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Although Service Dogs first emerged as a method of assisting those who were vision impaired, their roles have now expanded. In fact, many Service Dogs are now being trained to help those with an array of invisible disabilities from mental and psychiatric health struggles to seizures, epilepsy, autism, diabetes and more. Here are just 5 examples of Service Dogs for invisible disabilities.

Service Dog performing Deep Pressure Therapy

Service Dogs can be taught to perform Deep Pressure Therapy on their anxious human companions

  1. Psychiatric Service Dogs can be used to assist those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Some of the tasks they can be trained to perform include:
  • Providing Deep Pressure Therapy
    Deep Pressure Therapy is the process of exerting pressure in order to calm the nervous system and increase dopamine (the “feel good” chemical) throughout the body.
  • Night Terrors
    Many people, especially those who have experienced traumatic events (Veterans, victims of abuse, etc.), sometimes experience night terrors while sleeping. Although night terrors are different for everyone, they often involve the symptoms of screaming, flailing or shaking while asleep. Service Dogs can assist with this by waking a person up when they are experiencing a night terror. Check out this great commercial by KNGF Guide Dogs which illustrates how these Service Dogs help:
  • Fear of Intruders
    Some people with psychiatric or mental health illnesses have an intense fear of intruders or the dark. In this case, Service Dogs can be trained to go into a room before their human companion and turn on the lights.
  • Hallucinations
    Those with schizophrenia or paranoia often experience hallucinations. Service Dogs can help these people by assisting them in distinguishing between what is real and what is not.
  • Interrupting Harmful Behaviors
    Service Dogs can help stop harmful behaviors (ex. self-injury or pulling out hair), by going over to their human partners and interrupting the action.
  • Unsafe or Uneasy Situations
    Those with mental health or psychiatric struggles can often feel extremely unsafe or uneasy in particular situations, Service Dogs help to mitigate this by assisting in guiding them out of a perceived unsafe situation.
  • Grounding
    Service Dogs are often trained to ground those who are experiencing a panic attack. This helps to bring the individual back to the present.
  • Retrieving
    Sometimes an individual needs a certain object or medication to increase their comfort level. Service Dogs can be trained to bring this item to the human they are partnered with. For a comprehensive list of tasks for Psychiatric Service Dogs, please visit IAADP.
Service Dog and military veteran

Service Dogs are now trained to help Veterans and those who suffer from PTSD

2. Seizure or Epilepsy Service Dogs According to the Epilepsy Foundation, approximately 65 million people around the world experience epilepsy. For those who don’t know, epilepsy is caused as a result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which causes a person to experience seizures. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and can cause a person to collapse, have a short loss of consciousness, experience jerking movements, muscle stiffness, etc. Luckily, Service Dogs can be trained to assist these people. It is important to note that although there is a common belief that Service Dogs can be trained to detect seizures, this is not accurate. Although some dogs seem to have the innate sense and are able to warn their human companion of an impending seizure, the reason they are able to do so is unknown. This means that a Service Dog cannot be officially trained to detect seizures, but rather assists their human partner during and after the seizure by performing some of the following tasks:

  • Preventing Injury
    Epilepsy or Seizure Response Dogs will often stay close to their owner in order to reduce the chances of injury. One way they do this is by removing items from around the person experiencing a seizure which might be dangerous.
  • Seeking Help
    These types of Service Dogs will often bark or activate a medical alert device in order to get emergency professionals or another individual to help.
  • “Wake Up”
    Seizure Assist or Epilepsy Dogs will often stimulate a person or assist them in “waking up” following a seizure.
  • Provide Support
    “Waking up” from a seizure can be extremely scary, Seizure Response or Epilepsy Service Dogs can provide support to their human companion following a seizure.

3. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Service Dogs  FASD is a disorder which explains the effects on an individual whose mother consumed alcohol during her pregnancy. According to FASD ONE, fetuses that have been exposed to alcohol have an increased chance of experiencing lifelong psychical, mental, behavioral consequences, as well as learning disabilities. Similar symptoms have been shown by those who were exposed to drugs while in the womb. FASD Service Dogs have been trained to help these individuals by:

  • Interrupting and Assisting with Difficult Behaviors and Thoughts
    According to 4 Paws for Ability, FASD Service Dogs are often trained to interrupt sensory overload, as well as repetitive behaviors and thought patterns.
  • Social Interactions
    These Service Dogs have been known to help increase an individual’s chance of interacting and communicating with others because of their support.
  • Behavioral Difficulties or Anxiousness
    FASD can sometimes lead to increased behavioral difficulties or anxiousness. FASD Service Dogs often use behavior disruption techniques as a way of keeping these behaviors and thoughts under control.

4. Diabetic Alert Dogs are trained to alert their human of high or low blood sugar before it becomes an emergency. One of the ways that they train Service Dogs to do this is through the process of imprinting. Imprinting involves introducing a puppy to the scent of high or low blood sugar while they are still puppies. Following the imprinting process, the dog is then taught to be a Diabetic Alert Dog and perform a specific behavior when they notice abnormal blood sugar levels (ex. tapping a person with his/her nose or paw, bringing a specific object, etc.).

If you think that you might benefit from this type of Service Dog, The Diabetes Alert Dog Alliance offers a handy directory of trainers around the country that offer this service.

5. Autism Service Dogs can be trained to help children with Autism as well. According to Autism Dog Services, along with providing companionship, these Service Dogs perform two essential tasks:

  • Behavioral Intervention
    Similar to FASD Service Dogs (see above), Autism Service Dogs can assist a child with behavioral difficulties and anxiousness.
  • Orientation Concerns
    During a sensory overload, it is sometimes difficult for children to maintain their orientation. Autism Service Dogs can help with this by getting a child back on track and reoriented in their environment.

Similar to FASD Service Dogs (see above), Autism Service Dogs can assist a child with behavioral difficulties and anxiousness.

Remember, just because you can’t see an individual’s disability, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Service Dogs are being trained to play an increasingly pivotal role with a variety of invisible disabilities. Do you have an invisible disability that isn’t listed here? What tasks has your dog been trained perform to help you?