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Psychiatric Service Dog Information

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD)?
A dog trained to complete, on command, at least three tasks that mitigate the symptoms of the handler’s mental disability. Psychiatric Service Dogs  (PSDs) are legally categorized with Seeing Eye Dogs, Hearing Ear Dogs, and Service Dogs for people with physical disabilities. They are not the same as companion animals, which serve handlers by simply providing a soothing or calming presence, or therapy animals, which are certified to visit certain public venues to serve others besides their handler with their soothing presence.

What disabilities can PSDs help with?

Psychiatric Service Dogs can assist individuals suffering from autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seizure disorders, and traumatic brain injury. However, the usefulness of a service dog and the tasks it can perform are only limited by the creativity and insight of the handler, so dogs may be able to assist many other disorders in addition to those listed here.

What kinds of tasks can PSDs perform?
  • Deep pressure therapy
  • Reminders based on the dog’s biological clock (i.e. to take medication) to aid memory loss
  • Use K-9 emergency phone to call 911 
  • Bring a portable emergency phone to handler
  • Bring medications and beverage to handler, or just beverages to combat dry mouth, a common side effect of medications
  • Provide stimulation to return handler to alert state during or after dissociation or nightmares
  • And many more. The tasks a dog can be trained to complete are only limited by the problem-solving creativity of the handler in creating tasks that the dog can complete to help mitigate the handler's symptoms of various mental health issues.
Do PSDs provide any additional benefits to their handlers?
Yes, sociological and psychological research indicates that the presence of and interaction with dogs has a positive effect on the human psyche. Petting a dog often makes people happier. The additional independence achieved with the assistance of a Psychiatric Service Dog gives handlers additional confidence. The Psychiatric Service Dog often acts as a social bridge between a person with disabilities and other people by providing an exterior point of focus in conversation. 

Are there dogs specifically raised or trained for the job?
Psychiatric Service Dogs are usually adopted from shelters and are chosen based on an aptitude for learning and human interaction.
Training is provided, usually on a case-by-case basis, for specific tasks to help the intended handler.       

For a printable information sheet, please see "Attachments" at the bottom of this page.

Resources for additional information about Psychiatric Service Dogs:

Assistance Dogs International, Inc.
This group is "a coalition of not for profit organizations that train and place Assistance Dogs." ADI forms regional chapters to better forward the needs and interests of Assistance Dog handlers. The site includes links to Legal information, employment opportunities, volunteering and donation opportunities, and basic service dog information. Finally, this group includes an international list of accredited assistance dog providers. 

Assistance Dog United Campaign
1221 Sebastopol Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
707 545-0800 Fax

        A link to vouchers includes information on how to obtain a voucher from the ADUC for individuals who cannot afford a service dog. Therefore, these individuals are given vouchers so they can approach a trainer with the necessary funds to obtain a service dog. In this way, the handlers become empowered in obtaining their service dog and then further empowered through ownership of the dog. There is an application process for those who feel they cannot afford a service dog and would benefit from one.

Canine Companions for Independence (Northeast Region)
Debra Dougherty - Northeast Regional Executive Director
Miller Family Campus
286 Middle Island Road
Medford, NY  11763
631-561-0200 (Northeast Region)
        By providing "highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities," Canine Companions for Independence is a non-profit that focuses on giving them a "life full of increased independence and loving companionship." The fully trained dogs are provided free of charge, as well as two weeks of training with the handler and dog together.

Delta Society
875 124th Ave. NE #101
Bellevue, WA 98005
        The Delta Society is a group that, according to its motto, is dedicated to "Improving human health through service and therapy animals." This group focuses on providing training for both service dogs and therapy dogs. There is an especially strong focus on volunteering as a "Pet Partners" team--a human and dog pair who are certified to visit hospitals, schools, and other public places to work with people in a therapeutic setting.

Freedom Service Dogs, Inc.
2000 W. Union Ave.
Englewood, CO 080110
e-mail: info@freedomservicedogs.org
        This 501(c) non-profit organization, certified by Assistance Dogs International, provides dual services, to people and dogs. First, they rescue dogs from shelters. Second, they train the dogs to work as service dogs for disabled individuals and provide the dogs and training at no cost to the handler. The dogs are given general service dog training, then specialized, customized training to best benefit the handler who is going to receive the dog. After giving the service dog to its handler, they maintain support and contact throughout their life together life. The organization began by training dogs for mobility-impaired people. If dogs do not successfully complete training, they are given to adoptive homes with families. As another element of care towards the dogs, they are trained with positive reinforcement, using treats and clickers.

Heeling Allies

        Although a for-profit company, this group is dedicated to providing psychiatric service dogs (which they refer to as "mental health assistance dogs") to those who need them, complete with training for the specific handler. They divide mental health service dogs, by their handler and the tasks they need to complete, into four groups: Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, Therapeutic Companion Dogs, and Companion Dogs for Older Adults. However, due to the commercial nature of this company, it is not entirely informational. Several pages of the site are focused on selling their service and convincing the consumer that owning a mental health service dog is in his or her best interest.

International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP)
38691 Filly Drive
Sterling Hts., MI 48310
National Helpline: 586-826-3938
        An international online community of people with many different types of ties to the service dog community. There are resources for obtaining and training a service dog, as well as contact information for individuals who may be helpful in either of those tasks. Any resource on this Web site is extremely comprehensive with all relevant details well elaborated. Resources that may be found to be especially useful are the list of tasks a PSD can be trained to perform, a "who's who" of the assistance dog community (including puppy raisers, trainers, and other groups with ties to IAADP), and extensive legal resources.

P.O. Box 754
Arlington, VA 22216
        A comprehensive Web site including many different areas of information about Psychiatric Service Dogs run by the PSDS, a 501(c) non-profit organization. Their motto of "Dedicated to responsible Psychiatric Service Dog education, advocacy, research and training facilitation" perfectly describes what this group is all about. However, this group only provides advisory services and does not provide or train dogs to individuals. This site is well worth exploring to gain a deeper understanding of PSDs.
        Brochure produced by PSDS

Service Dog Central
        This site provides answers to common questions and a concrete definition of what exactly constitutes a PSD, as well as a differentiation between PSDs and other types of service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs. Additionally, they have a comprehensive list of contacts for obtaining and training dogs under their "How do I find a service dog?" link in the left-hand Navigation bar. In another useful section, "Service dog laws" includes international legal information for those traveling with a service dog.

Therapy Dogs United
1940 West 8th Street
Erie, Pennsylvania 16505
        A 501(c) non-profit organization, Therapy Dogs United provides several different services to psychiatric service dog handlers in the Northwestern Pennsylvania area. They provide therapy dog visits and training for therapy and assistance dogs, side-by-side with professionals from many other fields, to best serve those who need the service dogs. Their "Paw Power" page, introducing their team of certified therapy dogs, shows just how diverse therapy dogs can be, ranging in size from chihuahuas to German shepherds. 

Caitlin Adams,
Apr 24, 2011, 3:06 PM