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PDPM > About Service Dogs > Types of Service Dogs > Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs have a very specific job, which is just as critical to the wellbeing of their handlers as any other service dog’s job. As the name implies, these service dogs are specifically trained to mitigate their handlers’ psychiatric disabilities. There are many psychiatric disabilities that service dogs can be trained to mitigate in a wide variety of ways. Some psychiatric disorders that psychiatric service dogs can be trained to assist their handlers with include but are not limited to, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Schizophrenia and more.

Psychiatric service dogs Bradley and Gypsy lie by the table, while their handlers eat lunch at a restaurant.

What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?

The tasks or work a psychiatric service dog performs is dependent on the symptoms of his or her handler’s individual mental illness. Because there is such variation in the symptoms of different psychiatric disorders, each psychiatric service dog’s job is unique.

The following are some examples of tasks or work that a psychiatric service dog may perform to assist an individual with a psychiatric disability.

Psychiatric service dog Bradley reminds his handler to take medication.

Since the symptoms or effects of psychiatric disabilities can vary so greatly, psychiatric service dogs can perform tasks or do work that are very specific to each individual’s needs. In addition to being trained to mitigate the symptoms of the disability itself, psychiatric service dogs may be trained to perform tasks that are typically associated with other types of service dogs, like guiding, retrieving items like medicine and performing other physical assistance tasks. They may also be trained to assist with the effects of medication their handlers are taking to treat their psychiatric disorders.

What Qualifies as a Psychiatric Service Dog Team?

It is important to keep in mind that not every diagnosis of mental illness meets most legal criteria to be considered a disability. For example, if an individual suffers from a psychiatric disorder, but is not significantly limited by the condition in one or more major life activity, or the dog is not specifically trained to mitigate a debilitating condition, he or she may not have rights pertaining to service dogs that are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A psychiatric service dog team must meet the same criteria as any other service dog team to be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act: The individual must have a life-limiting disability and the service dog must be individually trained to perform tasks or do work that mitigates that disability.

It is not uncommon for there to be confusion about the differences between psychiatric service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals. For more information about all of the aforementioned, click here to visit our page with explanations of the distinctions among them.

Parker the psychiatric service dog enjoys Independence Day at the Beach.

The Stigma Attached to Mental Illness in Society

It is unfortunate that individuals suffering from disabling mental illness experience an additional challenge in their lives; the stigma that is attached to mental illness. As it is, there is already a stigma associated with having a disability, regardless of its nature. However, for many people who have not experienced severe mental health problems, mental illness is a taboo subject.

It is not uncommon for handlers of psychiatric service dogs to face a heightened degree of scrutiny from others, for a variety of reasons. There may be concerns about the individual’s psychological stability, doubts about the individual’s need for assistance from a service dog or simply an inability to accept those who are “different.”

It’s crucial to keep in mind that a handler of a psychiatric service dog has two very important characteristics in common with handlers of any other type of service dog:

  1. A psychiatric service dog handler has a legitimate disability and by using a service dog, he or she is taking concrete steps toward independence and self-empowerment.
  2. Just like all other service dog handlers, a psychiatric service dog handler is a person first and a person with a disability second. He or she deserves just as much respect as anyone else, regardless of disability.

According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.*” The likelihood that you or someone close to you will be affected by mental illness at some point in your life is fairly high. Please do your part to eliminate the stigma associated with psychiatric disabilities by adopting a mindset of empathy and acceptance.

Psychiatric Service Dog Bradley doesn’t understand why anyone would find it unusual that he helps his handler so much.

*National Institute of Mental Health:

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