Inside Schizophrenia Podcast: Psychiatric Service Dogs for Schizophrenia

Inside Schizophrenia Podcast: Psychiatric Service Dogs for Schizophrenia

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A psychiatric service dog is a type of service dog trained to assist its handler with a psychiatric condition such as schizophrenia. These service animals can be trained to help people with schizophrenia identify hallucinations, ground them back in reality, and even remind them to take their medication.

In this episode, our hosts explore how service dogs can be part of a person with schizophrenia’s support system. They speak with Shawn Gantkowski of Dog Training Elite Charlotte, who trains service dogs and shares what goes into training a psychiatric service animal. Listen Now!

Shawn Gantkowski, Dog Training Elite

Dog Training Elite Charlotte has developed a highly successful and unique positive dog training program that empowers dog owners and their canines to work together, creating strong bonds and sustained obedience. Training takes time, commitment, and balance.

Dog Training Elite Charlotte is different from other training programs. We’ll be there every step of the way to help you and your dog achieve sustained, deep-rooted obedience.

Our dog training services in Charlotte are personalized and designed to teach owners how to train their dog alongside a professional dog trainer in their home environment, as well as in small group settings. We strongly believe that the key to sustained obedience and training is to empower owners to be an integral part of the training experience. Most training programs require minimal to no involvement from owners and once the dog returns to their home environment, almost all progress is undone and owners feel just as helpless as they did before.Our passion for dogs and service sets us apart. All our local dog trainers are trustworthy, willing to be there for our clients, and love what they do. We want to build a community for our clients that love their dogs just as much as we do, and once you begin the training process with us, you become a part of the Dog Training Elite Charlotte family. Find out more at

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website,

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Rachel Star Withers: Welcome to Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthline Media podcast. I’m your host, Rachel Star Withers here with my co-host, Gabe Howard. And today’s episode is about psychiatric service dogs for schizophrenia.

Gabe Howard: I only know about seeing-eye dogs, which is, I think, the base level of knowledge that most people have about service animals. Everybody seems to know seeing eye dogs. And then the knowledge diminishes greatly after that.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes, and I think we also know a little bit as far as what we see in the news, the different controversy stories, the peacock.

Gabe Howard: The emotional support animals.

Rachel Star Withers: I think, yeah, that’s the one that always comes up, is the woman and the peacock because you’re like, how is the peacock going to get on the plane? And that was just the story that went viral. It led to so many just questions.

Gabe Howard: I remember when that story first came out and everybody’s like, oh, this is why we need to ban these animals, and that’s too far right, because service animals seeing-eye dogs, for example, they serve a valuable purpose. We needed to help society understand the difference between the emotional support animal and the service animal. And you found an incredible guest who has been working with animals his entire life.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes, we spoke with Shawn Gantkowski of Dog Training Elite Charlotte. He has a facility where he specially trains different types, all types of service dogs, therapy dogs, lots of different things. So he was so cool to talk to. Psychiatric service dog, so that is a type of service dog that assists with mental or psychiatric disabilities. So obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar and some other different ones. So many people are obsessed with their pets here in America. Sixty three point four million American households. Over half of the American population, has at least one dog. The US pet industry reached ninety nine billion dollars in sales last year. So, pets are everywhere. Like it’s just like a huge moneymaking thing. And then you have mental illness. And one in four adults are considered to have some type of mental illness from depression to bipolar, schizophrenia, different things like that. However, only point nine percent of people with mental illnesses have a psychiatric service dog.

Gabe Howard: And the psychiatric service dog is an important distinction in that statement, certainly scores of people with mental illness have used animals in their recovery, in their treatment just by going for a walk or loving their own animals, or caring or helping with routine, et cetera. But only point nine percent of people with mental illness have had a trained psychiatric service animal trained to do a task that meets all of the requirements that Shawn is going to tell us about later in the show. And that’s very important to understand the difference, because as we learned, you can’t just put a vest on an animal and be like boom service animal. It doesn’t work that way. And I think that maybe especially, you know, when the peacock story went viral, people were like, oh, is this all these animals are? Just somebody wearing a nine dollar vest from Amazon? But it’s not.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes, and the psychiatric service dogs, so these are ones specially trained to assist with a mental disorder of some type. The U.S. military actually did a report about psychiatric service dogs being used for veterans who had PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. And the U.S. military found that 82 percent of those who had a PTSD diagnosis reported symptom reduction after being partnered with a psychiatric service dog, 82 percent and another 40 percent were able to decrease their medication. Just those two numbers alone. And I know we’re talking about PTSD, not schizophrenia, but if you tell me, hey, there’s this new therapy, there’s this new drug on the market that’s been found to help 82 percent of people, that’s like amazing.

Gabe Howard: And people would be clamoring to sign up for it and to try it. While we all love our animals and our animals are helpful, we want to understand that we’re discussing the difference between the psychiatric service animal and, for example, Rachel Star’s pet Toto,

Rachel Star Withers: Oh.

Gabe Howard: Which is not a psychiatric service animal.

Rachel Star Withers: Poor Totes, he is not. So there’s been like throughout recent history, people using dogs specifically to help those with disabilities has been a thing. However, for psychiatric uses, supposably, the first psychiatric dog would have been from actually World War Two. And it was, it was Smoky. He was a four pound Yorkshire terrier who actually served in different hospitals, assisting the nurses and the wounded. And I just thought that was the cutest thing ever. So just this little four pound fluff and he was actually transferred then. As the war ended, he came back to America. So he got to stay with the nurses and he continued working with different vets and stuff.

Gabe Howard: The important thing to remember is that they figured out a need and they trained an animal to resolve it. This is very important when determining what a psychiatric service animal is. You’ve got an issue or a problem or something that you need help with, and then the animal is trained to assist with it.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes, and now, Gabe, you have a dog just like I have, and it’s really funny, over the years, one of the biggest things that’s helped me was having a little animal friend. A little. I always say a little fluff. Of my three dogs that I’ve had, the one that connected with me the most was named Toto, and he was a little hellion. He would not be considered appropriate for service animal work in any way. He hated everyone and everything in the world with the exception of me. But the one great thing about Toto was that he could tell when I was mentally off before I could, and it wasn’t something that I trained him to do, which was very odd because he could tell and he would start acting a certain way and he would become incredibly clingy. He would wake me up sometimes and I would know, OK, something’s wrong with me. And sure enough, the next few hours I might start hallucinating. That was so amazing to me that he had that little sense about him. When I look back at some of the really bad times in my life. There was a few years ago a really bad time with suicide and he went insane. He was just the most annoying little animal in the world. And it’s like he could tell I was depressed and it was like, oh, no, you’re going to take me out. You’re going to go on a walk right now. And I do. I do think this little dog, like, saved my life numerous times. So I believe very much that, you know, animals can have a connection with you and help everybody. It isn’t just service animals.

Gabe Howard: And that’s remarkable. Right? But I also know that your mother provides you lots and lots of care. But if you went and got her a little vest from Amazon and said, my mom’s a doctor now, I would say, no, that’s not how any of this works. And I think that’s sometimes where we get into trouble. We have these animals that are perfect for us and we love them and they’re beautiful. And they make our lives better. And listen, you don’t have to have a mental illness to have your life be made better by an animal.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes.

