Can a Service Dog help with self-harming behaviors? (Videos)

Trigger warning: These videos show self-harm which can be triggering to some viewers.

Pawsitivity Service Dogs has been training a Psychiatric Service Dog for the task of helping with self-harming behaviors like scratching (shown with the trainer) and cutting.

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer:

When the handler tries to scratch themselves, the service dog interrupts the behavior. Self-harming can also be cutting, but in this case, we trained for scratching (which is a helpful cue because it's such a clear behavior, as opposed to cutting).

Here is another video of the training for the service dog helping with self-harm where the dog being trained with the distraction of being outdoors, plus, there was a squirrel just a few feet away by a tree.

The task will need to be reinforced by continual weekly training by the handler, with the handler pretending to do self-harm, thus cueing the dog (and then rewarding the dog with both food and praise).

  • Note: Another task the dog can be trained to do is bringing the owner's medication. Here is a rough outline:
    • Use a sturdy bag that can hold the medication.
    • When the dog is standing in front of the handler, place the bag in the dog's mouth and encourage the dog drop the bag into the handler's hands.
    • When they drop the bag, say "Yes!" and give them a treat.
    • When the dog does this reliably (perhaps after a week of training), toss the bag for the dog to retrieve and drop into the handler's hands. (Whenever the dog does something right in any of these steps, say "Yes!" and give them a treat.)
    • When the dog can do this reliably, increase the distance.
    • When the dog can fetch the bag from a distance and drop it into the handler's hand reliably, add the verbal cue, "Get meds!"
    • When the dog can do this reliably, cue the dog to get the bag and drop it into the handler's hand, even without tossing it.
    • When the dog can do this reliably, make sure that the dog is not rewarded for getting the bag if the dog is not cued.
    • This task will need to be continually trained by the handler at least weekly.