Support & Assistance
The modules in this section can be used for mobility assistance, PTSD and panic disorders, some general assistance, POTS and similar conditions and most psychiatric disorders where a service dog is warranted.
A service dog may provide many different trained behaviors to help a person with a disability. These may be divided into passively-available work or actively-requested tasks.
Service dog tasks are on-demand services that are requested by the handler each time. It is often obvious when a task is being carried out, such as when a handler asks a service dog to retrieve a dropped leash that the handler cannot reach.
Service dog work is not requested by the handler, but the dog is on-call to provide the specific help when cued by a change in the handler or the handler’s environment. Examples of work include a psychiatric service dog alerting its handler to an impending panic attack, and a guide dog working to direct its handler around a novel obstacle.
1 - Bracing
Dog assists someone to get up from the floor or a chair by holding a Stand Stay position and stiffening his muscles on command, bracing himself to offer counter resistance for balance support when the partner places one hand on the dog’s withers and gets up.
Dog is further trained to Brace on command, stiffening body, acts as the Rock of Gibraltar, for at least ten seconds, to steady someone as soon as they rise to their feet instead of darting away or sitting, so as to prevent an accidental loss of balance.
Ethically, the service dog must be an appropriate size for this work - e.g. 55 lbs. or more)
2 - Pulling and Pushing
For those with balance issues, trouble standing from a sitting position, wheel chairs, or the propensity to freeze in place during a panic attack, pulling and pushing are great actions to teach your dog.
Pulling is also used in other ways. Something we all take for granted, dressing or undressing can be extremely difficult for those with certain conditions. Luckily, service dogs are always there to lend their paws and jaws.
3 - Leading
Leading is what guide dogs do. They don't walk at your side or behind you, they walk slightly in front of you to lead the way. This is handy for autism support, for a period of disorientation after a seizure or during a sugar high when one appears drunk. This can be trained on lead or off.
The dog is trained to backtrack, following their own or their human's scent trail back to where they were when the episode started. Alternatively, the dog might be trained to guide the human to specific trained locations by command, such as "home."
4 - Crowd Control
A number of individuals disabled by PTSD and other psychiatric conditions report one of their difficulties in maintaining employment is the claustrophobic reaction they suffer when a colleague, boss, or customer comes too close to them. The revulsion they experience is not limited to the workplace. Avoiding situations where closeness may take place will lead to someone becoming increasingly homebound. Through teamwork with a service dog, some of these individuals have regained the ability to be out an about in public.
The dog is first trained on how to brace himself on a Stand Stay so that he cannot be jostled out of position. Technique was developed by service dog trainers to protect patients with Reflex Sympathy Dystrophy from accidental bumps that can trigger an excruciatingly painful RSD flare-up. Same task can prevent or reduce panic by creating enough distance for a situation to become tolerable. The dog holds his ground, preventing people from making body contact with his partner while in line or on a bus, elevator or in the same room etc. You as the partner can enhance the effectiveness of this strategy by asking a person to step back, using dog’s alleged fear of having his paws stepped on as a plausible reason for making such a request.
5 - Night Terrors Management
Night Terrors happen when a person is in a deep sleep, when there is usually no dreaming. The deep sleep accounts for the “awake” appearance at times, when you still are unable to recognize anyone or even where you are—in essence you are still trapped within your night terror.
Unfortunately, even regular sleep patterns, and plenty of rest does not always prevent these nightmarish episodes. especially when those night terrors are the result of PTSD. However, a dog can help during the terror and even manage to wake you up. Have you ever slept alongside a dog who did not jump up when you did? These trained dogs keep a constant vigil, and often arouse the sleeper who is flailing by interrupting the nightmare, licking your face, or nudging you with their noses.
This module is also handy for teaching your dog what to do when you have a seizure or other episode during the sleep cycle.
6 - Interrupt and Redirect Self Harm
A person with OCD subconsciously picks at the skin on her arm. She has done this with such persistence that she has scaring. Her dog is trained to recognize picking skin as a cue to bring her a dog brush. Because she is not picking intentionally, the interruption of the dog will stop her from picking. Handing her the brush is a reminder to her that grooming the dog is a non-harmful alternative behavior for her OCD symptom.
This module trains both the dog and the human in behaviors that prevent harm and redirect the "need" to harm to something beneficial.
7 - Deep Pressure Therapy
Those who suffer from panic attacks have reported that the pressure of the weight of a medium size dog or a large dog against their abdomen and chest has a significant calming effect. It can shorten the duration of the attack; often prevent the symptoms from escalating.