Gabe Howard: But it’s important to understand that that just means that the dog is making your life better. It doesn’t mean that the dog is trained in much the same

Rachel Star Withers: Yes. I like the idea of the little vest for my mom, though, I mean, I, I think she might jump at that to put a little vest on when we go out and be like personal doctor

Gabe Howard: Rachel, I understand this desire to smack a little vest on your dog and take it with you everywhere you go. You know, when I when I’m suffering from depression, when I’m having anxiety and then insomnia. And so I’m tired. I can’t sleep. I’m depressed, I’m pessimistic, I’m anxious. I think bad things are going to happen. And my little 25 pounds schnauzer climbs up on my lap and puts his little snout on me and looks me in the eyes. I swear he’s looking into my soul and saying, Daddy, it’s chill. You got me. And, you know, I pet him, which is that like tactile feel. It calms me down. And in fact, when this happens, if he’s not around, I’ll call him. I’ll just be like, Peppy, here. Because I want that. And I understand. I’ve wanted to do it myself to just pick him up and carry him on an airplane or to a stressful meeting or. But it’s important to understand that that is not only dangerous for you, it’s dangerous for the people around us. But I don’t want anybody to hear and I think this is what I’m afraid of, Rachel. I’m afraid somebody’s going to say, well, they’re saying that unless your dog is a service animal, they don’t do you any good. And I don’t want people to hear that. Your puppy can do a lot of good, as can your cats and pocket pets and birds and on and on and on. We just need to understand that there’s a clear demarcation between our loving animals that help us and our service animals that work for us.

Rachel Star Withers: So, Gabe, your dog Peppy and my dog Toto and Totes, they would actually just be companion animals. That’s all they were. While they did help us quite a bit, neither of them have been trained to do a task that would help our mental disorder. So, yes, they do both help us. And it’s been wonderful having them, but they’re just considered companion animals. One of the things I mentioned about Toto was that he hated everyone and everything in the world except for me. So it was next to impossible to take him in public because he would want to attack viciously everybody. He was just and he was adorable. He was a little five pounds of just pure fluff. So everyone wants to pet it. The kids, like, would run over. And I’m like, no, because he’s like just full on, wants to like, bite their faces off. And I was just like, get back, get back, children, get back. And it didn’t help that I put a little bandanna on him. So he was just like painfully cute, like it was just adorable.

Gabe Howard: Aww.

Rachel Star Withers: And yeah, no, I did make it harder on myself by making him extra cuter. But that would be horrible if I walked around, if I did put a little vest on him. Right. And I did tell people that, hey, he helps me with my schizophrenia out in public. Because he was honestly a danger to other people. That’s another big piece of having a companion animal and a service animal is that training that goes into it. In general, the term is assistance dog. Now, depending on what country you’re in, the terms change a little. But in the US we tend to say assistance dog or a service dog. Now with an assistance dog, they have to be trained to do certain types of tasks to help with the disability. So the main things that to qualify as an assistant dog is that the partner, the human partner, must be disabled in some way that you would actually be diagnosed with. So not just your own diagnosis. It does need to be something that there’s been a medical diagnosis of. And the dog, the assistance dog has to be trained to help with that disability in a very specific way. So not just any general training. So, Gabe, your service dog might do different things than my service dog.

Gabe Howard: And one of the things to understand is that it is very, very specific, A always equals B with the C results. Let’s go back to our seeing-eye dog analogy. A seeing-eye dog is trained to lead a person who is visually impaired. They know when to stop so that you don’t walk out in traffic. They know to keep you on the sidewalk.

Rachel Star Withers: To be an assistance dog, it also cannot be a nuisance to the public. It needs to be a very well behaved dog. Its main focus is on the person with the disability. What’s interesting is that there is another type of assistance dog that I’d never heard of Gabe, but a facility dog. And those are dogs who aren’t trained to work with one person, but they do a task at a different facility. There are ones that work in different medical facilities who are specially trained to notice, like people becoming sick from something. These dogs live at a facility, though. This isn’t something that I would personally own, but they are trained in a very specific task for a large group of people. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a facility dog in any places, but I was reading about the different ones and some that did work at mental health facilities with live in patients and things. And it’s an interesting concept and I think a very cool thing in a hospital setting.

Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. And again, it’s a working animal,

Rachel Star Withers: The other thing I think people will get tangled up in is emotional support animal and then therapy dog. An emotional support animal, that can be any animal that helps you emotionally, helps you deal with things. They might have had some light training, but again, they can’t do those tasks. The tasks are what is missing. A therapy dog, that is where you can go through different training. And there’s actually a programs that you enroll in and your dog has to pass. But those are the dogs that can go to hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, libraries. And that’s like a very friendly dog that kind of just helps everybody. So while a therapy dog also is very important and has training, not a service dog. Actual service dogs, OK, so the guide dogs, that’s what everyone thinks about are the dogs for blind people.

Rachel Star Withers: I think that’s what most people picture in their mind when it comes to any type of service dog. You automatically assume for a blind person. Another type is hearing. So if you have any kind of hearing problems, you have dogs that are specially trained to alert their handler for different like sounds and things, they can actually help wake the person up. There are mobility assistance dogs, so they tend to be bigger, if you have problems like getting up and things like that. So a Yorkie would not be a good mobility assistance dog. But the bigger dogs are really good for helping, especially people who aren’t steady on their feet. Medical response dogs, I think these are the coolest because they’re trained to alert people who have epilepsy that they’re about to have like a seizure. They’re able to detect diabetes, like when blood sugar is getting off. It’s amazing to think that dogs can do that. And another type is the autism assistance dogs. And that’s something that’s been growing the past few years because they’ve noticed that children with autism, they have such a hard time anyway in the world. But something about a dog really helps them adjust. And having an autism assistant dog, that was first introduced in 1997. So it’s been growing since then. Obviously, schizophrenia and autism are two different things. But autism service dogs can be helped to watch children. When a child starts wandering off, the dog will actually go and alert the parent. The reason I bring this up is so many of us who have schizophrenia and serious mental disorders like that, that’s kind of like how psychosis can be. You are mentally off. You might go and do something or start acting a certain way. And psychiatric service dogs, the different types can be trained to alert somebody, your caretaker. For me, it would be, let’s say, my parents. It’s just something to understand that it’s out there. It is an option that’s out there.

Gabe Howard: Rachel, I know we’ve been talking a lot in the abstract about what a service dog is, what a service dog isn’t, emotional support animals, companion animals. Let’s talk about actual psychiatric service dogs, I’m trying to figure out all of the things that a person living with schizophrenia could utilize a psychiatric service dog for, because at the end of the day, it’s still a dog. I’m imagine it’s not going to, like, dispense your medication for you, right? It can’t remind you to do something. It doesn’t have language skills. I am struggling to understand how a dog can help with schizophrenia.

Rachel Star Withers: Actually, they can remind you to take your medications. Now, no, they’re not going to be able to pop open the bottle for you and bring you one pill. But yes, they can actually be trained to bring you your medications, to alert you to take your medications. And honestly, the way this happens is that the dog is taught to be annoying and does something like it may be taught to nudge you, to constantly paw at you. So something that will kind of make you, oh, I need to go do something. I’m supposed to be doing something right now. One of the things when it deals with hallucinations is dogs can be trained to do room searches. So if you’re nervous about hallucinations, about going into rooms, the dog will go in first. It can kind of go around the full room. It can turn on the lights to the room, pretty much let you know it’s safe to come in. They can notice when you might be obsessing over something.

Rachel Star Withers: The dog is trained to notice those things. I shake a lot. So that would be something that if I were to have a psychiatric dog, they would train it to notice when I would start to kind of shake. Another thing with schizophrenia is with hallucinations and the anxiety and stuff, a technique that they can teach the different dogs to do is something called deep pressure or a grounding. And what the dog will do is when it notices that you are hallucinating or starting to have issues, the dog will come and it will sit on you. It will sit on you depending on like, you know, the size of the dog. They can do different things from full on. Like, I don’t want to say a massage because it would be like a not very comfortable massage, but basically the dog comes and gets in your lap and is like pushing against you with its paws. The main thing is there it’s helping bring you back to reality.

Gabe Howard: It serves as a distraction, but an intentional

Rachel Star Withers: Yes.

