Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – 17+ Extraordinary Examples

Published Categorized as Service Dog Training
Psychiatric service dog tasks

Welcome to our introduction to Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks. This is not an exhaustive list of psychiatric service dog tasks or work. But, it’s more of a sampling of work or tasks, so you can get an idea of what these special dogs can do to help people who are living with psychiatric disabilities.

Psychiatric service dog tasks
Blue Heeler “Snow Leopard” @snow_leopard_81
  1. Grounding
  2. Alerts to Episode
  3. Guiding to a Safe Place
  4. Tactile Stimulation or Deep Pressure Therapy
  5. Pressure and Warmth Stimulation
  6. Reminders
  7. Lead to Important Locations
  8. Brace or Counter-balance
  9. Give Identification
  10. Hallucination Discernment
  11. Wake Up Handler
  12. Non-Aggressive House Search
  13. Find Keys or Telephone
  14. Turn On Lights
  15. Interrupt Repetitive Behaviours
  16. Closing Doors
  17. Initiate Interpersonal Interaction
  18. Stand Between Handler and Others

Examples of Service Dog Tasks
Examples of Service Dog Tasks
Psychiatric Service Dog Task List
Multipurpose Service Dog “Eri” @eri_servicedog

1. Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Grounding

Different service dogs may have different ways of grounding someone. It is basically all about distracting someone from a situation.

A few examples of the psychiatric service dog grounding task could include:

  1. Brushing against the side of a person when they are getting anxious in public
  2. Sitting on a person’s feet when they are standing still but feeling anxious
  3. “Kissing” or licking a person’s hand or face
  4. Partially laying on a person and licking the person’s face when they have nightmares or night terrors

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Grounding Can Be Helpful For:

  • Anxiety
  • Catatonic Behaviour (Catatonia is a group of symptoms. It usually involves a lack of movement and communication. It can include agitation, confusion, and restlessness)
  • Delusions (Delusions are usually defined as something like fixed, false beliefs that conflict with reality)
  • Disorganized Speech or Behaviour (Examples of disorganized speech include speaking incoherently, responding to questions with unrelated answers, saying illogical things, or shifting topics frequently
  • Dissociation (dissociation is usually defined as a mental process of disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity)
  • Emotional Escalation
  • Flashbacks or Distress (a flashback is usually defined as memories of a past trauma that feel like they are taking place in the current moment)
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Night Terrors (episodes of intense screaming, crying, thrashing, or fear during sleep that happen repeatedly)
  • Psychosis (a condition that causes people to lose touch with reality)
  • Self-Mutilation
  • Sensitivity to Sound
  • Sensory Overload (When the five senses — sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste — take in more information than a person’s brain can process. When this happens, it enters fight, flight, or freeze mode and may feel like a crisis, making people feel unsafe or panicky)
  • Sleep Disturbance
  • Startle Response
  • Suicidal Ideation (suicidal thoughts or ideas)

For self mutilation, the psychiatric service dog task may also be to interrupt this, or even to prevent this by alerting, or utilizing tactile stimulation.

Tactile stimulation involves the sensation of touch and texture.

Psychiatric Service Dog Task Grounding
Service Dog In Training “Bishop

2. Alerts to Episode

Psychiatric service dogs can provide alerts to the initial stages or behaviours that are just beginning to happen or develop. This prevents them from becoming worse.

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Alerts Can Be Helpful For:

  • Aggressive Driving
  • Changes in Breathing Patterns
  • Emotional Escalation
  • Flat Affect (Flat affect is a condition that causes some people to not express emotions the same way that other people might)
  • Hyperfocus (a phenomenon when someone is so absorbed in a task, they seem to completely ignore or ‘tune out’ everything else
  • Hyperlocomotion
  • Increase in Heart Rate
  • Irritability
  • Muscle Tension
  • Olfactory or behavioural cue (Olfaction powerfully instructs behaviour, mainly through experiential association. For example, the smell of a previously unremarkable odor in a stressful environment is likely to initiate stress upon subsequent detection)
  • Pounding Heart
  • Restlessness or distractibility

Another example of the many psychiatric service dog tasks would be to alert to the presence of others. This would be helpful for someone who is prone to the startle response.

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks - Alerts
Canadian Service Dog “Everest” @katelynburelle

3. Guiding Handler to a Safe Place

Guiding their handler to a safe place is something that a psychiatric service dog can be trained to do for someone living with a psychiatric disability. Service dogs can even guide their handler home, if need be.

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Guiding Can Be Helpful For:

  • Anxiety
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Dissociative fugue
  • Fear
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Fight or flight response
  • Psychomotor retardation (one of the main features depression, psychomotor retardation is the slowing down or hampering of your mental or physical activities. Typically this is seen in the form of slow thinking or slow body movements)
Psychiatric Service Dog Task Guiding Handler to a safe place
Psychiatric Service Dog “Sarge”

4. Tactile Stimulation or Deep Pressure Therapy

Tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy is another psychiatric service dog task (or “work”) that a service dog can do to assist someone who is living with a psychiatric disability.

