If you’re recovering from injury or wounding, PTSD, or another physical or psychological disability brought on by trauma, a companion, service, or therapy dog may be something you should look into. These animals are trained and used for a variety of things, and have been shown to help veterans recover and reintegrate into civilian life more easily.
To know which kind of dog you should be seeking, we’ve pulled together information on these animals, as well as several specific breeds that make for excellent companion dogs.
What is a Therapy Dog?
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Therapy dogs are dogs which have been trained to provide comfort, love, and affection to people in various circumstances. These kinds of dogs can help those who have autism, or who suffer from anxiety disorders, or have PTSD.
The laws in the United States do not recognize therapy dogs as service animals, and so therapy dogs are not allowed the same privileges as services animals.
Common places where therapy dogs are found include:
What is a Service Dog?
Service dogs are a specially trained type of assistance dog that help people with disabilities. Many organizations and breeders exist who specialize in the breeding and training of service dogs. These groups have specific dogs that have desirable traits for service animals, including and especially trainability, and biddability.
What is a Companion Dog?
A companion dog is a dog whose chief purpose is companionship versus being trained for certain tasks or work. While there are debates among dog breed groups as to what qualifies a breed as a companion dog, any breed of dog can be used as a companion dog.
There is a long tradition of keeping dogs purely as companions. This tradition extends back thousands of years to the Chinese nobility. Breeds such as the Pekingese and the Pug were selected for their ability to be companion pets.
Best Companion Dog Breeds List
Beagles are a small breed of hound originally from England, originally bred for hunting hare. These dogs are known for having a good sense of smell and tracking instinct, and are used as detection dogs worldwide. They are classified as intelligent, if single-minded, and are a popular pet thanks to their size and good temperament.
Beagles have an even temper and gentle disposition that help make them useful as a companion dog. They are pack animals and enjoy company, and while they may initially be wary of strangers, it does not take very long for them to come around to being sociable.
Beagles are great companion dogs because:
A downside of this breed it that they are so single-minded that when they’re given an order or pick up a scent, they can be difficult to recall. Another downside is that beagles are such a pack animal that they are prone to suffer separation anxiety.
The Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels belong to either the American Cocker Spaniel or the English Cocker Spaniel breeds. Generally speaking, the term cocker spaniel is used interchangeably for both breeds.
Originally, these dogs were bred as hunting dogs in the United Kingdom. The term cocker came from the fact that they used these dogs to hunt the Eurasian woodcock. When the dog came to the United States, it was bred to a different standard for hunting the American woodcock.
Cocker spaniels make great companion dogs for a variety of reasons.
Cocker spaniels tend to be docile homebodies who will snuggle for a good pat at the end of the day when you need to kick your feet up and relax. Just don’t have a bird at home, as these little guys are bred to hunt birds and may get too interested in your feathery friend.
Poodles are formal dog breeds, which include the Standard Poodle, the Miniature Poodle, and the Toy Poodle. There’s no direct certainty where the breed comes from, but many assume they’re descended either from a German water dog or a French Barbet.
They’re talented sports dogs with high agility, tracking, and herding skills, and are obedient. They make for great performance dogs, and have a history of working in circuses. They also make great assistance dogs.
Poodles make great companion dogs because:
Poodles have a great sense of humor, don’t shed much, and love their families. They’re truly one of the best companion dogs around, so don’t overlook them just because they have the silly reputation of being prissy.
The Border Collie
Considered the most intelligent dog of all, the Border Collie is an amazing animal. They’re large, lean, strong dogs, with attractive faces, eyes, and fur. These dogs are sensitive, mild-mannered, and sweet pups who are friendly to people and other dogs.
They’re natural herders, which is adorable in the puppies, since these little guys may actually try to herd their humans. Puppies do need to be trained not to herd humans, though, or they’ll do this their whole lives.
Collies make awesome companions dogs because:
Collies are great for families or individuals alike. They’re highly protective and suspicious of people who throw off a weird vibe. These dogs are some of the best companions you could ever have in your home.
Dalmatians came from the region of Dalmatia in Croatia. They were carriage dogs, meaning that they were bred and trained to trot alongside a carriage for the protection of those riding inside.
Dalmatians are probably the best companion dogs for the athlete. These larger dogs need lots of exercise, and could easily run and play all day. They’re great watchdogs that stay alert to everything around, but tend to be reserved and quiet in public. At home, though, they’re the class clown.
Dalmatians make excellent companion dogs for these reasons:
Dalmatians are best for older kids, as they’re very energetic and may bowl over little ones. They can handle small children, though, if trained properly.
The Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever, or Labrador, or Lab, is a retriever-gun dog. These dogs came from imported progenitors from Newfoundland to Europe. Various earls and dukes bred them in the 1830s specifically to be hunting dogs, and they were originally called Newfoundland dogs.
Labs are one of the most popular breeds for guide dogs for the blind and those with autism, for therapy dogs, sporting and hunting dogs, and bomb, drug, and other dangerous substance sniffers for the authorities.
Labs make great companion dogs for the following reasons:
Labradors are friendly, fun, and athletic dogs who love people and want to be around. They’re great companions because they want to be your companion and constant tag-along pal.
Boxers are muscular, intelligent dogs with curious looks on their faces. They’re athletic pups who thrive on activity and energy. Boxers are upbeat, happy creatures who patiently protect their own, and get along well with others. They’re social dogs that protect their loved ones fiercely.
Boxers are some of the best companion dogs because:
The main thing to watch out with boxers is that they can get very territorial. While you’re the one he’s protecting, that’s great, but for the guest who smells wrong that night, it can be a bit intimidating.
The Bichon Frise
These fluffy dogs are often referred to as powder puffs. These dogs are happy small dogs with gentle mannerisms and sensitive souls. They’re highly affectionate and great with families. They don’t shed, but they do require frequent grooming.
The Bichon Frise is a great companion dog because:
These famously tiny Mexican dogs are lightweight, friendly, and come with either long or short hair. Chihuahuas are the smallest breed of dog, and are thought to come from the ancient line of companion dogs for the Toltec people, the Techichi dogs.
Chihuahuas are highly influenced by the behavior of their parents and grandparents, though can be socialized and trained to behave differently. While it may not be expected, obedience classes are highly important for chihuahuas and other small dogs. They make for better companions when they are trained properly.
Chihuahuas are den dogs, meaning they prefer a den for sleeping, rather than open spaces. They’ll burrow into pillows, blankets, clothes hampers, or anything else that allows them to feel closed off and safe. They do also strongly enjoy the sunshine, though.
Chihuahuas are great companions for a lot of reasons:
The main drawback of a chihuahua is that they can get pretty territorial over their people, which can make them annoying or frustrating with strangers around. Chihuahuas are also not very good with kids under 13 or so, because kids aren’t usually very disciplined and calming but rather energetic and unpredictable. Chihuahuas don’t do well with those characteristics.
How to Find the Best Companion Dogs
If you’re looking for a companion or service dog, there are a variety of organizations that help pair people with pets. You can check out pet rescues and dog pounds for assistance. If you’re a veteran, there are specific programs to help you find a canine pal, including Pets for Vets, Paws for Veterans, and Working Dogs for Vets, among many others.