Psychiatric Service Dog Info

A Psychiatric Service Dog Can Help People

Maybe you’ve heard about a specialized Psychiatric Service Dog and how they can help people. But are you finding yourself wondering what exactly the dog can do for a person?

Are you wondering what is important when choosing a Service Dog for someone? Check out: How to Choose The Right Dog to be Your Service Dog.

Different Types of Working Dogs

As a refresher, there are many different types of working dogs. They are all very different. Therapy dogs are not service dogs, but they bring joy and comfort to people who are in a hospital setting, for example. Service dogs generally assist people with a specific physical challenge. Emotional Support dogs can provide comfort and companionship for people, but are not considered Service Dogs.  Read more about the different types of Working & Service Dogs here: Three Essential Definitions to Ease Confusion.

About Psychiatric Service Dog Breeds

A Psychiatric Service dog is specially trained for an individual. They provide specific support to people in a one-on-one setting. These dogs can be of great assistance for people who are living with autism, schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric challenges. The dogs can help people in so many different ways. They are truly amazing. For example, a specially-trained dog who is living with someone who falls into a deep, sudden, depression can operate a special K9 rescue phone to call a suicide hotline. This is through a pre-programmed phone. Read more to learn about all of the tasks these brilliant dogs can perform for people.

psychiatric service dog


A Psychiatric Service Dog Has a Few Key Roles

Their main jobs are to:

  • maintain their handler’s emotional state
  • perform work or tasks the individual is unable to perform themselves

Psychiatric Service Dog for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

One example is people who live with a obsessive-compulsive disorder. A dog might be trained to interrupt their repetitive, problematic behavior. Or, it might be trained to provide an environmental assessment. The dogs can help people with many other tasks, too, such as to remind someone to take medication

How a Psychiatric Service Dog Can Help Someone Living With Mental Health Condition(s)

People living with a wide array of mental health conditions can benefit from a highly trained Service Dog. A dog can help people to:

  • lead independent lives
  • support people in keeping their illness under control

The work that Psychiatric Service Dogs do is highly specialized and complex. Not all dogs are up for the job. A special type of dog is required. Some dogs are suited for special training more than others.

The Best Dog Breeds for Psychiatric Service Dog Work

While any kind of dog that is smart, a good learner, and up for the task(s), can be a good choice, there are several well-known breeds that make great Psychiatric Service Dogs. This is due to several different reasons. Here are just a few of the many great dog breeds that are excellent choices for a psychiatric service dog.

The Standard Poodle as a Psychiatric Service Dog 

service dog training

It’s hard to go wrong here, as poodles are:

  • highly intelligent
  • graceful
  • willing to learn
  • affectionate
  • easy to train
  • work well with people

They are well known as being truly brilliant dogs. Responding to cues comes naturally, due to a genetic history of retrieving waterfowl. And there is a bonus: their coat is hypoallergenic and low-shedding, perfect for people who have allergies or sensitivities. These dogs can be trained for many tasks. People living with depression and panic attacks can especially benefit from the Poodle’s natural ability to sense the mood of their owner. 

The Border Collie as a Psychiatric Service Dog

how to get a service dog

Here is another highly intelligent breed that’s known to be:

  • loyal
  • devoted
  • friendly
  • energetic
  • lively
  • affectionate
  • highly intuitive
  • cuddly

These dogs were originally bred to herd cattle. They make a great choice for anyone living with depression. Since they’re always motivated and lively, they have a way of getting people up and moving, even when the person may not be in the mood. This breed is especially helpful, too, for people who experience panic attacks. The task is to ground the person by using physical comfort.

Boxer as a Psychiatric Service Dog

service dog registration

Boxers are well known as being a great choice for a Service Dog, as they are:

  • loyal
  • friendly
  • alert
  • intelligent
  • gentle
  • protective in nature
  • quick learners
  • great for families and children
  • great for helping with ADHD

Boxers simply love to hang out with their humans and can provide unlimited companionship. They can be trained to properly channel their protective nature, or simply to offer protection from strangers. This works well for a person who experiences anxiety. They can also be used for such tasks as retrieving medication. They can interrupt their person at the onset of obsessive-compulsive or harmful behavior. 

Doberman Pinscher as a Psychiatric Service Dog 

Sometimes misunderstood, these dogs are very affectionate and loyal. They strongly bond with their human(s). Always willing to help and be by your side, these dogs are amazing. Great for:

  • PTSD
  • panic attacks
  • people who need a sense of safety and security
  • people who need to be ‘rooted’ in the moment

Lhasa Apso for Psychiatric Service Dog

service dog for anxiety

A dog doesn’t need to be big in order to become a great Service Dog. The Lhasa Apso is a good choice for people who are living with PTSD, depression, or bipolar disorder. These smaller dogs are well known for being:

  • alert
  • wary of strangers
  • intuitive
  • supportive
  • very loyal
  • cheerful, entertaining
  • comical

They’re also known for ‘nudging’ people back to a certain state, or course of action, whenever the need be. Perfect for anyone who needs uplifting companionship.

