Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Psychiatric Service Dogs

I want to thank my dear friend Edge for bringing this to my attention. I am currently working on getting a psychiatric service dog, much to the consternation of the kitty.

I would be interested in anything anyone has to say about these dogs. I think I really need one, for in my darkest depressions, I need someone to help me get out of bed and do the small things that need to be done. I think this might be the answer.

Here is an article put out by SAMHSA about psychiatric dogs.
Let me know what you think?


Guest Speaker: Psychiatric Service Dogs Are Helping

By Leslie Quander Wooldridge

Editor’s note: Each year, SAMHSA staff members are invited to hear guest speakers present information on a variety of topics of interest.

At a recent in-service at SAMHSA, Dr. Joan Esnayra introduced one of her psychiatric service dogs. She described how these dogs may help people with mental illness navigate their daily lives.

Anna* has schizophrenia, and Paxil helps her to discern whether she is hallucinating.

But Paxil doesn’t refer to the widely-known medication for anxiety—Paxil is the name of her service dog.

Many people are familiar with the images of seeing-eye dogs that guide their owners across busy streets. Others may be familiar with service dogs that alert their hearing-impaired owners to sounds such as doorbells and phones.

But a new grassroots movement is bringing forth another class of service dogs—a class that may not be instantly recognizable to members of the public.

Psychiatric service dogs are supporting owners who are disabled by mental illness, and these dogs are trained to do therapeutic work and perform daily tasks.

“When it comes to mental health disabilities, we’re usually talking about invisible disabilities,” said Joan Esnayra, Ph.D., founder of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society in Virginia.

Recently, Dr. Esnayra visited SAMHSA to present at an in-service event for Agency’s Center for Mental Health Services. She is a trained geneticist who founded the society in 2001. As the owner of two psychiatric service dogs who help her manage bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, she personally has seen the benefits that service dogs can bring.

Lending Support

Just as traditional service dogs assist owners by performing physical tasks such as guiding, retrieving, and pulling, Dr. Esnayra explained that psychiatric service dogs also help with physical tasks. These dogs can be trained to interrupt dissociative episodes, provide timely medication reminders, and create safe personal boundaries for their owners.

They also perform “work” for their handlers through therapeutic functions.

Psychiatric service dogs may bark or nudge handlers who suffer from panic disorders in order to alert them to oncoming panic attacks, detecting these attacks perhaps through an olfactory cue. These animals also can help ease dizziness by bracing or leaning against handlers.

“When physiology changes, dogs notice,” said Dr. Esnayra, noting that when dogs exhibit uncharacteristic behavior, such as pacing, staring, or vocalizing, the dogs may be ”alerting” to an incipient episode.

“With reliable canine alerting, you have choices in how to manage or subvert the episode using cognitive skills, risk reduction behaviors, or PRN [given as needed] medication,” she explained. “Canine alerting behaviors facilitate the development of insight in the client, and this makes all the difference between functioning and not functioning.”

In addition to providing valuable alerts to handlers, these dogs also provide support for everyday activities. For example, service dogs have helped people with agoraphobia venture out in public again.

“This is a 24/7 human-canine partnership,” Dr. Esnayra explained, as her two ginger-colored Rhodesian Ridgebacks looked on. “Even if someone doesn’t fully comprehend the mechanisms of this intervention, they can still benefit from it.”

Training Tasks

In general, there are three aspects of service dog training: basic obedience, public access skills, and disability-related tasks or therapeutic functions (work).

Owners of service dogs are not required to obtain professional training services, but Dr. Esnayra noted that the assistance of a professional can be valuable. “The law allows you to train your own service dog,” she said, also recommending that handlers join the listserv of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society to obtain expert guidance that can be passed on to a professional dog trainer.

Dr. Esnayra said there are about 5,000 psychiatric service dogs throughout the Nation, and handlers should expect to train their dogs for about a year before dogs can begin working.

