What is OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.
Most people have obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors at some point in their lives, but that does not mean that we all have “some OCD.” In order for a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder to be made, this cycle of obsessions and compulsions becomes so extreme that it consumes a lot of time and gets in the way of important activities that the person values.
The International OCD Foundation has a lot more to say on the subject; check it out.
Common Treatments and Coping Mechanisms for OCD
The most effective treatments for OCD are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and/or medication. More specifically, the most effective treatments are a type of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which has the strongest evidence supporting its use in the treatment of OCD, and/or a class of medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SRIs.
Exposure and Response Prevention is typically done by a licensed mental health professional (such as a psychologist, social worker, or mental health counselor) in an outpatient setting. This means you visit your therapist’s office at a set appointment time once or a few times a week.
Medications can only be prescribed by licensed medical professionals (such as your physician or a psychiatrist), who would ideally work together with your therapist to develop a treatment plan.
As more and more people seek holistic alternatives when developing their treatment plans, the use of assistance animals such as psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals is becoming more commonplace. Therapy dogs are perfect for filling the gaps left by traditional treatment plans as the above discussed treatments will only work for about 70% of the OCD populus.
What are Psychiatric Service Dogs?
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a type of assistance animal that’s trained to perform specific tasks for individuals living with a mental illness. These unique tasks are directly related to the handler’s disability.
Most of us are accustomed to seeing guide dogs supporting those with physical disabilities like a hearing or sight impairment. However, a psychiatric service dog helps people with typically unseen, unnoticeable disabilities.
For example, men, women, and children who experience all-consuming OCD symptoms or similar challenges can greatly benefit from the service of a PSD. Those who live with social phobia, depression or other depressive disorders can also find the service of a PSD to be incredibly beneficial.
CertaPet’s Blog is updated weekly and full of informative articles, testimonials, and data from mental health professionals. For a more in-depth overview of this complicated subject, read our full piece.
How Can Service Dogs Help with OCD?
When someone is suffering from OCD, they will have many intrusive thoughts. A service animal will help combat this issue by tactile or deep pressure stimulation. Repetitive and compulsive behaviors are also helped by service dogs physically interrupting the compulsive behavior.
The website Wag Walking has many informative works on psychiatric service dogs, emotional support animals, and training handlers including this one.
Mental Health Benefits
There are dogs out there every day using their natural talents, from their incredible sense of smell to their caring and protective nature which, with extensive training, can be harnessed effectively by the medical or assistance industries.
Giving love to, and receiving love from, your service animal, psychiatric service dog or other, increases the release of hormones and cortisol levels which can result in a great many, positive outcomes. Thereby building an environment where the management of their symptoms: obsessions/compulsions, anxiety, an anxiety attack, PTSD, and other mental health issues, is more successful and more regular.
From reducing stress and calming episodes to bettering moods and bringing happiness to owners, handlers, and people in general, service animals, like a therapy dog, ESA, or psychiatric service dogs, can improve the livelihood of all by managing specific symptom needs.
Read what The Bark had to add about a specific service animal task, psychiatric service dogs, and how their owners can benefit right now as well as over time.
Physical Health Benefits
As mentioned in the beginning of this section, psychiatric service dogs, or any service animal, can target OCD symptoms and use their paws and bodies to illicit tactile stimulation which can curb intrusive thoughts and break cycles of repetitive compulsions.
There’s even more ways a service dog can aid their handler, one the physical level. Just by going through the motions and processes of obtaining, training, and assimilating your service dog, other benefits will be occurring too. A service dog, or service dogs, can promote physical exercise, getting outdoors and staying out longer, weight loss and heart health; all of which will, in turn, improve your mental health as well.
Here’s additional details from a recent Huffington Post piece.
Specific Tasks Service Dogs Can Perform to Support Their Owner
The various types of obsessions and compulsions carry with them many symptom similarities between them but also some distinct differences in how they manifest, how long they last, and how to safely deal with them.
We have several issues on our website’s blog page to help gain greater understanding about the lengths service dogs can go towards improving your well being. This one in particular describes in great detail this topic.
Here are just some of the many ways that a PSD can help their owner:
- Tactile Stimulation, Deep Pressure Therapy, Pressure and Warmth Stimulation – Tactile stimulation and pressure therapy can help ground a person and offer a therapeutic distraction from anxiety, depression, or a pending panic attack. PSDs can also be trained to place pressure on their handler’s chest or lap to encourage emotional regulation, bring calm to a situation, or simply offer warmth.
- Grounding – When a person feels trapped by the thoughts in their mind, whether they stem from anxiety, flashbacks, or other types of distress, grounding techniques can be helpful in bringing a person’s focus to their physical body or surroundings. A service dog can ground their handler through interaction, tactile stimulation, pressure therapy, or through another therapeutic means that assists their handler.
- Medical Alert or Reminder – A service dog can be trained to alert their handler to the beginning stages of a medical episode, such as a change in breathing patterns, an increase in heart rate, emotional escalation, or oncoming muscle tension. In addition, a psychiatric service dog can remind their handler when it’s time for medication, when it’s time for bed, or when the handler needs to perform other daily routines throughout the day.
