Although theses dogs are not typical members of the assistance dog group (they are primarily pet dogs and don’t perform assisting tasks on command) they bring companionship, humour and love to many different people. Pets as Therapy Dogs go with their owners to visit special needs schools, hospitals, care homes and hospices.

The psychosomatic impact of PAT dogs continues to be validated through scientific research. The unconditional, undemanding love they provide is a universal healer.

If you’d like to find out more about PAT dogs, and perhaps look into what it takes to volunteer with them, visit their website.

Photo from


This guest post talks through the pros and cons of deciding to get a service dog. As mentioned in ‘Assistance Dogs: The Basics‘, psychiatric dogs are less common in the UK and are not yet certifiable. If you’re interested in reading more about Sandi’s progress with Bambi, check out her blog, ‘Training a Service Dog‘.

Let me start by saying that I am not a dog trainer, or an animal behaviorist.  I am the human side of a service team.  The following is what I have learned from trainers and people working with service teams, and from my experience.  I have only dealt with psychiatric service dogs and have not dealt with guide dogs, seizure dogs or any other teams.  I have also done more research on veterans and psychiatric dogs, so I will be speaking more from the perspective of a veteran and a service dog.

There are a lot of things to think about when deciding if a service dog is the best addition to therapy for you.  There are many pros and cons with having a psychiatric dog.  Psychiatric dogs are also a new form of therapy and having one can be like blazing new territory on so many levels.

I will start with cons first, since so much information is out there on the pros, but less on the cons.

Combat veterans coming back from war right now are typically young and independent.  They may be missing their legs or other appendages.  They may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other psychiatric maladies. As young soldiers, they are stronger in mind and body than most.  Adding a service dog at this early stage of their therapy, this person could hide their problems in their dog.  They may not push themselves as hard to heal themselves and get better if they have the help of a dog.  They no longer need to get completely better, the dog will do things for them.  If the dog is comforting a PTSD patient, and the veteran has not worked with a therapist enough, and something happens to the dog, this could set back their treatment.  A newly returning PTSD patient can even delay their therapy, thinking that the dog has made them all better, until the dog passes years later, only to find they are in worse shape than when they first came home.

Some psychiatric patients can have aggressive tendencies when working on their problems.  A great deal of these post traumatic stress disorders stem from violent occurances.  The dog becomes tied into their therapy.  If something were to happen to the dog, accidently, the aggression can be focused on the people involved in the accident.  For example, if the dog were hit by a car, would the patient be aggressive towards the person that accidently hit the dog?

An obvious problem is that the patient may outlive their dog.  Is this person in a place to handle the death of the animal they have become so dependent upon?   Can they live without a dog until another is trained to help them?

The needs of the dog can be overwhelming for a person who needs help themselves to get things done.  The dog needs attention, and to be fed and walked.  These needs increase exponentially if the person is training their own dog from puppyhood.  Some people choose to go this way so that the dog will be trained to their needs and to train the dog to be a better fit. I have chosen to take this path but I do not recommend it unless you have a lot of time and patience for a puppy doing what puppies tend to do.

When having a service dog, there is quite a bit of unsolicited attention.  The worst of this attention is having long discussions with store and restaurant owners.  Some are not knowledgeable about the laws on service dogs.  In some cases you will have to educate them, before you can sit down and eat.  This can take time and some conversations will even get heated.  Again, this in new territory for many people.  Also, people are seeing a dog where they do not usually see a dog.  They are attracted to the dog, they want to pet the dog, and talk about the dog.  I had an experience recently at a state park where stangers were wanting to stop us and take pictures of my puppy, and talk about her and her breed.  It was like walking a celebrity.  This is actually indirect attention.  They are paying attention to the dog and this can be used as a way to talk to people and have something to talk about, or it can be stressful for both the dog and the person.


There are laws dealing with service dogs, and although they may seem vague as to what qualifies as a service dog. However, one thing is not vague; who’s responsibility it is when something goes wrong.  A well trained dog is not likely to bite someone, or cause any problems.  A dog that is not fully trained can bite, or even lie down in the wrong spot and trip someone.  In a lawsuit happy society, a lawsuit can be extremely stressful.  It is recommended that the dog is trained properly, and fully, with the help of a licensed trainer.

