German Shepherd Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Not every person who becomes the victim of assault develops a psychiatric disorder with symptoms severe enough to qualify them as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But those who do become disabled by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experience the world as an extremely dangerous place. This psychological injury can be just as disabling as an injury which causes a loss of vision or hearing. It amputates the sense of safety or security that most people take for granted. Teamwork with a service dog can empower the victim to win back a measure of independence and to resist incorrect and unrealistic responses. For the traumatized handler, a service dog who masters these tasks will be an invaluable ally. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal must be individually trained to do work or tasks of benefit to a disabled individual in order to be legally elevated from pet status to service animal status. Following are only a few examples of the various tasks a service dog could be trained to perform that would serve to mitigate a disabling condition classified as a psychiatric disability.
Arouse From Fear Paralysis or Disassociation Spell
In Parkinson’s, where the person freezes and is unable move, the dog is schooled to assist the individual by making physical contact, such as lightly tapping the person’s shoe with his paw. This apparently is sufficient to break the spell, allowing the individual to resume movement. Reportedly, this same behavior - physical stimulation through pawing or nose nudging, - can rouse someone from a disassociation state at least sufficiently to make the person aware of his/her plight, thus providing a chance to focus and fight the symptoms. This may be effective in fear paralysis, a symptom of PTSD, too. Transforming it from an accidental spontaneous behavior into a reliable skill will requires diligent schooling and practice.. The nudging behavior from the dog serve may as a sufficient tactile stimulant to rouse the partner from the fugue state or fear paralysis.
Crowd Control, Panic Prevention in Public
Some patients with panic disorder or PTSD report one of the difficulties is the reaction they suffer when another person comes too close to or touches them. Avoiding situations where closeness may take place can lead to someone becoming increasingly homebound. Teamwork with a service dog may enable such people to combat this disabling problem so they can regain and sustain the independence to care for themselves (such as doing their own shopping) and to not embarrass themselves by having to flee due to their reaction to someone coming too close.
Service dog trainers developed a technique to protect patients with Reflex Sympathy Dystrophy (RSD), a very painful affliction, when in line or in a public place from accidental bumps that can trigger excruciating RSD flare-up. This same task can prevent or reduce panic by creating enough distance for the situation to become tolerable. A large sturdy service dog is schooled to impose her body between her partner and another person on command, then brace for body impact. The dog must hold her ground absorbing the shock of any bumps instead falling back against her partner’s legs. The dog must learn to ignore many distractions and can be taught to block people in line or in a room from crowding too close. The dog is trained to brace for body impact with innocuous command, such as “Stay Close.” In this manner, she keeps strangers or colleagues from making body contact with her partner. This strategy’s effectiveness can be enhanced through verbally by pretending to speak to the dog and suggesting that she is very nervous or may overreact if crowded. For example: ”Calm down girl; don’t worry about being stepped on; nobody wants to hurt you; don’t get upset now; take it easy.” are phrases that could be used.
These tasks for working with a service dog in public settings gives a victim of assault new coping strategies that could go a long way to mitigating the disabling fear experienced as a consequence of the trauma. At the same time, if utilized correctly, none of these tasks will spoil a service dog’s gentle trusting nature. More information is available online but these are just a few examples of how Tori could help her person.