What is a DPT Service Dog? The Amazing Truth & FAQ’s

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DPT Service Dog

A DPT Service Dog is a type of Psychiatric Service Dog that uses a technique called Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT) or Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS) in order to help people transition from a stressed state to a more relaxed one. Many types of people having different disabilities can benefit from this type of special working dog, including people living with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) anxiety, depression, autism, Alzheimer’s, sensory conditions, and other conditions.

Jump to a section:

  1. DPT Service Dog Definition
  2. Service & Comfort Dog Overview
  3. What is DPS – Deep Pressure Stimulation?
  4. How Does DPT Work to Relax People?
  5. Who Can Benefit from a DPT Service Dog?
  6. DPT Techniques

1. A DPT Service Dog is a Special Kind of Working Dog

DPT service dog

DPT stands for Deep Pressure Therapy. A DPT service dog is a specially trained psychiatric service dog that helps to mitigate at least some of the effects of a disability such as PTSD and many others, by applying its weight and warmth on a person.

The effects are similar to a weighted blanket, and the pressure from this DPT helps to relax a person.

DPT deep pressure therapy dog

This can be helpful for people who are living with the debilitating effects of PTSD, extreme levels of stress, depression, flashbacks, or other conditions.

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2. Service & Comfort Dog Overview

People often get confused about different types of working animals, because there are so many that are similar.

It’s important to note that there are multiple definitions of service dog, but the most common comes from the ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act.

Read more: Summary of the federal ADA service dog laws.

This law protects service animals and their handlers when public access rights are concerned.

ADA federal service dog laws

Under the ADA, a service dog is specially trained to do certain work or tasks for someone who lives with a disability. The work or tasks must be directly related to the person’s disability or disabilities.

Sometimes, miniature horses are used by people with disabilities, and these must also be accommodated in public places whenever possible.

People with disabilities and their service animals must not be discriminated against, and are allowed to go anywhere the public is allowed to go, with a few exceptions (in swimming pools, religions organizations, and sensitive environments such as the operating room in a hospital).

service dogs allowed in public places ADA

Comfort animals, companion animals, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs or animals are not considered service dogs under the ADA law because they are not specially trained to do certain tasks for someone.

So while these types of animals may not have the same public access rights, they may often – emotional support animals in particular – have more rights when it comes to housing situations.

There are many types of service dogs, such as those who guide people who are blind or living with low vision, those who alert people to certain sounds, autism service dogs, diabetic service dogs, seizure alert service dogs, and so many more.

The difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support dog is that the psychiatric service dog has been specially trained to do a certain task (or “work”) for someone. An emotional support dog, on the other hand, is not necessarily trained to do anything, but helps a person just by their mere presence.

DPT Psychiatric Service Dog

DPT service dogs are considered service dogs because of the special training they receive in order to perform the specific task of deep pressure therapy when they notice a person is in need.

Emotional support animals are often able to assist people who live with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other conditions just by being there.

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3. What is DPS – Deep Pressure Stimulation?

What is Deep Pressure Therapy Stimulation?

The work that DPT (or deep pressure therapy) service dogs do is known as deep pressure stimulation (DPS).

DPS is a gentle and tactile pressure that is applied to the body by certain, various ways:

  • Tugging
  • Stroking
  • Cuddling
  • Wrapping

These actions help to relax a person’s nervous system and allows people to feel more calm and peaceful.

DPT Service Dogs allow people to feel more calm and peaceful

How exactly does this work? By providing this pressure, it begins to switch the person from the different nervous system responses; from the sympathetic nervous system (or “fight or flight response”) to the parasympathetic system (or the “rest and digest response”).

If you’ve never heard of these, here is a quick summary. The sympathetic nervous system a person’s quick, and involuntary response to real or perceived dangerous, and/or stressful situations encountered in life.

Hormones rush to boost the body’s alertness and increases the body’s heart rate. In addition, extra blood is sent to the muscles.

DPT service dogs relax a person's nervous system to the parasympathetic system

Obviously this is not a very relaxing state to be in. And often people who live with PTSD or a lot of stress can get stuck in this state, even when there is no real danger.

On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite of the sympathetic system, and the main purpose is to conserve energy that can be used later, and to regulate bodily functions such as digestion and urination. Think of it as definitely a more relaxed state.

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4. How Does This DPT Work to Relax People?

When the DPT or deep pressure therapy is applied, the body begins the transition from the fight-or-flight response towards a more relaxed and calm state.

DPT Service dogs relaxing muscles

Some characteristics of this transition are:

  • Muscles begin to relax
  • Circulation improves
  • The chemicals endorphin, dopamine, and serotonin are produced, which creates much improved feelings
  • These chemicals are known to improve sleep, motivation, memory, and even social skills

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5. Who Can Benefit from a DPT Service Dog?

DPT Service dog for autism

Certain people with certain conditions are prone to sensory overload. This is noted particularly in conditions such as autism, sensory processing disorder, depression, and Alzheimers.

DPT Service dog for Alzheimer's

These conditions make it difficult for a person to transition from the more stressful sympathetic nervous system state, to the more relaxed parasympathetic nervous system state.

Sensitivities exist that can trigger a stressful response, even when no apparent stressors exists. This obviously interferes with a person’s ability to feel calm and relaxed.

DPT service dogs can help people living with conditions such as:

  • Autism
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • People experiencing a dissociative episode
  • People experiencing a panic attack or anxiety attack 

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DPT Service Dog for Depression

6. DPT Service Dog Techniques

DPT service dog golden retriever

Although Golden Retrievers are often the go-to breed for psychiatric service dog work, any breed can be used, and this includes dogs large and smaller.

DPT Service Dogs are trained to apply certain amounts of pressure, depending on the size of the dog, as well as the person’s preference.

Larger breeds can perform this task by providing tactile stimulation through their chin. They apply their chin to various parts of their handler’s body.

Smaller breeds are still able to provide this stimulation by either sitting or laying on a certain part of their handler, including their lap.

You may be thinking, “Any dog can sit on a person’s lap,” and this is true.

But the thing about a trained, psychiatric service dog is that it knows when someone is experiencing a panic attack, for example, and will apply this technique, regardless of being instructed to do so.

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DPT service dog can help with panic attacks

Conclusion

DPT stands for deep pressure therapy. A DPT service dog is a specially trained psychiatric service dog. Its job or task consists of applying pressure or another type of gentle stimulation to someone who is experiencing the effects of a disability.

A few examples of disabilities that this special dog can help with are autism, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and attention deficit disorder.

Service dogs are protected under the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act. People with disabilities with their service dog may go anywhere the public can go (with a few exceptions.)

People with disabilities are not required to have their service dog professionally trained. They may train their dog themselves. Alternatively, they may get someone to help them train the dog, such as a friend or a local dog trainer.

Considering how stressful life has become for many people, it’s a gift that these special dogs can help us humans and improve the quality of life for many people. And, this is just one type of service dog. There are so many others, too.

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By Sam Amy Nelson

Sam Amy Nelson (she/her) is an advocate for people with disabilities and mental health.