Gabe Howard: Distraction that the dog repeats over and over again, so it becomes essentially part of your coping toolbox.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes.

Gabe Howard: You understand what it means when the dog is doing it. And because this has worked in the past, it’s centering, right? It’s just very centering. It’s almost magical to see somebody getting ready to suffer from the symptoms of schizophrenia. And many of the symptoms cause a lot of suffering, and see something as almost simplistic as as a little animal crawling under their lap or nudging their leg or putting their paw on on any place on them or like you said, massaging just. And it it works. There’s ample research over decades to show that the efficacy rate is incredible.

Rachel Star Withers: But we better get into the cost and some of the problems, what it takes to actually get one of these wonderfully trained assistance animals.

Gabe Howard: And therein lies the problem, right? No podcast that’s talking about service animals would be complete if we didn’t handle, you know, the cons. There’s pros and cons to everything. One of the large cons is cost.

Rachel Star Withers: Yeah, cost for a trained service animal starts around fifteen thousand and can go on up to, I think one of the highest numbers I saw was around sixty thousand. And the price is going to depend on what type of training is required. And it’s not a quick thing. This isn’t a two week course. And the training is going to be the dog, but it’s also going to be the owner. It’s going to be the person with the disability. Like you have to be trained how to use this dog effectively. And the dog’s going to be trained, how do I help this person effectively? Yes, you should go through a trainer or organization of some sort, there’s all types of different organizations. Unfortunately, yeah, right now, we could all just Google dog vests and we can buy a vest offline. But yes, you do need to go through an actual trainer. A lot of these different organizations and trainers and whatnot, they also have waiting lists. Waiting lists can be anywhere from a year to five years. When it comes to the cost, insurance usually does not cover service dogs. A lot of money goes into this, a lot of training, a lot of time. And I don’t want to say that the idea of a service dog is just for, let’s say, people who are very well off because there are also fundraising organizations and different opportunities like that. But it isn’t something that is going to be widely available for everybody. It isn’t as simple as yes, just going and getting a prescription. The doctor can’t just write you a prescription for a service dog and you get one the next week. This is a process.

Gabe Howard: Obviously, the time that it takes to train the dog and the cost of a dog are both barriers to accessing a service animal. Does breed play a role in this at all? Can you just use any dog and turn it into a trained service dog or are there specific breeds? Is it just kind of a push?

Rachel Star Withers: The answer is yes and no, Gabe. Of the three main breeds that are used for psychiatric service dogs are Labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherd dogs. However, when they did a study across the board of service dogs, about 50 percent were found to have come from a registered breeder, followed by around 20 percent that had come from an animal shelter. A dog doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific purebred. However, it does need to be a dog that is confident and social and able to be trained to do all of these specific tasks. There are certain dogs that are going to be better at it than other types.

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Rachel Star Withers: And we’re back talking about psychiatric service dogs.

Gabe Howard: Now, of course, everything that we have been talking about is all the stuff that we have learned from the Internet and by reading studies and from learning from people who have psychiatric service animals. But you really should hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. See how I used an animal segue here?

Rachel Star Withers: Whoa, whoa.

Gabe Howard: Rachel, tell us about our guest and what we are about to listen to, because you spent quite a bit of time learning the ropes from Shawn.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes, Shawn over at Dog Training Elite Charlotte was amazing. I loved researching it to find our guest for the show. I just want to say I went through all these different websites trying to find a trainer that would be good to interview. And he has such a great website and these adorable photos of him and his family. It’s a very, very good family organization training these animals and just really, really cool guy.

Gabe Howard: Let’s go ahead and listen to that right now.

Rachel Star Withers: I’m talking with Shawn Gantkowski of Dog Training Elite Charlotte, who trains service dogs and pretty much all dogs. But Shawn, today we’re talking about service dogs. Thank you so much for being with us.

Shawn Gantkowski: Thank you, Rachel. It’s a pleasure to be here, thank you so much.

Rachel Star Withers: So right away, tell me, how is training a service dog different than just general obedience training for a dog?

Shawn Gantkowski: Great question. So the initial training is the same, all dogs have to go through our proprietary obedience training because we got to make sure that we push all dogs past distractions. While the dog may mind you in the home, when we get out in public spaces, there’s really a lot more distractions. So obedience is getting the dog focused completely on you. All the dogs go through obedience. Typically, that’s where it would end. Once we go through the obedience and we teach you guys the methods on how to train. It’s pretty much done. You guys just keep practicing that. When we go for the service, we then take the obedience and we evolve it to public access. So then we start having sessions where you’re going to frequent. If you fly a lot, we’re going to do some stuff in the airport. If you go to the zoo a lot, we’re going to go to the zoo and we’re going to do the same obedience things. But now we’re going to elevate all the distractions to make sure, again, that that dog is focused on its handler and the job it’s supposed to perform in. Then we’re going to start working on task training. Now we’re actually going to teach that dog to perform a specific task or a job, if you will, for its handler.

Rachel Star Withers: Now, there’s so much in the news the past few years, where it comes to emotional support animals versus service animals. Can you explain the difference to us?

Shawn Gantkowski: Yes, so an emotional service animal is one that just creates a positive environment, but a service dog actually performs a real world task, such as, maybe an anxiety attack is starting to manifest. The dog learns through training what that looks like before it actually becomes a full grown anxiety attack and the dog can then do something and we train the dog to be able to recognize that over time. And the dog then performs a conditioned response to a behavior that its client, its handler is experiencing or starting to have. Maybe it’s deep pressure therapy, the dog can put its head on a lap or a shoulder. Where an emotional support animal is just that. It is just there to make you feel good. But there’s no training to a specific task.

Rachel Star Withers: And what are some of the tasks that a psychiatric service dog could do?

Shawn Gantkowski: It’s got to be creative, so there’s no one size fits all here, so it’s all what the client does. So say there’s a client that when they start to kind of go away in their thoughts, maybe they pick their skin or they start wringing their hands. We would want the dog to do like a pattern interrupt and put their nose in between there to kind of ground the handler that you’re kind of starting to drift away there and have that negative or toxic behavior to yourself. I’m here to let you know and ground you. If the handler lies on the ground, we can get the dog to do the pressure and actually lay on the client again to kind of keep them safe, almost like a weighted blanket where it gives you that calming feeling. We have tactile stimulation. So, again, if there’s a panic behavior, we can again interrupt it or we can do watch my six with a dog monitors the handler’s rear blind spot while stationary. It can walk backwards. So while you’re walking forward, you want the dog to watch behind you because you don’t feel safe with your blind spot. We can train a dog to actually walk backwards to kind of keep an eye on your backside. We can do where if you’re not comfortable with crowds, the dog can actually orbit around to create a buffer between you and maybe say you’re in the grocery store aisle and you’re just not comfortable with people to your left side.

Shawn Gantkowski: We can train the dog to recognize that and the dog will go to the left side to create a buffer between you and somebody else in society. We can do look for gaps in a crowd to get you out of it. If you don’t like to be in large groups, all of a sudden you find yourself in a group of people. It’s starting to kind of become more of a crowd. We can train the dog to look for that gap to get you out of there. If it’s becoming, becomes a little anxiety starting to creep in, we can do wake from night terrors that usually it’s a larger dog that does that and we can do some things where the dog can recognize that. And that’s what most people need to understand. A service dog is working all the time. A lot of things happen when you’re asleep. That dog is really never shutting off. So it’s a very profound responsibility to take on a service dog. And everybody needs to understand that that dog is working one hundred percent of its life. So that’s why it’s really important to get that dog pushed past distractions. Because it’s got to be completely focused in that time of need.

