Psych Service Dogs - More Than Just A Comforting Pup


Active Member
I have been deciding wether a service dog would benefit me for my PTSD, anxieity, and depression. It's an invisible disability and many think one should just be able to snap out it. Unfortuantely it's wishful thinking and one who suffers from this just wants to be normal and snap out of it.
Service dogs have always fasinated me and I love animals and realize the benefits from owing a pet. Where does a dog cross from being a pet to a service animal? That has been my mission. I orignally wanted Max to become one, but it is clear that he is not meant to be one. I love him to death but he just doesn't have that drive to work as one and is quite skiddish around brooms, gates, and such so elevators and escalators would be a definate no.
I found some intersting information on the duties of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and bipolar service dogs. I posted the links below in case anyone is interested.


Well-Known Member
I have a son who is autistic - I know its different to what you have but it's still a mental not physical disability. Anyway we got my son a service dog (she's a black lab and was 2 years old when we got her). She's called Bella and has been an absolute life-saver for both my son and us (his family).

Bella does so much for my son - he used to get very nervos and upset in new/strange situations - going to the supermarket used to be a nightmare - all the different foods, people, trollies, sounds, smells - it was just to much and he would often stand hunched over the trolley crying and sobbing and I would quickly hurry him back outside. The final straw for me was when some random stranger in the supermarket made a stupid comment about my son being so badly behaved - it took all my strength not to knock her head off:mad:. BUT when we got Bella, she was allowed to come in to the store with us and since she was so calm and collected my son could simply focus on her, he strokes her fur and if something happens that he doesn't like he'll start whispering to her and she'll stare back up at him - calm and almost listening. Plus since she wears a vest I don't get any snobby comments since people realise that he actually has a problem he's not just throwing a huge strop!

My son also used to get very depressed when he couldn't understand people's body language and when he was finding it hard to talk to people. Bella did several things with this problem, 1) she would lie on his bed and stay with him when he cried without embarassing him (he didn't want us as he didn't want us to know he was crying because he didn't want to be like a baby), she licks his hands and soothes him 2) she would make him laugh when she brought him her lead and made him feel wanted when he was who she wanted to play with 3) Bella has become a easy talking point with strangers/peers sinc most people love to talk about dogs including their own and you can share similar experiences - so he made some new friends and is now actually in a group (6 boys) who always play together meaning he is depressed less:D.

So in conclusion service dogs can help you to reduce anxietey and depression and as you can see the benefits for us where huge. Though obviously a dog is a huge responsibility, here are some questions you need to ask yourself

1) Can you afford another dog? - food, vet .......
2)Will you be able to give both your dogs enough attention ........

There are loads more which you should be thinking about but I know that you already are thinking about this. I just wanted to give you some examples of the benefits of a service dog and what Bella does for my son.

PS I complketely agree with the links - second one especially - thats exactly what Bella does:)


Active Member
Thanks Jukes -
I definately am giving alot of thought to this - very big commitment. I know I can handle the Vet bills and food etc. I am weighing the commitment for two dogs. It's a huge step, and busily working on researching the subject. I haven't even gotten in the amount of training needed, not just for one dog but two (can't put Max in a corner because a new dog came into the house.
Thanks for sharing your story. I really appreciated hearing about your son. I am so glad that he is doing better. My nephew is special needs. He doesn't have a dog as of yet, but has had a hamster of all things that pretty much did the same thing. (Mr Num Nums....which was a female of all things sadly passed away)
I took him to the dog park and he was thrilled. He's usually stand offish with his dog at home (a jumper, hyper, lab and rottie mix ) and with Max because of his size....but he lit up at the park and was really engaged with the other dogs...even Max. Started picking up the tennis balls and tried engaging "strange dogs" to play retreive with him.
Once I get all my research done I am going to sit down with my sister and talk to her about my idea for my nephew. I hope you don't mind but I look forward to adding both yours and your son's experience as an exaqmple. Because of his disability he is home schooled (school for him was a nightmare) and he doesn't have any friends where he lives (just ones that like to be ignorant of his disability and taunt him). He comes over my house in the country because he really has created a close friendship with my daughter (his cousin) and has the ability to play outside in the pool and not be bothered by neighborhood kids.
I think having his own small lap dog that is calm would do him a world of good. Everyone needs someone to tell their secrets to.


