I know service dogs can provide an astonishing array of services to people with needs as widely varying as diabetes and seizures to sightlessness and loss of hearing. But newer on the horizon is the Psychiatric Service Dog, helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as civilians with wide ranging mental and emotional illnesses. There is a great organization dedicated to providing such service dogs.—Sid
About Heeling Allies
Mental Health Service Dogs can be a great adjunct to treatment for individuals with mental impairments ranging from bipolar disorder to major depressive disorder. However, Heeling Allies has seen Mental Health Service Dogs be especially effective in the lives of individuals who have anxiety disorders such as: agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Reduction in debilitating symptoms.
- Greater access to the world.
- Around the clock support, in addition to mental health treatment and social support.
What types of things do professionally trained Mental Health Service Dogs do to assist their handlers?
Every individual experiences his/her mental impairment differently, which is why Heeling Allies custom trains Mental Health Service Dogs to meet the unique needs of each of our clients. No two dogs we produce are trained to perform identically.
Examples of Mental Health Service Dog Tasks:
- Provide a buffer or a shield for the handler in crowded areas by creating a physical boundary.
- Extinguish flashbacks by bringing handler into the “here and now.”
- Orient during panic/anxiety attack.
- Stand behind handler to increase feelings of safety, reduce hyper-vigilance, and decrease the likelihood of the handler being startled by another person coming up behind them.
- Environment search.
- Wake handler to alarm.
- Wake handler from nightmares.
- Turn on/off lights.
- Help balance unsteady handler/provide physical support for balance.
- Assist in coping with emotional overload by bringing handler into the “here and now.”
- Remind/alert handler to take medication.
- Interrupt obsessive behaviors.
- Alert handler to change in mental state (i.e. panic attack, anxiety attack, manic episode, etc).
TABLE 1: A Repertoire of Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks
|Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks*|
|Major Depression||Hypersomnia||Wake-up owner|
|Memory loss||Remind to take medication on-time Scent tracking to find lost objects|
|Disorganization||Assist daily routines and household chores|
|Bipolar||Hyper focus or Irritability Olfactory cue?||Alert to incipient manic episode|
|Aggressive driving||Alert to aggressive driving|
|Anxiety||Restlessness Distractibility||Tactile Stimulation|
|Social Anxiety||Assist owner to leave situation|
|Panic||Olfactory cue?||Alert to incipient panic attack|
|Fight or Flight response||Lead handler to a safe place|
|Dizziness||Brace or lean against the owner|
|Post Traumatic Stress||Hyper-vigilance||Alert to presence of other people|
|Fear||Safety check a room|
|Nightmares||Turn-on lights and wake owner|
|Obsessive Compulsive||Repetitive behaviors||Interrupt behaviors|
|Confusion or disorientation||Take owner home|
|Feeling overwhelmed||Buffer owner in crowded situations|
*A more extensive list of tasks may be found at http://psychdog.org/tasks.html