Rachel Star Withers: I think not many people when they think about mental health, think of psychiatric service dogs, I think most people picture the service dogs for the blind or mobility. And with the service dogs, they’re able to help identify hallucinations. I have schizophrenia and a lot of our listeners also have schizophrenia. And we deal with a lot of visual hallucinations and audio. How could a service dog help with that?

Shawn Gantkowski: We get the family involved because the family knows the physical manifestation of what an episode looks like, where maybe the person who has the disability may not know what it looks like to them. So the family is an integral part of what we do. And the family says, well, typically when she starts to have an episode, this is what she does. So we train the dog to start recognizing that behavior and then we have the dog perform a task. And we do that by encouraging the dog and motivating it with treats. And we pair a word to it. So let’s just say that we need the dog to jump up and puts paws on your shoulders. We would use a word like hugs or cuddles and treats and entice that dog to get up on your shoulders while the client or the handler would say the word hugs and cuddles. And eventually the dog’s going to learn that. And we’re going to slowly take the treat away and we’re going to say the word now. The dogs are continually jump up on the shoulders when it starts recognizing a certain condition. Eventually, we take the word away and now we just mock the behavior. And the dog has learned through repetition. When mom does this, my job is to do that. And that’s why it’s so important that those dogs don’t have any distractions when they’re out in public. It’s constantly watching mom and when mom does this, my job is to do that. When you’re saying the hallucinations, there’s a physical activity that happens along with the mental activity. And it’s our job to find out what that physical activity is so that we can pair that with a word, the motivation such as a treat or lots of praise. And then we just we keep taking things away as we see that the dog is being conditioned to the response of the physical activity.

Rachel Star Withers: What I’m hearing as you speak is that all of this training, it involves the client and it involves their support system, I think a lot of times when people think of support dogs, if they were going to get one, it’s like, oh, I just go pick one up and we’re good to go. But this sounds like it’s a lot. It’s involving the whole family.

Shawn Gantkowski: Absolutely, we want a service dog to bond with its handler, in our opinion, our modality, the bonding is the most crucial piece of this whole thing. And we believe in teaching the client what we’re doing, getting their feedback, because this has to be creative, because I want to use hugs or cuddles. You may not want to use that word. You may not be comfortable with it. So we want your feedback, what works in it for you. And it’s really fun to come up with some really cool ideas and we really get to put this whole thing together. But yes, definitely the whole family and everybody that can be a part of this the better.

Rachel Star Withers: For a psychiatric service dog, the whole thing, what goes into that training? If I have a puppy and we’re going to start this, tell me about what would that training look like? How long? What would we go through?

Shawn Gantkowski: So it all depends on the dog and obviously the client it’s lots of creativity, lots of patience, lots of practice, just like a professional athlete who just doesn’t show up on Sunday and play the game. He’s every day in the gym, every day are just repetition. And we’re building a conditioned response. So that’s where the practice comes in. Kind of like you guys get in your car and drive to work. You don’t even think about it anymore. You don’t even know how you got to work. Just, who drove the car? It’s the same thing with a dog. We are just going to continually condition that dog that doesn’t even think about it anymore. So again, we would start out at 16 weeks, preferably with the earliest 14 to 16 weeks, and we would start with the obedience training. And we’re going to start just teaching it basic concepts like come, sit, down, heel, place, quiet. Once we go through the obedience training, we start to go out into group classes where we get around other distractions and our distractions or other well-mannered dogs, other handlers going through training in parks with our squirrels or cats or other dogs calling and wanting to sniff.

Shawn Gantkowski: And we got to get these dogs to where zero reactivity to that. Once we get them past our group courses, then we would go to the public access. If it’s a child that that goes to school and needs a service dog for school, we would work with the school, the teacher, the classroom, kinda explain the needs of the child, some of the things we can help to incorporate getting that dog in that school, answering their questions. If it’s work, we work with the employer, the employees. Kind of get everybody comfortable figure out what we need to do to kind of get everybody up to speed. Again, if it’s somebody that frequents a zoo every weekend, we’re going to go to the zoo or they go to Target or wherever it is, we’re going to go to those places to kind of get the dog used to any distraction that we can. And we can’t get a dog fully prepared for everything it’s ever going to see in its life because you just never know. But we try as many things as we can just to where the dog is just solid.

Shawn Gantkowski: Nothing will shake that dog. And it’s constantly focused on its handler. Once we go and we pass public access, then we typically start doing the task training. And that’s where we kind of get creative. As far as a time frame or our service dog training, you know, we like a year. It’s ongoing training, but we’ve had service dogs trained as fast as two to three months. It really depends on the dog, the breed, of the drive to please its handler. Not every dog cares to please its handler. So we plan on spending about fifty two weeks with a client when we do a service dog. But that’s not to say that we can’t have a task trained way before then to where they are already a certified service dog. To where they’re able to get on the airlines or other public transportation.

Rachel Star Withers: Now, there’s another type of dog that kind of gets thrown in with emotional support, psychiatric service, and that’s the therapy dog. Tell us what’s a therapy dog exactly?

Shawn Gantkowski: Therapy dog works for other people, a service dog works for you. So a therapy dog is one that we would train up to public access. It doesn’t have to do task trainers, no specific task. It’s learning to do so. It goes through our normal obedience. It has to pass acces canine good citizen requirements and then it’s got to have public access to where, again, we take it out and nothing’s going to distract us. Let’s just say we have a young child, maybe went through a traumatic event and it’s not comfortable talking to a counselor about that. You can provide a therapy dog and that child will feel much more comfortable letting that out to that therapy dog and finally getting it off its chest and being able to heal.

Rachel Star Withers: What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of training?

Shawn Gantkowski: Training the owners.

Rachel Star Withers: Ok.

Shawn Gantkowski: It’s the discipline of it is every day you need to work with your dog. It doesn’t matter if it’s 18 degrees outside. It’s raining, it’s cold, it’s snowing. It’s every day working with your dog and just realizing that this is a relationship like any other. And you get out of it what you put into it.

Rachel Star Withers: And that’s something that I think was also overlooked when you think of different service dogs versus emotional support dogs, is that yeah, there is a lot of training and it’s not magic. The owner has to be willing to do all of this.

Shawn Gantkowski: Absolutely. I know with a lot of obedience training, I go out, we’ll do an evaluation of the dog, and I let them know what we recommend and they say, oh, you just can’t take a dog and train it? And you’re absolutely right. I think in television, society, you see Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer, there is no magic wand. It’s just like anything else. We really have to teach the concept and it’s just it’s practice.

Rachel Star Withers: If someone’s interested in a service dog, what should their first steps be?

Shawn Gantkowski: First step would be to reach out to a trainer they trust, they want to work with and do your due diligence, make sure it’s somebody you agree it’s a relationship to be part of your family. Make sure you bring this person your home, you talk to them, you kind of see what they’ve been able to do in the community already and then find out what they recommend. Get their ideas or a breed that works well for their specific needs, and let them help you find the dog.

Rachel Star Withers: And how do you know if a service dog is right for you? Like, how should a client know, hey, this is what I need? Or maybe not. Maybe I would not be a good owner of a service dog.

Shawn Gantkowski: To be brutally honest, if you’re somebody that wants to go work out but doesn’t, wants to eat right, but doesn’t, wants to not sleep 12 hours a day but doesn’t and you can’t discipline yourself to take care of yourself, you already know you’re not going to be disciplined enough to take care of another life. And that’s just the most brutal, honest way I can say. If you’re a disciplined person, you can put your mind to something and actually accomplish it. And, you know, without a shadow of a doubt, you’re going to be disciplined to taking care of that dog. It’s one thing to not take care of ourselves. But when there’s another life that that’s relying on you, it’s imperative that you are disciplined. A service dog is 24/7. That dog needs to be with you all the time. You’re not leaving it at home when you’re on vacation or when you want to go somewhere. That dog should be with you all the time. That is the definition of a real service dog.