German Shepherd as a Psychiatric Service Dog

emotional support dog training

German Shepherd’s don’t judge, and will help anyone who is living with mental health challenges. They’re a great choice for people living with anxiety and OCD. They can detect flare-ups such as panic attacks and learn how to prevent them. Also, they can simply interrupt unwanted behavior and distract someone away from an issue. They are great with children and would be suitable for a family who is living with autism. They are:

  • very smart
  • loyal
  • disciplined
  • eager to please their humans
  • calm
  • even-tempered
  • gentle
  • obedient
  • human-like intelligence
  • good with children

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as a Psychiatric Service Dog

how to get a service dog for anxiety

These dogs are known for being sweet and loving, with a silky coat. They love bonding with their human, including snuggling and cuddling endlessly. They are a great choice for people who are living with depression or PTSD. Due to their size, they’re well suited for people who are housebound, or people who live in small spaces. They are:

  • not aggressive toward strangers or nippy
  • friendly
  • gentle
  • quiet
  • intuitive

Labrador Retriever as a Psychiatric Service Dog

service dog breeds

How can we have this list and not include the Labrador Retriever? These dogs are known as having superior intelligence, and a gentle disposition. They’re great for children living with ADD or autism. They’re also great for people living with depression or schizophrenia. The dog can help by allowing people to feel more secure and focusing on something other than their condition. They are:

  • intelligent
  • obedient
  • eager to please
  • stable, well balanced personality
  • loyal
  • calm
  • easy going

Sometimes you may have seen someone out with their Service Dog. However, it’s not always so obvious to tell what the dog has been trained to do.

Here are just a few examples of the types of assistance the dog can give to a person. In addition, we list the types of symptoms that can be relieved with the assistance of the dog.

Remember that these are just some examples, and not an exhaustive list. Each person is an individual. Therefore, highly individualized and personalized tasks may be required.

Read more: Everything You Need To Know About Psychiatric Service Dogs for Anxiety, Depression, PTSD.

Types of Symptoms & Conditions That a Psychiatric Service Dog Might Be Able to Help People With:

  • Anxiety 
  • Autism
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • aggressive at driving
  • Depression
  • OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or Social Anxiety Disorder
  • eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder 
  • apathetic or disengaged
  • catatonic behavior
  • change in breathing patterns
  • chills
  • delusions
  • disorganization
  • difficulty navigating through an area
  • disorganized speech or behavior
  • disoriented or confused 
  • dissociation or dissociative flashbacks or dissociative fugue
  • dizziness
  • emotional escalation about to happen
  • general fear
  • fear of leaving home
  • overwhelmed 
  • feelings of isolation
  • Flight or Fight‘ response
  • flashbacks, or general distress
  • forget their personal identity 
  • hallucination 
  • sleeping too much and has difficulty waking up
  • increase in heart rate 
  • insomnia – difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • intrusive thoughts, or images 
  • irritability 
  • suffering from memory loss 
  • muscle tension
  • nauseous
  • night terrors 
  • pounding heart 
  • psychosis 
  • racing thoughts
  • repetitive or compulsive behavior
  • feeling restlessness or distractability
  • sadness, tearful 
  • self-mutilation 
  • sensitivity to sound/noise
  • sensory overload 
  • sleep disturbances 
  • social withdrawal
  • startle response
  • trembling 
ptsd service dog

How a Psychiatric Service Dog Can Help a Person

  • alert a person to an emerging episode
  • ground the person
  • guide the person to a safer place
  • perform tactile stimulation
  • provide deep pressure therapy 
  • warm the person up
  • can remind a person to perform daily routines
  • lead a person to an important location, home, or to a safe place
  • provide assistance with crossing streets
  • brace or counterbalance a person who is dizzy
  • give I.D. documents to other people for assistance
  • alert the person to real people or noises
  • wake up the person, and turn on lights
  • search the home for intruders in a non-aggressive manner
  • remind a person to go to bed
  • remind a person to find their keys, telephone, or to take their medication
  • interrupt repetitive behaviour 
  • interrupt a flashback or dissociative episode 
  • close doors or open doors 
  • initiate social interaction 
  • summon help from another person
  • The dog can fetch a beverage or bring medication

Read more: The 10 Best Psychiatric Service Dog BreedsOpens in a new tab.

How to Select The Right Psychiatric Service Dog For Your Needs

While it is amazing to have so many options for selecting the right dog, it can also seem like a difficult task. How to pick the right dog to be your service dogOpens in a new tab., or the right dog breed? Considering that these dogs literally save people’s lives, it is not a decision to rush.

What Do You Need The Dog To Do?

Consider what you need the dog to do for you, and compare it against certain qualities of different breeds. Consider the size of the dog that you require.

What Kind of Personality Traits Do You Need In Your Dog?

Some dogs want to stay by your side 24/7, others are more independent. Some experience high energy, while others are not as active. Certain dogs require a lot of exercise to keep healthy, and some do not. Remember that while it’s possible to train a dog to suit your needs, it’s more difficult to adapt to the dog’s energy if you have physical or other limitations holding you back.

How Much Grooming and Upkeep Does The Dog Need?

Consider if the dog will need regular grooming. To some people, this is extra work that they have no energy for. For other people, it’s a form of therapy. Many dogs will leave their hair all over the place, so think about if you or someone in your home is dealing with allergies. In the case of the poodle and other breeds that don’t shed their fur, you’ll need to take the dog to the groomer’s every now and then for a hair cut. Make sure you factor this into your budget.

Do You Need to Travel With Your Dog Frequently?

Think about if you will be doing a lot of traveling. Smaller dogs are easier to fit onto an airplane or into a vehicle

Sam Amy Nelson

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

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