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A Guide to Psychiatric Service Dogs

A Guide to Psychiatric Service Dogs

If you have been out in public before, you may have seen a service dog in action. The most common service dog usually seen by the public are dogs trained to help guide the blind. Many kinds of service dogs can perform tasks to give those who struggle with daily life their independence. Some medical service dogs can even alert their owners to upcoming seizures or blood sugar crashes. However, most people don’t know that there are special service dogs trained to help those with severe mental health conditions. These are known as psychiatric service dogs.

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are not to be confused with an emotional support animal (ESA) or a therapy animal. Though ESAs are important to people and their mental health, they do not go through the rigorous training that a PSD does. 

What Types of Disorders Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Help With?

PSDs are used to treat many kinds of mental health disorders. Perhaps the most common of disorders trained for are anxiety disorders. Specifically, most often it is for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These dogs learn techniques to help their owners deal with panic and anxiety attacks that come from such disorders. Not only that, but they also assist with common symptoms such as nightmares and feelings of fear. PSDs also help people who live with depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder. These specialized service animals are trained to deal with severe cases of these disorders, which brings hope to those that may feel that therapy and medication are not enough to give them a good quality of life.

What Are Psychiatric Service Dogs Trained to Do?

PSDs are trained to perform tasks that help those living with a mental health disorder function in daily life. Usually, this is by preventing harm that may come to them as a result of the disorder. For example, if a PSD senses that its owner is going to have a panic attack, the dog will encourage their owner to lie down comfortably. This prevents the person from being overwhelmed during the attack and perhaps falling or colliding with something that can harm them. Some dogs are taught to use pressure therapy. Physically lying down or putting pressure on their owner, can help calm them down or distract them from a manic episode.

PSDs also can do physical tasks, such as fetching water and medication for their owners. These dogs can even nudge their owners during specific times to remind them to take medication. They can also wake people up from nightmares or in the morning to help their owners stay on an agreed schedule. PSDs will also sometimes use their bodies to block strangers from touching their owners during an anxiety attack to prevent further panic. Dogs will also physically prevent their owner from harming themselves. In a worst-case scenario, a PSD can go and get help for their owner.

Besides these trained behaviors, PSDs also do what dogs do best by just being a non-judgmental friend that you can depend on. People don’t use PSDs only for their highly trained skills, but also because the love they receive from the dogs is unconditional. Sometimes just knowing that something loves you despite everything helps many people continue through their day.

How Does Someone Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

To be eligible to receive a service dog, someone must have a documented disability that prevents them from living their life independently. This doesn’t just apply to physical disorders, but mental ones as well. If you have a mental health disorder severe enough that it limits your daily life functions, you may be able to receive a PSD. 

However, you must also show that you can take care of the dog as well. This means being able to care for both its physical (such as feeding and walking) and mental needs (such as giving it love and patience). You must be able to give the dog commands and understand what the dog can and cannot do. A PSD may be highly trained, but they are still a dog and require people to understand this.

If a patient feels as though their life will get better with a PSD, they can speak with their doctor or mental health care provider. Once approved, they will help the patient find a program that specializes in training service dogs. The patient can then expect to attend training sessions with the dog. This is not just to learn how to command the dog, but also for both dog and person to bond.

Things to Remember About Psychiatric Service Dogs

Even though PSDs are not a common sight, it is still important that everyone remember a few simple rules. If you encounter a PSD, never pet or distract them from doing their job. Distracting a PSD can cause them to miss important cues needed to help them protect their owners. All service animals including PSDs have a special vest or harness that will denote them as service animals. When a dog is wearing their vest, it is a sign that they are “on the clock” and should not be bothered. 

It is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to discriminative against anyone with a service animal. This means that a PSD can go anywhere its owner can. If you or someone you love is granted access to a PSD, know that they are protected under the law. 

Not everyone can make use of a psychiatric service dog, but for many people, it can be what gives them back a normal sense of life.

For those that struggle with a severe mental health disorder, it can feel like nothing can help. They may have already been through many rounds of therapy and tried different kinds of medication, only to feel as though they are lost. No matter how bad it may seem, there is always hope for those seeking it. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we are always on the lookout for the best methods to give people the care and compassion they deserve. If you or someone you love feels as if they have hit a wall in their recovery and need further help, call (949) 647-4090 today to speak with our trained staff.

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