Rachel Star Withers: Tell us some of your success stories, how have some of the service dogs changed your clients lives?

Shawn Gantkowski: You know that the best part, I’ll be honest with you, Rachel, is just being able to get people to reintegrate in society. There’s so many stories where people haven’t been out of their house in years. There’s concern about getting out in the general public. There’s people that work. They go to a job and they go straight home. And there’s there’s nothing in between. They’re in their apartment or in their house. And that service dog kind of gives them an outlet.

Rachel Star Withers: It makes me feel good as people who have schizophrenia, there’s a lot of stigma to it and I’m a big pusher of dogs because it really almost knocks away the stigma because you’ll have people just like, oh, my God, can I pet your dog? And I think it’s so good for people who suffer with symptoms of isolation, like with schizophrenia, to be able to get back into society and connecting with people.

Shawn Gantkowski: Absolutely, getting them reintegrated back into society and back into a normal world, and that’s where what we’re building a business on is that model right there.

Rachel Star Withers: Well, Sean, your training is located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Tell our listeners how they can find out more about you.

Shawn Gantkowski: Dog Training Elite Charlotte, we serve as the whole Charlotte and surrounding metro areas. You can visit us on, or you can go to our Facebook page, Dog Training Elite Charlotte. More than easy to get hold of us.

Rachel Star Withers: And your website’s great it actually for any of our listeners, if you go on there, they have all the different training classes, they have the different types of service dogs, what goes into training them. And then they also have obedience training, therapy dog training. So it’s very interesting to just read through. And I like that how specific your website is about what goes into each type of training and what the client can expect. Well, thank you so much for talking with us, Sean. It has been wonderful and hope our listeners check out

Shawn Gantkowski: Thank you so much, Rachel.

Gabe Howard: Shawn seems like a very cool guy.

Rachel Star Withers: Yes, and when we’re talking about all this, and I think something that for me, Shawn really brought it home, was that a service dog is just another piece of a support system.

Gabe Howard: I think that’s a really good way to look at it, and I was also thinking, as I was listening to Shawn talking, that the more tools we have, the better. Right? It’s not about which tool is best. It’s about how many tools do we have access to. And then I kind of thought, well, wait a minute, this could really be a game changer if you’re not Rachel and Gabe, you know, we talk a lot about how our family, our friends, the people that we live with will notice things before we do. Well, not everybody has family and friends. Not everybody lives with somebody. Not everybody has access to humans 24/7. And if they do, there is some potential for caregiver burnout. And I was just thinking, you know, a service dog really exists to service you. That is their role. And they never think to themselves, wow, I wish I could go on a vacation or I could get a weekend off or my loved one is driving me nuts. And the people who have service animals never think to themselves, ugh, I need a break from my dog. It’s quite the opposite. But I know I personally and I’m not going to speak for you, Rachel, but I’ve thought to myself, man, I wish my wife would just go away. I wish my mom would stop asking me if I was OK. So there’s caregiver burnout, but there’s also burnout of your caregivers. And I really see this as a solution in the support system space to all of those issues or potential problems as well. Is that how you see it?

Rachel Star Withers: I think there’s a lot of opportunities with psychiatric service dogs. I do think it’s one of the areas that’s underutilized for people with schizophrenia and other serious mental disorders. I’ve never had a doctor or anybody ever bring up such a thing. And only recently did I go to a health facility where they had a therapy dog there. And it was not a mental health facility. It was for something else. But that was the first time. And they had a little poster on the wall about, hi, this is the dog that’s going to be around. I feel it made me more relaxed at the facility. When I was talking to the doctors, when I was talking to the nurses. But, yeah, it’s just something that I haven’t seen utilized much in our space. Like you said, Gabe, it’s another tool. Is a service dog right for you versus a just companion animal, emotional support animal versus an actual psychiatric service dog? I think one of the biggest questions when you’re approaching this subject would be when you are out in public, is a symptom from your schizophrenia preventing you from doing certain things? And could a service dog help you with that? We talk, you know, in the very beginning about my little dog, Toto. I don’t feel at the moment there’s any place where a service dog would help me.

Rachel Star Withers: I might want my little dog there because they’re cute and adorable and everyone wants to meet them. And that makes me more outgoing. But there’s not necessarily a symptom that it’s addressing. However, let’s say that I have a hard time flying. I have a hard time going to my job because of my hallucinations have gotten to a point where I can’t always tell what’s real and a service animal could help me with that. I think that’s the difference there. And I think that’s just a personal question. And I think it might have to do with different times of your life. I don’t think right now I personally need a service dog. Down the road, ten years I could be in a very different place. My schizophrenia could be in a very different place, and I might need some sort of additional help to go out in public and, you know, maintain a quote unquote, normal life. Everybody needs to look at their situation. The different caregivers out there, the family friends who are listening, you know, it’s not just about the person, it is the whole family. It’s whoever is going to be living in that house. You don’t sign up for a service dog for one year. Is the whole family going to be able to take on this long term commitment? And you need to make sure that everyone in the household understands that this dog is a service dog. So you don’t have one member of the family kind of going against the training that we’ve paid so much invested in.

Gabe Howard: [Laughter]

Rachel Star Withers: But it is that simply it’s a whole everybody who lives in that household will be affected by this. So it is something to think about. And then the finances of it. Looking in to how would you get the dog to start with and then continue to care for it? Veterinary expenses just kind of that general grooming expenses can be a lot for an animal. So it’s not even just that up front amount of money you are committing to taking care of an animal for the next ten years, say.

Gabe Howard: And obviously, in addition to all of that, a dog involves time. Taking care of an animal will involve some time. So it’s important to understand, in addition to the upfront costs, addition to the training costs, addition to the working through problems, in addition to the disruption to the household. There is also just the fact that this is something that you need to do day in and day out. So it will take your time. And of course, there’s expenses moving forward. So I don’t want anybody to hear that this is a magical cure, that it just rains success. We, the people who get the psychiatric service dog have to put in time, energy, effort and resources as well. It’s not a magic cure, just like everything in the schizophrenia world, it has its part that it handles well. And we have to do our part as well, good and bad, pluses and minuses. And it takes effort and diligence on the part of the person living with schizophrenia as well.

Rachel Star Withers: This could just be a new tool to just kind of consider in your tool belt for dealing with schizophrenia and for my wonderful caregivers out there and friends and family, again, same thing. It’s a tool for you. And even if it isn’t something right now, it is something that you can consider for later in life. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Inside Schizophrenia. Please, like, share, subscribe, rate our podcast and we’ll see you next time here on Inside Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia Daily News Blog

Most people know about seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired, but what about service dogs to help people with mental illnesses?

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) -- a relatively new phenomenon -- are dogs that are individually trained to work or perform tasks for individuals living with mental illnesses.

Although there is little research into the effectiveness of PSDs for people with mental illness, Aaron Katcher, M.D., emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has examined the interaction between animals and people. He has found "much evidence that social support is a critical variable in the recovery from many serious biological disorders including psychiatric illnesses."

NAMI New York's Phil Kirschner took his own doctor's suggestion that a dog might help provide needed structure to his life and help him with his depression. He states, "I had never considered owning a dog before, and I admit to being somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of having to learn how to take care of a dog, train a dog, etc."

Tasks PSDs can be trained to perform include:

* Remind handler to take medication on time

* Warm handler's body during a panic attack

* Interrupt repetitive behaviors

* Attend to handler during emotional distress

* Accompany handler outside of the home

* Provide discernment against hallucination

* Mitigate paranoia with reality testing

Kirschner says he has experienced issues related to life with a service dog that he had not anticipated, including access challenges. "Because mental illness is not usually a visible disability, many shopkeepers think I am trying to sneak my SDIT [Service Dog in Training] into their store."

