With the increase in people suffering from mental health difficulties, more dogs are being trained as psychological support dogs, or more commonly called therapy dogs.
Since 2010, Psychological Assistance Dogs (PADs) and Therapy Dogs have been working with Dogs For The Disabled to set up a pilot program in order to train assistance dogs for those with mental health issues. These dogs would be trained for people suffering from a range of mental health issues including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
National Service Dogs launched their PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) program in 2011 where therapy dogs were trained to assist military veterans in their everyday lives to help them cope with the symptoms of their illness.
Psychological service dogs are common in the USA and Canada. They are trained by accredited service dog trainers and given the relevant certification.
First Support Dog
One well-known psychological service dog in the UK is Buddy, he is a support dog for his own Marion Janner. Marion suffered from mental health issues and before she got Buddy, she was not able to cope if even the smallest thing went wrong. However, since she got Buddy, she has been able to cope with everyday situations a lot better than she did before.
Marion has been working hard to try and get a psychological support dog training facility in the UK. Marion also set up the charity “Star Wards” which works on improving mental health care facilities in the UK. She is also pushing for service dogs to be put into hospitals to help patients. Right now, Therapists take dogs into hospitals and care homes to help the patients. It has been proven that petting a dog or another animal reduces stress levels and helps people feel better depending on what their condition is.
As a sufferer of depression and anxiety, I have had panic attacks while out shopping and there have been days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. However, I knew that my dogs needed me to care for them and it was thanks to them I was able to get out of bed and go out for walks with them. My Doctor and I spoke about therapy dogs and I did some research. After reading Marion’s story, I asked my Doctor if she could write me a note.
As a dog trainer, my dogs are trained to behave themselves when in public and one of my dogs, Rico, was good at calming me down if I needed it. If I was having a panic attack, he would come over and snuggle with me until I calmed down.
Although I only took Rico out a couple of times, it really helped. Knowing he was there if I had a panic attack meant that it was one less thing off my mind. I was able to enjoy going out to the shops again. Before I would walk my dogs in the woods, secluded spots where I knew no-one walked a lot. When I was out with all my dogs, they’d rally round me and we’d have fun. If I was at home and something made me panic, they made sure that I was ok and were the best medicine I could have. I can honestly say that my dogs saved my life because if it were not for them, I wouldn’t be here.
When I say that to people, it’s hard for them to comprehend. But they don’t understand depression or anxiety. The misunderstanding that getting up and getting on with it can cure depression. It can’t. It’s not as easy as that. When I’d wake up on my worst days, I’d ask myself what I had to get up for? Nothing was happening in my life that warranted me getting out of bed. But then I’d feel the weight of my dogs on the bed next to me and I knew then that they needed me. They needed to get out for walks, play, get their food. I had to do that. I had that responsibility. It may not work like that for other people, but my dogs are my life and I will not let them down.
How Can Therapy Dogs Help With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
An increased number of soldiers are returning home from service suffering from PTSD. These men cannot relate to their families what is going on in their heads, it’s difficult for them. Even a simple trip to the shops can feel like they are back in the war-zone. Having a service dog by their side makes them feel more comfortable, their dog can sense an attack coming on and will help his owner overcome it.
The charity Hounds For Heroes based in the UK, they provide trained service dogs for members of the armed forces and emergency services who require them. These dogs provide assistance to those who have been disabled or injured.
Although these therapy dogs are used to assist their owners with tasks they may not be able to perform, the dogs also serve a psychological support purpose. Their owners may not have felt confident going out before their service dog came into their life, they may have struggled to perform certain tasks, like getting cash out of the ATM or picking up something they dropped in the street. In a way, these dogs are serving both physical and psychological issues.
There are hopes that there will be a training facility set up specifically for therapy dogs and other psychological service dogs. It is something that is needed around the world as so many more people are finding it difficult to cope with their depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. These people, provided they are given the proper medical help, would lead a better life if they had the support of a dog who could help them if they were having an attack or even just to get them out of bed in the morning.
People like Marion Janner are leading the way for psychological service dogs and it is hoped that they will be a common help for mental health sufferers in the next decade.
Featured Image Credits: wvutoday.wvu.edu