Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities; these dogs are most often placed with people struggling with depression.  In order to qualify for a psychiatric service dog, the individual’s condition must reach the clinical level, meaning the diagnosis must meet the criteria specified in the theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV).

Depression can be the result of one of many or a confluence of sources; whether it is yoked to the difficulties associated with living with autism or is a distinct issue, a service dog can help.  Service dogs offer many therapeutic benefits for those struggling with depression from alleviating symptoms associated with anxiety and concerns about going outside or other social interactions.    Because of their versatility and wide range of benefits for those struggling with psychiatric disorders, service dogs are frequently trained for this purpose; there are almost 10,000 trained Psychiatric Service Dogs in the United States (sometimes called Mental Health Service Dogs).

Reading with Psychiatric Service DogThe dogs and their services are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as Minnesota state statutes. These dogs are not pets but are working dogs with rights to be taken anywhere that the general public is allowed to go. This includes all forms of public transportation (including riding with their partner in the passenger compartment of airplanes), churches, restaurants, stores, and hospitals.

Psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained to help individuals deal with the symptoms of their disabilities.  Individuals with one of the following psychiatric conditions (although this is not an exhaustive list) can respond well to the benefits associated with psychiatric service dogs:
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Severe Depression or Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Agorahobia, Social Phobias
  • Extreme Separation Anxiety
  • Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBD)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    Note - for PTSD, we have aseparate page with more info
Service Dog at a store in the mallStudies show that a Psychiatric Service Dog can:
A Psychiatric Service Dog can help: 
  • Remind the handler to take his or her medication.
  • Psychiatric Service DogImprove 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" handlers to current place and time when struggling with PTSD episodes
Psychiatric Service Dog in an office environmentService dogs can also help in ways that are not particular to a specific diagnosis. During a manic episode, psychiatric service dogs assist the handler by providing tactile stimulation.  This can calm racing thoughts, sooth irritability, and alleviate hyper-focus and hyper-locomotion.

In addition to aiding handlers with clinical symptoms, psychiatric service dogs can help with more general symptoms, such as sadness and loneliness, by initiating walks outside the home, and showing the handler affection. The dogs can:
  • Assist the handler when he or she tries to 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 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 handler keep a constant schedule and will be a reason to get out of bed in the morning (walks, relieve themselves).

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