Therapy Dogs – What Is A Therapy Dog: Certification And Training

What Is A Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog is a specially trained service animal used for the purpose of assisting individuals with disabilities to perform tasks such as guiding them to rooms or locations where they might otherwise feel intimidated, relieving anxiety, calming behavior problems and helping them engage in everyday activities. (American Psychiatric Association)

Therapy dogs are not animals; rather they are “companion animals” that have been specially trained to assist their handlers in performing many different tasks. These tasks include alerting the handler when an individual is being threatened, retrieving items from inaccessible areas, pulling a wheelchair user into a room, or even just keeping the handler company during difficult times.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which was founded in 1882 and now has over 8 million members worldwide, defines a service animal as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.

Service animals must be able to perform these tasks without interfering with the normal operation of the individual’s medical condition. They may not eat, drink or play with other animals or children.

(ASPCA)

There are two types of service animals: assistance and support. Assistance dogs are trained to provide specific services for persons with physical disabilities, while support dogs accompany their owners at home and assist them in daily living activities such as bathing, toileting and handling medications.

A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a specific type of service dog that, as the name suggests, provides assistance to a person with a psychiatric disability; typically they mitigate or prevent psychosocial crises caused by an individual’s mental illness. PSDs are also referred to as Psychiatric Assistance Dogs, Psych Service Dogs or Psychiatric Intervention Dogs.

The first psychiatric service dogs were officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s. Today, any organization that trains PSDs must be accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI).

What Does A Psychiatric Service Dog Do?

A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) can help people with a wide range of different psychosocial disabilities. These may include autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. The dog may be able to sense an oncoming seizure or panic attack and assist the owner in avoiding or getting through one.

The dog can also provide comfort, protection and companionship for their charge whenever they need it, especially when under duress. The phsycological benefits of owning a PSD are numerous, and many owners use them as a form of treatment for their disabilities.

What’s Involved In Training A Psychiatric Service Dog?

Earliest stages of training involve obedience, including the basic commands of “sit”, “stay” and “heel”. The dog must obey these commands in a wide range of situations and environments.

The dog must also be able to follow directions during a crisis. This requires specialized training that involves the dog being exposed to common psychosocial stressors, such as loud noises and crowded places.

The dog must be obedient in such situations.

Later on, the dog must undergo the same treatment alongside its owner. This helps the animal understand the specific needs and conditions of its owner.

Finally, the dog must pass a screening test to ensure that it will be able to perform the tasks required of it. All dogs that pass this test are considered to be fully trained Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs).

What Are Some Examples Of PSD’s In Action?

Many police, medical and emergency services personnel keep PSDs with them while they are at work. These dogs can help by calming the owner during stressful situations, or alerting them to important information such as the presence of dangerous compounds in the air or the scent of a missing child.

PSDs can also help those who have phobias, anxiety or post-traumatic stress. The dog’s mere presence is often enough to make the individual feel safer, and can alleviate many symptoms of these conditions.

What Are Some Jobs PSD’s Can Have?

Many different kinds of jobs can be performed by a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD). Some of the most common ones are:

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– Emergency Service Dogs: These dogs provide assistance to people in dangerous situations, such as police, medical and emergency services personnel. They are trained to perform a wide range of tasks to help their owners,

– Facility Dogs: Facility dogs work in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions. They provide companionship and comfort to the patients there.

– Psychiatric Service Dogs: These dogs provide companionship and comfort to their owners. They can also detect oncoming attacks and help their owner through them.

– Autism Assistance Animals: These dogs can assist autistic individuals with a wide range of tasks, such as alerting them to oncoming attacks, guiding them away from dangerous situations and helping them to avoid common hazards.

– Severe Mood Disorder Dogs: These dogs assist owners with severe mood disorders, such as bipolar or depression. They can be trained to alert the owner to an oncoming attack and prevent the individual from hurting themselves, or help alleviate their symptoms during an episode.

