Posts Tagged ‘Psychiatric Service Dog training’

Disorders and disabilities affect every individual in unique ways. Each situation is unique depending on the person’s health status, needs, lifestyle, and environment. For psychiatric conditions, these factors are even more apparent, and every person’s case is distinctive. How a psychiatric illness affects life is different for each individual. Therefore, psychiatric service dogs can be more effective when their handlers train them. 

What Are Psychiatric Service Dogs?

Therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and psychiatric service dogs all work with people who have mental or emotional disorders. Unlike therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, however, psychiatric service dogs help one assigned person mitigate the effects of the handler’s disability by performing specific tasks. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifies what qualifies as a service dog and protects their use. A service dog must fulfill the following requirements:

A service dog must be specifically trained to complete tasks. The service dog assists with one person’s disability. The service dog is needed by their handler to help detect or lessen the effects of their disability. 

Psychiatric service dogs are vital to the well-being of their handler. Like most service dogs, they can receive training by their handler or through a professional trainer. However, because psychiatric disabilities impact people differently, it may even be preferable for a handler to train their own psychiatric service dog.

What Can a Psychiatric Service Dog Do? 

A psychiatric service dog can receive training to help their handler by performing specific tasks. Among possible tasks are:

Offer tactile stimulation during a panic attack. Awaken their handler from disturbing nightmares. Lead their owner away from crowds to a safe space. Fetch medication during psychiatric emergencies. Wake their handler if they’re groggy from medication. Alert their handler when it’s time to take medication. Act as a physical barrier between their handler and a distressing situation.  Pay for items or deliver messages when their owner is too overwhelmed to interact with others. Enter and check a room or house before their handler to reduce fear of intruders. Guide their handler to exits during emergencies. Grounding their handler when their handler becomes overwhelmed, disoriented, or starts to hallucinate. Notify their handler if someone else is a hallucination or a real person. 

This list is only a small example of all the tasks a psychiatric service dog can receive training for. What jobs they ultimately do depends on the needs of their handler. 

Individualized Needs, Individualized Training

First and foremost, to have a legitimate service dog, a person needs to have a disability. Some disabilities are noticeable, like an amputation. Other disabilities are not spotted easily and are considered “invisible disabilities.” Psychiatric disorders are invisible disabilities because they’re not immediately apparent to the public. 

Once a physician or therapist diagnoses a disorder or disability, they can evaluate the handler’s needs. After identifying those needs, the therapist and handler can determine how a psychiatric service dog can meet those requirements. Very often, it’s the handler who understands their psychiatric condition the most and can decide what tasks are most essential.

Although a professional trainer can train a psychiatric service dog, handlers may find training their dogs more practical. The more time a service dog spends with their handler, the more familiar they become with their handler’s needs. The time spent together will help service dogs to witness and recognize these changes. 

Training your own psychiatric service dog can improve the dog’s ability to recognize the handler’s needs and make for a stronger bond. Two Components to Psychiatric Service Dog Training 

Training a psychiatric service dog may also depend on the level of functioning of the handler. To train a service dog, months of repetition, patient direction, and planning have to occur. Someone with a psychiatric disorder may benefit from a psychiatric service dog but might not have the capacity or temperament to train a dog independently. In these cases, getting a professional trainer to train the service dog could be the better option. 

Psychiatric service dog training involves two main parts: 

Training for the General Public Access Test, which ensures that a service dog behaves appropriately at all times, especially in public areas.  The specialized psychiatric tasks aimed at helping their handler, as defined together with their therapist.  Train Your Own Psychiatric Service Dog

A handler who wishes to train their own psychiatric service dog can always hire someone as a trainer for the public access portion, which is universal for all types of service dogs. However, for the psychiatric service tasks, teaching the dog themselves allows the handler to bond with the dog and train them to meet their individual needs. The bond that psychiatric service dogs have with their handler is a significant component of their therapeutic ability. Training their psychiatric service dog allows handlers to deepen that relationship and make their psychiatric service dog more effective. 

Do psychiatric service dogs need training? Yes, they do. But because psychiatric service dogs (PSD) often are confused with emotional animal support animals (ESA), people sometimes assume that PSD’s aren’t trained. While psychiatric service dogs help people with mental or emotional disorders, just like ESAs, they receive extensive training to learn vital skills that will enable them to assist their handlers with particular, often life-saving tasks. Read on to know what that entails and how to train a psychiatric service dog.

