Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks & Work to Care for Your Mental Health
This page is meant to shine a light on the wide variety of work & tasks a Psychiatric Service Dog can do. We’ll be examining multiple categories or types of work and tasks including the following:
- Guiding Types
- Routine & Memory Types
- Tactile Stimulation Types
- Sleep-Related Types
- Interruption Types
- Alert Types
- Movement Types
- Various Types of Work & Tasks
For PTSD Awareness Day we wanted to demonstrate and appreciate all the ways a Service Dog could help someone cope with mental health struggles. Your Service Dog Inc stands in solidarity with those trying to recover from PTSD or other mental conditions like it. We see your strength and we’re here to support you on your journey.
Understanding the Acronyms: SD, ESA, PSD, PTSD
To start off, let’s review some of the basic terms we’ll be discussing in this post. First off, SD stands for Service Dog (which is a Service Animal). Under the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Title II and Title III, a Service Dog, or animal, is specifically trained to do actual tasks or work to provide their handler with relief from their disability symptoms. Now, a Service Dog may be trained to help with mental health matters but it’s still distinct from a Therapy Dog or Emotional Support Dog.
A therapy dog may be trained to be well-behaved and registered with a therapy dog organization, but it is not considered a Service Animal, according to the ADA. Similarly, Emotional Support Animals aren’t considered Service Animals, as they don’t do specific tasks, they provide comfort just by being with their handler.
Psychiatric Service Dogs, on the other hand, are considered Service Animals according to ADA regulations. Psychiatric Service Dogs, aka PSDs, are Service Dogs that are trained to specifically help someone cope with mental illness. Some of the conditions they can help with include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, and PTSD. And the range of abilities PSDs are capable of is nothing short of incredible. Additionally, many people don’t realize a Service Animal can treat a non-physical, mental disability.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that can afflict those who experience life-threatening trauma or trauma that threatened the safety of others around them; the condition causes intense fear, horror, or feelings of helplessness even after the immediate danger has passed. It’s a continued state of stress that can spike when triggered and can adversely impact a person’s ability to function.
The effect of Psychiatric Service Animals on PTSD, in particular, is profound and well-documented. Studies from the National Institutes of Health found that Service Dogs was linked to fewer PTSD-related symptoms; similarly, findings showed afflicted veterans and first responders cut back on the frequency or dosage of their medication. And we’re about to explore some of the ways a Psychiatric Service Dog can provide such relief.
24 Reasons Proving Psychiatric Service Dogs are Spectacular
The ways a Service Dog can support someone don’t end with physical disabilities or seeing-eye work. Below are some examples of work and tasks PSDs are capable of, each another bit of proof that Psychiatric Service Dogs rule. We want to demonstrate all the ways a Service Dog can help you find relief:
- Lead a handler home: in case of disorientation or confusion, a dissociative fugue state
- Guide handler to a safe or important place on cue: when experiencing trouble navigating, severe anxiety or fear, disorientation or confusion, a dissociative fugue state, fight or flight response, or when something in the handler’s environment is triggering them
- Reminders to keep to a schedule: for disorganization or memory loss
- Provide identifying documents to others: this is done to receive others’ assistance in cases of forgotten personal identity
- Find and retrieve keys or a phone: memory loss or confusion
- Remind handlers to take their medication: memory loss
- Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) and other tactile stimulation: can help relieve anxiety, apathy or disengagement, compulsive chills, nausea, racing heart, trembling, fear, depersonalization, dissociation, dissociative flashback, fear of leaving your home, racing thoughts, intrusive thoughts and images, flashbacks, general distress, triggered fight or flight response, feelings of isolation, suicidal ideation, self-harm, sadness, hypervigilance, restlessness, and distractibility; besides DPT tactile stimulation could also mean nuzzling, nudging, providing pressure, or licking their handler
- Tactile stimulation to “break the spell” if it’s difficult to initiate movement
- Keep the handler in bed in cases of sleep disturbance
- Turn lights on in cases of night terrors
- Wake up their handler: for hypersomnia or night terrors
- Exercises to the ground handler: sensory overload, sleep disturbances, night terrors, sensitivity to sound, self-harm, thoughts of suicide, anxiety, distressing flashbacks, hypervigilance, a startle response, emotional escalation, psychosis, catatonic behavior, delusions, disorganized speech and/or behavior, dissociative flashbacks, or other types of dissociation; behaviors that may be used to ground a handler include touch, nudging, nuzzling, and licking
At our last Storytime event, Mary, our Your Service Dog School Headmistress, even offered a personal story detailing work her own Full Potential Service Dog performed to wake her from night terrors and ground her, to remind her that she need not be fearful. You can hear her tell the story herself in this clip.
