Psychiatric Service Dogs

Details on the many ways a Psychiatric Service Dog can help you.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

How much would your life improve if your psychiatric symptoms decreased? Would you be better off physically? Mentally? Or perhaps financially or socially? Maybe even all of the above?

Psychiatric disabilities can be difficult in that they often cause more problems. The original psychiatric disability may then cause depression, which can lead to less socializating, which then increases anxiety, causes poor sleep or lack of exercise, which, in turn, may lead to guilt or low self-esteem (which then makes everything worse). Additionally, psychiatric disabilities are often not well understood, which can cause confusion and unnecessary side effects.

All these problems can then lead to missed opportunities, increased medical costs, co-morbidity with other conditions, fear, and even despair. 

A 2002 study of the effects of a person getting a Service Dogs[7], however, found that:

  • Self esteem was enhanced significantly, as measured by the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale[8].

  • Participants reported that their service dogs had a positive effect on going out in public, feeling needed, feeling independent, feeling safe, and socializing, including more people approached them when in public.

  • Family caregivers benefited, too, by being able to pursue other activities, and having more peace of mind.

  • Note: Participants reported that their actual experience with the service dogs met the participant's expectations, which is good to know.

A 2010 study[9] concluded that Service Dogs:

  • Alleviate the mental burden of daily activities.

  • Improve the physical functioning of their handlers.

  • Have positive functional and mental effects on their disabled handlers.

Pawsitivity trains Psychiatric Service Dogs for both children and adults (as well as both veterans and non-veterans).

Like Guide Dogs for the blind, Psychiatric Service Dogs are not covered by insurance. With our nonprofit, at least, we require you to fundraise or donate at least half the cost (see our F.A.Q. for details).

Studies show that a Service Dog can:

  • Lessen perception of physical pain.[1]

  • Decrease agitation and aggression.[2]

  • Increase social interaction and ability to manage daily living.[3]

  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate.[4]

  • Decrease loneliness.[5]

  • Ease anxiety or depression.[6]

Other benefits

A Service Dog can provide:

Help with outward focus

When depression causes the person to focus inward, interactions with a Service Dog can help the handler focus more on their environment. Rather than thinking and talking about themselves and their problems, they can watch and talk about the dog.

Socialization

Studies show that with a Service Dog, there is often more laughter during an interaction that with any other treatment, thus decreasing isolation. The presence of a Service Dog encourages socialization between the handler and their peers, family, and visitors. For instance, many family members report that it is easier to for people talk to the handler who has a Service Dog, and makes interactions comfortable and pleasant.

Calming

The tactile experience of touching the dog can be calming, and even when doing everyday tasks, the handler feels less pressure working with the dog than with other people. Less anger and fewer acts of aggression are often the result.

Mental stimulation

Increased mental stimulation occurs with a Service Dog not only because the dog requires time and attention, but because they encourage interaction with the outside world, brightening interactions, and increasing amusement, laughter, and play.

Physical contact

The correlation between touch and health is strong, and a Service Dog can help with this element. For instance, when touch from another person is not acceptable, the fuzzy touch of a Service Dog often is, as it is safe, non-threatening, and pleasant. 

Physiological benefits

Since people relax more easily when around a Service Dog, tests have shown that the decrease in heart rate and blood pressure can be dramatic.

Increase vocabulary

Children are often more comfortable talking with their Service Dog than with other people, and this increase in speaking leads to more verbal interactions with others.

Nurturing

By taking care of a Service Dog, people learn to develop nurturing skills, promoting their growth and development. Simply by noticing that their dog is panting, they can learn that the dog is thirsty and can get them water, thus helping form empathy.

Better sleep

Sleeping with a warm, fuzzy dog can help their handler go to sleep, and can help reduce night terrors.

Acceptance

Since a dog accepts without qualification, not caring how a person looks or what they say, their acceptance is non-judgmental, uncomplicated, forgiving, and unconditional.

