What do psychiatric service dogs do?

The tasks or work a psychiatric service dog performs is dependent on the symptoms of his or her handler’s mental illness. Because there is such variation in the symptoms of different psychiatric disorders, each psychiatric service dog’s job is unique.

The following are some examples of tasks or work that a psychiatric service dog may perform to assist an individual with a psychiatric disability.

  • Providing “deep pressure therapy” to minimize the severity and duration of anxiety or panic attacks. This involves the dog using his weight, to apply pressure to the handler’s body, in places that typically elicit a calming effect.
  • Using the following behaviors to alert, interrupt, or alleviate anxiety or panic: licking the handler’s face or hands, pawing at the handler, and otherwise physically engaging the handler.
  • Assisting the handler, who experiences visual or auditory hallucinations by indicating whether something is or is not present.
  • Assisting handlers with Night Terrors by waking up the handler from night terrors, turning on lights, bringing emergency medications, waking up a family member, and taking additional action that may be needed to help the handler calm down.
  • Alerting to impending panic attacks, anxiety attacks. Leading the handler to a safe place during anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Responding to suicidal ideation by interrupting morbid thoughts, alerting another person that help is needed, bringing the handler a phone, or calling 911 on a phone equipped for the dog to use.
  • Reminding the handler to take medication.
  • Guiding the handler home or to a safe place during times of memory loss or a dissociative episode.
  • Interrupting self-harming behavior.
  • Waking up the handler when severe fatigue, caused either by depression or medication causes the handler to sleep through a normal alarm clock.
  • Using “blocking” techniques with the dog’s body to create a buffer area of personal space when the handler feels closed in.
  • Searching the premises to determine whether someone is there, who shouldn’t be.
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