Psychiatric Service Dogs, Very Special Dogs, Indeed

On February 15th, 2008 I posted an article about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Iraqi veterans.

In rereading the posting, I realized that I had not stressed the importance of Psychiatric Service Dogs in helping veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan cope with their traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder and meet the challenges of daily civilian life. The purpose of this posting is to explain just what Psychiatric Service Dogs are and how they help with PTSD and other psychiatric disorders.  The original posting can be found at the following URL:

Psychiatric Service Dogs: 

A Psychiatric Service Dog is specially trained to assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities. The dogs are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA), as well as individual state statutes. These dogs are not pets but are working dogs with public access rights. Public access as it applies to service dogs allows the dog to be taken anywhere that the general public is allowed to go. This includes all forms of public transportation (including riding with their partner in the passenger compartment of airplanes), places of worship, restaurants, stores, malls, hospitals, and doctor and dentist offices.

Psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained to help individuals deal with the symptoms of their disabilities. Psychiatric conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Severe Depression, Panic Attacks, Phobias, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders respond well to the work of these special dogs.

How can these dogs possibly help? What do they do, you might ask? There are many answers to these questions. Dogs trained to deal with PTSD are taught to prevent strangers from coming too close. By positioning themselves in front of their partners, they prevent people from getting into their personal space. In the case of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, the dogs are often trained to "watch." This takes the place of the veteran having to watch his back; a common urge that many combat veterans share. As you can see in the photograph, Bill can concentrate on taking photos while his Service Dog, Pax, watches for strangers approaching from behind. It is important to emphasize that these are not guard dogs. They alert by movement or nudging their partners in situations that might be startling or upsetting.

These dogs also provide reality checks for visual and auditory hallucinations. A veteran recently reported that while spending a quiet evening at home, he suddenly felt a strange person standing close to him. He looked down at his Service Dog who was asleep at his feet and realized that no one could possibly be there without the dog reacting.

Psychiatric Service Dogs often alert to obsessive-compulsive behaviors by "pawing" individuals who may not realize what they are doing. This helps to distract them from the behavior.

The dogs carry prescriptions and medical information in their vests, remind their partners to take medications, give them reason to get out of bed and leave the house, and provide a constant non-judgmental, loving presence. Service Dogs and their partners are together 24/7.

Anxiety and panic attacks are also helped by Psychiatric Service Dogs through tactile stimulation. When a client is extremely nervous and upset, they are encouraged to run their hands through the dog's fur and massage the dog's entire body. Through these tactile experiences, clients learn to relieve their symptoms. This technique works particularly well in times of stress. In fact, my wife, who is extremely afraid of flying, recently used this technique with her Service Dog, Skye, on a particularly rough flight. She also had to remind herself that Skye would not have been contentedly dozing at her feet if the plane was about to crash!

The presence of these dogs also relieves isolation and encourages social interaction. People are fascinated by the work of these dogs and constantly ask questions. This urges the client to become more comfortable dealing with strangers. Paul Dymon, a puppy raiser for Canine Companions states: "I can't imagine a greater social tool...animals are instant conversation, instant friendships and an extra extention of care."

One of the best things about PTSD clients partnering with Psychiatric Service Dogs is that the presence of the dog often distracts them from focusing on their own fears and worries. Instead, they must focus on the dog, its behavior, its safety and its care.

The list of what these dogs can be taught to do goes on and on. Each of the dogs are taught specific tasks, depending on the needs of their partners. These can often include, but are by no means limited to getting the phone in an emergency, calling 911 on a K-9 Rescue Phone, barking for help, providing balance support,retrieving needed or dropped articles,opening the refrigerator to bring food or drink, alerting others in medical emergencies, finding the car in a crowded parking lot and leading the client to safety.

As the bond between Service Dogs and their partners deepens, they become more and more in tune with one another and their ability to provide for one another's needs increases. By far, one of the best things I have heard from a Service Dog partner is, "This dog makes me laugh. He fills my life with a sense of joy and love that I haven't been able to feel for a very long time."

