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Maintaining a daily routine and meeting life’s obligations can be a struggle for many with anxiety disorders. Psychiatric dogs can help with this and may provide a number of benefits that help mitigate a person’s disability and make their anxiety more manageable on a daily basis. Combined with other forms of treatment, having access to a psychiatric service dog for anxiety can greatly improve some people’s lives.
This article will discuss what exactly sets a psychiatric service dog apart from other service and support animals. Then, we will give you an idea of the tasks that a psychiatric service dog can perform in order to reduce and prevent symptoms of anxiety from appearing in the first place, helping you find relief and gain more confidence.
Psychiatric Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Animals
While many people tend to assume that psychiatric service dogs (PSD) and emotional support animals (ESA) are the same things, they actually differ in some pretty important ways. To start with, ESAs and PSDs have different legal protections; an emotional support animal is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and will not have the same public access protections as a service dog. You can read more about the legal protections on service dogs and ESAs here.
A psychiatric service dog is defined, as per the ADA, as one that is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” In persons with mental health conditions, this can include calming down the onset of self-injurious behavior, retrieving medication and phones during anxiety attacks, and providing deep pressure therapy.
A PSD is different from an ESA in that the ESA will only provide comfort and companionship, the nature of which is therapeutic to the owner; a PSD will perform tasks for the owner that help mitigate symptoms of their disability in addition to providing companionship.
Anxiety-Relieving Tasks a Psychiatric Service Dog Can Perform
A psychiatric service dog can perform a multitude of tasks for those with anxiety. We list the most important of these below and give an explanation of why they might be helpful to someone who is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Acting as a Buffer in Public
For many with anxiety disorders, simply being in public or a crowded space can create a situation that makes them feel stifled and claustrophobic. A PSD can help reduce these symptoms and make a person more comfortable in public by settling themselves between the owner and those around them. This allows the PSD to provide a buffer and create a safer feeling space for the owner.
Calming Their Owner Down
If an owner is exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or an oncoming panic attack such as rocking back and forth, shaking hands, shivering, or hyperventilating. In that case, the psychiatric service dog will intercept these symptoms by physically putting themselves in the way of their owner to stop the movements. The PSD’s presence can also be grounding to an owner who is disassociating. The PSD’s company helps bring the owner back to the here and now, allowing them to feel calmer until their anxiety symptoms further subside.
Similar to how a PSD will put themselves in the way to stop their owner from acting out physical anxiety symptoms, PSDs will also stop an owner’s self-injurious behavior. These behaviors can include things such as hitting or scratching at themselves; in this case, the PSD will move to prevent the owner from completing these actions and will not get out of the owner’s way until they are no longer attempting to perform them.
Provides Deep Pressure Therapy
Deep pressure therapy involves placing light pressure or weight onto a person’s body to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, or PTSD. For example, a psychiatric service dog can perform this therapy by placing their body, paws, or face onto their owner during a panic attack or the sudden onset of anxiety symptoms.
Deep pressure therapy has been shown to offer significant improvements in relaxation and the mitigation of anxiety symptoms, with further studies on the therapy still ongoing.
Retrieving Medication and Water
A psychiatric service dog can be trained to bring their owner both medication and water during emergencies when the owner cannot retrieve it for themselves. PSDs can even be trained to remind their owner to take medication at certain times (and won’t stop pestering the owner until the medication is taken). This can help bring a sense of order to someone suffering from anxiety and can help prevent symptoms from worsening due to skipped or missed doses.
Leading Their Owner to a Quiet Place
If an owner is experiencing a sudden onset of anxiety symptoms or the start of a panic attack in public, a PSD can lead their owner to a quiet, out-of-the-way area. This gives the owner time and space to deal with their anxiety more privately and take a moment to breathe.
Alerting to Panic Attacks
A psychiatric service dog can be taught to recognize oncoming panic attacks or dissociative episodes in those with anxiety and will alert their owner ahead of time. This advanced alerting allows the owner to get to a safe space, sit down somewhere, take medication, or alert someone in their support network before their symptoms fully set in. A PSD can also provide balance support for the dizziness that the start of a panic attack may bring.
Finding Help in an Emergency
In the event that their owner is suffering from some type of emergency related to their anxiety, a PSD will be taught to find the nearest person and lead them to their owner so they can be helped accordingly. A PSD can also be taught to bring their owner a phone in an emergency or press alert buttons.
Provides Comfort Around Others
Many anxiety disorders can be triggered around others and during social interactions. Having a PSD can help reduce these fears and provide a sense of constant, steady comfort when out and about in public and when speaking with others.
Other Benefits of an Anxiety Service Dog
In addition to completing tasks that help someone with anxiety go about their daily routine with more comfort and safety, a psychiatric service dog offers these other benefits to its owner.
Companionship is a major benefit of owning a PSD, besides the tasks they perform to assist you. Studies show that dog ownership can reduce stress levels, loneliness, and may be better for your heart health. In turn, these effects can help lessen the symptoms of anxiety over time and provide for a better quality of life.
Exercise is important for anyone’s health, and in those who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders, it can help lessen the symptoms. Owning a PSD will ensure that a person gets more exercise when it comes to walking and caring for their dog, which can improve their overall health.
Getting a lot of outdoor time is another important factor in treating both depression and anxiety disorders. As an owner gets outside more with their dog, both from having more confidence in public and as part of caring for their dog, their anxiety symptoms may be improved, or they may feel less stress in general.
Qualifying for a Psychiatric Service Dog
In order to receive a psychiatric service dog to help you out with your anxiety, there are a few qualifications you must meet. It is important to note that to qualify for a PSD in most areas, your anxiety disorder must cause a significant impairment to your life and to your abilities to operate on a daily basis. If these statements are not true for you, you may have an easier time adopting an ESA instead to provide you with therapeutic comfort.
Below, we list some of the requirements you may need to meet if you want to obtain a psychiatric service dog to assist you.
- Have a physical disability or mental illness that is debilitating or makes it difficult to operate on a daily basis
- Have the ability to participate in the PSD’s training process
- Have the ability to command and care for the PSD independently
- Have a stable home environment that a PSD can be brought into
You may find that some organizations that help you obtain PSDs will require different things. The best way to find out if you qualify for a psychiatric service dog to help with your anxiety will be to reach out to local organizations and inquire. You should also speak with a doctor or therapist about your anxiety and thoughts on adopting a PSD to help you out in your daily life, as a professional can help point you in the right direction.
Finding Relief From Your Anxiety
Today, many people suffer from anxiety disorders that can make it hard to go about a daily routine or operate at the quality of life they want to enjoy. Fortunately, a psychiatric service dog can help those with anxiety both reduce their symptoms and prevent serious anxiety-related episodes from occurring; when combined with other forms of anxiety treatment, a PSD can greatly benefit those suffering from debilitating anxiety.
If you feel that you would benefit from owning a PSD, you should reach out to your doctor or therapist to see if you can get the adoption process started and start finding relief from your anxiety.