Giving Back to Your Psychiatric Service Dogs
~ Mary-Jane Howe

The number of service dogs is on the rise with an estimated 4,000 fulfilling different service roles. Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) help people with emotional and mental disabilities. They are valuable in helping various mental conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, and mental issues such as anxiety or stress. Specifically trained to assist in the daily life of a person with mental challenges, these wonderful animals lift moods, sense danger, scan an environment for safety, and provide companionship. A PSD is a source of great strength for people with mental, psychological or psychiatric problems. However, PSDs also have needs like any other living being. Dogs need daily care if they are to be effective at their jobs.

Animals have basic needs

Like humans, dogs require sustenance and maintenance from food and water to exercise and grooming. If animals were to perform their jobs properly, they need the energy to do so. Having the right balance of vitamins and minerals are essential for your mutt to stay healthy and on the job. It is vital that your psychiatric service dogs receive vet care to ensure that they are healthy and capable of doing their duties. They can also fall ill and require medical attention. Dog care is a commitment that not only requires physical efforts on your part but also financial support with lifetime expenses for a service animal estimated at $24,500 (Canine Assistants).

Breaks for your service companion

Your PSD may be a hard worker, but they need breaks as well. Although they are trained to be attuned to your every need, always on the lookout for signs and symptoms of distress or ensure that you are comforted and reassured, they themselves need to relax. A stressed dog is not going to be of help to your condition so it’s in both your interest to just chill out together from time to time. Of course, your animal companion might not really be able to zone out completely and is probably wired to be on the job all the time, so you can, at times, give some treats or offer chewing toys and gadgets.

As a PSD gets older

Aging is not only a natural process that occurs among humans. It is also a normal progression for animals. They get old, too. When your PSD is sick or get older, giving them up might be very hard for you to do. You do not have to because when this happens, they can just be companion animals that will provide you with lots of strength and love. An ethical and humane treatment of a service animal should also be considered especially if your PSD is in great pain.

The relationship between a handler and service dog is a special one that has mutual benefits. It also requires a long-term commitment where the rewards are great including instilling responsibility for people who never had it before.

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