Kirschner says that the jury is still out as to whether or not his service dog and he are going to ultimately pass muster, but they are certainly giving it their best. His advice: "Do your homework."

"Researching Psychiatric Service Dogs on the Internet and joining a Service Dog email discussion listserv are two things you can do that cost nothing. Try to talk to as many PSD owners as possible in order to evaluate whether this life choice is for you."

To find out more about PSDs, visit The Psychiatric Service Dog Society web site. The Society provides information for persons living with severe mental illness who wish to train a service dog to help manage symptoms.

Additional Resources:

Posted by szadmin at October 17, 2006 11:58 AM


My 9 yr old has been diagnosed with schizoaffective/bi-polar disorder and this might be a good idea to persue on his behalf. Thanks for posting this article.

Families Impacted by Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia does not just affect the person with schizophrenia, but their families, also. We explore the family relationships impacted by schizophrenia, both immediate and extended.
Two guests join us, Chrisa Hickey, mother of an adult son with schizophrenia and started an online site for parents of children who have a severe mental illness. The other guest is Janel Star Withers, mother of host Rachel Star Withers. Janel shares her experiences with raising a schizophrenic daughter.


Transitioning Out of Pandemic Mode

We&rsquove all been through a lot in the past year. The global pandemic has been rough on everyone, and those living with schizophrenia have had some unique challenges. But necessity is the mother of invention, and all the chaos has led to some innovative solutions. Join us as Rachel and Gabe discuss some of the silver linings of COVID-19 and how we can all move forward in a mentally healthy way.
For a transcript or more information, please visit the official episode page.

Guest Bio
Craig Chepke, MD, FAPA, is a board certified psychiatrist in Huntersville, North Carolina with over 16 years of experience in the medical field. He works with adults and the aging population in all diagnostic categories, but has special interests in neuropsychiatric conditions, treatment-resistant/severe-persistent mental illness, and movement disorders.
His approach to treatment is personalized to each individual person, from the newest leading-edge medications to older underutilized treatments. He strongly emphasizes psychotherapeutic interventions and physical health and wellness through exercise, dietary modification, and supplementation. Chepke has also been named a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and is a board member of the CURESZ Foundation.

About the Inside Schizophrenia Podcast Host
Rachel Star Withers creates videos documenting her schizophrenia, ways to manage, and let others like her know they&rsquore not alone and can still live an amazing life. She has written &ldquoLil Broken Star: Understanding Schizophrenia for Kids&rdquo and a tool for schizophrenics, &ldquoTo See in the Dark: Hallucination and Delusion Journal.&rdquo Learn more at

About the Inside Schizophrenia Podcast Co-Host
Gabe Howard lives with bipolar disorder and is a nationally recognized speaker and podcast host. He&rsquos the author of the book, &ldquoMental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,&rdquo available from Amazon signed copies available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit

Unpacking the Stigma of Schizophrenia

The main three stigmas of schizophrenia are:

People with mental illness are violent and need to be feared.

They have childlike perceptions of the world that should be marveled.

They&rsquore responsible for their illness because they have weak character.

Host Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and co-host Gabe Howard, explore the stigma of mental illness and share their personal experiences. Guest expert Brandon Kohrt, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist and anthropologist joins to discuss stigma surrounding mental illness around the world and ways different countries have approached solutions.

Guest Bio
Brandon Kohrt, MD, PhD, is a psychiatrist and anthropologist who has worked for 25 years to improve mental health services in countries affected by war and political violence, disasters, and other forms of adversity. Kohrt is the director of the Global Mental Health Equity Lab at George Washington University. Kohrt has sought to combat the stigma associated with mental illness through work with The Carter Center Mental Health Program, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and more. Kohrt developed the &ldquoRESHAPE mental health&rdquo intervention to reduce mental illness stigma among healthcare providers.

About the Inside Schizophrenia Podcast Host
Rachel Star Withers creates videos documenting her schizophrenia, ways to manage, and let others like her know they&rsquore not alone and can still live an amazing life. She has written &ldquoLil Broken Star: Understanding Schizophrenia for Kids&rdquo and a tool for schizophrenics, &ldquoTo See in the Dark: Hallucination and Delusion Journal.&rdquo Learn more at

About the Inside Schizophrenia Podcast Co-Host
Gabe Howard lives with bipolar disorder and is a nationally recognized speaker and podcast host. He is the author of the book, &ldquoMental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,&rdquo available from Amazon signed copies available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit

Psychiatric Service Dogs for Schizophrenia

A psychiatric service dog is a type of service dog trained to assist its handler with a psychiatric condition such as schizophrenia. These service animals can be trained to help people with schizophrenia identify hallucinations, ground them back in reality, and even remind them to take their medication.
In this episode, our hosts explore how service dogs can be part of a person with schizophrenia&rsquos support system. They speak with Shawn Gantkowski of Dog Training Elite Charlotte, who trains service dogs and shares what goes into training a psychiatric service animal. Listen Now!
Learn more by visiting the official episode webpage here.
Guest Bio

Shawn Gantkowski, Dog Training Elite
Dog Training Elite Charlotte has developed a highly successful and unique positive dog training program that empowers dog owners and their canines to work together, creating strong bonds and sustained obedience. Training takes time, commitment, and balance.
Dog Training Elite Charlotte is different from other training programs. We&rsquoll be there every step of the way to help you and your dog achieve sustained, deep-rooted obedience.
Our dog training services in Charlotte are personalized and designed to teach owners how to train their dog alongside a professional dog trainer in their home environment, as well as in small group settings. We strongly believe that the key to sustained obedience and training is to empower owners to be an integral part of the training experience. Most training programs require minimal to no involvement from owners and once the dog returns to their home environment, almost all progress is undone and owners feel just as helpless as they did before.
Our passion for dogs and service sets us apart. All our local dog trainers are trustworthy, willing to be there for our clients, and love what they do. We want to build a community for our clients that love their dogs just as much as we do, and once you begin the training process with us, you become a part of the Dog Training Elite Charlotte family. Find out more at

Homelessness - a Symptom of Schizophrenia

Isolation is a symptom of schizophrenia. Being homeless is isolating yourself from society, which is the extreme manifestation of the mental health condition. Host Rachel Star Withers and Cohost Gabe Howard explore how delusions, isolation, and hallucinations can lead to homelessness. Guest Bethany Yeiser shares her 4-year experience being homeless due to her schizophrenia. Learn more about Ms. Yeiser at

Incarceration and Schizophrenia

The U.S. correctional system is responsible for having 10 times more mentally ill patients receiving treatment than any state psychiatric hospital. Host Rachel Star Withers and cohost Gabe Howard examine connections between having schizophrenia and incarceration. Guest Lloyd Hale discusses living with schizophrenia and his time in the correctional system after being convicted of murder. Years later, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Listen Now!

Schizoaffective Disorder vs Schizophrenia

While schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia both share the prefix &ldquoschizo,&rdquo they remain two separate diagnoses. Hosts Rachel Star Withers and Gabe Howard divulge their personal experiences with schizophrenia and mental health conditions as they explore the newer-termed condition of schizoaffective disorder. Guest Dr. Michelle Maust from MindPath Care Centers joins to give a medical perspective on the differences in diagnosing these disorders.

Evolution of Schizophrenia Treatment

Schizophrenia has been around since the dawn of time but actually treating it has only been around the past 100 years. In this episode host and schizophrenic Rachel Star Withers takes you through the dark and disturbing evolution of schizophrenia treatments. From systematic euthanasia to hydrotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy to the infamous lobotomy.

Were these doctors "mad scientists" torturing the mentally ill or were they the only ones trying to help a population of people seen as a burden?

