A psychiatric service dog is a dog that has undergone training to learn how to perform specific tasks for a human partner with a mental health disorder or disability (such as PTSD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression).
Psychiatric service dogs are considered a subset of service dogs and are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA defines service animals as dogs that have been individually trained to work or execute tasks for someone with a physical or mental health disability.
Service Dogs For PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects approximately five percent of adults in the United States (nearly 13 million people).
The American Psychiatric Association explains that PTSD typically occurs in people who have gone through or witnessed a traumatic event or series of events. Examples of these events include (but are not limited to) natural disasters, terrorist acts, war or combat, serious accidents, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or bullying.
People with PTSD experience the following symptoms:
- Intrusive thoughts (involuntary memories, nightmares, flashbacks, etc.)
- Avoidant behavior to evade memories of the traumatic event (staying away from certain places, avoiding certain activities, refusing to talk about experiences, etc.)
- Cognition and mood changes (an inability to remember key aspects of the event, negative thoughts and feelings about self or others, ongoing feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame)
- Changes in arousal and reactivity (becoming more irritable, having angry outbursts, behaving recklessly, being hypervigilant, or having trouble concentrating or sleeping)
Numerous treatments and management solutions exist for people with PTSD, including psychiatric service dogs (PSDs).
5 Top PTSD Service Dog Tasks
Psychiatric service dogs can perform several different tasks for people with PTSD, including the following:
1. Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT)
Deep pressure therapy involves the dog placing pressure on the owner (usually by laying on top of them) to help them calm down when they’re having a panic attack or flashback.
2. Interruption Tasks
Interruption tasks involve the dog interfering when the owner is experiencing difficult emotions or engaging in potentially harmful behavior.
They may lick the owner’s face or hands, for example, when they’re crying, dissociating, having a panic attack, or scratching/picking at the skin. They may also interrupt and wake the owner when they’re having a nightmare.
3. Movement Tasks
PTSD service dogs can also perform several movement tasks to assist their owners
They may block the handler from moving toward a dangerous situation, for example, or circle the handler as a form of crowd control in a busy location. They can also pull wheelchairs, check rooms for intruders to ensure the owner they’re in a safe place or deliver notes to get help when the owner is struggling.
4. Guide Tasks
If someone with PTSD is struggling to navigate on their own, whether they have vision problems or not, a psychiatric service dog can perform guide tasks to help. They may guide the owner to an exit or specific location, bring them to a particular item or person, or guide them home while making sure they avoid moving objects.
5. Call Tasks
Service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, can also be trained to call for help when their owner needs additional support. They can use dog-friendly phones to call 911, call pre-programmed numbers, or call a suicide hotline.
How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog
There are two primary ways one may go about getting a psychiatric service dog to help them manage their PTSD symptoms.
The first option is to purchase a dog that has been specifically bred and trained to assist people with PTSD. These dogs are carefully raised from day one to act as service dogs and undergo significant training before they can be bought.
The second, less expensive (but also more time-consuming option) is to get a dog (either from a shelter or breeder) and train them to be a psychiatric service dog yourself.
Training a Psychiatric Service Dog
The process of training a psychiatric service dog can be challenging and time-consuming. Still, it’s gratifying and allows you to build a strong bond with your dog.
When it comes to training, you have two main options: online or in-person psychiatric service dog training.
Online Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Online PSD training allows you to meet with a certified trainer via video chat. They will guide you through a series of lessons and provide feedback on your technique to ensure your dog knows how to perform specific tasks related to your unique needs and goals.
In-Person PSD Training
In-person PSD training is similar to online training in the sense that the trainer guides you through a series of tasks and gives you the tools you need to build a strong relationship with your dog.
However, this training takes place in person instead of via video. The trainer may come to your home, or you may meet them in another location.
Who Qualifies for a Psychiatric Service Dog?
To be eligible for a psychiatric service dog, you must be diagnosed with at least one mental health condition or disability (such as PTSD) that interferes with your ability to perform activities of daily living safely.
A licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or therapist, can assess you and let you know if they think a PSD would help you manage your condition more effectively.
Psychiatric Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Animal
Psychiatric service dogs differ from emotional support animals (ESAs) because PSDs must undergo training to perform specific tasks for their owners.
ESAs, on the other hand, provide comfort and support with their presence, but they’re not required to perform any particular tasks. Because ESAs don’t perform specific tasks, they’re not protected by the ADA like PSDs are.
Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable
If you think you could benefit from a psychiatric service dog and want to handle the training process yourself, Pettable can help. We offer online psychiatric service dog training with experienced, licensed professionals.
Reach out today to learn more about our services or get a personalized PSD training plan.