Shelter Dogs Shine As Psychiatric Service Dogs

by Mary Haight on June 11, 2014

Psychiatric Service DogsShelter dogs need many doors opened to save their lives. Finding new channels where these dogs will shine is a welcomed gateway where any number of dogs have an opportunity for a second chance.

A few years ago some in the service dog training community started experimenting using hand-picked shelter dogs “with the right stuff”. I was thrilled at the prospect: There’s a tremendous need for trained dogs that provide different types of assistance to humans. As it happened, shelter dogs proved once again they were up to the task. The bridge into working as a psychiatric service dog (PSD) was not an insurmountable one to cross.

Psychiatric Service Dogs, Lassie on Steroids

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to bring help, medication, interrupt repetitive behaviors, identify hallucinations to suit the specific needs of each individual. These dogs assist people with illnesses such as obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, among others, and are task-trained to help lessen the effects of these diseases/disorders.

Panic attacks, anxiety reactions, hallucinations and flashbacks are just some of the things PSDs are trained to handle. For example, if providing medication is required, as in the case of an anxiety attack where a tranquilizer is taken, the dogs are then prepared to assist the handler with balance issues that arise from the medication. The dogs physically help people balance as they walk to get to a place where it’s safe to ride out the remainder of the anxiety attack.

Shelter Dogs Serve Psychotherapists in Private Practice – Compassion in Action

Now that you’ve got a bit of the backstory, this is why we’re really here =)

Today Jane Miller, a psychotherapist/clinical social worker and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, shares stories of how PSDs have changed the lives of her clients, allowing them to live independently. She made this discovery when her own dog was ill with cancer and treatment meant she had to bring her back to the office afterwards, rather than take her home. The impact the dog’s presence had on her clients is a story you shouldn’t miss.

Miller’s experience led her to write a book, Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs and Their Extraordinary Power to Transform Lives and found a not-for-profit group, Healing Companions, Inc., to fund the growing demand for PSD assessment, education, and training. Donations will implement scientific research to demonstrate how PSDs impact the lives of those that are severely limited in their abilities to function due to mental illness.

I am grateful Miller took the time to share with us her personal experience with these dogs as their trainer, and the impact of dogs on psychotherapy clients who went from being unable to care for themselves to becoming independent individuals living their lives.

For more information about PSDs and if this might be a good fit for you, check out the website Healing Companions, or the Facebook page. Her email is or you can reach her by phone: 1 800 457 0345.

The thing that always amazes me about dogs is, though I started this post talking about opening doors for them — to help save their lives, I finish knowing that dogs have really opened doors for us — to help save our lives.  Enjoy the podcast!


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