  • Chris

    I am so happy to hear about this and see this more and more. I am ptsd serverly disabled from it. I am getting service dog very soon. The problem I am encountering is I am wanting the Va to pay for the dog- where I am. I am hoping to get him paid for soon. however I will pay for him- otherwise.

    This is wonderful and will share this website to others. great- to read.

  • Corky

    I wish we would see more articles such as this. As the wife of a VN combat veteran with disabilities - among them PTSD, I wish more were aware of these benefits. We see the news of soldiers adopting dogs and having them come to the US, but what about those who return home and desperately NEED the services these dogs can provide. For one thing, I have to say my husband has never been able to love or be as close to anyone/thing since combat as he has our current dog. That he has allowed himself to open himself up as much as he has to her is a miracle! It also has opened new doors for him in his personal relationships with humans! The problem is there is no clear cut way I have found to get visible evidence so that she could accompany him! It isn't evident like a seeing eye dog, so short of pulling out letters from his VA physch and the vet, what do we do when questioned about bringing her into stores etc< TIA

  • Anonymous-1

    Disability Services Units in Major Corporations and State run agencies really need to understand the clash of cultures between Disabilities and other people's simple fear, cultural habits, or what have you. I served my country, and my country did not help me. My dog is the only thing I can connect to some days, and helps me immensely. I just got him certified and who is my major obstacle? Disability Service units arguing about "reasonable accomodation" and someone else's culture re: Muslim people think dogs are "Dirty" and will not touch them (then don't) and others are afraid and someone has to meet elsewhere....go. My dog is an ADA Accomodation. Everyone else can either go and serve MY TIME and BE ME, or stand in my shoes, and accomodate. ADA Speak UP NOW!!! We need you.

  • Anonymous-2

    How do you have a dog trained to become a psychiatric service dog my son served in Afghanistan and Iraq and has PTSD. Our dog has been a life saver for our son in the begining it was the only thing that made him happy.

  • George Frattarelli

    In 2008 I began training Belle a Psychiatric Service Dog for Bipolar and PTSD. She helped me so much I became a Professional Dog Trainer so I could train PSDs for veterans like me.

  • Angie

    I was writing a personal message to a friend and realize what a help my dog is and seems to always understand my moods. I feel as if she is the only that does not judge me.

  • Anonymous-3

    Question. I suffer from panic disorder and flashbacks (PTSD). I have a done a lot of training with my dog and he has helped me in many situations. Most places let me take him with me, but some do not. I would like to have him upgraded from pet to service dog so I can legally have him with me. My psychiatrist said he would be willing to support me in this. How do we go about this?

    Thanks so much to anyone who has some information...


    Saved by the Dog

  • Anonymous-4

    I to have found there is a lack of information about training for dogs that are labeled "psychiatric care" dogs. A good place to start is the Delta Society. They train "therapy dogs".

    Another avenue to explore is "good canine citizenship" this program is through the American Kennel Club (AKC). This gets your cannine partner started down the road to be "certified" as a therapy dog. Although it is not necessary, I have found that when I have my dog with me in public, it gives me something I can hand people who are not knowledgabel about service dogs.

    Good Luck, I know that my therapy dog has done wonders for my post traumatic stress.

  • Amy

    This is a great article. There definitely needs to be more Public Awareness surrounding Psychiatric Service Dogs. (Especially within Canada...speaking as a Torontonian!) I do have a question regarding "getting" a PSD. I have been trying to get into Recovery from severe Anorexia Nervosa... Coupled with OCD, Anxiety, PTSD symptoms along with spending almost my whole life to date with Tourette's Syndrome. Question: Do any of the Service Dog Societies provide a PSD for Eating Disordered Individuals? If not, they should. I would really appreciate any feedback on whether a dog has/can be provided and how to go about starting that process. (Ie: Who would I contact specifically in Ontario?) Thanks in advance!

  • AJ

    Places of worship (along with private clubs) are exempt from having to provide access to service animals. Many places of worship have addressed the issue and have their own policies as to where and when they allow that access, but to imply that they must welcome service animals is grossly inaccurate.