Caregiving for Schizophrenia

A third of all people will be a caregiver at some point in their lives. Caregiving for people with schizophrenia presents challenges that many people are ill-prepared for.
Host Rachel Star and Gabe Howard break down the principles of caregiving and creative ways to navigate schizophrenia.
Dr. Sarah Kopelovich joins to share schizophrenia caregiver specific training.

Love, Dating, and Marriage with Schizophrenia

Can people with schizophrenia love? Can they date or get married?

Host Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and co-host Gabe Howard review their own past experiences.

Andrew and Stephanie Downing, authors of &ldquoMarriage and Schizophrenia: Eyes on the Prize&rdquo join and share their incredible journey and love.

Impact of Schizophrenia in the Minority Communities

Rates of psychosis are more strongly influenced by ethnicity and socioeconomic status than any other mental health condition. In this episode of Inside Schizophrenia host Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and co-host Gabe Howard discuss the impact of schizophrenia in minority communities. Guest Sakinah &ldquoThe Muslim Hippie&rdquo joins to share her experiences in mental health care.

The Role Nurses Play in Schizophrenia Treatment

Some of the professionals that work most with helping people with schizophrenia are nurses. There are so many types with different skill sets. Host Rachel Star Withers and Co-host Gabe Howards learn who these often overlooked healthcare workers are. Dr. Tari Dilks, Professor and President of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, joins with insight on what goes into being a psychiatric nurse.

Schizophrenia in Men

Men and women experience schizophrenia differently from the age of onset to symptoms and how society treats those with mental disorders.
Schizophrenic, Rachel Star Withers and co-host Gabe Howard continue the discussion of the differences from the last episode but change the focus to men.
Jason Jepson, an author who has schizophrenia joins for a man&rsquos perspective and Dr. Hayden Finch returns to explain the clinical side of the issues.

Schizophrenia in Women

Often we don't really consider gender dynamics in treatment or medication. A lot of medications are only tested on men because of the risk of pregnancy, etc. This means there are whole drugs that have made it to market that may not have ever been tested with women. Schizophrenia affects women in many different ways than men. This episode discusses differences in age, symptoms, treatments, lifestyle, parenthood in the genders as they experience schizophrenia.

Comorbidity with Schizophrenia

Comorbidity is the presence of one or more additional conditions co-occurring with a primary condition. In this episode, host schizophrenic Rachel Star Withers with her cohost Gabe Howard will be discussing comorbidity with schizophrenia. Comorbidity is associated with worse health outcomes, more complex clinical management and increased health care costs.

Occupational therapist Brock Cook will be joining us to discuss ways that he works with people with schizophrenia to manage multiple health issues.

Treatment Strategies for Schizophrenia

Medication, Therapy, Hospitalization, Electroconvulsive Therapy- what are the treatment strategies for schizophrenia? How do you convince someone they need help? What if someone refuses treatment?

Schizophrenic Rachel Star Withers with co-host Gabe Howard reveal different treatments they have undergone over the years with various outcomes. Guest Barbara Thompson, with NAMI, shares support options for people with schizophrenia and their family in the community.

Psychosis in Schizophrenia

What exactly is psychosis? What happens in the brain of a person with schizophrenia who is hallucinating?

Schizophrenic Rachel Star Withers shares her personal hallucinations and delusions and Dr. Joseph Goldberg, who specializes in researching what goes on in the brain when someone is experiencing psychosis, joins to break down how the brain functions during psychotic episodes.

Motivation in Schizophrenia

The word "schizophrenia" tends to conjure ideas of hallucinations, delusions, insane asylum in the general public's mind. Most people don't think of the boring parts that consume many with schizophrenia, like lacking the motivation to get out of bed, to make friends.

Host Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and co-host Gabe Howard discuss avolition and ways to help motivate loved ones.

Working With Schizophrenia

Everyone complains about work. Having to go to work every day, working too much- working can be challenging for many reasons. Today's episode focuses on working while having schizophrenia.

Host Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, and co-host Gabe Howard share antidotes from their own work lives and speak with fellow schizophrenic Michelle Hammer.

Families Impacted by Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia does not just affect the person with schizophrenia, but their families, also. We explore the family relationships impacted by schizophrenia, both immediate and extended.
Two guests join us, Chrisa Hickey, mother of an adult son with schizophrenia and started an online site for parents of children who have a severe mental illness. The other guest is Janel Star Withers, mother of host Rachel Star Withers. Janel shares her experiences with raising a schizophrenic daughter.

Childhood Schizophrenia

In this episode of Inside Schizophrenia our hosts tackle the topic of early onset &ndash or childhood &ndash schizophrenia. Host Rachel Star discusses her personal experiences with symptoms as an adolescent and Dr. Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich from Harvard Medical School discusses some of the latest research. Listen in now!

Inside Schizophrenia Podcast: Psychiatric Service Dogs for Schizophrenia - Psychology

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What is Schizophrenia? full 1 1 Healthline Media Martin Scorsese’s 2010 Shutter Island portrays multiple views of delusional and unrepentant murderers, who seem able to choose fantasy over real life. Netflix’s 2019 Birdbox has protagonist Sandra Bullock repeatedly fighting the local escaped. From pop culture’s view to Rachel Star Withers, a diagnosed schizophrenic, view of herself to a leading mental health doctor and professor’s view. What are the actual symptoms? What is the difference between a hallucination and delusion? What is it like to experience one? How do you manage it? How is social media changing the way it is viewed? In this episode of Inside Schizophrenia, Rachel and co-host Gabe Howard with special guest Dr. Ali Mattu explore this often misrepresented mental illness. 2913 no

What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to carry out a wide range of tasks. Not only can they be trained to tune in to their handler’s state of mind, but they can learn specific commands that are vital in emergency situations. These include things like calming their handler, fetching an item, or alerting them to danger. Below are a few of the key tasks that psychiatric service dogs perform.

Guide a Disoriented Handler

Certain mental conditions can cause an individual to become confused or enter a dissociative state. In such cases, they may get lost or find themselves unable to find their way. A PSD can guide their owner back to their house as they are trained to backtrack and use their scent to lead the way. The dog may also be trained to lead the handler to specific locations using special commands such as ‘home’ or ‘work’.

Bring Medication

Individuals who fall or have an episode such as a panic attack may hyperventilate or be unable to get their medication. In these cases, psychiatric service dogs are trained to fetch medication for their owner through special commands.

Fetch a Phone or Device

Like medication, PSDs can retrieve the phone for someone who has fallen or is having an anxiety attack. Whether it’s through a command or a gesture, these dogs can ensure their handler has access to a doctor or therapist in emergency situations.

Get Help

Psychiatric service dogs are also incredibly useful during crisis situations when their handler is unable to call out for help. If they’ve fallen or are having an anxious episode, for example, a PSD can lead first responders to their owner, even if they’re hidden from view.

Provide Tactile Stimulation

It is no secret that dogs have remarkable senses. This means they can sense the slightest changes in their handler’s hormone levels or state of mind, almost before they even recognize it themselves. If a person is having an anxious episode, PSDs are trained to provide tactile stimulation such as licking to calm them down. They can also perform ‘deep pressure therapy’ by applying their whole body onto the handler. The warmth and pressure in deep pressure therapy acts like a weighted blanket to offer comfort.

Create a Signal

Individuals suffering from anxiety or depression may take medications that are heavily sedating. If there is an emergency that the individual isn’t aware of — such as in the case of a fire — a psychiatric service dog is trained to signal them repeatedly until they respond. This could involve licking, tugging at their sleeve, or barking incessantly.

Interrupt & Redirect

As PSDs can recognize the key signs of their handler’s psychiatric issues, they are also able to interrupt dysfunctional behaviors and redirect attention. For example, someone with OCD may begin a habit of picking the skin on their arm repeatedly. The dog, having sensed this, can be trained to fetch a special item like a dog brush or a remote control. This helps redirect the handler’s anxious energy into something more productive like brushing the dog or watching TV.

