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
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