Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is not fully understood in the mental health community. As we learn more about BPD interventions, research is uncovering alternative treatment options that complement therapy or medication. One of these alternatives is the use of specially trained animals to help cope with the symptoms of BPD. Specifically, Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) offer a unique way to help treat the symptoms of BPD without the fear of feeling judged.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Service Dog - How They Help
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BPD Service Dog
BPD service dogs offer crucial support to individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). These highly trained canines provide emotional comfort, reduce anxiety, and enhance emotional regulation. With their specialized training BPD service dogs provide a profound positive impact on individuals managing BPD.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Borderline Personality Disorder is a pattern of instability in personal relationships, intense emotions, poor self-image, and impulsivity. A person with Borderline Personality Disorder may go to great lengths to avoid being abandoned, have repeated suicide attempts, display inappropriate intense anger, or have ongoing feelings of emptiness.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog is a specially trained dog that performs tasks to help an individual with a disability complete activities of their daily life. Service dogs are protected by federal law in the United States under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act allows handlers of service dogs to bring their companion with them into public places, onto airplanes, and into their home, regardless of any “no pet” policy.
The ADA provides a clear outline of what qualifies as a service animal. Service animals must:
- Be a dog
- Be any breed or size of dog
- Be trained to perform a task directly related to a person's disability
The ADA also defines that service dogs are not required to undergo any professional training program, meaning you can train your own service dog and are not required to wear any identification such as a vest or ID card. Furthermore, Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) do not qualify as service dogs under the ADA.
Benefits of a Service Dog for BPD
Per a study conducted by Katherine Compitus, a clinical social work professor at NYU, service dogs combined with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) have been shown to significantly reduce symptom severity.
Animals, including dogs, have specific characteristics that are beneficial to the treatment of BPD symptoms. Interacting with a dog can simulate appropriate behaviors in human interaction and teach important emotional and interpersonal skills. Furthermore, dogs offer a sense of protection and safety, which can be particularly valuable to individuals with BPD that have a history of abuse. Dogs also generally provide unconditional love and support that can improve general emotional well-being.
Psychiatric Service Dog for BPD Tasks
Service dog tasks for BPD can encompass many things, including reminders to take medication, providing tactile stimulation for grounding, and providing a sense of routine to help reduce impulsive behaviors. Here is a list (non-exhaustive) of tasks that a Psychiatric Service Dog may be trained to perform to help their handler with their mental health condition:
Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) - A service dog can be trained to act like a weighted blanket, covering their owner and providing them with a sense of safety and calm.
Behavior Interruption - A service dog can learn to interrupt undesired behavior such as self-harm.
Guide Tasks - A service dog can guide their handler away from overwhelming or unsafe situations.
Movement Tasks - A PSD can block the handler physically from a dangerous situation, or generally act as a barrier between the handler and any negative stimulus.
Search Tasks - A service dog can enter a room before its handler and search the room for any danger, providing a sense of safety.
How to Get a Service Dog for BPD
To get a Psychiatric Service Dog for BPD you will either have to adopt a trained service dog from a reputable organization, or adopt an untrained dog and train it through other means. Per the ADA, there is no requirement to enroll a service dog in a professional training program, so you are within your rights to train a service dog yourself.
Any well-behaved dog is a good candidate for a BPD service dog, regardless of age or breed. Dogs are recommended to not begin service dog training before 6 months of age, however, there is no limit to how old the dog is. Certain breeds are known to take to training better than others, including but not limited to:
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Cocker Spaniels
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Labrador Retrievers
- American Staffordshire
What kind of Training Does a Service Dog for BPD Need?
The kind of training needed is very dependent on the owner’s most invasive symptoms. For example, if an owner struggles severely with intense anger, they may train their dog to respond during episodes of anger with a task that helps reduce the severity of this symptom by providing Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) or interrupting self-harm behaviors. As far as the method used for training a BPD service dog goes, you have a few different options:
Online Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Online training is a unique way for owners to bond with their animals & better communicate during times of distress. Online is especially ideal for folks who have busy schedules balancing work, kids, therapy, and play.
In-Person PSD Training
In-person training for PSD can range anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 & requires at minimum weekly sessions in person. Some service dog trainers require dogs to do an extended stay with the trainer on average for 30 days.
Purchasing a Psychiatric Service Dog
PSDs can be adopted or rescued! The best service dogs are ones who are naturally calm & quiet due to this being a requirement for them to accompany you in public. Prices on average can range from $20,000 to $40,000 for purchasing a fully trained service dog.
Who Qualifies for a Psychiatric Service Dog?
People who have a diagnosed mental health disability can qualify for ownership. Potential qualifying mental health disabilities include, but are not limited to:
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
If you feel like your mental health condition qualifies you for a service dog, you should speak with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) in your state who can confirm your need for a service animal. At Pettable, we can connect you with an LMHP. Take our brief 3-minute assessment to get started and book a consultation today.
Psychiatric Service Dogs VS Emotional Support Animals
Both psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) and emotional support animals (ESAs) help individuals cope with the day-to-day symptoms of their mental health condition. However, there are some distinct and important differences between the two.
While ESAs naturally provide mental health assistance through their general disposition, they are not trained in any specific way and are not required to be. On the other hand, PSDs are legally required to undergo training to be qualified as a service animal.
As a result of this key distinction, service dogs are offered more federal protection than ESAs. Emotional support animals are only protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which allows ESA owners to keep their assistance animal with them in their primary residence, even in the case of a “no pet” apartment. Psychiatric service dogs on the other hand are officially recognized in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). These two laws allow service animals to legally enter a variety of public places and accompany their handlers on flights.
Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable
Pettable offers a convenient & affordable online PSD training program that provides you with a certificate upon completion. Although certificates are not required, they are a useful document to ensure no bumps in the road with travel or public access. To get started, simply take our brief assessment so we can determine your specific needs.