I have recently learned that there are service dogs that can help people with mental health problems!
That was a bit of an eye opener. I thought service dogs helped blind people find the way, disabled people pick up stuff off the floor or alert diabetics that they need to take insulin. Well, it’s all of course way more complicated than that, and know that there is extensive training involved, but still, basically.
So what could a service dog do for someone who has mental health problems, like me who has Aspergers and panic issues?
They can be a calming presence that always stays by your side, and that you are allowed to bring “everywhere”. They can alert you that you are starting a stressed behaviour, and abort a panic attack by coming up and laying in your lap or demanding that you focus on them, or help you out of the attack with their calming presence.
They also make you get out of the house for someone else, it can be hard to motivate yourself to go for a walk, but when there is a cute dog that loves walks, fetching balls and otherwise will pee on your plants, there is a whole new incentive to going outside.
I have started to learn more about service dogs in general and I am amazed at how well-behaved they are, how devoted to their owner/handler they can be and the tasks they can perform!
They give their owner a whole new level of independence and so much unconditional love, though the love part seems to be reciprocated in abundance. You are bound to get very close to a service dog because it takes about two years of training, and that means lots of training everyday, for a dog to be considered a “finished” service dog. You are a team.
I started following these two channels on YouTube that I found extremely helpful, and otherwise enjoyable in general. Where we get to follow Jaquie with service dog Harlow and Mary with service dog Oliver.
These two girls have medical disabilities but I have still been able to start imagining what a service dog could do for someone with mental health problems.
Also I am so very humbled and impressed by their strength in fighting their illnesses.
Here are their channels:
Here in Sweden the official training for service dogs for a neuropsychiatric disabled handler is quite new, but it does exist and you can still use a lot of the parts of “normal” service dog training.
First it comes down to general obedience behaviour and then more focused training for what that particular handler needs.
There are courses, these are of course expensive, why would anything be easy. There are also grants to apply for and you can do a lot of the training yourself, with the guidance of a professional, if you are dedicated.
The dog should be one year old but not yet three when the training begins, but you can of course start to train simple commands as soon as you get your puppy, if you are getting a puppy that is.
Good things to start practicing are:
- Eye contact – Good contact is the basis of all other training.
- Environmental training – let the dog be in different environments until it is calm and curious.
- Social training – give the dog positive experiences of different kinds of people and dogs.
- Relaxation – Train the dog in different environments and situations until it spontaneously settles down and relaxes.
- Apportion – encourage the dog to carry items and reward every time it shows you what it’s carrying.
- A bit of the basics – heel, sit and come.
What kind of dog is suitable to be a service dog.
The breed does not have anything to do with it, it is more about the dogs temperament, willingness to please and ability to learn. The dog should of course be appropriate in size for what you want it to do, and common service dog breeds are Labrador, Golden retrievers, Poodles and the Doodles.
I of course fell for the Doodles. 😉 The most common ones are Golden Doodle: Golden retriever + Poodle and Labradoodle: Labrador + Poodle. These seem to make great service dogs since they have the Labrador and Goldens gentle manner and willingness to please and the Poodles high intelligence and ability to learn. Also they shed less which is great for us (yes, me) who are allergic.
But as I stated before it all comes down to if just that individual has the right temperament for being a service dog. You can get great help choosing a potential service dog from a good breeder.
In Swedish a service dog for mental disabilities is called an NPF-Hund, (NPF står för neuropsykiatrisk funktionsnedsättning) and here are some useful links with information about this.
- Svenska Brukshundsklubben NPF-Hund
- Svenska Brukshundsklubben Utbildning av assistanshund.
- Nora ville inte leva Artikel
- Hand med Hund Vad krävs för att utbilda sin hund till assistanshund.
- Positiva Hunden Kurser
- Svenska Service och Signalhunds förbundet
This is what I found during a shallow search, I am sure there are lots more information.
All this has awakened a thought in me, and I am looking at kennels and dogs, dreaming about the possibility.
Find out what I am doing on other social medial: