Psychiatric Service Dogs play an essential role in the lives of many people with psychiatric disabilities.
Service dogs were first legally protected in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, though they’ve existed far longer. The first organizations for training Service Dogs opened in the 1920s and focused on physical disabilities, like guide dogs for blind people, and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even today, guide dogs may make up nearly half of all Service Dogs.
Generally speaking, there are three main types of Service Dogs. Mobility dogs help people with blindness, deafness, and others with movement-related disabilities. Medical alert and response dogs help those with a myriad of disabilities that affect different body systems. Some dogs are able to detect and alert to changes in things like heart rate or blood sugar, while others respond to a symptom once it occurs, such as seizures and passing out. Psychiatric dogs, depending on the needs of their handlers, perform a wide variety of tasks that can include medical alert and response, pressure therapy, and security. Because many of the symptoms of psychiatric disabilities are not as visible as physical illness, psychiatric Service Dogs are often misunderstood and discredited as emotional support animals.
Psychiatric Service Dogs allow people with psychiatric disabilities like generalized and social anxiety disorders, depression disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and many others to regain their independence instead of or in addition to other treatment methods like medication. Nearly everyone that’s had a pet knows that they provide a unique level of comfort and companionship. Some people further benefit from a medically prescribed emotional support animal, which can be virtually any companion animal. Service dogs differ from emotional support animals in that they are specially trained to aid people that are disabled. Not every disabled person benefits from such a relationship, just as not everyone benefits from having an emotional support animal.
Golden retrievers make great psychiatric Service Dogs!
Psychiatric Service Dogs are capable of doing many tasks for their handlers. They might fetch medication on a schedule, or on-demand during an episode. They might turn on the lights or let their owner know if someone is in a room before their person enters. Service dogs can wake their owners up from nightmares, or wake them up with an alarm if they’re prone to oversleeping. In addition to tasks like these, they can provide tactile stimulation for people with destructive behaviors like hair pulling and skin picking, or provide guiding to exits for individuals with social anxiety in public places.
Any dog can be a Service Dog as long as they have proper training (2-3 years), good health, good temperament, and are an appropriate size for the handler’s needs. There are a few breeds more often seen than others as psychiatric Service Dogs, though. Golden retrievers are extremely popular as they are eager to please and easy to train. Most Service Dog programs train labs, goldens, and lab/golden mixes for all types of service work. Poodles are another good choice due to their calm demeanor. Various types of collies and shepherd dogs are another popular choice for their intuitive nature and tendency to form strong bonds with their owners. German shepherd dogs are often seen paired with veterans who suffer from PTSD. While not always the easiest dog breed to work with, their tendency to form extremely strong bonds to one person makes them a great intuitive choice for more active people. As always, making the decision to transform a rescue dog into a Service Dog is always a great idea provided a professional trainer has weighed in and tested the dog’s temperament. There are many people that undertake their dog’s training on their own with the help of a professional. There are also programs across the country that rescue dogs for service work instead of having their own breeding program.
No matter what type of work they do, all Service Dogs need to be focused on and attentive to their owners, even if they appear off-duty. Always remember to never pet or interact with any dog without first asking the owner. Service dogs aren’t required to have any form of identification, and not everyone wants to be asked about their dog or disability. Also, falsifying a pet as a Service Dog is extremely dangerous and illegal. If you feel like you would benefit from a working dog, contact HAYS! We walk you through the process, provide a letter of recommendation, connect you with programs, trainers, or breeders and more. We are the one stop shop for all of your needs.
Writer Bio: Davy Gerichten is a manager for Hamilton At Your Service, LLC. When they aren’t at the office or running their own small business, they enjoy training and going on walks with their Service Dog, Quibbler, and their partner’s dog. Follow their journey on Instagram @quibbythegolden.