Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Has anyone used a therapy or service dog to help with mental illness?

Hey terrific people,

We’re exploring the possibility of using a service dog for our son but WOW, there is so much terminology in figuring it out. I’ll work through that with the providers and I posted this question to find out if any of your families have tried this out? I think it makes sense if it’s trained specifically for mental illness and can get certified to accompany our son wherever they want to go.

Your thoughts? Thank you :heart_eyes:

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I met a lady recently who had an emotional service dog for PTSD - you could tell he had been trained because he was very watchful and would always position himself between her & anyone he felt was suspect, especially men.

I met her in the produce section at Walmart because I asked her about the dog. The funny/sad thing was that some people actually made comments that she could hear about the dog because she wasn’t disabled in a way you could easily see - mostly about it being unsanitary to have the dog around food, which is ridiculous.

I’d love to know how they train the dogs for more severe mental illness & what all they can do in that area. I’ll be watching the post to learn more.

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I know that they have therapy dogs for children and adults with severe autism. A friend of mine is looking into it now for her child. I have seen video’s on youtube where a woman with autism was going into a “meltdown” from over-stimulation and the dog just kept nuzzling her and licking her to try to bring her back to the here and now…and it worked. I honestly have no idea if they have them for sz but what an amazing thing it would be if they do! Good luck to you.

I had to Google after I saw this post & it sounds like it works a lot like Autism for SZ.

Pets are good therapy anyway - at one of the hospitals my son went to, they brought in a therapy dog & it was all some of the patients could talk about during visitation that night. My son was all disappointed that he slept through it, but we’ve got plenty of dogs, cats & other assorted creatures at home.

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That’s amazing, I would find this so interesting to hear more too.

I work with kids with behavioral disorders and 2 of my students have trained service animals. One student has Asbergers and the other has childhood Bipolar disorder. The parents say that it’s been very helpful. The companionship alone is a benefit but when the animal can help to provide emotional support and safety, I can imagine that it’s very helpful. One of the kids mentioned is a runner…she will escape every time she has an uncomfortable feeling, the dog has been trained to help keep her safely contained so she doesn’t get hurt.

How do these service dogs help someone with schizophrenia?

I know this is an old thread, but it popped up on the feed…

We had our little dog trained to work with our son. We worked with his Psych as well to do this. Our son would have hallucinations in public places and would quietly leave. This resulted in “Code Adam” at Walmart on two separate occasions. As these events usually occurred at night, we had the additional concern as to our son leaving our home at night in answer to the commands he was hearing. He’s uber quiet unless terrified, then the screams start. We needed an early alert dog. The only way we could get one, was to work with the therapist/psychologists and train one ourselves.

First: We found a young pup who was rescued, and had the traits which worked best for us. Small size, alert, not active, but capable. Eye contact, quiet, did not mind being touched, but had to be aware of his surroundings.

Second: along with basic puppy training skills, we taught the pup to ALWAYS STAY WITH ME. We put him in training gear, gathered Dr documents in the event we were asked, and took the puppy everywhere with us. The puppy stayed WITH ME. On leash, walking on the left side, and focused. Only certain commands were used, so that he learned he was “working”.

Third: we taught son to KEEP THE DOG WITH HIM. He had to hold the leash, with the dog already trained to walk on the left side, and STAY WITH THE DOG.

The result? It’s been 7 years now. We travel everywhere. Son walks with dog (especially if he’s in a state of distraction or unstable), and the dog refuses to leave me.

IF son tries to leave, as has happened many times, the dog will then whine and fuss. He will begin to bark by the time son reaches the exit doors of the store.

IF son is moving around the house in an odd way in the middle of the night, the dog, who sleeps with me, will wake and begin to growl ever so quietly. All he is saying is that something is wrong. We both (dog and I) get up and check. Put boy back to bed, and return to sleep.

The dog is always with me, but is for our son. Everywhere I go, the dog goes.

One added benefit for this condition:

When the hallucinations are just starting, our son was taught to look at the dog. If he’s not growling at the goblin, then the goblin is a hallucination. IF the dog is growling it’s real. IF not, then it’s a hallucination.

Our son repeats that statement to himself.

The dog also sleeps under our son’s desk when he’s particularly edgy. We didn’t train this part. Over the years, the dog has become sensitive to our son. When the dog hovers around our boy, we usually discover that something is not quite right. We can adjust the world around him a little earlier we think…or check ourselves to make sure our son had his meds?

First pic: is when son was first dx, and pre-meds. Puppy was home 1 day.
Second pic: many years later…at the DMV, with older boy, neighbor boy and son who is now dx and medicated. Son was manic that day (really, at the DMV!!!), and children were not permitted in the room where I stood in line. They were outside, I took the picture through the window. The dog is taught to keep me in eye sight at all times, which he is doing despite the fact that neighbor boy is playing with him. I have had our son and dog stand alone before as well. It works. The dog will not leave the area without making a fuss. That draws attention, and I’m able to be notified by the sounds our dog makes. (Squeaks and whines).

boys at DMV KY


We never set out to have a therapy dog but somehow ended up with one. We rescued him. We haven’t trained our dog Max per se but he somehow ‘gets it’. When Libby is really scared all I have to do is take him in her room, tell him to lay and stay and he will not leave her side all night long. When she has a hallucination or a panic attack, she knows to go to him. He is 70 lbs of gentle goofball so he will lick her face until she is giggling and feeling less scared. We have shown her that if Max isn’t growling or scared, what she sees isn’t real. And it works every time. She buries her face in his ruff and cries and he just sits. He may be a goofball of a dog but he gets it like no animal I have ever seen. He also isn’t afraid of my autistic son like most animals are - he is actually best friends with my son, they go everywhere together. And if I am having an issue he will whine at the door to come in and snuggle with me. He is a chow retriever mix we rescued and without a doubt the best decision we ever made. Our Westies don’t have the right temperament for it, being too active and high strung.

I don’t know what I would do without Max. He has done SO much for our family. We got him after my dog Nani had to be put down due to health issues. I adore this dog!


I meant to add that our dog helps husband and I too…

for me, it’s when our son is really quiet and isolated. I feel so lonely as a mother when my son feels so far removed from the daily activities…“Dexter” notices me. He looks at me, and seems to talk. I like that.

for husband, he insists on being petted. He’ll even push his nose under my husbands hand in order to get petted. In a matter of seconds I can visibly watch husband relax. The two of them truly cuddle.

Love the tinsel!!!


I’ve looked into service dogs for help with my PTSD.
I downloaded an application I found on the web.
I think they’re called companion animals in the states, and that service dogs are for those with what’s considered a " physical " disability, like blindness.
There are dogs specifically trained to help those with mental illness in the States.
You have to be approved to be considered. There may be a reasonable fee if you meet income guidelines.
I decided against it for now but will probably consider again.
I live on the fourth floor of a condominium, and I’ve always wanted a backyard for my potential dog to play in. Twice daily walks don’t seem like enough.
Also, not sure I can get approved for a dog that doesn’t vocalize i.e bark alot, as certain breeds are quieter than others.
I’m new to this forum and haven’t found out how to post my story yet, evidentially my activity is
" limited" until I meet certain criteria.
Which is too bad, as I’ve never needed to discuss a siblings illness more than tonight.


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