Dogs are called man’s best friend for very good reasons. Aside from being companions, some dogs can be trained to perform psychiatric service tasks. These chosen canines provide emotional, physical, and mental support to their handlers. The best breeds for psychiatric service dogs can be trained to retrieve medication, nudge other household members for help, and paw the handler during self-harming incidents.
What do psychiatric service dogs do?
Psychiatric service dogs are different from emotional support dogs. The latter only provides emotional support through its presence with no training required.
Meanwhile, psychiatric service dogs are assigned to individuals who qualify under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, these dogs are trained for people who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, depression, and similar conditions. Individuals with mental conditions associated with brain chemistry malfunctions are the ones who are usually eligible for a psychiatric service dog.
On the other hand, psychiatric service dogs can also provide the same benefit as emotional support canines. However, it’s not their main purpose. Psychiatric service dogs are intensively trained to perform the following, but not limited to, the following tasks:
- Nudge to remind handler to take medication
- Tug open cupboards to retrieve medication
- Alert other household members
- Paw or lick for tactile stimulation
- Interrupt handler’s self-harming actions
- Wake up the handler during nightmares
- Reality check to ensure hallucinations aren’t occurring
- Apply mild teeth pressure to stop dissociative episodes
- Interrupt flashbacks when it occurs
- Provide deep pressure therapy during panic attacks
There are many other tasks psychiatric service dogs are trained to do. Depending on the handler’s condition, the dog can be trained to perform other tasks not usually seen on its fellow service canines.
Most of the time, psychiatric service dogs are raised and trained by certified institutions. Aspiring handlers will have to apply, and the institution will be the one to place the dogs. The application is subject to approval based on the disability, experience with dogs, living conditions, and the overall cost.
10 Best Breeds For Psychiatric Service Dogs
Not all canines have the ‘X factor’ to become psychiatric service dogs. This is why professional trainers pick the breeds they deem smart, strong, and alert enough to learn a service dog’s duties.
Most of the time, these 10 breeds are the top picks for the job:
1. Labrador Retriever
If there’s a quintessential service dog, it would be the Labrador Retriever. Labs have all the basic criteria to become a working dog: brilliance, medium build, and eager-to-please attitude.
Labrador Retrievers also have a gentle disposition, and their intelligence allows them to succeed in just about any service dog task. They are also outgoing and happy dogs, which will help their handlers stay active to prevent negative thoughts.
Aside from that, Labrador Retrievers bond well with the entire family. Also, most Labrador Retrievers can live up to 12 years, given proper care.
Moreover, Labrador Retrievers can be trained to perform physical tasks like manipulating items, providing tactile stimulation, and performing pressure therapy. Labs also have what’s called ‘soft mouths’, which allows them to carry things around without biting into them.
Lastly, Labrador Retriever is the #1 most popular dog in the American Kennel Club list. This says a lot about this breed’s reputation as a reliable and loyal companion.
2. Standard Poodle
If the person has allergies, a Standard Poodle would be an amazing choice for a psychiatric service dog. Standard Poodles are lauded for their level of intelligence and gentle demeanor. They can easily adapt and learn psychiatric care with formal training.
Far from the extravagant lifestyle pop culture associated with them, Standard Poodles excel as a working dog. Poodles adapt to apartment living, and they form a strong bond with their handlers. They will stay by their handler’s side as loyal service dogs.
Like Labs, Poodles are easy to train. Also, they don’t shed or drool, which is a big plus for handlers with allergies or difficulty performing grooming tasks for the dog.
However, you should know that only Standard Poodles are trained for the psychiatric service dog job. Designer versions like Miniature and Toy Poodles are rarely, or almost never, considered. As working dogs, Poodles also bank on their size to provide tactile stimulation and physical assistance to their handlers.
3. Golden Retriever
For many pet owners, Golden Retrievers are the complete package: charming, smart, gentle, and family-friendly. The Goldie’s appeal is also a big hit among psychiatric service dog trainers.
Like their cousin Labrador Retriever, Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular breeds tapped for service work. Whether it’s medical, diabetic, hearing, seeing, mobility, and psychiatric, Golden Retrievers are very versatile canines.
As a fitting candidate for psychiatric service work, Golden Retrievers can perform almost all tasks they will be trained for. However, this breed requires more upkeep due to its long shedding coat.
Goldies also have a big build, so they are a perfect match for physically-challenged individuals who are also dealing with mental health problems.
If you’re not familiar with dog breeds, a Golden Retriever is a foolproof choice as a psychiatric service dog.
4. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are known to be the top police dogs. But aside from their work with the authorities, these confident canines are also excellent psychiatric service dogs. They are intelligent, courageous, and very easy to train.
Moreover, German Shepherd Dogs (GSD) will keep their handlers active. This breed requires a large yard where it can play and exercise. This will encourage the handler to stay equally active far from panic attacks or dissociative episodes.
GSDs shed a lot, so you should prepare for added grooming responsibilities if you’re assigned this service dog.