Honored Member
Staff member
To be totally honest, I never really saw the need for service dogs for psychiatric reasons until a few years ago when I really got interested in training service dogs and practically lived on YouTube for a while. I found a video of a woman who was very severely afraid of being out in public, with looots of people, and noise, etc. Her service dog was a Newfie. In one particular video she was in a grocery store, and got cornered in line by a bunch of people. Her Newfie leaned into her and she wrapped one arm around him, holding him close to her(which was easy since he was a Newfie, he was nearly as big as she was!). She made it through the checkout line and then calmly stepped off away from the crowd, leaning against the wall with him still snuggling against her. The whole ordeal was really touching to me, the way the dog reacted, the way she reacted.....everything. That one video opened my eyes to how much dogs can help people with psychiatric disabilities, and made me look more into it by talking to people that had service dogs for those reasons.

Good luck finding your service dog. :) I know that he/she will help you in many ways. Thanks for the links.


Experienced Member
Good luck in your search and decision whether to get another dog to help you in our needs. Just keep in mind 2 things:

1. A service dog needs to do definable TASKS under the new ADA guidelines that took effect this year. Emotional support animals are no longer covered but dogs who are trained in specific behaviors to help with a disability are. It can be a fine line since often the mere presence of a dog is enough to help people with anxiety and depression (aren't dogs great!) but that wouldn't be enough to qualify them as a service dog under the law. So figure out what you want your dog to DO to help you before you go out and get another dog.

2. As you have found out, most dogs are not able to handle public access work despite how great of a pet they are or how well trained. The dogs need to be able to handle all sort of crazy situations. Be prepared that any dog you get might not make it and know ahead of time what will you do in that scenario.

3. Many service dogs organizations place their dog as the only dog in the home. Those that do place with another pet dog heavily screen both the pet dog and the temperament of the service dog. In the case of dogs who are trained to alert )to anxiety attacks, low blood sugar, seizures...) most organizations insist that there be no other dogs in the home to interfere and distract the working dog. I'm not saying you shouldn't have 2 dogs, I just want you to really think about what you want the dog to do and the personality of your other dog, plus whether or not it your current dog can handle the loss of attention.


