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Service Dogs for Anxiety - Brigadoon Service Dogs News (2016)

At Brigadoon, we know what a dog can do for anxiety – they encourage healthy habits such as daily exercise and social interactions, they lower your blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels, and they provide comfort and love. So the short answer is that dogs can be wonderful emotional support animals for people with anxiety. Countless anecdotes, studies, and experiments show this.

But service dogs are dogs that, although definitely are comforting and loving, have a specific job to play in practically mitigating a person’s disability. So a service dog can really only help anxiety if the anxiety is debilitating to the point that impedes daily functioning and those impediments can be mitigated by a dog.

What would a service dog for anxiety do? Firstly, let’s look at what the anxiety the service dog would be addressing might look like.

Anxiety as it’s experienced by people with diagnosed anxiety disorders is not just general stress and nervousness. Anxiety is a distressing psychological, emotional, and physical state of excess and irrational arousal that impairs everyday functioning. It can prevent one from leaving the house, interacting with people, and taking care of oneself. Someone with anxiety can suffer from panic attacks, insomnia, gastrointestinal distress, hot flashes, depersonalization and dissociation, agitation, poor concentration, and other problems. Though most anxiety is very treatable, some individuals’ anxiety may not respond to treatments and therapies and may need to be managed throughout their lifetime.

A service dog can help anxiety depending on the person and the symptoms of anxiety they live with. Some things a dog can do include:

  • Deep pressure therapy – the dog can press its weight onto the person. This helps ground the person with anxiety. It works similar to how weighted blankets for swaddling would work.

  • Anxiety signal – the dog recognizes when the person is getting anxious (perhaps the person is breathing heavily or fidgeting) before the person realizes it and lets them know with a nose nudge or other signal.

  • Pulling a person out of dissociation – the dog recognizes when the person is ‘zoning out’ and pulls on the persons sleeve until the person pulls out of the dissociation.

  • Guide work – The dog responds to “forward,” “left,” and “right” to help a person avoid disorientation and overwhelm while in public.

  • Licking – the dog will lick the person’s feet or other extremities after a panic attack or high anxiety to help restore circulation and bring the person back to reality.

  • Bring phone and/or medication – the dog will bring the phone in an emergency.

  • Disrupt tics – the dog will nudge a person persistently to bring attention to self-destructive tics such as skin picking.

For people with anxiety, a service dog can help to bring them out of their shell and into the world.

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