Training a psychiatric service dog (PSD) isn’t exactly like training other types of dogs to perform tasks and respond to commands, but there are some similarities.
If you’re in the process of raising your own dog from puppyhood so that he or she can eventually become a psychiatric service dog, you’ll need to meet certain requirements laid out by many organizations and register for the Public Access Test before you can graduate with your service dog certification.
PSD Training Requirements.
Psychiatric service dogs are considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore are entitled to numerous federally protected rights.
- Access to public places denied to pets and emotional support animals.
- Traveling, without fees, in the main cabin of an aircraft
- Access to housing fair accommodations.
Federal law stipulates suitable training is required for a psychiatric service dog. Serving two purposes, a service animal must:
- Display good public behavior (confirmed via the General Public Access Test).
- Perform work directly related to the handler’s mental or emotional disability.
General Public Access Test.
A two-part evaluation, the public access test will evaluate:
- Is the dog under good control
- Effectively responds to basic commands
- Safely interact with people and other dogs
In the 2nd part of the evaluation, distractions are introduced (petting/hugging, moving objects, food treats) and the canine’s response is assessed.
To become PAT-certified (Public Access Test), the dog must successfully complete a series of 10 tests, administered by the Canine Partners for Life (CP4L) organization.
Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks.
Specially trained to help individuals suffering from various psychiatric disabilities, psychiatric service dogs can offer assistance such as:
- During panic attacks, standing by the handler
- Fetching medicine and reminding the handler to take it
- Helping with mobility issues
Good manners and appropriate behavior when in public are essential traits of a well-trained psychiatric service dog.
Performing Work Directly Related To A Disability.
A requirement under Federal Law (Americans with Disabilities Act, Air Carrier Access Act, and Fair Housing Act), all services dogs must perform a specific task or type of work that is directly related to the handler’s mental or emotional disability. A psychiatric service dog is only required to perform one specific type of action.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “…a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.”
Allowed by the ADA, a public accommodation can legally ask service dog handlers the following:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Below are some of the most common types of tasks or types of work that psychiatric service dogs can perform for their handlers, along with their assistance classification and the symptoms/experiences they can help mitigate.
Common Types Of Tasks Or Types Of Work.
Offering therapeutic distraction from anxiety, depression, or a pending panic attack, tactile stimulation and pressure therapy can help ground a person.
Stemming from anxiety, flashbacks, or other types of distress, grounding techniques can help bring a person’s focus to their physical body or surroundings through interaction, tactile stimulation, pressure therapy, or other means.
Medical Alert or Reminder.
Changes in breathing patterns, increased heart rate, or an emotional escalation can result in alerts by a psychiatric service dog.
A psychiatric service dog can turn on lights, awaken its handler from night terror dreams, or close doors to block out loud noises.
Psychiatric service dogs can safely guide their handler’s home or to a safe location.
Perhaps due to medication, resulting dizziness can benefit from a psychiatric service dog bracing their owner and/or provide balance assistance.
A psychiatric service dog’s companionship can provide therapeutic benefit for those living with feelings of depression and isolation. Using tactile stimulation or other means, a PSD’s interaction can bring comfort and calm.
Those living with anxiety-related illnesses or stress disorders, can benefit from their psychiatric service dog’s assistance, for example, searching spaces for any threats.
Interrupting a person’s repetitive or compulsive behavior through tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy is PSD work directly related to the handler’s disability.
In crowded and/or claustrophobic situations, a psychiatric service dog can act as a buffer to provide its handler with needed space. The PSD can increase their owner’s personal bubble by standing between their handler and other people so that their owner is at ease and comfortable.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all possible tasks and work types that a PSD can be trained to perform. Instead, the above examples are only meant to serve as a guide regarding the type of actions a psychiatric service dog can perform for its handler.
Working together with your dog trainer, you can determine what tasks would best suit your unique situation and then begin training your service animal for that specific function.
Need Help Training a Psychiatric Service Dog?
There are many things a Psychiatric Service Dog can do such as alerting you to potential danger and bringing your medication to the pharmacy. Before you undertake this journey, however, there are some important things you should know about how these marvelous creatures work. When it comes to training a psychiatric service dog, the best course of action is to partner with a professional dog trainer.
Creating a psychiatric service dog takes a lot of planning and should be handled with the help of a professional dog trainer.
This option conveniently takes out all the guesswork when it comes to providing your PSD with training that’s useful and sufficient for them to be recognized as a psychiatric service dog. It’s also a stress-free option that saves you time and energy, which makes it the most popular option people pursue when it comes to training a PSD.
If you plan to travel with your PSD and fear the possible issues or restrictions, it is important to train your animal before traveling to avoid any hassles. Airlines currently allow forms attesting to a service dog’s behavior and training before clearing it for boarding, so working one-on-one with a professional dog trainer gives you peace of mind.
At ESADoggy, we are currently coordinating with dog trainers specializing in the service animal space, who make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog easy, reasonable and accessible. To learn more about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options, take our FREE pre-screening.