  • Kirsten Richards

    Doctor, I wish you would do more research before making statements about legal rights. It can get your readers into serious trouble if they take your articles at face value without doing additional research on their own. Places of worship are not covered under the ADA because of the first Ammendment to the Constitution (the separation of Church and State).

    You wonder why I am angry: it's because of the large amount of misinformation you are putting out under the guise of authority because of your PhD. You've made several grossly inaccurate statements from saying that psychiatric service dogs are certified by the Delta Society, contradictory statements about whether your wife is or is not disabled (related to her "right" to take a therapy dog on a plane), to a statement that the ADA applies to aircraft and claiming that law had since changed. Delta doesn't certify any kind of service dog (never has), it only registers therapy dogs which aren't service dogs at all. They just visit hospitals and nursing homes to cheer up residents. Service dogs and Emotional Support Dogs are only permitted on aircraft under the ACAA if they are accompanying a disabled traveler, not because they are a therapy dog accompanying a therapist, and the ADA has never in it's roughly 20 years applied to aircraft any more than it applies to places of worship.

    In this article you state a handler is never under any circumstances to be separated from his PSD. There are, in fact, situations where a service dog, including a psychiatric service dog, must be left at home or in the care of someone else. Some medical procedures preclude the presence of the dog, including surgery and MRIs, or when the dog himself is ill or injured. While it is important for the handler to be the primary care giver, it is equally important that the dog be comfortable receiving care from one or more additional caregivers so as not to develop separation anxiety. A dog that is never under any circumstances cared for by another and never under any circumstances separated from his owner does indeed develop separation anxiety (such dogs are sometimes called "velcro" dogs). Pity that poor dog if his owner is hospitalized and unable to feed and toilet the dog, or if the dog must be hospitalized and must endure the additional stress of separation anxiety on top of an illness or injury. My own service dog suffered an injury that laid him up for nearly four months. Fortunately for him, and for me, he was able to be left at home on vet-ordered crate rest while I had a human attendant assist me to do necessary medical appointments and grocery shopping. He's also had to be walked and fed by others when I was hospitalized or laid up from surgery.

    Absolute, all-or-nothing statements are in general dangerous to make because an exception can nearly always be found. The ADA is loaded with exceptions including churches, private clubs, rail and air transportation, federal courts, the White House, Congress, Native American Tribal Councils, employers with fewer than 15 employees, and military bases (among others).

    They say only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. That's probably true.

    PSDS doesn't always give accurate information. You should re-check your facts with other authorities, specifically the U.S. Department of Justice, which is the ultimate authority on interpretation of the ADA. It's toll-free: 800 - 514 - 0301

  • Todd Smith

    There are some inaccuracies in the article.

    First, it is never the dog that has access rights. Dogs do not have rights. It is the legally qualified disabled handler that has the right to be accompanied by a properly behaved service dog that is trained in work or tasks to mitigate the effects of their handlers qualifying disability. If the person has not been legally qualified as disabled and/or the dog is not trained in mitigating work or tasks, then the dog is simply a pet and the handler has no access rights with it. No disability= no service dog. No training to mitigate= no service dog. One cannot just say: " My doctor and I think I have a disability, so now my pet is a service dog and can go anywhere with me." A "doctors note" is not legal qualification of a disability.

    Second, there are places that service dogs are not allowed to accompany their handlers. It is not a matter of "My dog can go everywhere I can 'cause it's the law." It is NOT the law. Churches, clean rooms of manufacturing facilities, operating rooms in hospitals, commercial kitchens in restaurants, petting zoos, private homes, private clubs and places where the dog alters the basic functionality of the business (among others, this is only an example of places) can all legally exclude the dogs from entering.

