Can a Shih Tzu Be a Service Dog?  

By Everything Shih Tzu July 5, 2019

If you are in a situation where you can benefit from an animal companion, then you might be wondering if Shih Tzu are good service dogs.

Especially if you already happen to own one of the affectionate canines.

People have service dogs for a wide variety of reasons, and there are quite a few dog breeds that would be a good fit.

Shih Tzu wearing a black sweater

Can a Shih Tzu be a service dog? Shih Tzu have the capability of being very effective service animals. There needs to be consideration given to the dog’s size, as it will not be able to perform all tasks for specific disabilities.

For example, a small Shih Tzu would not be a good fit for an owner who needs a dog that can pull a wheelchair.

There are many different types of service dogs, such as guide dogs, hearing dogs, seizure response dogs, and sensory dogs, to name a few.

The owner’s disabilities will determine what type of training his or her dog will require to be a service dog.

In fact, some Shih Tzu can even show a natural ability to recognize different health conditions.

What Do Shih Tzu Do as Service Dogs?

First, it is essential to know what actually makes a dog a service animal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows for any breed of dog to be a service animal and considers “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability” as a service dog.

The tasks that these animals can perform include pulling a wheelchair, alerting a person to potential danger, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons, and even reminding a person to take medication.

If you have a Shih Tzu as your service dog, then your pup might do similar tasks depending on what your unique needs are.

Since there are so many different jobs that service dogs can perform, it’s crucial to understand that not everyone with a service dog may seem to need one at first glance.

If a person can see, hear, walk, and talk, then many people might make the assumption that this person does not need a service animal.

However, the person could have trained her dog to alert her to an upcoming seizure, remind her to take medication or even to know when her blood sugar is too high or too low if she’s a diabetic.

Therefore, if you are considering having your Shih Tzu become a service animal, there are many different tasks that your dog can perform, such as:

  • Guide Dog (or seeing-eye dogs)
    Although these dogs are often larger breeds like Labs and Golden Retrievers, there is no reason that Shih Tzu cannot serve in this role. It can help its owner navigate through different places, find objects, and avoid danger.
  • Hearing Dogs
    Shih Tzu and other small to medium dog breeds are often trained as hearing dogs. These dogs will alert their owners to noises such as doorbells, sirens, and alarms by touching their owners and then leading them towards the sound.
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs
    Shih Tzu can be trained to alert their handlers when there is a change in blood sugar levels. This way, the person knows to check his or her blood sugar immediately and take the appropriate actions. If their owners require medical attention, the dogs can alert others in the household or seek out nearby help.
  • Seizure Alert Dogs
    There is some debate on this particular category of service dogs. Their job is to alert their owners to an oncoming seizure. Many doctors say it is not possible for a dog to be trained to sense an upcoming seizure. However, many dog experts and trainers say it is absolutely possible. In fact, there are cases of dogs being able to detect imminent seizures naturally, without any training. For now, if you train your Shih Tzu to alert you of an oncoming seizure, then it would be recognized as a service dog by the ADA.
  • Service Dogs for Kids
    There are some emerging categories of service animals that work mostly with kids. These dogs provide support mostly to children who are on the autism spectrum and also children that suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

    These dogs can provide a sense of stability for kids, a sense of safety in social settings, help relax them, keep them from running away and can also be trained to track children that might wander off.

    There are also dogs that can be trained to alert people to certain allergens, like peanuts, that are often paired with children.

Another category of service dog is mobility support dogs. This particular type of service animal was not included in the above list because it is not a good fit for smaller breed dogs like Shih Tzu.

This is because mobility support dogs have to be able to support their owner and perform very physical tasks, such as pulling wheelchairs up ramps.

As a service animal, your Shih Tzu will be allowed to accompany you into public places, including restaurants, but food service businesses are not required to let the dogs sit in a chair or be fed at the table.

There are some churches/religious entities that are exempt from this, so you will want to check first to make sure your pup is welcome. 

When you bring your service dog into a business, employees may NOT ask you for documentation to prove that your animal is a service dog.

They also are not allowed to ask for the dog to perform a task to determine if it is a service animal.

All someone can ask is if the dog is required because of a disability and if the dog has been trained to do a particular task to help with the disability.

There are many exceptions made for service animals when it comes to rules and regulations, but all service animals must still be vaccinated and properly licensed.

Dog owners or handlers are responsible for taking care of their service animals' food, grooming and medical needs, and must be able to control their animals at all times.

How Does a Shih Tzu Become a Service Dog?

Shih Tzu become service dogs just like any other breed of dog.

First, you want to make sure your dog has the right temperament for being a service dog, which most Shih Tzu do.

Any service animal should remain calm in large crowds and not overreact to situations.

The docile Shih Tzu definitely meets this requirement. They are generally calm, even-tempered, not overly protective or reactive, and relaxed in crowded spaces.

A service dog's handler must have a disability that directly impacts his or her quality of life, and the Shih Tzu needs to be able to perform tasks to help with that particular disability.

The ADA does not require any specific person or program to train service animals to do these tasks, so owners can train their own dogs if they feel capable of doing so.

A dog-in-training is not yet considered a service animal, but some states will allow dogs-in-training to accompany their owners into public places.

Despite common belief, service dogs do NOT have to be certified.

The ADA does not require dogs to get certifications, wear special vests, ID tags, or patches. In fact, the ADA does not allow mandatory registration of service animals.

But voluntary registration is permissible and can often make bringing a service animal into specific environments easier.

What About an Emotional Support Dog?

The ADA does not consider emotional support dogs a service animal. However, state laws might still allow these animals to accompany their owners into public places.

If you register your Shih Tzu as an emotional support dog strictly to offer companionship or comfort, and you don’t train it to do a particular task to aid your disability, then the ADA will not recognize it as a service dog.

However, if you suffer from anxiety, for example, and you train your Shih Tzu to sense an impending panic attack, or to remind you to take medication, then the ADA would recognize your pet as a service animal.

This is, of course, assuming that your Shih Tzu has completed all proper training.

Overall, many different factors influence a dog’s ability to become a service animal. The disposition of the dog is fundamental, as is the trainability of the animal.

Since Shih Tzu, as a breed, meet both of these marks, they are good candidates for most categories of service dogs.

There are always exceptions, however, since every dog is unique, just like humans, but if you require a canine companion, then a Shih Tzu could make a good service dog for you.

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