Many breeds can be DADs! While the breed is not the most important factor, certain breeds are more likely to succeed. The most successful breeds for any type of service work are Golden Retrievers, Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, and Collies. There is a reason established organizations such as The Seeing Eye, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and Canine Companions for Independence use these breeds – they have experimented with other breeds but have found the “Fab 4” have the highest success rates. Below are other common breeds, and a few pros and cons of each.
German Shepherds – these dogs are very smart and willing to learn. However, they need extensive socialization in order to prevent guarding tendencies. The breed is very prone to guarding but a DAD cannot ever growl or attempt to protect in any way, so there is a risk with using a German Shepherd as a Diabetic Alert Dog.
Australian Shepherds – these are very smart dogs as well but some are slightly sensitive to sounds or situations. Working line Australian Shepherds are very high drive and not suitable for service work because ti requires many hours of down time.
Border Collies – Border Collies are brilliant, but not typically good candidates for diabetic alert work. They can be extremely sensitive to sounds and obsess over objects. They are extremely driven and will find entertainment if not provided with it at all times. Their weaknesses are similar to Australian Shepherds, except more extreme. Occasionally some show line Border Collies are suitable as service dogs, but working lines are not likely to be successful.
Chihuahuas – While Chihuahuas are capable of smelling well enough to detect low and high blood sugars, their small size is not a good choice for Diabetic Alert work if going in public. Carrying a dog is not professional and should not be done in public with a service dog, but a dog as small as a Chihuahua will likely not be seen and is at more risk to be stepped on and become injured or cause fear of crowds. A slightly larger breed is a better choice.
Bully breeds – Bully breeds (American Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier, etc.) are very capable of smelling lows and highs and alerting. However a breed in this category will make your life more difficult. You will receive more access issues from businesses and the public will be more wary and nervous around your dog which may occasionally cause a scene. You are permitted to have a pit bull type dog as a DAD, but I would recommend choosing a breed that is less intimidating. Additionally, these dogs do often have guarding tendencies as well, increasing the risk of the dog washing out of service work.
For more details on breeds for DAD training, refer to the MD Dogs Training Workbook.