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What are Psychiatric Service Dogs Tasks?

Updated: Feb 15


In recent years, the presence of service animals has become more prevalent, offering a lifeline to individuals facing various challenges. While guide dogs for the visually impaired and mobility assistance dogs are well-known, the realm of psychiatric service dogs remains confusing for many. Today, we look into the invaluable contributions of these specially trained dogs, shedding light on how they can help and how they are different from pet dogs or even emotional support dogs.


The Public Presence: More Than a Furry Friend


A man with their psychiatric service dog
Psychiatric service dog - Medical Mutts

For many individuals, taking a dog out in public isn't just a pleasant experience; it can be a lifeline. The supportive presence of a dog provides a sense of comfort and companionship, acting as a focal point that keeps their owners grounded. Managing a dog in public requires attention and focus, diverting the person's mind from potential triggers and anxieties.

However, the unique role of psychiatric service dogs goes far beyond the comfort of a regular pet. These specially trained canines play a crucial role in mitigating the challenges associated with mental health conditions such as PTSD, social anxiety, and panic attacks.


Here are some of the main behaviors we train at Medical Mutts:

Scent Alert:

This trained behavior is not typical in service dogs, but Medical Mutts specializes in medical scent training to help with a variety of conditions, including psychiatric service dogs. Our psychiatric service dogs undergo rigorous training to recognize changes in their owner's scent when anxiety is on the rise. By alerting the person, the dog provides an early warning system, allowing them to make proactive changes to prevent the escalation of a challenging situation.

Deep Pressure Therapy:

Dogs can provide deep pressure therapy by leaning or resting on their owners during moments of distress, applying comforting weight that helps to regulate emotions and alleviate anxiety.

Interrupting Self-Harming Behaviors:

These dogs can be trained to intervene and interrupt self-harming behaviors, providing a critical layer of safety and support to individuals struggling with harmful impulses.

Medication Reminder:

Psychiatric service dogs play a vital role in medication adherence by reminding their owners to take their prescribed medications at the appropriate times, ensuring consistent treatment and management of their condition. While it can be easy to turn off an alarm, it's not as easy to ignore the dog's attention behaviors.

Social Settings Management:

In crowded or overwhelming social settings, these dogs stand in front or behind their owners, creating a physical barrier that offers a sense of security and personal space. This buffer zone helps individuals navigate social interactions with greater ease and confidence. Service Dogs cannot however guard or be trained for any protective behaviors.

Secret Signal:

Dogs respond to a discreet signal by placing their paw on the person's leg. This allows their owners to gracefully exit a situation without drawing attention or feeling embarrassed. It gives them a way to "blame the dog" who "needs to go out". This "secret signal" empowers individuals to assert control over their environment, enhancing their sense of autonomy and independence.

Calming Contact:

By placing their head on their owner's lap or offering gentle physical contact, these dogs provide a discreet yet effective way for individuals to self-soothe in public settings. This calming contact helps to regulate emotions and promote a sense of relaxation without attracting unwanted attention.

Getting Help:

Some dogs are trained to press a button connected to a phone or seek help from nearby individuals in the event of an emergency or crisis. This capability enhances the safety and well-being of individuals, providing them with reassurance and assistance when needed most.


These are the most common behaviors that cover the needs of most of our clients. Depending on the person, we might also add other behaviors specific to their situation. Each dog follows a specific training curriculum that teaches them over 30 different behaviors so that they navigate going to public places and help their person with their debilitating condition.


Challenges of Having a Psychiatric Service Dog in Public Settings:

While the benefits of psychiatric service dogs are profound, there are also challenges associated with having a dog in public spaces. These challenges are important to think about if you're considering getting a psychiatric service dog.

  • Attention and Curiosity: The presence of a service dog often attracts attention and curiosity from the public. While some individuals may appreciate the opportunity to educate others about the role of psychiatric service dogs, others may find constant inquiries intrusive and overwhelming, exacerbating social anxiety. While psychiatric service dogs can facilitate social interactions and increase confidence over time, constant attention from strangers can also be draining for individuals with social anxiety. Managing inquiries and interactions while maintaining boundaries requires emotional energy and resilience.

  • Stigma and Misconceptions: Despite growing awareness of mental health issues, stigma and misconceptions surrounding psychiatric service dogs persist. Some individuals may face judgment or skepticism from others who question the legitimacy of their need for a service dog, adding a layer of stress to public outings.

  • Management and care: Dogs are phenomenal companions, but no matter how much training they receive, they also require a certain amount of work. Every dog needs food, playtime, exercise, and regular attention. If their needs aren't met, they will not be able to provide the assistance their person expects. For some people, caring this much for another being can be overwhelming, and over time, the dog can become a burden instead of a help.

Conclusion:

Despite the challenges, the invaluable support provided by psychiatric service dogs outweighs the obstacles encountered in public settings for many. Through their unwavering loyalty, specialized training, and companionship, these silent heroes empower individuals to navigate the complexities of daily life with greater confidence, independence, and resilience. As society continues to evolve in its understanding and acceptance of mental health issues, it is essential to recognize the transformative impact of psychiatric service dogs in promoting inclusivity, empathy, and compassion for all.

 

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