    Third, the dogs are not always with their person 24/7. The dog needs to be away from their person, even if only for short periods of time, to prevent seperation anxiety if for some reason the handler is unable to care for their dog. An example: Most of the time, our family is "hands off" when it comes to my wifes Guide dog. She is the one who uses her, cares for her, feeds her, grooms her and is the "alpha" in their relationship. The only time we as a family step in is when she is unable to care for her Guide. This may be a result of being ill, in the hospital (as was the case a couple of years back) or any other situation which may occur where it is not practical to have her Guide with her. Any service dog MUST be comfortable with and be able to properly interact with someone other than their handler in these cases.

    The article has many positive aspects, but the errors within it do no justice to the information provided.

  • Anonymous-5

    This is in response to the questions regarding getting a psychiatric service dog or training one's existing pet to become a PSD. There are several programs that will train PSDs but they tend to be expensive. (Asssistance Dogs of the West has a 40 week program for owner-trainers that costs $2500.) A better option in my opinion is to find a private trainer in your area who knows about training service dogs in general and psychiatric service dogs in particular. One of the best advisors in my area is an examiner with the Delta Society who knows most of the best trainers, so don't rule out that possibility.

    Before getting "just any dog" and hoping to train it as a PSD, learn about the various temperaments testing protocols that will help to identify dogs who are most likely to succeed. Remember that having and using such a dog is a commitment for the life of the dog, both to its care and continuous training.

    Also, the handler must be "disabled" per the definition in the ADA to use a service dog of any kind.

    The best resource that I have found is the Psychiatric Service Dog Society at If someone wants to pursue this path, sign up for the listserve at PSDS where you will find a wealth of experience from people using PSDs or considering them.

  • Gladys Henise

    I just hope someone can help me, I am a veteran, and I suffer PTSD and LUPUS, I just adopted a young labrador retriever from the Humane Society, however, I am looking for Financial Support from any institution in the Washington state area, I live in Bellevue, Seattle are to help me to send my new companion to train and learn how to become a service dog for mental disabilities like mine.

    I want to know if any one out there can read this and help me to find any institution or the Vet Dogs organization to support me financially to finally have a piece of mind.

    My dog is house train and knows the basic, but because she still young, 2 years old get excited when she sees other dogs in the park and does not like loud noises.

    Thank you if anyone can financially support her training


    Gladys R Henise

    Bellevue WA

  • kelly

    I noticed a comment on the thread that mentioned the Delta Society and Therapy dogs.

    I have been a therapy dog trainer and handler, as well as a member of the Delta Society.

    A therapy dog is NOT the same thing as a psychiatric service dog (PSD). A PSD is the same as any other service/working dog such as a seeing eye dog, physical disability service dog, ext...

    A therapy dog is only to provide therapy to patients in a hospital, nursing home, shildren's home, ext... environment and are not considered service/working dogs. They are NOT able to enter anywhere, anytime, and they must be approved by the hospital or facility to enter the facility.

    Just make sure you understand what the difference is before you make judgements. A PSD is a very valuable asset to a veteran with PTSD, it can provide and perform numerous services that help the patient deal with each day.

    For more and better information go to the Psychiatric Service Dogs Society website at:

  • William Bowie

    I need more information on how to get Partnered up with a dog and how or if the VA will pay for it's training.I also suffer from Chronic PTSD,TBI and due to TBI very unstable on my feet particular my left side I have to walk if I go anywhere with a cain to break my falls.So I pretty much go to work and back to my little cubicle at home.It doen't leave for much of anactive life.

  • Val DeVelbiss

    My daughter is psyschizo affective and I would love to be able to find her a companion like a service dog. She has a lot of trouble going anywhere without having an anxioty attact. can you help me to find the right one for her?