What Is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Psychiatric service dogs, a specialized sub-category of service animals, are all trained in a variety of functions specifically for their handlers’ disabilities. In the case of psychiatric service dogs, they assist people with psychological or emotional disorders. For example, a psychiatric service dog who helps a child with autism might perform the following tasks:

Flip on light switches before a child enters a room to reduce fears of the dark.  Place his head against the child to provide comfort during an outburst. Bark for assistance is a child begins to self-harm or starts to wander away.

Unlike ESAs, psychiatric service dogs undergo months—sometimes years—of training to perform these tasks that keep their handler safe. 

Training a Psychiatric Service Dog 

Although psychiatric service dogs can receive training through outsourced professional trainers, a handler can choose to train a dog themselves. Training a service dog independently, though time-consuming, can reduce overall costs and create a stronger bond between the service dog and its handler. Here are a few basic steps on how psychiatric service dogs are trained:

1. Determine What Tasks Are Needed

Before starting on the journey of training a service dog, it’s important to assess what tasks are necessary to perform. A physician or a licensed mental health professional can determine if a psychiatric service dog is necessary and what tasks a handler might need to be accomplished. Once there’s an idea of what skills are required, finding the right service dog comes next. 

2. Find the Right Dog 

Most professional service dog organizations breed dogs for the right temperament and intelligence. Because a service dog’s job is critical to a person’s health, and the tasks are so demanding, not every dog can become a service dog

No matter how excellent a dog’s training might be, they won’t succeed as a service dog if they don’t have the ideal temperament. When looking for a dog to train as a service dog, look for reputable breeders who specialize in service dogs. When choosing a dog, the following traits are an advantage:

Social with people and other dogs Alert and attentive  Does not startle  Likes to be held 3. Encourage Socialization Skills

Once the right dog is found, it’s essential to socialize them with people and other animals. By exposing a dog to new environments prepares them to tolerate different scenarios. This means interacting with the dog extensively, taking the dog outside, and getting them comfortable in different surroundings. Dogs that are anxious or agitated, especially around new people and places, typically do not make good service dogs. Fostering a dog’s comfort levels in varying locations encourages the making of a successful service dog. 

4. Begin Training for Basic Skills

Starting a dog on basic skills provides a good foundation for more in-depth tasks. These beginning commands also give the trainer a good idea of how well a dog takes direction. Basic obedience commands for a dog to follow include: 

Stay Heel Sit Come Drop Leave  Training a psychiatric service dog starts with basic skill training and is completed once the dog masters specific task training. 5. Hone Public Access Skills

After a service dog-in-training understands basic obedience commands, it’s time to practice public access skills in random environments. These areas include parks, pet stores, outdoor restaurants, and other places to acclimate the dog to a broad range of external stimuli. Allowing a dog to get used to new surroundings helps keep a service dog calmer in the long run. 

Because service dogs follow their handlers everywhere, it’s essential that a dog be well-behaved in public—for the sake of the public and the dog. Also, every service dog is a representative of service dogs everywhere. Service dogs are well-regarded because of their exemplary public access skills, and having a well-behaved service dog honors that tradition. 

6. Individual Response Training

Once a service dog-in-training is ready to start their psychiatric task training, they already have their basic skills and public access fine-tuned. This way, they can utilize their public access and basic skills while using their individual response skills. Repetition and positive feedback help to make the process flow much more smoothly. 

Of course, this stage of training depends entirely on the tasks required for the dog to fulfill. Here are a few examples of tasks

If the dog needs to obtain medication during a psychiatric emergency—like a panic attack—the dog can obtain a bag or pouch containing the medication. Ensure the bag is always easily recognizable and that the medication is kept in the same bag at all times.  A dog can help a person during an autistic outburst in a case of sensory overload by performing reality affirmation tasks like nudging a person or patting a person’s leg during an attack. The dog must learn to recognize cues when such a situation occurs, depending on its handler’s needs. People with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may need help to leave an area that overwhelms them. Dogs can receive training to find and lead their handler to the nearest exit.  Progress of Training a Psychiatric Service Dogs

When working with any service dog-in-training, it helps to keep a training log. Training logs enable a trainer to review a dog’s progress and address any problem areas. These logs can also serve as proof that the psychiatric service dog has received training.

Just like other service dogs, psychiatric service dogs improve the longer they remain with their handler. Dogs are intuitive and enjoy repetition, making them natural ideal animals to work closely with humans. As “man’s best friend,” there’s no better animal than a dog to help someone through tough times. But it may take time and patience to fully train a psychiatric service dog to assist their handler at their best.