I receive more questions about service dogs for people with PTSD than any other type of service dog. There are some common misunderstandings about service dogs for people with PTSD.
- Service dogs for people with PTSD are called emotional support animals. Nope. Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not the same thing as service dogs. ESA’s provide comfort, they are not required to be trained specific behaviors to help the person with the disability and they are not allowed places pets are not permitted with the exception of airplanes and some types of a housing.
- Service dogs for people with PTSD are easier to train than other types of service dogs. Another myth! Many of the tasks trained to service dogs helping people with PTSD are quite similar to tasks trained to mobility dogs and medical alert dogs. Service dogs trained behaviors to help people with PTSD are often trained to retrieve items, turn on lights, carry items, alert a caregiver help is needed, retrieve an emergency phone, may provide balance support, may also do some alert or medication reminders depending on the person’s needs. In short the task training is not easier than for another type of service dog. Additionally, the hardest part of service dog training is usually not the task training but the public access piece. It’s very challenging for dogs to behave calmly for long periods of time in complex environments like malls, office buildings and hospitals.
- Only veterans get PTSD. The majority of the requests I receive from people who would like a service dog to help with PTSD are not veterans. Learn more about PTSD at the National Center for PTSD and the National Institute for Mental Health. Also, people with PTSD may have additional conditions.
Just like any other type of service dog, the individual’s healthcare provider should be consulted when selecting tasks. A task that is perfectly appropriate and helpful for one individual with PTSD might be inappropriate for another. And just like all owner-training, it is important for the process to be done responsibly and with consideration for the dog. The dog must be selected carefully, the dog’s needs must be met, and a professional dog trainer qualified to train service dogs should be involved.