- Interruption behaviors: to prevent or stop compulsive and repetitive behaviors, self-harm, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares or night terrors, and freezing due to fear; this article discusses a study that even posits disrupting anxiety is the most important task an SD can do for a veteran afflicted with PTSD; such disrupting or interrupting behaviors may include licking their handler’s face or hands, lying on their chest, nuzzling, and even instigating play
- Hallucination discernment: for handlers experiencing hallucinations a PSD may alert them to real people or noises to break the hallucination
- Alerting their handler to the presence of others or intruders: for those who deal with sleep disturbances, startle response, or hypervigilance
- Alerting nearby family or bystanders for help: in the case of various emergencies, like collapse, or a suicide attempt
- Alerting their handler to an oncoming episode: when a Psychiatric Service Dog detects a pounding heart, muscle tension, an olfactory cue, certain behavioral cues, restlessness, distractibility, the flat affect, increased heart rate, emotional escalation, hyperlocomotion, dangerous chemical levels in the handler’s body (for example, raised cortisol or blood pressure) that may indicate a panic attack, aggressive driving, irritability, or a change in your breathing pattern
- Create space between a handler & other people in a non-aggressive way: helps with anxiety in crowded places, startle response, and hypervigilance; when we say create space this may mean sitting directly before or behind a handler, facing outward, and if an unfamiliar person approaches the PSD may non-aggressively rise to block
- Brace handler or provide counterbalance when they experience dizziness or trouble standing
- Non-aggressively searching space for threats: in cases of hypervigilance; may look something like a PSD doing a perimeter search on a home and then providing their handler with reassurance that there are no intruders
- Closing a door to block sound for noise sensitivity or sensory overload
- Initiate desired or needed social interaction in cases of social withdrawal
- Provide reliable signals about emotions if a handler is experiencing trouble assessing emotions
- A Service Dog can even make phone calls in cases of emergency: self-harm, suicide attempts, collapse, or other failed motor functions; in these situations, important phone numbers may be pre-programmed on a dog-friendly phone, though, many PTSD Service Dogs can actually dial 911 or certain hotlines even if they’re not pre-programmed
Psychological disorders and illnesses are widely struggled with and mental health is just as important as physical. Nearly 50 million adult Americans experience some form of mental illness, and it affects roughly 13% of the global population. Mental health needs to be destigmatized and openly addressed before we collectively can truly heal. Psychiatric Service Dogs can often be crucial to that healing process. Here, at Your Service Dog Inc, we aim to help you reach your Full Human Potential with the help of an incredible Service Dog Partner, regardless of whether your ailment is physical or emotional, or both. Mental illness is especially prevalent in those already experiencing some sort of physical impairment and should be equally recognized and relieved. And a Service Dog could be just what is needed to find that relief.
To help you explore more ways to heal and grow, we’d like to offer you some additional sources of information and aid.
- Psychiatric Service Dog Partners’ post which organizes PSD tasks by symptoms
- CertaPet’s guide to Psychiatric Service Dogs
- An article listing various Service Dog tasks (including but not limited to PSD tasks) from Anything Pawsable
- Very Well Mind’s article that discusses SDs in terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act