Active Member
Fickla - thank you for your help in this decision I am making. Seeing that you have experience with this let me tell you what I am thinking.
fickla... So figure out what you want your dog to DO to help you before you go out and get another dog.
I've been making a list and checking it twice, this is not a decision I am taking lightly.
1. A service dog would help me with startle responses to sudden noises or movements. (useful for my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Watch behind me by calmly preventing anyone by rushing up behind (or even infront of me) and surprising me. (The dog would never be aggressive towards people but would just provide a barrier and alert me to people who may be approaching me from behind or coming up on me unexpectedly. I will feel like he has my back and I can relax a bit. This would prevent anxiety attacks, flashbacks, disorientation, and disaasociation.
2. A service dog would help with my irritability and moodiness. A service dog’s training will help them identify mood changes associated with depression, and respond with physical support to a variety of situations that I might encounter.
3. A service dog would help avoid social withdrawal and self isolation.
4. Allow me to remain calm, again helpig with anxiety attacks, panic attacks, disassociation, and disorientation by preventing people from crowding around me in public places by placing his or her self in front of me providing a comfortable space. Having a dog with me would help calm my anxieties and fears. Very helpful with both my anxiety issues and Post Tramatic Stress disorder.
5. When awakened at night due to either a bad dream or hearing a noise in the house, feel relieved and calm when dog is perfectly calm and quiet. If bad dream or intruder in the house, the dog would be alerting, and barking (but not obsessivly.
6. A service dog is trained to recognize symptoms of anxiety and respond to the situation. The dog will focus on me and lead me away from a stressful situation if needed.
7. A service dog for anxiety is a working companion that is trained to distract me during an anxiety attack, licking and staying close. It can turn on a light, give a calming touch, remind me to take medication and check a room when entering it.
8. When depressed and crying or expressing sadness, a psych dog responds by licking my tears and face, brining tissues and start playful activities to draw my attention away from the sad thoughts. Cuddling and kisses would also help me to feel less isolated and apathetic.
9. Other physical support tasks include retrieving medications and objects that have been dropped, and alerting other household members in a crisis.
10. When depressed and sleeping too much, psych dogs are trained to wake them when they do not respond to alarms, help provide support for standing and walking should I experience dizziness from medications.
11. When having flashbacks or dissassociation epidsodes he would alert me and bring me back to the here and know with physical touch.
That's what I have so far. Like I said it's alot of thinking. I know that my husband or daughter could provide the same assitance to tasks but the fact is that I get so tired of having to rely on others and feel like a child that doesn't have control over her own life. This in turn helps feed the depression and it's just a downward spiral. I feel like I force myself to go to work, and some days that's too much. I have days where making it out of the house is sometimes to much. I have taken medications for my anxiety and they make me walk around feeling like a zombie and dozing off at inappropriate times.
Also a dog is there 24/7 in order to please you. They offer total unconditional love (just like my husband but…) there is never a sense of snap out of it, or I’m too tired…we’ll talk about this in the morning. It's difficult because PTSD, Depression, and anxiety are all invisible, but make a person just as disabiled as a blind person. They close down you world and limit your life. You can't just jump in the car and take off without a care in the world. For a blind person it's mobility issues, how will I navigate in my surroundings. For the person with PTSD, Depression, and anxiety it's basically the same thing except they can see, but just can't see their next attack, they can't see their next panic attack, they can't see their next trigger, it's like that to climbing Mount Everest and sometimes it's just easier to stay at home, or worse stay in bed. Fear of the unknown shuts a person down.
Be prepared that any dog you get might not make it and know ahead of time what will you do in that scenario.
Very true. Washing out is a very real possiblity and I need to take every precaution in my power to not have this happen. I need to be sure I know the dog before I bring it home (as well as you can)'s still a leap of faith and training, training, training.
I've been thinking about your comment on using a adult dog. That is very interesting and might be a possible answer. I know I don't want to go through puppy stages or housebreaking again. I am hoping to contact some shelters and spend some time with the dogs, once I commit to this. I know there is a puppy temperment test, but not sure about adult dog test for temperment of a service dog. I really haven't done research that far ahead because I'm still on the decision of having one and talking to my doctors about it.
I'm not saying you shouldn't have 2 dogs, I just want you to really think about what you want the dog to do and the personality of your other dog, plus whether or not it your current dog can handle the loss of attention.
Yes, very true. It is a concern of mine to have two dogs. I know that my daughter and husband will continue to give Max attention and I plan on still taking care of him. I also will include him in on some of the training and may possibly go the route of therapy dog with Max or something to that extent in order to give him his own unique time. I am even thinking of getting my daughter involved with Max's training since she enjoys reinforcement of his current tricks and is always present and involved when I am trying a new one with him. Since he has such a love of meeting people and just getting love and attention from them. It will be a balancing act and I will just have to be on the vigil of watching the situation.


Experienced Member
I think it's great how much thinking you are putting into this! And while most of your list are not tasked based there are several that are trained and would qualify the dog as a service dog rather than an emotional support animal :)

If you go looking for a dog I think you would get the most information if you worked with rescue organizations who have the dog in foster families rather than the shelter. Either way is fine, but a foster family would be able to tell you much more about how the dog is like in their home, away from the stress of the shelter. Puppy temparment tests are a great way to evaluate adult dogs as well and at least with adult dogs things aren't going to change a whole lot (as long as the dog's results are effected by stress, such as being in a shelter). Things I would make sure to check for would be:

- recovery time to being startled (from loud noises and something visual like an umbrella popping open)
- willingness to forgive from being restrained and handled everywhere
- energy level and how that fits in with your lifestyle
- overall confidence of the dog in a new situation

and for your specific needs:
- willingness to leave doggy playtime to cuddle with a person
- seeking out a lot of physical contact


Experienced Member
This must be a very exciting decision for you. I am raising a Psych SD for someone who also wants to teach her dog to go into the house and check out all the rooms and turn on all the lights before she goes inside.

Best of Luck with your decision.


Active Member
Thanks for the luck.
I'm actually meeting with a trainer next week to have Max evaluated. We'll see how he does. I've talked to the tainner about my concerns. The tests I've done so far with him...he has passed with flying colors. We'll see how he does next week.
The hardest part of this whole thing has been to find support and training for this type of service dog or really any type of service dog.