Now, onto the “pros”.  To start, the dog is a comfort to the person.  When it is hard to deal with everyday stress, a dog can help the person get through everyday situations.  Especially if this dog goes everywhere the person does.  Comfort dogs do not qualify as service dogs, but a service dog can be a comfort as well as a service dog.

The dog can also be a distraction.  Anxiety and panic tends to increase as the person gets caught in their own thoughts.  The dog can help the person stay grounded in the present with the dog.  The dog can be trained to be an even greater distraction.  They can be trained to lick the person’s face, or inform them that they need to go to the bathroom, so the person is forced to deal with everyday situations and not spiral into a panic attack.  The dog can also be trained to retrieve medications, or pull the person to a calm, safe area.  The dog can be used as an excuse to leave a situation, when the person says they need to tend to the dog’s needs.

Service dogs can be a great addition to therapy.  Adding the uncondtional love and comfort of a dog can speed up recovery.  These were some considerations to think about before making an informed decision about getting a service dog.  Discussing it with a doctor and a therapist is preferrable. I, personally, have made the choice to raise a service dog from a puppy and I am loving every minute I spend with her.

By Sandi Tester

Most people are familiar with the roles of guide dogs (aka Seeing Eye dogs) and Hearing Dogs. However, there are many other types of assistance dogs out there, including medical alert dogs, psychiatric service dogs, therapy dogs, mobility assistance dogs and autism assistance dogs.

All types are essential to their handlers and are much more than clever pets. Therefore it is important that you do not approach an assistance dog who is working or in training, as to do so may distract the dog. This will, at best, be an inconvenience and, at worst, could put the handler in real danger.

Unfortunately at the present time, there are no charities registered with Assistance Dogs UK that train psychiatric service dogs. This is a real shame as these dogs can have a significant and positive impact on the lives of people with mental health problems, problems which are equally as debilitating as any physical impairment. For now, therapy dogs and untrained pets fill the gap. Read more here

One last thing- under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law in the UK to refuse entry to a public place to someone with a registered Assistance Dog.

Hope you’ve learnt something new today! Remember to visit again tomorrow as there will be another guest post to look forward to.

Picture from The Guardian

The 2nd of January kick starts Assistance Dogs Week, a week of posts celebrating the invaluable role of the assistance dog in society. Of particular interest are the guest posts we have planned, I won’t give to much away at this stage, but if you can’t wait, why not check out the following blogs:

Training a Service Dog

Safe and Sound

If there is anything relevant that you would be particularly interested in reading, or you are interested in guest posting an article, don’t hesitate to get in touch!


Tail docking in dogs has always been a controversial practice, and as of 2007, a banned one in the UK. However, there are exemptions to the ban and so the practice continues, fanning the flames of the debate.

The exemptions are for medical reasons, or for dogs that are likely to be ‘worked’, where evidence to prove these ambitions can be provided to a registered veterinary surgeon. The prooceedure must be carried out no later than 5 days of age by a vet, and with appropriate anaesthetic and sterilisation. For more information on the details go to DEFRA’s website

The objections to the ban often come from show dog owners who are used to having their dogs look a certain way, or working dog owners who are convinced that undocked tails will  become entangled in brambles and the like during work.

To the first group of people I wouldn’t bother arguing, as to put it bluntly, logical argument must elude them. To submit a dog in the early stages of life to unnecessary cosmetic mutilation is backwards. It impairs the dogs ability to communicate in later life and is a serious procedure in terms of possible complications.

To the second group, I always wondered why long haired dogs were selected to work- yet long locks aren’t trimmed to prevent ensnaring the legs. If it were such a problem as to demand such a ruthless resolve, I wonder why the long haired trait wasn’t selected against in breeds such as the springer spaniel?

Too little space to cover all sides of both arguments here, so if you have any thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment.

Picture from