According to the UC Davis article, “Service Dogs Increasingly Used For Mental Health,” the fourth most common use for a service dog in North America is for psychiatric use, ranking just behind service dogs used for the blind, mobility dogs, and dogs for the hearing impaired.
A service animal is an umbrella term describing several types of service dogs. These include “seeing eye” dogs, hearing dogs, seizure response dogs, Autism assistance dogs, and psychiatric service dogs.
What is a psychiatric service dog?
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal, “as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Psychiatric service dogs (PSD), also referred to as psychiatric assistance dogs (PAD), are service animals that help people with disabling psychiatric impairments and mental health conditions. Psychiatric impairments include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
Psychiatric service dogs are not the same as emotional support animals (ESA). ESA’s, also referred to as comfort animals, are animals whose presence alone aids in emotional support to an individual. These do not have to be dogs but can be any animal that gives a person emotional support such as a cat. An emotional support animal does not need specific training to be an ESA and is not necessarily trained to do work or complete tasks.
A psychiatric service dog, however, is a dog trained to do work and complete specific tasks. Such tasks help an individual with their psychiatric impairment. They are trained to help with a person’s mental disability, mitigate psychiatric distress, and improve a person’s ability to function. These dogs help a person with a psychiatric disability and improve their quality of life.
Psychiatric service dogs are also federally protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This allows a PSD to be in places where there is a “no pets allowed policy.” This includes housing, restaurants, hospitals, offices, and other public places.
What does a psychiatric service dog do?
A psychiatric service dog is trained to do work and complete tasks. These behaviors ultimately help mitigate psychiatric symptoms. A task is an on-demand trained behavior requested by a handler. Work is an action that is not requested by a handler, “but the dog is on-call to provide the specific help when cued by a change in the handler or the handler’s environment” as described by the Psychiatric Service Dog Partners website.
Besides work and tasks, PSD’s are trained in basic obedience and house training. Obedience includes controlling nuisance behaviors such as barking, intrusive sniffing (of people or other dogs), and aggression. PSD’s are impressively trained to handle an onslaught of tasks. Below is a short list of possible psychiatric service dog tasks. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list of all actions a PSD is capable of doing.
- Remind an individual to take medicine and medication retrieval
- Retrieve a cold drink from the refrigerator
- Turn lights on and off
- Retrieve a portable phone
- Wake handler up at the sound of an alarm clock
- Anxiety reduction
- Recognizes self-harming behavior, interrupts by nudging or pawing, and redirects focus
- Recognizes a panic attack, uses nudging or pawing to bring handler back to full awareness
- Uses tactile stimulation for a myriad of symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, or hallucinations
- Blocks contact from other people by keeping them at a comfortable distance
- Perform room searches (hypervigilance in PTSD)
- Help guide a handler when in a dissociative or panicked state
- Uses deep pressure stimulation
- Assists in balance while walking or climbing stairs
- Assists a handler when rising or steadying oneself
- Find an exit in a building
- Find a specific person on cue (such as a loved one)
Psychiatric service dogs are just one of many types of service dogs They are trained specifically to help people with psychiatric or mental health problems. Are you a veteran or first responder suffering from PTSD and interested in applying for a service dog? Please check out our application here.
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ADA National Network
Psychiatric Service Dog Partners
Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disabilities