobility work, medication reminders, alerting to blood sugar changes, alerting and responding to panic attacks, seizures and many other things. The criteria here, is that the handler is disabled, and the dog is trained in a behavior that directly helps mitigate the persons disability.
Lets also look at what a Service dog is not. Emotional Support and Therapy dogs are not considered Service Dogs because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task. In other words, if the only thing that the dog is doing, is just being there, and that is comforting to the owner, that dog would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.
The law does not exclude any dog breeds, so why not use an Anatolian? They are amazingly intelligent and intuitive, and they care about their owner! They also have the size to assist with mobility tasks and PTSD tasks. When I am home they alert me to medical issues! And they have helped me when I have fallen! So why wouldn't I work with that and shape the behavior for public access?
Well, lets look at what makes a good service dog. They must be non aggressive to both humans and animals. They cannot show any protective aggression unless the handler is being immediately threatened and it would be reasonable for a human to react aggressively in the same instance. They must be under control at all times. They need to be very stable in every sort of environment that you could encounter in public. Service dogs also need to be very biddable, or obedient to the handlers directions so as to carry out the work or tasks they are trained to perform for the handler.
Practically speaking, this means the dog must be attentive enough to the handler that the dog doesn't need to be constantly reminded to pay attention to the handler when they are asking the dog to do something. If the handler needs assistance with something that only the dog, and not the handler, would be aware of, such as for hearing assistance, or alerting to blood sugar, heart rates, or other chemical changes in the handlers body, the dog must be extremely attentive to the handler and be both willing and able to respond to things without direction from the handler.
So, lets examine the Anatolian both in light of what they are bred to do, and in light of these requirements. Anatolian Shepherds have been bred over centuries to be very independent, thoughtful, and intelligent guardians of livestock. The AKC describes the Anatolian as "Developed through a set of very demanding circumstances for a purely utilitarian purpose; he is a working guard dog without equal, with a unique ability to protect livestock". What this means in real life, is that they do have the instinct and willingness to protect both their human and animal charges using aggression if they feel it to be necessary.
Looking at our criteria above, a service dog needs to be attentive to its handler and biddable. Because of their breeding for a unique job, more often than not, an Anatolian will evaluate a situation, and make a decision without checking with their owner for input or guidance. The independent evaluation and acting without direction, are needed behaviors in a guardian dog. This also means that most of the time, an Anatolian will not be naturally attentive to the handlers needs when out in public. Rather their attention will be focused outwards, watching events unfold and examining each one for potential threats. This also means that the Anatolian will hear commands and directions, and evaluate those in light of the decisions they are making about all other events that are occurring. The Anatolian may choose not to follow a cue, or they may miss a medical alert because they have decided that something else in the environment is a greater threat or problem. This is not them being stubborn or uncaring, this simply means that the Anatolian is doing the job their DNA is telling them to do.
Another criteria, Service dogs cannot exhibit any type of aggression. Guarding behavior, including growling and barking at strange dogs or people who act differently than the dog is used to, is not acceptable behavior for a service dog in a public setting. The law allows for service dogs who display behavior like this to be removed from public areas. But, this is very desirable behavior for an Anatolian who is guarding a flock as they have been bred to do. Another very desirable guardian behavior in working Anatolians is protecting vulnerable, sick, or injured livestock. What this looks like in real life, is that the dog may very well not allow a stranger to approach and help if their animals or human is unable to help themselves. This can be a problem both in public or in a home if the handler has either a medical emergency, or an accident and they are not able to easily direct the dog to allow emergency responders to help.
Another thing to consider is why do you need a Service dog? A person who needs a service dog, has the dog with them because they need the help. If you, or someone you know, needs that kind of assistance, consider whether you have the energy and ability to provide the amount of training and extra work a breed like this will require. Will you have the energy to be that much more alert to your surroundings to create the optimal working environment for your dog? Are you willing to put 18 months or more of training into a dog that has a high likelihood of not being able to work in this capacity? What then, are you able to keep the dog as a companion? Or will you need to return him or her? I am not saying that it can't be done, but these are serious questions and issues to consider before getting a dog like an Anatolian to train as a service dog.
In summary, Anatolians have been bred for centuries to become incredible guardians. They are intelligent, independent, phenomenal dogs. But the things that set them apart as unique from other beloved and wonderful breeds, more often than not makes them extremely incompatible with functioning as a service dog. You will find exceptions within the breed. There are some amazing handlers and trainers that have worked, and do currently work Anatolians as Service dogs. But, these are just that, exceptions to the rule that this wonderful breed is not best suited to being a service dog. If you are considering a service dog, or if you know someone who is considering this breed as a service dog, I would strongly encourage them to look at other breeds first because of the potential for the person to put a lot of time, expense and effort into a dog that will be amazing, but they will not be able to function in the way you need them to.
I am Alison. I enjoy writing now and again, I love my simple life with my dogs, my horses and other critters.