  • Rebecca Bosworth

    My name is Rebecca Bosworth and I am a graduate student at California State University Fresno. My degree is in Social work. I want to do my thesis project of Veterans with PTSD who have therapy dogs. I am having difficulty getting Veterans information from the therapy dogs corporations. My project would require a Veteran to fill out a anonymous questionnaire, regarding how their therapy dogs have helped them with their PTSD. Would any Veterans be willing to participate in my project? School starts next Monday and I will be working on the particulars soon. This is a very important issue for me and I would like to be able to continue it. My father is a Marine Viet Nam Veteran and is involved in the military funerals in our mountain community. If you are willing to communicate with me by e-mail, my address is

    Thank you for all the Veterans who risked their lives for our country. God Bless

    Thank You,

    Rebecca Bosworth

  • Bonnie Albrich

    I have a 9 week old puppy that I have decided to work with and train to be my companion/service dog. I want to start with him young in the public he will work well with me. I suffer from pstd from an abusive marriage as well as anxiety I had been just working with my sons dog who is not comfortable going around people so I want to have a dog I can have with me everywhere I go. Is this pup too young to consider as my service dog?

  • Anonymous-6


    First, start basic puppy training. You can go to Pet Smart or a local dog obedience school where there will be a puppy kindergarten. Then your pup will be ready to begin training for your purposes. Eventually, you want your dog to pass the canine good citizen test and get a certificate.

  • Sherry Love

    I am curious, my daughter who is still serving in the Army has been diagnosed with PTSD amoung other things, and is constantly being picked on by her NCO's and the Sargeants and Commanders that she turns him into says she just has it in for him and another male NCO. These same men have had numerous complaints filed against them from my daughter about them asking for sexual favors. Now she is being treated like crap from the men in her troop and the leaders that are at this particular base. How do I help her without trying to seem like an overprotective parent. I hate that this is happening to her, and she was already hurt at the previous base she was at, she was assulted but two or three soldiers. Sadly though she still wishes to serve her country. I want to help her, could one of your dogs help her and how much would I have to spend to get the dog all the way to Hawaii. I feel so bad about what is happening to her, what can a mother do???

  • jean


    i have severe anxiety flying so my dr wrote a prescription for to go on the plane with a service dog. how do i t my dog certified as my service dog?

  • Mandy

    My teenage daughter has PDD-NOS (on the Austism Spectrum) and has struggled with explosive rages her entire life. Recently I have noticed that when my daughter shows signs of escalation in anxiety and frustration (which usually ends up in a tantrum) the dog will stare at her or try to get her to pick her up. Sometimes the dog whines a little as well. I have begun pointing this out to my daughter as an indicator that she needs to take a time out away from everyone. It's amazing at how in tune my dog is with her emotions. It's like she is a thermometer for her mood. Simply pointing out that the dog is seeming upset is easier than me telling my daughter that she is getting too upset, which would only escalate her emotions and make the problem worse.

    Thank you for your article. :)

  • julie

    My son returened over a year ago fom Afgan, and is severly depressed.

    He has been diagnosed with PTSD, and is seeing a therapist.

    The Man/Boy My Son left as is NOT the same that has returned, and My heart is breaking seeing Him in so much Mental pain.

    I am wondering about getting Him a dog to help Him through this ... I am scared to death about Him. H seems so angry, and so tuned out. He lives alone and is going to college, and will not let Me move in to help out ~~ I can not bear the thoughtof Him alone. It terrifies Me ~~ He needs a companion, and He LOVES animals,and I strongly believe that a PSD Dog, or some sort of therapy Dog will help him GREATLY.

    I need Help ... Where/ How do i find him one, and will the VA help with this?

    In need of help ASAP

    Thank you so Much in advance!

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Do a Goodle search for an organization called East Coast Assistance Dogs. They can help. You might also try Therapy Dogs International.

  • steve-o

    i have a 3 year old pup. I am trying to find a trainer to help me with the circumstances that I am currently going thru. I DONT want gubment assistace. I love my dog and am asking if there is a trainer that can help him and I. I WILL NOT GET RID OF HIM, AND WE WILL CONTINUE what we have. I would really like if I could run him through school.

    Thank you in advance for your inquiries

    (MSG) steve

  • dori

    i have been diagnosed with bi-polar,post traumatic stress syndrome,depression and many more medical conditions.i have heard about therapy animals and feel i would benefit from this.How do i go about this process.Are there special places that i should contact?Any help with this would be maybe, some references i could contact.