Service dog in training goes to the hospital to visit his boy who is having a 24 hour EEG.

Psychiatric Service Dogs can help with following psychiatric conditions (although this is not an exhaustive list):
  • Severe Depression

  • Severe Anxiety

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Panic Attacks

  • Agorahobia
  • Social Phobias

  • Extreme Separation Anxiety

  • Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBD)

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD)

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    Note - for PTSD, we have a separate page with more info

 A Psychiatric Service Dog from Pawsitivity can help: 
  • Remind the handler to take medication.

  • Improve organization by reminding the handler to perform her or his daily routines.

  • Wake the handler to prevent him or her from sleeping too much (hypersomnia).

  • Provide tactile stimulation.

  • Reassure handler, both at home and in public.

  • Facilitate social interactions and reduce fear associated with meeting new people.

  • Assist handler in creating a safe personal space.

  • Assist handler when dealing with mood swings.

  • Serve as a buffer to calm handler and reduce feelings of emotional distress in crowded places.

  • Helping handler to calm down when agitated.

  • Reorienting and "grounding" handler to current place and time when struggling with PTSD episodes.

Service dogs can also help in ways that are not particular to a specific diagnosis. During a panic attack, for instance, psychiatric service dogs assist the handler by providing tactile stimulation. This can calm racing thoughts, soothe irritability, and alleviate hyper-focus and hyper-locomotion.
In addition to aiding with clinical symptoms, these service dogs can help with more general symptoms, such as sadness and loneliness, by initiating walks outside the home, and showing affection. The dogs can:
  • Assist the handler when he or she tries to relax (self-soothe) in order to complete uncomfortable tasks.

  • Provide companionship while in stores and other environments can reduce stress associated with daily activities.

  • Alert when the handler is starting to experience anxiety problems reminding the handler to take his or her medication.

  • Encourage the handler to be more social by getting him or her out of the house for walks.  Walks also increase the amount of exercise the handler gets and improves his or her ability to self-sooth if they are struggling with insomnia, or having anxiety issues.

  • Help the handler keep a constant schedule and will be a reason to get out of bed in the morning (walks, relieve themselves

[1]Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Braun, C., Stangler, T., Narveson, J., & Pettingell, S. (2009). 15(2), 105-109. Also, Journal of Holistic Nursing: Official Journal of the American Holistic Nurses' Association Sobo, E. J., Eng, B., & Kassity-Krich, N. (2006).  , 24(1), 51-57.

[2]Western Journal of Nursing Research, McCabe, B. W., Baun, M. M., Speich, D., & Agrawal, S. (2002). 24(6), 684-696. 

[3]International Psychogeriatrics/IPA. Filan, S. L., & Llewellyn-Jones, R. H. (2006). 18(4), 597-611.

[4]Psychosomatic Medicine, Allen, K., Blascovich, J., & Mendes, W. B. (2002). 64(5), 727-739.

[5]The Journals of Gerontology, Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. Banks, M. R., & Banks, W. A. (2002). 57(7), M428-M432.

[6]American Journal of Critical Care: An Official Publication, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Cole, K. M., Gawlinski, A., Steers, N., & Kotlerman, J. (2007).  16(6), 575-585; quiz 586; discussion 587-588.

[7]Human-Animal Bond Resource Center research abstract on the effects of service dogs, Rintala, Diana H; Sachs-Ericsson, Natalie; hart, Karen A. SCI; Psychosocial Process, 15(2): 2002 Summer; 69-72.

[8]Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, Robins, Richard W., Holly M. Hendin, and Kali H. Trzesniewski. "Measuring global self-esteem: Construct validation of a single-item measure and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale." Personality and social psychology bulletin27, no. 2 (2001): 151-161.

[9]The Effect of Service Dogs on the Improvement of Health-related Quality of Life, Shintani M, Senda M, Takayanagi T, Katayama Y, Furusawa K, Okutani T, Kataoka M, Ozaki T. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Okayama.

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