Pros and Cons of Dogs for People with Psychiatric Disabilities


Just By Being a Dog, a Pet, Emotional Support, or Service Dog Can...

  • Get you out of bed in the morning
  • Help you keep more regular hours
  • Get you to exercise every day
  • Provide company and affection
  • Give you a sense of accomplishment
  • Distract you from obsessive or negative thoughts
  • Make you feel more confident / less vulnerable
  • Help you meet and talk to people
  • Make you more appealing to others

A Psychiatric Service Dog Can Also Be Trained To...

  • Remind you when to eat or take meds
  • Let you know when it's time for bed or time to get up
  • Keep track of keys, phone, etc.
  • Actively encourage you to play or exercise
  • Carry your wallet and ID for safekeeping
  • Lead you out to a safe place when you are overwhelmed
  • Pretend to need to go out when you need an excuse to leave
  • Turn on lights and check a room before you go in
  • Keep you from unwanted physical contact or proximity, e.g:
    • Hand money or card to cashier
    • Walk on right to keep right hand in use (you can't shake hands)
    • Put body between you and nearby people
  • Protect, comfort, and calm (or stimulate) you during an episode
  • Alert you to people approaching
  • Wake you from a nightmare
  • Interrupt repetitive or compulsive behavior
  • Provide a reality check when hallucination is suspected
  • Interrupt dissociation, self-mutilation, or other unwanted states and behaviors
  • Assist with side effects or symptoms, e.g.:
    • Brace you when dizzy or unsteady
    • Help you get up after fall or collapse
    • Bring meds, water, etc.
    • Bring phone
  • Get help, e.g.:
    • Bark to attract attention to you
    • Go for help
    • Dial 911

Cons with Any Dog...

  • It needs to be cared for properly and on time, no matter how sick you get, e.g.:
    • It must always have access to clean water 
    • It must have appropriate food and regular mealtimes
    • It must be taken out multiple times a day
    • It must get exercise every day
    • You must have someone lined up to take care of the dog when you can't
  • It is not cheap:
    • Basic vet care (vaccinations, neutering, etc.) can be expensive
    • Accidents and illness WILL happen and may require emergency after-hours care and/or hospitalization 
    • Pet insurance typically covers only a fraction of medical expenses
    • Even healthy dogs need heartworm, tick, and flea medication most or all of the year
    • Professional grooming or grooming tools and lessons are required for some breeds
    • You'll probably need help training the dog (classes, books, etc.)
    • Dog food and equipment (crate, leash, collar, toys, etc.) can be a significant expense
  • It limits your freedom, e.g.:
    • You've got to keep reasonable hours; going out right after work may not be possible (less so with a service dog)
    • Spur-of-the-moment trips are dependent on your dog sitter's availability and flexibility (less so with a service dog)
  • It will make emotional and time demands on you and will suffer greatly if you cannot meet those demands
  • Dog poop is nauseating and you'll be picking up pounds of it every week
  • Even the best dog will shed, poop, pee, and/or vomit in your house at some time (but then again so will a child or a significant other or you!)

Cons of a Psychiatric Service Dog...

  • If your disability was not apparent before you got a service dog, it will be after you do so. Even if it was apparent, you'll be spotted sooner and get more attention with a service dog.  (However, access will get easier over time and as local businesses begin to recognize you -- see Maeve's business honor roll)
  • You WILL be challenged about the dog frequently when you enter premises where pets are not allowed.
  • You will be challenged by a law enforcement officer at some point. Chances are good that he or she won't do so entirely appropriately.
  • Disability gets discussed on or before the first date if you are single and have a service dog.
  • Some people will pay more attention to the dog than to you.
  • Every public errand takes much longer with a service dog.
  • People may assume you are training for someone else
  • Stress on relationships
  • Even the best-trained dog will eventually do something embarrassing in public
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