Psychiatric Assistance Dogs
These assistance dogs are specifically trained to mitigate their handlers’ psychiatric disabilities
Psychiatric assistance dogs have a very specific job, which is just as critical to the wellbeing of their handlers as any other assistance dog’s job. As the name implies, these assistance dogs are specifically trained to mitigate their handlers’ psychiatric disabilities. There are many psychiatric disabilities that assistance dogs can be trained to mitigate in a wide variety of ways. Some psychiatric disorders that psychiatric assistance dogs can be trained to assist their handlers with include but are not limited to, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Schizophrenia and more.
The tasks or work a psychiatric assistance dog performs is dependent on the symptoms of his or her handler’s individual mental illness. Because there is such variation in the symptoms of different psychiatric disorders, each psychiatric assistance dog’s job is unique. The following are some examples of tasks or work that a psychiatric assistance 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 behaviours 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 handler with Night Terrors by: waking up 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.
- Using “blocking” techniques with the dog’s body to create a buffer area of personal space when the handler feels closed in.
- Responding to suicidal ideation by interrupting morbid thoughts, alerting another person that help is needed, bringing the handler a phone or calling 000 on a phone equipped for the dog to use.
- Waking up handler when severe fatigue, caused either by depression or medication causes the handler to sleep through a normal alarm clock.
- Guiding handler home or to a safe place during times of memory loss or a dissociative episode.
- Searching the premises to determine whether someone is there, who shouldn't be.
- Reminding handler to take medication.
- Interrupting self harming behaviour.
- Alerting to impending panic attacks, anxiety attacks.
- Leading handler to a safe place during anxiety or panic attacks.