Dogs of many breeds can be service animals, but Dr. Esnayra warned against high-energy breeds such as Dalmatians and Jack Russell Terriers.

Although many people may want to rescue dogs from shelters and prepare them for service dog training, Dr. Esnayra says purebred puppies from show breeders offer the least risk medically, as the ancestry of these dogs is known and training can begin early.

She added that training is an ongoing and essential process, so handlers should be prepared to invest the requisite time and money.

She also pointed out that psychiatric service dogs are not pets under the law and are permitted in restaurants, for example. However, even though service dogs legally can accompany handlers into public areas, handlers may face some resistance, especially because they are invisibly disabled.

So, the society founder said handlers should learn about service dog access laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and their own state laws.

“This is a do-it-yourself situation, and it takes a long time,” Dr. Esnayra explained. But as her two dogs watched her with rapt attention, she continued, “I happen to think the human/canine partnership is a sacred honor.”

For more information on the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, or to read the related literature, visit www.psychdog.org. For more information on mental health, visit www.samhsa.gov.

* A pseudonym


Immi said...

I hadn't heard of Psychiatric Service Dogs, but it sounds like they can be a really big help.
How's it going with the Cymbalta? Zaps and stuff are settled down, I hope.

Sandy Naiman said...


My previous dog, the late, great Murphy the Wonder Dog, was a St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog. For five years he and I visited the psychiatric wards of one of the large teaching hospitals here in Toronto.

Murphy was a poodle/Shih-Tsu cross. I called him a Shit-Poo because these were two of his many talents.

He was a remarkable therapy dog who used to lie down on his back to have his tummy rubbed right in the halls of the hospital. Everyone he met on the adolescent and adult psychiatric wards adored him and looked forward to his weekly visits.

Murphy had to go through an amazing examination to become a St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog, but nothing compared to how Service Dogs are trained.

As a long time dog owner, with two terriers and a puppy at the moment, you will find no better companion than a dog who only wants to give you undying love and devotion.

I hope you will find a dog who will be your very best friend in the world. Holly will love him, too. What a great little menagerie a trois you will have!

Take care,

Gianna said...

I know someone who has a psychiatric service dog...she does feel like he saved her...she is essentially recovered now and works full time...

Not Very Anonymous Mom said...

do it.

zeke is not a service dog, technically. but he is rob's best friend, and rob depends on him when he's low.

too bad zeke isn't trained - when rob is manic the dog avoids him, big time.

Stan said...

Dear Susan:

Koda says WOOF WOOF ! Which is Dog speak for something? http://lifeasithappenstomeandkoda.blogspot.com/

Yours truly,

Ana said...

I'm amazed with this work!
I've already heard that dogs can predict heart attack but never a panic attack.
My Nell is not trained but she was my sole support just being by my side during withdrawal.
The two times I had severe drug-induced suicidal ideation I can say that one time I had to leave home because I thought about her and thought that she could not be alone for too long.
I left a message describing how I wanted her to be treated and the address of the person I wanted her to be with.
The second time I've called to a dog hotel but I haven't the guts to see her leaving.
I'm not sure if I would have done if it wasn't for her.
But I can say that I only thought about her and it was of great help.

I remember some days I lay down on the floor beside her and was feeling all kind of symptoms.

She is easy-going. When I'm active she is active. When I'm not she is not. :)

Do it Susan!

You will love to have a dog around.
Talk to your doctor about Cymbalta.
It's making you harm.
Take care dear friend.
I'm looking forward to seeing you feeling good again.
I'm sure you will.

Anonymous said...

I would go for it. Although I do not have a psychiatric service dog I do have a service dog. They are great help in making me more independent. I do not have to rely on an individual.

Here's a little bit about such dogs.

Larry said...

Schumie is not a licensed service/therapy dog -- but she fooled a hospital staff once when an ex-girlfriend who worked there and I brought her in!

