Today I thought we’d look at the controversial psychiatric service dog. You’re probably wondering why I call them “controversial”, it’s because this type of service dog can be easily confused with the therapy dog or emotional support dog.
Therapy dogs are personal pets which have been put through vigorous tests in order to be registered to visit public places, such as hospitals, long-term care homes and schools.
In contrast, psychiatric service dogs are special canines who are trained to perform specific tasks which mitigate the psychiatric disabilities of their human partners, whereas emotional support dogs are solely there fore “support”.
Both emotional support and therapy dogs do not have any special privileges in Canada, so must ride in the cargo holds of planes, remain outside public places, and do not qualify for residency in “pet free” housing.
Some of the tasks which psychiatric service dogs can be trained to do are:
• Wake up their client;
• Remind client to take medications;
• Track/find lost items;
• Lead client to a safe place;
• Alert client to oncoming symptoms;
• Check a room before client enters;
• Make space for client in crowded places;
• Provide pressure therapy when their client is feeling anxious; and
• Interfere with repetitive or harmful behaviours.
This link, will take you to a paper which discusses the results of a survey that looked at how psychiatric service dogs have effected the well-being of their clients.
Unlike guide dogs for the blind or service dogs for people with physical disabilities, the psychiatric service dog is still quite uncommon, so their clients often run into issues regarding public access. This issue is compounded by the fact that most clients do not have anything visibly wrong and there is still a large stigma surrounding mental illness, so clients are often reluctant to disclose why they need the dog and what tasks are performed.
This link, will take you to an article about a woman who owns and runs a program based in Guelph which provides psychiatric service dogs. I briefly volunteered with K-9 Helpers and had a chance to meet D’fer and see the amazing work he does for Sue. I also had the opportunity to participate in their weekly client sessions and observe the process Sue goes through when choosing, and later training a service dog candidate.
Psychiatric service dogs may not currently be a well-known type of canine assistant, but with the well documented benefits they provide for their clients, I’m sure they will soon be a common sight on our streets.
If you are left with any questions regarding anything I’ve written about, please don’t hesitate to leave a paw print in the comments section of the particular entry.