Thursday, May 20, 2010

What Does a Psychiatric Service Dog Do?

By Ruthie Bently

Dogs help many people, in many different ways. There are dogs that sniff things out, such as bombs and explosives, cancers and drugs. I even heard a story recently about a man training a dog to sniff out emeralds. There are assistance dogs that help people who are deaf or blind, even dogs that assist people with cerebral palsy, who may need help picking things up. One of the newer kinds of service dogs is a psychiatric service dog.

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is specifically trained to assist an individual or perform tasks for someone who has been disabled by severe mental health issues. This can include but is not limited to someone that suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression or anxiety, Autism, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Panic Disorder, eating disorders and Agoraphobia. Anyone who has been diagnosed as mentally disabled is eligible for a PSD.

A psychiatric service dog can assist their person by providing a safe presence that grounds them. They remind their owner to take their medication on time. They have been used to relieve paranoia and manic attacks. They can interrupt the repetitive behaviors of someone with OCD. They can be taught to discern the onset of a hallucination. A PSD for a soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can use their training to interrupt a flashback or dissociative episode, or to alleviate fear and hyper vigilance.

A PSD can be trained to let their owner know when an attack of dissociation, mania or panic is about to occur. For someone suffering from panic attacks they can help their owner during the attack by warming their body and attending to their emotional distress. An agoraphobic can take their PSD outside and experience less stress. For people who may be fearful inside their own home, psychiatric service dogs have been used to turn on the lights and search the rooms for intruders.

Psychiatric service dogs are allowed where most service dogs are allowed. There are several things that a responsible pet owner of a potential PSD should consider. There is no one breed of dog that is better for this service. The dog’s size and exercise level should be considered when looking for a PSD. If the dog is an older dog, they should be well socialized. If you do a lot of traveling by air, size should be considered carefully as it can get expensive the larger dog you choose. As with any dog, this is a long term situation. The person receiving the PSD should be aware that this is for the dog’s lifetime which could be fifteen to twenty years. It should also be remembered that this dog will be a companion 24/7, as they are a service dog and are with their human to help.

A psychiatric service dog can be trained by their potential owner, but it is suggested that a professional trainer be used in private lessons. Before choosing a PSD, a trainer should be consulted to help pick the best dog for the job and situation. A PSD does not have to be certified, but I would recommend it as the owner will have to be able to prove that the dog is a service dog. Three areas of training evidence that the owner should be able to show are basic obedience, disability related task or therapeutic functions, and public access skills.

Jane Miller, author of Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs and Their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives, has been working with PSDs for some time now and is the leading authority in the field. She's had remarkable results in this emerging field. She was even approached by the Veteran’s Administration to speak on the subject of psychiatric service dogs for soldiers returning from combat with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Most of us know the emotional support and unconditional love that our dogs give us, but a psychiatric service dog allows people to gain or regain assertiveness, self confidence and self esteem, as well as nurturing their emotional well being and inspiring confidence.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently


  1. thanks for the info. i would have liked it to go into a litle more detail, though.

  2. I am a service dog handler. I was diagnoised with acute chronic PTSD in 2005. I have been working with my Service dog for a little over a year now. Service dog is a catch all term and Phychiatric service dogs are like all servivce dogs. he is the same as anyother dog and is allowed anywhere a mobility or guide dog is allowed. He is a servive dog period anywhere I go he goes. plane bus train boat street store restraunt or shop he goes in. if you want to know more about what he does ask

    Ill be back to check later
    Sadea and Rico!

  3. Hello, I am a sufferer of agoraphobia. I got myself a dog to help me feel more confident about getting outside and less panic at home alone. I have previously owned my own home and was able to have her without registering/special training. I am now moving and purchasing a mobile home. The park only allows large dogs that were there before the regulations changed a couple of years ago. Now the park manager is making me feel like I'm lying about needing this dog even though I gave her the numbers of my support workers for her to speak to. To make a long storey short, how do I register my dog? What rights do I have? The person I'm dealing with is asking me questions about what medications I am or am not taking etc. I feel like I should be able to have support without discussing my full medicat profile to a "park manager". I do desperatley need a place to live though...

  4. You have to get a letter from your doctor a quick fix is most likley getting your doctor to give you a letter stating you need and ESA Emotional Support Animal. then you can work on all levels of traning and specialized task training. but get a letter from your doctor saying you need and emotional support animal so you can get housing with your dog then work on service dog qualification. registration means nothing its not even required. your medical history does not need to be disclosed to the apartment manager nor is your medication list thier biusness. get a letter saying you need and ESA and end of story. it requires landlords to allow them. a service dog training will take 2+years. I was able to take less because I have a small dog a papillon. and he learns commands in often only a few hours. so work on getting your dog qualified as an ESA. and let the manager know your medications and medical history is none of thier biusness. you disclose what you want. I do not go telling everyone why i dont take meds and why i use a service dog. it is onhis pack if you really want to know read his badge and google it. you have no resposibility to disclose your diagnosis to anyone. and you have a right to keep your medical history private

  5. "...the owner will have to be able to prove that the dog is a service dog." This is NOT accurate, legally. To receive public accommodations (or in rental housing), the owner may be asked to answer whether the animal is a service dog and what tasks it is trained to perform. If the owner answers these questions and is still denied accommodation, they may sue for damages and the burden of proof is on the individual(s) who denied accommodation to prove that either the handler does not qualify as an individual with a disability or the dog does not meet the definition of a service animal.

    I would ask you to revise your post because this is critical information for people to know, especially for PSAs as opposed to other service animals. You do NOT have to disclose your disability, you do NOT have to provide burdensome amounts of evidence that your dog is a service dog, you do NOT need special harnesses, ID tags, or other identifying information for a dog to qualify as a service animal.

    There are only two criteria for whether a dog qualifies as a service animal: (1) The owner must meet the definition of an individual with a disability under the ADA and (2) the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks (that are not natural dog behavior and not part of normal training for a pet) that help the handler with his or her disability.

    Anonymous, if your dog meets this definition of a service dog, you may sue your management for the right to keep the dog. If your dog does not meet this definition, then follow sadea and Rico's advice. :)

  6. Hello
    I have a question about service dogs, if a dog has done the training to help out the person with a disability, can places denie the dog access on being a certain breed? I have a rottweiler and he has been trainied to help me out and has his GCC but looking to rent a house or even go on vacation, I see alot of no rottweilers and other breeds allowed


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