Susan, this sounds like a good idea. (And not just because I'm a "dog person" to your "cat person" ...)

Stephany said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mala50 said...

Susan I think that if the owner is a genuine animal lover, it is a wonderful idea. If it is someone who doesn't care about animals, it would be very tough on the dog.

And in my experience, cats and dogs are pragmatic when it comes to living together. Just be firm.

Love and hugs

Mary (Mala50)

superlagirl said...

There is a therapy dog at the hospital where I work. She isn't a psych service dog, but she is often assigned to patients who are experiencing psychological roadblocks in their rehabilitation. (ie spinal cord injury patients with anxiety/depression.) She is amazingly helpful even in a limited hospital setting. I think it sounds like a great idea.

Chunks of Reality said...

This is sooo very interesting! Thanks so much for blogging about this. I had never heard of it before. I'm going to the website to check the dogs out as well.

Thanks a bunch!

Immi said...

Totally off topic.
Susan - How much does this Official Cat Fix Person position pay anyway? And does it pay in cookies or maybe chocolate? hehe

suzanne said...

I have a service dog for PTSD.
She, Gracie, is amazing!
I could hardly leave the house before I had her. She also wakes me up from nightmares, and seems to settle me down when I get anxious. She has been my "Saving Grace"~

Christa said...

I never heard of a psychiatric service dog. This is a great idea!

My dog, Rosie, spent some time doing pet assisted visitation at an assisted living facility for the elderly. Touch therapy is so wonderful.

Rosie, my boxer, saved my life when I was severely depressed and suicidal. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't be on this planet today.

Susan - If you want to read the blog I wrote about how she helped me go here:


Thanks for this post. I think I may work it into a blog on my site and I will definitely ping you back.

Anonymous said...

My cat, we have 8 but one thinks I am her's alone, likes me not to take my meds cause then I will lie in bed and sleep all day holding her stomach.
Obviously, before anyone panics, I do take my meds, four times a day not matter how bored I get.
But Coco would rather I slept all day.

My father in his last year asked if I had any regrets about my childhood, but without changing the situation there was nothing I saw as possible to change, he had PDD-NOS and BPII and my mother was BPI/II, without changing who they were what would change?
But I did say it would have been nice to have a dog, both things surprised him, that I was rational enough to think of my childhood in that way. And that I had wanted a dog. he said it may have been possible after my oldest sister left, allergies, but my mother did not like others getting things they liked as she was not able to enjoy things herself, so a dog was probably not possible.
When we move out of NYC I will get one, probably a flat haired retriever. I will look into having him trained.

Dano MacNamarrah said...

Susan, my sweet~I was never terribly fond of dogs, having been raised in a family with cats. Cricket, my best friend of twenty years and I bought a house. She was not so keen on cats. Me, dogs, not so much.

Over the years, we've learned to enjoy the various beasties in our lives. When Nimrod died, Cricket was shattered. It took her a couple of years to be able to look for another dog.

In the meantime, I'd shuffled cats in and out. As they all came from the street, there were complications. But here's the beauty:

Cricket payed for the vet bills and even brought in new cats. DESPITE THE FACT that she's allergic to cats.

When she chose Griffin from the SPCA, it made me happy. She'd set up a walk schedual for Nimrod, back when her mother was sick. With Nimrod gone, she was a bit lost.

Nimrod was a difficult dog. He was very devoted to Cricket and just tolerated me. Griffin and I have a lot of fun together. Maybe too much.

Last year, Cricket tore her ACL and was operated on. She couldn't walk for a couple of months. So, I had to walk Griffin. I was quite depressed when this started and within a week, I felt better.

He'd been through some training classes, which over the ensuing years had faded back to basics. Cricket walked him in the morning for half an hour, took him to the dog park for an hour or so around five and then a final walk around nine.

When she was laid up for a few months, Griffin became my project. I had read Ceasar Milan and I also channeled my mother! I took a six year old dog who used to pull me so much that my back hurt, and calmed him.

