Psychiatric Service Dogs

Details on the many ways a Service Dog can help with psychiatric problems, including physically, mentally, economically, and socially.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

How much would a patient's life improve if their psychiatric symptoms decreased? Would they be better off physically? Mentally? Or perhaps financially or socially? Maybe even all of the above? All these problems can then lead to missed opportunities, increased medical costs, co-morbidity with other conditions, fear, and even despair. 

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 the recipient to contribute at least half the cost (see our F.A.Q. for details).

A 2002 study of the effects of a person getting a Service Dogs[1] found that:

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

  • 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[2] 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.

Studies show that a Service Dog can:

  • Lessen perception of physical pain.[3]

  • Decrease agitation and aggression.[4]

  • Increase social interaction and ability to manage daily living.[5]

  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate.[6]

  • Decrease loneliness.[7]

  • Ease anxiety or depression.[8]

Psychiatric Service Dogs can help with severe depression, anxiety, phobias, and panic attacks, whether or not these conditions are associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Tourette's Syndrome, Dementia, Schizophrenia, or other conditions. Note - for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we have a separate page with more info.
A Psychiatric Service Dog from Pawsitivity can help: 
  • Remind the handler to take medication.

  • Remind the handler to perform her or his daily routines.

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

  • Assist handler in creating a safe personal space in public, serving as a physical buffer to calm handler and reduce feelings of emotional distress in crowded places.

  • Reorient and "ground" handler to current place and time when struggling with PTSD episodes.

  • During a panic attack, a psychiatric service dog can assist the handler by providing tactile stimulation.

In addition to aiding with clinical symptoms, these service dogs can help with more general symptoms. The dogs can:
  • Assist the handler when he or she tries to relax (self-soothe) in order to complete uncomfortable tasks.

  • Accompany while in stores and other environments to reduce stress associated with daily activities, as well as facilitate social interactions and reduce fear associated with meeting new people.

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

  • Remind the handler to take walks, which encourages the handler to be more social and increases the amount of exercise the handler gets. This also helps the handler keep a constant schedule and will be a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

[1]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.

[2]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.

[3]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.

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

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

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

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

[8]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.