Service dogs are specially trained to aide to people with different disabilities or impairments, such as visual disability, hearing impairment, mobility impairments, and other invisible illnesses like diabetes. Normally, a service dog is only trained for one disability, which helps the dog assist their human partners more efficiently and intently. Therefore, service dogs for different disabilities vary in their tasks, training, sizes, breeds, and so on.
As mental health problems become increasingly important in today’s stressful society, a type of service dog, the psychiatric service dog (PSD), is becoming increasingly popular in the treatment of psychiatric issues. If you are wondering whether you qualify for one, let’s take a closer look at these extraordinary dogs.
In this article:
Definition of a psychiatric service animal
Just like standard service dogs, psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform special tasks for people with psychiatric disabilities or mental impairments, such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. Unlike Emotional Support Dogs, which only provide mental comfort for humans, psychiatric service dogs can perform tasks and deal with various conditions caused by psychiatric issues in a variety of ways. For example, if you feel stressed in a crowd, a PSD can lead you away from the place under your orders and offer deep pressure therapy to minimize your panic attack. The presence of these service helpers can keep you calm and prevent you from severe symptoms.
What does a psychiatric service dog do?
In order to maintain the handler’s emotional state, a service dog has been trained for many tasks including:
1. Reminder: Alerting to oncoming seizures, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and other medical conditions through sensing the changes in the handler’s body, and reminding the person to take medication. A PSD can interrupt your repetitive or destructive behavior by pawing your legs or nosing your body, which helps you to focus on the dog and figure out the problem. What’s more, they can remind you of daily routines. For example, the dog can wake you up every morning to prevent you from sleeping too much and remind you to take walks so as to increase your exercise and improve socialization.
2. Pressure therapy: As mentioned above, PSDs can be trained to apply pressure from paws, nose, or head to the lap, chest, and abdomen of people to alleviate stress, depression, panic attacks, or other discomfort. This simple behavior can reduce the awareness of physical pain, lower blood pressure and ease anxiety and loneliness.
3. Acting as a protective boundary: For people who suffer from social anxiety if they get too close to others in a crowded place. A trained service dog can use its body to build a boundary between you and others under certain conditions, creating enough space for you to relieve your emotional stress.
4. Being a detector in public: PTSD sufferers fear corners, unfamiliar surroundings, or entering buildings and recall their worst memories that may cause severe panic attacks in public. A trained psychiatric service dog can walk in front of the handler to ensure that the places are negotiable/passable. This can give the person a sense of security and avoid mental panic. In addition, if the panic suddenly occurs, this dog can reorient and lead the handler away from the current location by providing tactile stimulation.
5. Companionship: Studies show that emotional support from a service dog can give a sense of ease and greatly lower blood pressure. People with psychiatric problems state that they can find comfort in their service helpers and regain confidence when they become anxious or feel disconnected.
Common Conditions in which a Psychiatric Service Dog can help
When it comes to getting a service dog for psychiatric problems, every handler must first have a disability or a diagnosed illness under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Many mental conditions have been successfully treated with the aid of a Psychiatric Service Dog. The common ones are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and chronic anxiety (including social anxiety).
1. PTSD is one of the most life-threatening mental problems because it is invisible and easily occurs with no obvious symptoms, making it difficult for others in the public to find and can therefore cause serious situations. A service dog for PTSD can detect your subtle body behavior and alert you to an oncoming attack. Also, when PTSD happens, the dog can retrieve the medication and calm you down by deep pressure therapy.
2. Depression has increased in many people in recent decades, mainly due to stress from work and life. Generally, those affected don’t want to interact with other people and prefer to indulge in their inner world at home. A psychiatric service dog can warm a heart by providing comfort and making grief go away by licking or pawing.
3. Chronic Anxiety can cause uneasiness or panic with compulsive behaviors anytime. A smart service dog can recognize the signs of an anxious attack and alert you in good time to avoid it happening. In addition, the dog can protect the handler with social anxiety in public by preventing people from accidentally crowding you.
What’s more, having a dog means that you have a responsibility to take care of it, from feeding, walking, training, to playing. This is also a process of learning how to plan your time and how to socialize with others during the daily walks, which can greatly improve mental health.
Best psychiatric service dog breeds
Any breed of dog can be a service dog as long as the owner has a stressful disability that limits daily activities and the dog meets a few requirements under the Americans with Disability Act:
• The dog must be trained to assist in completing tasks related to the owner’s disability.
• The dog cannot show disobedient or aggressive behaviors and disorders such as peeing, barking, and beating in public.
Most well-trained psychiatric service dogs have the following characteristics:
• Being keen to please
• High intelligence
• Are sensitive to physical or emotional changes in the handler
• High trainability
• High concentration
• Interacting well with trainers or owners
• Are reliable and loyal
Some dog breeds have been shown are to have certain service dog temperaments, which is more likely to cause them to complete the work of psychiatric service dogs. Here are some of the popular dog breeds:
• Standard/Mini Poodle
• Labrador Retriever
• Miniature Schnauzer
• Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
• German Shepherd
• Doberman Pinscher
• Border Collie
Small dog breeds are more suitable for people who need an animal companion during air travels or who live in a small apartment. Large dog breeds can provide physical support if the handler has trouble getting up.
Can psychiatric service dogs go anywhere?
According to federal law, psychiatric service dogs have access to public places. Owners can experience panic attacks anytime, anywhere, which would cause dizziness or aggravate the illness if no immediate treatment is given. This can be life-threatening if the sufferer is alone at home or in a crowded public place. Plus, lots of factors could cause panic in public, such as a corner, a public speech or an elevator.
Service dogs are trained to accompany along the owner without distraction and to carry out tasks at any location. They have the following public access rights:
• Enter an airport and fly with the owner in the cabin without any additional fees.
• Accompany the owner in public places where pets are usually rejected, including businesses, government agencies, hospitals, hotels, schools, stores, banks, and other service providers.
• Psychiatric service dogs can also live with the owners in an accommodation with “No Pets” rules. The pet policy of the building is not applied to service dogs.
However, service dogs may be evicted from those places if they display unruly and disobedient behavior that disturbs or threatens others.
How to register a psychiatric service dog
If you are looking for a service dog to assist you with your psychiatric issues, you should first know the following.
1. Service dog training:
Service dogs must be specially trained for one to two years and go through public access tests before they can go public.
If you have a domestic dog and hope to train it as your service dog, you must first send your dog to an organization to have a temperament test done. The test result indicates whether your dog’s temperament and manners meet the service dog requirements and offers you appropriate advice. If your pup passes the test successfully, you could train it as follows:
• Find a reputable service dog trainer
• Send your dog to a service dog training school
• Train your dog by yourself
However, if you don’t currently have a dog, you could do the following:
• Buy a well-trained service dog from a professional agency
• Foster a new puppy and train it in one of the ways mentioned above.
2. Service dog registration
Registering a service dog might be regarded as an unnecessary process as many accessible places for service dogs cannot force you to display documentation that shows that your service dog is fully trained.
However, sometimes the identification of the service dog, including identity card, certificate, bandana, vest, and collar, might be additional and visible evidence when you take your service dog with you in public areas. Therefore, there are certain advantages to registering your service helper in a reputable organization.
What you can legally be asked
As many businesses or individuals are still unfamiliar with the rules for service dogs, their access may be denied or inappropriate questions asked if you bring your service dog into the public domain. The fact is that you only have to answer the next couple of questions:
• Is your dog needed due to a disability?
• What tasks has your dog been trained to perform or work?
You cannot be asked for the details of your disability or have to provide other evidence such as medical records or training documents about the tasks your dog performs.