This same task performed by service dogs for its calming benefit for children and adults who are autistic and prone to panic attacks has become known as “deep pressure therapy” in the assistance dog field. One way it is performed is to have a medium size dog lie atop someone who is lying on their back on a floor, bed or sofa, forepaws over the shoulders of the partner. A large dog could be too heavy in that position; also some dogs dislike it.
Once trained to quietly hold that position for up to five minutes, this same task can be adapted to just about any chair, couch or bench seat his partner sits on. A dog should be given a rest break for at least a minute, back on all four paws, before repeating this task on his hind legs.
Similarly, the weight and warmth of a medium to large size dog lying across the partner’s lap, applying pressure to that person’s stomach and chest, may be utilized in a vehicle’s front seat, on the ground or in another location that supports the dog’s entire body in the Down position, for as long as needed during a panic attack.
8 - Preventing Falling and Fainting Injuries
When the partner must cope with weakness or medication side effects like dizziness, a service dog schooled in balance support work can prevent a fall or assist the partner to get up after a fall occurs. This module also teaches a dog to insert himself between his human's head and the ground during a seizure or other condition that could result in head injuries.
9 - Alerting to emergency sounds
Since this module is an abbreviated version of a full hearing dog course, we will concentrate on only one sound. Others can be taught at leisure. Sounds such as fire alarms, sirens, people screaming and air horns are considered emergency sounds. The alert should impinge greatly and with force - a "tic tac" behavior is usually taught (bouncing off the target human with all four feet - you see this often in disc dog videos). For larger dogs, pulling and pushing away from the sound would be the alert.
10 - Balance assistance
Balance support skills in a dog of suitable size can be a valuable asset when medication side effects or symptoms suddenly put the individual at risk of falling. These tasks can be performed off leash, without a harness, indoors. Frequent practice needed to keep these skills viable. A large dog can be schooled to prevent a fall by stiffening his body to provide counter balance help if a person suddenly stumbles or feels dizzy. Ethically, you must give a warning with a command like “Brace” before putting weight on the dog’s withers, so he can stiffen his muscles first. Large dogs can be trained to assist a person to ambulate to the nearest seat, step by step, bracing after each step to allow the person to steady oneself when taking next step.
11 - Find a person or place
Similar to the name recognition module, this module teaches your dog to recognize a person by name and to search for the named person. This can also apply to a place, like "home", or other previously trained places. Each person or place should have a different designation or name.
12 - Room Search
A person with severe hypervigilence finds she is unable to enter her own home. Her symptom causes her to believe there is an intruder in her home who will attack her if she enters. Her dog is trained to perform a systematic search of any room or building and bark on finding someone. When her dog finishes the search pattern and returns, she knows it really is safe to enter and that the presumed intruder was just a symptom. The same task can be used at her office, at hotel rooms, at friends' homes or any other area that is supposed to be vacant.
Room search behaviors are also necessary when a personal is severely sensitive or allergic to an environment contaminant such as mold. The dog would be trained to go in and find the scent of the contaminant, return to the human and indicate that the contaminant was found or not. The reverse alert (no contaminant) is very necessary in this circumstance.
13 - Opening and Shutting Doors
Opening and shutting doors and learning to push the handicap buttons so readily available these days is a task that every service dog should learn whether the human needs this behavior or not. Service dogs should all learn to operate a variety of buttons and switches; pull open doors and drawers and shut things on cue.
14 - Retrieving Objects
Whether the partner is in a wheelchair or suffers from limited mobility, a service dog can quickly retrieve a dropped item preventing stress and possible injuries for their companion.
In addition to the retrieve, this module teaches your dog to carry items for you from one place to another. Those with physical handicaps may have difficulty carrying things for various reasons including partial paralysis or the need to operate crutches or a wheelchair.
15 - Coping with Emotional Overload
Tasks that can provide a tactile distraction from a disorder’s symptoms have proven to be quite useful in emotional overload situations. One or more trained tasks may put a stop to unwelcome reactions in the workplace, classroom or out in public. In addition, for those experiencing nightmares, night terrors, hypnagogic hallucinations or flashbacks, tactile stimulation can provide a vitally important reality affirmation when the partner summons the dog. While some dogs may naturally perform a behavior, it takes schooling to transform it into a task the dog will do immediately on command, reliable even in the presence of distractions, at any location where needed.
Some of these tactile behaviors are:
1. Vigorous licking
2. Nudging or tapping the knee or thigh.
3. Get up on the bed and initiate a hug or snuggle next to the person to permit the person to pet the dog till the person feels better.