Psychiatric Service Dog Training Lessons & Tips
A psychiatric service dog is a type of service dog that assists people who are living with a variety of psychiatric disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), just to name a few.
Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) for public access rights, psychiatric service dog training can be done either by the owner of the dog, or with the help of a trainer or service dog organization. Service dogs do need to be trained, but not necessarily by a professional trainer. Many people train their dog themselves, and this is exactly where this guide hopes to help!
Jump to a section:
- Traits of a Good Service Dog Candidate
- Structure of Psychiatric Service Dog Training
- ADA Rules & Service Dog Questions
- Tactile Stimulation & Deep Pressure Therapy
1. Traits of a Good Service Dog Candidate
Not just any dog will make a good service dog. Some dogs just aren’t cut out for service dog work, and are better off as pets. A service dog candidate needs to:
- Be calm, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings
- Always be alert, but not reactive
- Be willing to please and learn
- Able to retain information that they learn
- Be able to be socialized in many different situations and environments
- Be reliable in performing tasks that may be repetitive in nature
2. Structure of Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Before jumping into training a service dog for service dog tasks – including training a psychiatric service dog – make sure the basic foundations of dog training are in place. This will make the whole process so much smoother.
Work on foundation skills first:
- House training your dog includes eliminating on command in different locations
- Socialize your dog with the goal of having your dog remain on task even when there are unfamiliar people and even children, places, sights, scents, sounds, and even other animals.
- Your dog needs to learn to focus on you and ignore all and any distractions.
- Check out the AKC Canine Good Citizen program, which can can provide you with basic guidelines and benchmarks for these very essential foundation skills.
- After all of these basic steps, you can proceed with training your dog to perform work or tasks to help you with your specific disability and needs
3. ADA Rules & Service Dog Questions
Under ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) laws, only two questions can be asked of people who are using service dogs, in situations where it’s not so obvious that a dog is a service animal, such as when there are invisible disabilities.
(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
Your reply to question (2) must affirm that your animal has indeed been trained to take a specific action or do a specific task when needed to help you with your disability or its symptoms.
4. Tactile Stimulation & Deep Pressure Therapy
Tactile stimulation and deep pressure therapy (DPT) is a type of psychiatric service dog task that can help ground someone. It can help to offer a therapeutic distraction from depression, anxiety, or a panic attack, for example. This is a great task for dogs that already enjoy human contact, as it will be that much easier to train.
What will the dog do?
Your psychiatric service dog can be trained to place pressure on your chest, abdomen, or lap, or lie across a particular area of your body on cue.
How does this help?
- This can help to encourage emotional regulation
- This can bring calm to a situation
- The dog’s weight and/or warmth provides and grounding effect, and calming pressure
- It can be a distraction from pain in other parts of the body
- It may help to slow down breathing and heart rate
- It may help to switch someone from “fight or flight” to a more relaxed state of being
Commonly can be used for:
- Disengagement or Apathy
- Dissociative episode/flashback
- Fear / Fear of Leaving Home
- Feelings of Isolation
- Fight or Flight Response
- Increase in heart rate or Pounding Heart
- Intrusive Thoughts/Images
- Panic Attacks
- Sensory Overload
- Muscular or Nerve Pain
- Racing Thoughts
- Suicidal Ideation
Psychiatric Service Dog Training For Deep Pressure Therapy
Please know that there is no right or wrong way to train your dog. What works for one dog may not work for another dog, so use your intuition. Here are a few ideas of what may work to train your dog for deep pressure therapy work.
- Try getting into a comfortable position. This can be done sitting in a chair, sitting somewhere else, or lying down somewhere.
- Use one of your dog’s favourite treats to lure your dog towards you, and guide your dog until they are standing above you and/or at the part of your body you want pressure on.
- Give your dog the treat and lots of praise before you release them
- Practice this as many times as it takes for your dog to be comfortable with standing up and over top of you in this position
- Next, do this again but lower the hand with the treat to the position where you’d like your dog to apply pressure to you. Be calm and praise your dog and offer them a treat after getting into the right position
- Keep praising your dog until they settle in and release their body weight onto you
- Try not to get your dog excited, because this is supposed to be a calming and calming exercise
- Give this a name and let your dog know what it is
Your dog can also provide deep pressure therapy with only their front two paws and elbows on you, the back feet can still be planted on the floor.
To teach your dog this version, tap your lap and ask your dog to come up, and then reward your dog with a treat and mark this action with a name like “hug.”
After each session, use an “off” or similar cue to let your dog know that it’s time to go back down.
More to come…