I knew that when Cricket was able to walk him again, she could not afford him tugging on the leash in any way.

I trained him to think of me as his leader. I made him sit, before crossing any road, however small an alley was. Because he had to learn how to wait.

Griffin had issues with skateboards, bicycles, motorcycles and a couple of other dogs on leashes. With me, not so much anymore.

I never set out to train an older dog. Cricket was injured and Griffin needed to learn some restraint. So that when she was able, he wouldn't pull her.

I established that I was leader. I gave off calm energy. I made a small noise and a light tug when Griffin strayed. He became calm and focused.

It made me think about having my own dog. I'm part of a network that helps place relinquished dogs. I've always been a cat person, but Griffin has taught me about puppy love.

Darling, I think that a service dog is brilliant. I recall finally getting out of bed, because a plant was dying! When I was walking Griffin three times a day, I was in a depression. Not a suicidal one, but it was bad.

I believe I got better because I had no choice. It turns out that Cricket and Betty the Siggy thought that I wouldn't make it.

Susan, you're absolute best resources are Temple Grandin and Ceasar Milan. Also, don't go to the pound by yourself. Oh, and I'm part of a national animal placement group, on the web.

We've seen an up-tick (new speak) of large, pure bred animals. This may be economics, as a big animal is costly to feed.

There is also the issue of Puppy Mills, which are prevalent in rural PA..God, shut me up already!

Get yourself a service dog ASAP. When you have the beastie out with you and some dim person asks what the dog is in aid off, reply with "Stopping myselves from munching on the eyeballs of wankers such as yourselves."

Erika Kerry said...

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder which consists of the fear of experiencing a difficult or embarrassing situation. You get anxiety attacks out of the blue, when your life is going along the normal path when suddenly without any warning; terror binds you in its grip. As a result, severe sufferers of agoraphobia may become confined to their homes, experiencing difficulty traveling from this "safe place". http://www.buy-xanax-online-now.com/

Anonymous said...

While these dogs can help, people are entitled to service dogs under the ADA if they are substantially limited in one or more major life activities and the dog is trained to specifically migigate a disability. I research before doing anything-the courts rule narrowly on the limiting aspect and what constitutes a major life activity at times. Unfortunatly, this type of service dog seems to being exploited recently. There is no doubt the service they can provide people but that does not make them a service dog uder the ADA or just having a condition entitiling a person to one.

Rebecca Davis Winters said...

Please remember that dogs are living creatures with minds and feelings of their own. If you can truly care for a dog responsibly and love animals, consider getting one. But don't get a dog simply as "therapy"... would you do the same with a person? Of course not! Keep in mind that you are dealing with another living being who is not just a tool to get you through a psychiatric episode.

melzoom said...

Hey! If you are still thinking about this, e-mail me on Bnet and we can talk.

Untreatableonline said...

It is an interesting concept that I really do not know much about. I have thought about getting a pet but worry what would happen if I ended up back in the hospital again

Anonymous said...

Hi, Just wanted to say that as a suffer of BPII, Anxiety Dis, PTSD I discussed Service dogs with my Physician because my dogs senses when I need help, He braced against me, nudges me, barks and wheels when I am having an episode. My Physician wrote a "Prescription" stating that I am to have my service dog with me at all times. And yes I have been asked "Is that a service Dog?" NO one can legally ask anything beyond that... I can leave my house now, and people ask about Gunny which helps me interact with people without the attention being on me(I would not normally interact, too anxious) Gunny is helping me be more normal so I say if a dog can help you GO FOR IT.

viagra online said...

I think that dog are able to think and feel, not just see, hear and stuff we know. Since so, I also have thought that dog may need a Psychiatric Service

sincerelyfido said...

Outstanding article. I'm doing research on service dogs for an article/blog of my own. Your article will be an excellent resource I will be sure to reference. Lindsay - www.sincerelyfido.com

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