In the world of working dogs, there are so many distinctions, like Emotional Support Animals, Service Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs, Facility Dogs, etc. These dogs have their distinct job, working to help their owners improve their quality of life. 

Many people know what an ESA or a Service Dog is, but Psychiatric Service Dogs aren’t as well known. Let’s dive into what a Psychiatric Service Dog is, how you can get one, what they can do for you, and everything else. 

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD)? 

Psychiatric Service Dogs are a specific type of service dog that are specially trained to work with people who suffer from mental illnesses. PSDs are often used to help people who suffer from many mental illnesses including depression, anxiety, PTSD and so many others. 

The primary role of PSDs is to provide their handler with comfort, protection, and assistance. They are also trained to assist their handlers with everyday tasks to help improve the quality of life for their handlers. Not only do service dogs help their handlers with day-to-day tasks, but they are trained to tune into their handler’s moods, actions, and bodies; this allows them to take notice of anxiety attacks, depression episodes, or PTSD outbreaks before they happen. Additionally, these dogs are provided special rights that no other pet or animal has; they are allowed in public places such as restaurants, stores, hotels, and other public locations that normally have a strict no-animal policy. 

What kind of tasks can a PSD perform? 

The list of tasks that a PSD can perform is extensive. Like any kind of service dog, they can be trained to perform any number of tasks to help their handlers condition. The list of tasks is endless, but some of the more common tasks can be found listed below. 

PSDs can guide their handler when they are confused or disoriented. PSDs are trained to help handlers navigate when they become confused, disoriented, or exhibit signs of an episode. PSDs can also be taught to fetch medication or phones, in the event of a medical or mental episode, and if needed they can fetch help should the handler be unable to call for help or take their medication. 

Psychiatric Service Dogs can also perform other helpful tasks such as creating a signal, providing tactile stimulation, interrupting, redirecting, and blocking others when necessary. These tasks involve alerting the handler to something happening, by creating a signal; or by intervening when the handler is headed into a scenario that will cause an episode, typically by interrupting the situation, redirecting the handler from the situation, or blocking them from the situation all together. 

PSDs are also trained to help with protection and security; they can be taught to clear rooms, prevent choking, identify hallucinations, assist with balance, and even wake someone up. These can be incredibly important tasks, especially for those suffering from severe anxiety or PTSD. 

Do Psychiatric Service Dogs have special rights and what kind of training do they need? 

PSDs are a specific type of service dog. They have all the same rights as any true service animal. Unlike an ESA(emotional support animal) service dogs are allowed in just about every public location that would normally prohibit pets and animals. Service dogs, do not have certificates or special paperwork that is presented, like what you can get for an ESA. Service dogs are incredibly and intensively trained, and because of this extensive training and the tasks that they perform for their handlers, they are protected by Federal Law and are allowed in any public business. 

Service Dogs undergo extensive training, which includes obedience training, training in public locations, and crowds and they are taught specific tasks that the handler will need them to perform based on the handler’s disability. This training is time intensive as well as costly, and part of what sets a service dog apart from traditional pets or ESA animals. 

Service Dogs do not have to produce papers, nor does the handler need to disclose their disability if questioned at a public location; all that may be asked of the handler is what tasks the dog performs for the handler. Service dogs are working animals first and foremost, and pets second. These dogs are trained to put the needs of their handler above all else including the distractions of crowds, wildlife, and other pets they may come into contact with. 

Service dogs have criteria to meet before they even begin training; they must have a good temperament, be calm in a variety of situations, they must be teachable, and be able to learn tasks. PSD candidates undergo a screening process before training starts to ensure they will likely make it through the extensive training process. 

How much does a PSD cost? 

There are a few different ways you can obtain a PSD. You can purchase a fully trained service dog from an organization that trains them, which can cost in the realm of $20,000-$30,000. This is a very costly avenue, but if you do not have the time to work with trainers to train your dog, some organizations will provide trained service dogs for purchase. 

You can also work with trainers that specialize in service dog training. This may end up being more affordable, but will often require an extensive time commitment from you, as you will be participating in the training process. This scenario will have far more variances in the price ranges, as it will depend on your area, the trainer’s expertise, their experience, and many other factors. 

There is another option for obtaining a service dog; you can reach out to non-profit organizations that may offer service dogs to qualifying individuals. There are a variety of organizations that will work with you, providing a service dog either for a small fee or under the promise that you will commit to the dog’s training, however long that may be to complete that organization’s program. 

Conclusion

Psychiatric service dogs are a specific type of service dog available for those suffering from severe mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. These dogs are highly trained working dogs that work to help make the life of their handler better. Their purpose is to increase the quality of life of those suffering from debilitating mental illnesses. 

These service dogs have been extensively trained to learn how to manage their handler’s disabilities, by way of performing everyday tasks, alerting to episodes, and support in different environments that may be challenging to a person with a mental illness.

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Ara Hughey
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