– Miscellaneous Service Dogs: These dogs can assist those with a wide range of issues, such as people who have undergone amputations, or those who have issues with chronic pain.

What Are The Benefits Of Having A Psychiatric Service Dog?

There are both physical and mental benefits to having a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD). These dogs help their owners to get out into the world, socialize with other people and lead more productive lives. They can also provide much needed companionship to their owner when their conditions isolate them from others.

How Much Do They Cost And Is It Worth It?

The prices of PSDs vary according to the size of the dog, its training level and the kind of tasks it has been trained to perform. While some can be bought for just a few hundred dollars, others can cost up to $20,000. Getting a dog that can perform multiple tasks, or one that is trained specifically to help you, will increase the cost.

While this may seem like a lot of money, many people who have PSDs say that they are totally worth the cost. These dogs provide invaluable help to their owners every day and can dramatically improve their quality of life.

How Do I Get One?

If you feel as if a Psychiatric Service Dog could help you, there are many ways to get one. You can:

– Get a dog from a breeder and train it yourself. While this is the cheapest option, it is also the most difficult, as it takes a lot of time and effort.

You will probably have to do a lot of research into which breed would be best for you, and then spend a lot of time training it yourself. You will also need to make sure you get it qualified as a PSD, which may require certain training qualifications.

– Adopt a dog that needs training. There are many organizations, such as the Guide Dog Foundation, that provide dogs that can become service animals to those in need, for free.

You will need to spend time and money getting it the training it needs to perform the tasks you require.

– Get a trained dog from an organization. There are organizations, such as the Lions Foundation of America, that provide fully trained Psychiatric Service Dogs to people suffering from mental health issues at little to no cost.

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All you have to do is fill out an application and provide a letter from your physician stating that you could benefit from such a dog.

No matter which option you go for, it is important that you stay true to yourself and only get a dog that you believe will be able to help you. A service animal is supposed to increase your quality of life, not create issues for you.

The Different Types Of Psychiatric Service Dogs And What They Do

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) legislation, enacted in 1990, is so vague that it allows for any dog that does anything to bring support to the owner to be classified as a service animal. The only thing that this legislation makes sure of is that these dogs are clothed, vaccinated and registered.

In the past few years, the designation of what a service dog is has been contested. People have begun to breed and train ‘therapy dogs’ to help patients in nursing homes, and these dogs are never registered or categorized as service animals.

This has resulted in a lot of confusion in businesses whose managers are sometimes unaware of the new loopholes in the ADA law.

Because of the ambiguous laws and abundant loopholes, people who do not have a disability or condition that requires these dogs are able to take advantage of the situation.

Sources & references used in this article:

Current perspectives on therapy dog welfare in animal-assisted interventions by LM Glenk – Animals, 2017 – mdpi.com

Complementary medicine in cancer care: adding a therapy dog to the team by DA Marcus – Current pain and headache reports, 2012 – Springer

Take a paws: Fostering student wellness with a therapy dog program at your university library by A Lannon, P Harrison – Public Services Quarterly, 2015 – Taylor & Francis

The impact of a therapy dog program on children’s reading skills and attitudes toward reading by J Kirnan, S Siminerio, Z Wong – Early Childhood Education Journal, 2016 – Springer

Integrating therapy dog teams in a physical activity program for children with autism spectrum disorders by I Obrusnikova, JM Bibik, AR Cavalier… – Journal of Physical …, 2012 – Taylor & Francis

The science behind animal-assisted therapy by DA Marcus – Current pain and headache reports, 2013 – Springer

Who Let the Dog Out-Implementing a Successful Therapy Dog Program in an Academic Law Library by J Aiken, F Cadmus – Trends L. Libr. Mgmt. & Tech., 2011 – HeinOnline

Using a therapy dog to alleviate the agitation and desocialization of people with Alzheimer’s disease by M Churchill, J Safaoui, BW McCabe… – Journal of psychosocial …, 1999 – healio.com