Also, German Shepherds aren’t suitable for apartment living. Make sure that you clarify your living conditions when applying to get a psychiatric service dog to prevent problems. This will also allow the training organizations to provide a suitable dog breed for you.
Like Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds can do it all. They are one of the first breeds to be ever enlisted for service work, so this isn’t surprising.
5. Great Dane
Who would’ve thought that the funny and giant Great Dane can be a psychiatric service dog? While Great Danes aren’t the most popular option for this line of work, they can be trained to perform tasks that smaller breeds can’t do.
Great Danes are known for their abilities to be emotional support animals. They may not be the most intelligent in the bunch, but they are highly trained to perform tasks to utilize their size. Great Danes can provide deep pressure therapy, tactile stimulation, and physical assistance to their handlers.
One of the strong points of the Great Dane is their height. This allows them to support handlers who are dealing with both mobility issues and mental health conditions.
Overall, Great Danes are mild-tempered canines and fairly friendly among everyone. However, they need a yard where they can exercise and expel their excess energy. You should also allow a large space because this dog is huge. And when I say huge, we’re talking about 150 lbs. or more!
For those who are looking for a smaller psychiatric service dog, you can take a chance with a Corgi. Aside from their cute bums and cheeky disposition, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is also a smart canine.
Corgis are affectionate dogs and quite easy to train. While they aren’t the top pick for physical assistance, they can provide tactile stimulation, companionship, and motivation for a more active lifestyle.
Moreover, Corgis are friendly to everyone, which makes them easy to live with. They also thrive in an apartment setting and will also be happy to romp around a large yard.
In terms of grooming, Corgis shed a lot, but they don’t drool. You just have to watch over their diet as Corgis are prone to obesity due to their massive appetite.
7. Border Collie
Known as the smartest dog breed, Border Collies are no doubt one of the best breeds for psychiatric service dogs. Like Labs and Goldies, they are all-around dogs that can be trained for almost all types of service work.
The Border Collie was originally bred as a herding dog. They flock livestock back in England until they were brought all over the world as companion dogs.
Training a Border Collie as a psychiatric service dog is worthwhile. This canine is brilliant, eager to please, and not much of a wanderer. However, handlers who will be assigned a Border Collie service dog should have a large yard where the canine can run around.
Handlers who wish to get a Border Collie should have intensive experience with dogs. This canine requires a lot of mental stimulation and exercise, which is also a good thing for the hander itself.
8. Pit Bull
Despite the stereotypes thrown at this breed, Pit Bulls remain as one of the top picks for the best breeds for psychiatric service dogs.
Contrary to some beliefs, Pit Bulls aren’t vicious and dangerous canines. Proper training and responsible breeding will result in a well-disciplined dog. Their muscular physique is also advantageous when providing deep pressure therapy and tactile stimulation to their handlers.
Take note that the term ‘Pit Bull’ encompasses a wide range of dog breeds in the terrier family. Still, the American Pit Bull Terrier is the one considered as the ‘true Pit Bull’.
Overall, Pit Bulls are easy to train, although trainers have to focus on curbing their tendency to mouth things. Also, a handler who wishes to get a Pit Bull must have experience with dogs.
Take note that an officially trained and certified Pit Bull service dog is exempted from Breed-Specific or Breed-Discriminatory Legislation (BSL/BDL). Even if the locality bans Pit Bulls’ ownership, the ADA provides federal protection against any local discrimination.
9. Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dogs are known as one of the ‘Gentle Giants’ together with Saint Bernard, Bullmastiff, and Newfoundland. However, don’t let the size fool you. This breed is laidback, gentle, and very affectionate to its owners. They can also be trained to become service dogs.
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a smart canine and fairly easy to train. However, the trainer will need to pay a lot of attention to this dog’s mouthiness and prey drive. If bred and trained well, a Bernese Mountain Dog will become disciplined and reliable service canines.
Due to their size, this breed sheds a lot. They also drool, so you should keep in mind this added grooming responsibility.
Another great thing about the Bernese Mountain Dog is their kid-friendly and gentle ways. They will thrive within a family, but you should be prepared as this dog is huge. Bernese Mountain Dogs can grow up to 115 lbs. with a maximum height of 28 inches.
10. Great Pyrenees
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the Great Pyrenees for a White Golden Retriever. However, the Great Pyrenees is way bigger and was bred as a herding dog.
As a psychiatric service dog, trainers have to be patient with this breed. Great Pyrenees is smart, but they have an evident prey drive that can be eased with formal training.
For handlers who want a dog that can also provide mobility support, the Great Pyrenees will be an excellent candidate. This dog can leverage his large size and tall height to open doors, fetch heavy things, and provide tactile stimulation.
Take note that the Great Pyrenees isn’t an apartment dog. This dog requires an outdoor space where it can play and exercise. This isn’t surprising since they are herding dogs who are used to running and chasing on a large farm.
The best breeds for psychiatric service dogs are a big help to those suffering from mental health problems. PTSD, depression, and panic attacks are hard to deal with, but you’re not alone. You can always seek the help of a medical professional, your loved ones, and a well-trained service dog. While they are not doctors, service dogs will make a big difference in your healing.