Emotional Support Dog vs. Psychiatric Service Dog: What’s the Difference?
PSDs and ESAs are both a type of assistance animal that a licensed mental health professional or doctor can prescribe to someone as part of their treatment plan.
However, only PSDs are recognized as official ‘service animals’ under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As legally recognized service animals, they’re entitled to the following rights:
- Public Access Rights (under the Americans with Disabilities Act they can accompany their owner into grocery stores, restaurants, etc.)
- Travel Rights (under the Air Carrier Access Act, they can accompany their owner in the airline cabin and the owner does not have to pay a pet fee)
- Fair Housing (under the Fair Housing Act, they can live in housing units even if there’s a no pets policy)
- Educational Facility Access (under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they can accompany their owner into schools, colleges, universities, etc.)
ESAs on the other hand, do not have the same privileges when it comes to public access and travel, due to new DOT regulations put into place on January 11, 2021. Many major airlines now only recognize ESAs as pets, which means owners will have to pay a pet fee. (More information on these regulations and the airlines that have changed the policies here: https://www.certapet.com/new-dot-regulations-for-emotional-support-animals/). However, people can still enjoy fair housing rights with their ESAs, even if they live in a no pets unit.
The reason for this difference is that PSDs have to be specially trained to perform a certain task or type of work that helps support a person living with a disability (ESAs on the other hand receive no special training – they’re just meant to offer comfort through their companionship).
To be considered a service dog, a PSD must be trained to perform a specific task (examples here: https://www.certapet.com/how-to-train-a-psychiatric-service-dog/ ), which is why partnering with a professional trainer is the best option.
We’re currently onboarding our professional dog trainers and will be offering this option very soon. In the meantime, those interested in getting a psychiatric service dog can begin the process by seeing if they qualify for a PSD or ESA through our free screening here: https://www.certapet.com/psychiatric-service-dog-screening/.
How to Get an OCD Service Dog
In order to obtain a psychiatric service dog, or therapy dog, you must receive a recommendation from a licensed mental health professional or a doctor. This ‘prescription’ takes the form of a letter, which will be written on your health professional’s letterhead and include their license number.
There are no limitations to the breed of dog you can use as your psychiatric service dog. Your PSD can therefore either be a dog you already own, a dog you adopt from a shelter or rescue group, or a dog you receive from a service dog organization. Keep in mind, however, that the dog must be specially trained to perform certain tasks in order to be recognized as a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
CertaPet wants you to get a service dog as quickly as possible. And we know our services can do just that through our certified telemedicine evaluation and rapidly submitted recommendation letters. If you have additional questions, read these Healthline and Top Dog Tips articles.
How to Train an OCD Service Dog
In the sections above, we touched on the different training methods of an emotional support assistance dog. Here are some more details, along with a supporting blog post, regarding the typical training of a service dog, therapy dog, or support dog.
There are two components of an effective training regimen for all service dogs. First, the General Public Access Test is performed to instill good manners in service dogs, ensuring that they behave appropriately in public settings. The second step, the specialized task/work training is done, which satisfies the requirement of all PSDs to be able to perform a specific action that’s directly related to their handler’s disability.
No matter how your OCD manifests, or how it affects which aspects of your life, this two step training process can not only create a service dog out of any dog but tailor their abilities to combat each and every symptom the handler may encounter.
The Best OCD Service Dog Breeds
Any breed of dog could be transformed into an emotional support dog or psychiatric service animal. It could be a dog you have owned for years or one you just picked up from a shelter or adoption agency. But, like with most things, there are a handful of dog breeds that are superiorly adept than the rest.
The site Pet Guide made this comprehensive list with insights on each breed.
- Standard Poodle
- Labrador Retriever
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Lhasa Apso
- Doberman Pinscher
- Border Collie
Are you interested in getting a psychiatric service dog?
Here at CertaPet, we can help. CertaPet is an online telehealth platform that improves access to mental health care in the U.S. with a focus on providing services to individuals who are seeking animal assisted interventions as part of their treatment plan.
We are currently coordinating with emotional support dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free.
We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options. In the meantime, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!
Can you have a service dog for a mental health condition?
Absolutely, yes. Service dogs are trained to assist in the activities of daily living for those who have one or more mental health conditions, including OCD, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, and depression.
How do you qualify for a psychiatric service dog?
We have a fast, easy, and stress free way to determine just that. We start with a free screening, move on to a telemedicine evaluation from a licensed professional, and finish with a personalized plan and ESA letter of qualification.
What can a psychiatric service dog do?
Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Can I use any breed of dog as an emotional support dog or psychiatric service animal?
Any breed of dog can take to the psychiatric service training well and you can even use one you already own. However, there are particular breeds that excel in these kinds of emotional, stressful, and difficult situations.
How are support dogs trained?
Service dogs can be trained by you, the handler, or by you with the assistance of a certified trainer. A third option is to adopt a service animal from an accredited training organization for service dogs.