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 JaneMiller@oberlin.net 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!

 

14 comments
pups
pups

DOES THIS GENTLEMAN TALK TO GROUPS AS WELL? I WORK WITH THE NEW LEASH ON LIFE PROGRAM AT  THE LOCAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTE & THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING OUR INMATE TRAINERS WOULD REALLY ENJOY HEARING.

tianamaher3
tianamaher3

There is a man in my town who trains dogs for brain injuries. He has a brain injury himself, so he travels with his wife and gives seminars as to what it is like to have a brain injury. He is a little hard to understand.  He chooses the dogs that he trains from animal shelters.  He teaches the people who recieves a dog, how to work with their dog.  

pups
pups

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL !  WHAT DOES TRAINING THESE DOGS REQUIRE? I'M WORKING WITH A PROGRAM, NEW LEASH ON LIFE, & WOULD LOVE TO HAVE MORE INFO ON THE INS & OUTS OF TRAINING, E.G., HOW MUCH TIME IS REQUIRED TO TRAIN A DOG TO HELP A CLINICALLY DEPRESSED PERSON? AS A RETIRED PSYCHOLOGIST I AM QUITE INTERESTED IN THIS TYPE OF PROGRAM.  KEEP UP THE GRRRREAT WORK!

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@pups You should go to the author's website and ask her through her contact form. Thanks for stopping by and glad you are enthusiastic about the program!

Talent Hounds
Talent Hounds

Glad you are sharing. It's amazing the difference dogs can make in the lives of children and adults with illnesses, disabilities or anxiety disorders. We have been researching for our "Service & Therapy Dogs Rock" episode - so inspiring. Even better when shelter or rescue dogs are allowed to shine.

Thanks Susie

MaryEHaight
MaryEHaight moderator

@Talent Hounds It's a wonderful boon for shelter/rescue dogs and of course for the people who need PSDs =) Glad to hear you'll be talking about it on your show. Thanks for stopping by, Susie!

Sheltie Times
Sheltie Times

It makes sense that shelter dogs could do the work if like any dog received from a breeder they have the ability to be trained and perform the required tasks.  It's good to see the dogs have another outlet or opportunity to escape the shelter.

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