Basically, tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy is when a service dog uses his or her weight, and sometimes warmth to mitigate a psychiatric symptom. It is not that much different from a weighted blanket. This is often used either as a calming strategy or to minimize disengagement from the world.

Read more: What is a DPT Dog? Impressive Truth & FAQ

Here are a few examples of what this psychiatric service dog task can help with:

  • Anxiety
  • Apathy/disengagement
  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Difficulty initiating movement
  • Dissociation
  • Dissociative flashback
  • Distractibility
  • Fear, such as fear of leaving home
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Fight-or-flight response
  • Flashbacks or distress
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Intrusive thoughts/images
  • Nausea
  • Pounding heart
  • Racing thoughts
  • Restlessness or distractibility
  • Sadness or tearfulness
  • Sensory overload
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Trembling
Goldendoodle Autism Service Dog “Piper” @bri.and.piper

5. Pressure and Warmth Stimulation

Helpful for:

  • Chills
Psychiatric service dog pressure and warmth stimulation
American Cocker Spaniel Service Dog “Bartek” @bartek_spaniel_wspanialy

6. Reminders

Also, Focus/interact until handler initiates sleep preparation.

  • Disorganization (reminders to perform daily routines)
  • Insomnia (reminder to go to bed)
  • Memory Loss (reminder to take medications)
Service Dog Tasks Reminders
Service dogs can be any shape, size, or breed. @aurora.sdit.floof

7. Lead Handler to Important Locations

On cue, a psychiatric service dog can lead a person to important locations as one of its tasks.

Can be helpful for:

  • Difficulty navigating
  • Dissociative fugue – The psychiatric service dog can guide someone home, to a safe place, or to help with crossing streets safely
Psychiatric service dog tasks balancing
PTSD Service Dog @vos_ptsd_servicedog

8. Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Brace or Counter-balance

Although some symptoms are not always directly psychiatric in nature, some are side-effects of medications, or common, in people who live with psychiatric disabilities. One example is dizziness. A psychiatric service dog task can include bracing or counter-balancing someone when they feel dizzy.

Sometimes, a person might also feel dizzy just because they haven’t been eating very much. This is sometimes seen in people with major depression.

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Balancing Can Be Helpful for:

  • Dizziness

During this psychiatric service dog task, a person can rest one hand on the ridge between the shoulder blades of a large sturdy dog. This helps to steady them on each step. A harness can be used, but it is optional.

Larger dog breeds can be trained to help their partner to climb or descend stairs. This results in greater safety.

The team stops on each step. Then, the service dog braces him/herself on command, which steadies the person when they take their next step.

It’s important that the dog must learn to take only one step at a time, not two or three.

brace or counter-balance service dog tasks
Photo credit: kaylie.and.their.pet_

9. Give Identification Documents to Others for Assistance

This psychiatric service dog task would be helpful for a forgotten personal identity situation.

service dog tasks for psychiatric disabilities
Border Collie @celestialbordercollies

10. Alert to Real People or Sounds – Hallucination Discernment

mini service horse Flirty psychiatric service animal tasks
“Flirty” The Mini Service Horse

11. Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Wake Up Handler

Service dog for night terrors
Working K9 “Remmi” @working.collie.remmi

12. Non-Aggressive House Search or Alert for Intruders

Service dogs can be trained to be non-aggressive. It is never acceptable to train work or tasks that involve the service dog being aggressive. Similarly, assistance behaviours intended to be perceived as aggressive are not acceptable. Psychiatric service dogs can go ahead of a person to check and make sure the house is clear.

This can be helpful for:

service dog tasks search house
Photo credit: @luna_exploregon

13. Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Find Keys or Telephone

A psychiatric service dog task can include finding keys, a telephone, or perhaps another item for a person.

This can be helpful for:

  • Memory loss
service dog finding keys or telephone
Multipurpose Service Dog @the_working_willow

14. Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Turn On Lights

Can be helpful for:

Psychiatric service dog tasks night terrors nightmares
American Cocker Spaniel Service Dog “Bartek” @bartek_spaniel_wspanialy

15. Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Interrupt Repetitive Behaviours

Can be helpful for:

  • Repetitive/compulsive behaviour

16. Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks – Closing The Door To Block Noise

Can be helpful for:

  • Sensitivity to sound

17. Initiate Desired or Needed Interpersonal Interaction

Can be helpful for:

  • Social withdrawal

18. Non-Aggressively Stand Between Handler and Others

Can be helpful for:

  • Startle response

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By Sam Nelson

Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.