Psychiatric Assistance Dogs.
It has been well documented that the companionship of a dog can vastly improve a person’s sense of well being. In addition, studies have shown dogs are capable of alleviating a variety of mental illnesses, from schizophrenia, to depression. This Holidays4Dogs article finds out more about psychological assistance dogs and the potential benefits to individuals and society.
For many decades, dogs have been trained to physically assist their blind, or deaf, owners and are well known worldwide. Psychiatric assistance dogs comes under the umbrella of Animal Assisted Therapy. Although, psychological assistance dog programmes exist in the United States there are few such services in the U.K. However, in June 2017 P.A.D.s (Psychiatric Assistance Dogs) became a registered charity. P.A.D.s aim to providing trained assistance dogs to help people suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses.
Benefits of psychological assistance dogs.
According to P.A.D.s UK, one in four people will suffer from some form of mental illness, at some stage in their life. Research carried out by the group, has provided evidence to suggest that a fully trained service dog could provide significant benefits to many people. Assistance dogs can improve people’s quality of life immeasurably.
A registered service dog means the person with the disability can have their dog with them at all times. This includes places such as, shops and restaurants.
Dogs incorporated into mental health treatments can have significant impact on a person’s self esteem and self confidence. In addition, dogs have the ability to lift a person’s mood, or help make a person feel calm.
A psychiatric assistance dog can be trained to do many specific tasks which help a wide range of people with different mental health disabilities.
For people with mental health issues, being able to have a service dog with them in settings such as shops, theatres, college, workplaces, or public transport has a huge impact on their well being and quality of life.
Every psychiatric assistance dog is trained to carry out specific tasks for the service user, helping them increase personal freedom and independence. Dogs are able to assist their owners both inside the home and within the community.
Once trained, these are some of the tasks dogs can do;
Help their handler in the home by providing assistance in a medical crisis. For example, they can help a person to cope with fear paralysis, which is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The dog can be trained to retrieve medication which might relieve such symptoms. Dogs can also be trained to retrieve an emergency phone and open the front door to emergency services.
Provide a shield or ‘buffer’ for the service user in crowded situations, by creating a physical barrier.
Wake handler by drawing back curtains, turning on lights, licking the handler’s feet until they rouse. Many people with severe depression, find getting up each morning almost impossible alone.
Carry out a household search – some people with anxiety, or PTSD are perpetually fearful of potential intruders in the house.
Help the handler to cope with emotional overload, or to help with side effects from medication such as mobility support.
There are a wide variety of types and breeds of dogs recruited as psychiatric service dogs in other countries. The most important aspect to consider, is the dog’s temperament and ability to learn skills and tasks.
Dogs seem to have an incredible ability to reach people in a way that even other humans are sometimes unable to do. Nowhere is this more evident than the bond between people with emotional, or mental disabilities, and their companion assistant dogs. One only has to consider how are own pet dogs often instinctively comfort us when we are sad, or upset. Many of us appreciate the enormous solace that our canine friends can give us, not just in our everyday lives, but in desperate hours of need.
If you are interested in knowing more about assistance and support dogs and wonder if your dog could become a therapy dog – head over to our other article here.
Assistance Dogs Europe (ADEu); Assistance Dogs International. Assistance Dogs UK; Duke University – Canine Cognitive Centre. Dogs for the Disabled – Paws Project. Heeling Allies – Mental Health Assistance Dogs (U.S.). Psychological Assistance Dogs UK (PADs). Service Dog Central – Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs). Society for Companion Animal Studies. Sterling Service Dogs – ‘Service Dog Tasks for Psychiatric Disabilities’.