Other examples of interruption can occur if the handler is having a post-traumatic flashback. The dog can sense the change in their handler’s state and be trained to paw at their arm to snap them out of it.

Block Others

People with social anxiety or autism can find it difficult to be near people in public situations. A psychiatric service dog can therefore be trained to keep their owner protected from other people by placing their body close to him or her. Alternatively, they can block other people from their handler by placing their body in strategic places.

Prevent Choking

Psychiatric service dogs can also be specially trained to deal with emergency situations such as choking. If someone is lying on the ground and repeatedly vomiting, for instance, the dog can be trained to clear the handler’s airway and fetch them a water bottle.

Identify Hallucinations

Individuals who experience hallucinations will often not know if what they see is real or not. Psychiatric service dogs can help by being trained to greet any person that enters the room. If the handler instructs the dog to greet the imagined person and the dog finds nothing, the owner will then know that they are experiencing a hallucination.

Search a Room

People with anxiety or PTSD may be afraid to enter a room out of fear that someone is there. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to search a room thoroughly and then bark when they find someone. If the dog returns without barking, then the handler can feel safe to enter the room. This is particularly useful in public areas or in spaces where the room is supposed to be vacant.

Assist with Balance

Psychiatric service dogs can also help a handler if they become unsteady on their feet due to strong medication or a condition that affects their balance. If they find it difficult to walk because they are drowsy or confused, these dogs are trained to act as a lean-to while they guide their owner back to a safe place.

Wake Someone Up

PSDs are also useful in instances when a handler requires reviving. For example, if their handler passes out after an anxiety attack or from an overdose of medication, a psychiatric service dog can try to wake them by barking, pawing, or licking their face.

In the world of working dogs, there are some truly special pooches whose careers are devoted solely to helping those in need. Therapy dogs bring joy to infirmed or elderly, Service Dogs support the physically challenged, and Emotional Support dogs provide relief in settings such as funeral homes or crisis situations. But there is another hero in this mix known as Psychiatric Service dog breeds, trained to provide one-on-one support to individuals who have autism, schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, and other psychiatric challenges. In fact, these dogs are so in tune with their handlers moods that they can be trained to recognize the signs of a sudden deep depression and to operate a special K9 rescue phone to summon a 911 suicide hotline through a pre-programmed phone. These dogs are a new breed of hero who deserve far more recognition.

The Psychiatric Service Dog’s primary function is to maintain their handler’s emotional state and to perform work or tasks the individual is unable to perform. For instance, a psychiatric service dog might be trained to interrupt the repetitive behavior of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or to provide an environmental assessment, or even to remind their handler to take their meds. Having a highly trained dog by their side can help people who have mental health issues lead independent lives and quite often support them in keeping their illness under control. Naturally, as they do complex work, not all dogs can provide service to people with psychiatric disabilities. These tasks are not easy and most pups aren’t up to the task. This service requires a special type of dog that is well suited for a special type of training.

So, what’s a prerequisite for any psychiatric service pooch? Well, the size of breed doesn’t really matter. However, temperament does. This means that the dog must be keen-to-please, must be able to work well with a partner, must be reliable, must not be easily distracted, and of course, they must be highly intelligent given the depth of training involved. Yes, these dogs go through a lot of training before they become service dog. After all, they need to know to perform specific tasks that help their owners lead better lives. This isn’t any easy role for any dog to play.

While any dog can be a service dog if they have what it takes to live up to the title and go through the extensive training program, there are some dog breeds that are naturally more inclined and capable of doing the work of psychiatric service dogs. Which breeds are there? Keep scrolling to find out. Here’s our list of the best psychiatric service dog breeds:

Kicking off our list of dog breeds that are ideal for psychiatric service is the Poodle. The brightest of the bright, these showy dogs are easily trainable thanks to their exceptional level of intelligence and eager-to-please personality. Poodles are famed for their brilliance, but it’s not just their big brains that make poodles so adept at psychiatric care. While it certainly helps their reputation as an excellent service dog breed, there are more personality traits of these graceful dogs that make them strong companions for people with psychiatric disabilities.

Given that they were originally created to retrieve waterfowl, poodles have it in their genes to respond to cues and work well with people. Throughout the history of the breed, this remarkable ability has been put to good use more often than not. So it’s natural and logical that these majestic pooches would become one of the most popular breeds for both therapy and service dogs. Additionally, their low-shedding and hypoallergenic coat makes them ideal for people with allergies. These are just great dogs to be around, regardless of the specific needs of the client.

Affectionate and good-natured, they excel in obedience training and make for wonderful, loyal companions for those who may be suffering from depression or panic attacks. Poodles are known to be sensitive to their owner’s mood even when they’re not taught to be, which means that with proper training, they become completely attuned to your state of mind. This is of course the most important aspect of being a psychiatric service dog. With such a natural sense of social intelligence, how could any breed other than a poodle possibly top our list?

The fab Lab just might be the most recognizable service dog breed, and it’s iconic abilities lend itself well to psychiatric service as well. Due to their superior intelligence and gentle disposition, these easy-to-train pooches are perfect candidates to be psychiatric service dogs. These animals are so naturally intelligent and adaptable that they can be trained to succeed at almost any task!

As their name suggests, this breed was selected to do one job: retrieve. These smart canines were, much like Poodles, expected to pick up the hunted fowl, and carry it reliably through what was often rough terrain before delivering it to their handler. Translated to other environments and situations, Labrador Retrievers display impressive intelligence, obedience, and eagerness to please their owners. All of which makes them ideal candidates for working with people in need of assistance. These highly-versatile dogs have a stable, well-balanced personality. They make loyal companions and their calm demeanor helps children with ADD or autism feel more grounded and settled down in their surroundings. If the psychiatric service dog you seek is for a child, accept no substitutes.

For individuals suffering from illnesses such as schizophrenia or depression, this easy-going pooch helps them not only feel more secure, but allows them to focus on something other than their condition.

This pint-sized family pooch is revered for his affectionate disposition and highly trainable personality. Their friendly and outgoing nature makes them popular with everybody who meets them, and they’re often the pooch of choice for those who suffer from depression. Havanese are just overflowing with love and live for cuddles and snuggles with their human. Having one of these fluff balls cuddle up next to you is absolutely guaranteed to brighten up your day! They will become attuned to your moods and know when to deploy their furry pawesomeness to help you feel a bit better. It’s something that comes naturally to this breed and can be trained to perfection.

Additionally, these canine cuties are considered to be a rather intelligent breed, which makes training them a surprisingly easy feat. Havanese can be taught a number of tricks, including getting medication for their owner or how to interrupt a repetitive or harmful behavior. They are quite adaptable to the needs of a variety of troubled owners.

Havanese love to play the loyal and loving lapdog or playful childhood companion, which is ideal for children with autism where his presence helps bridge the gap between the two worlds and provide kids with a sense of security by providing a focal point. This is a truly special breed that is very much up to the task of being a psychiatric care animal.

A loving and cheerful breed, this small dog loves to be part of the family. They are most commonly found romping with kids and burning off some energy. Their spirited personality makes them an uplifting companion, with an adorable pint-size frame that makes them a perfect constant sidekick for adults and kids alike. Overall, the Miniature Schnauzer is a great breed to consider if you are looking for a fun canine that can grab your attention and make you laugh.

Easy to train and obedient to command, the Schnauzer is a true people pleaser. Because Miniature Schnauzers are responsive to training as well as obedient companions, these dogs can work well even with owners who are not too experienced in training pooches. They seem to take to this role naturally.

Although small, these dogs should be exercised regularly and if they are fed a nutritious, species-appropriate diet, they can maintain a healthy weight. Exercising your Miniature Schnauzer could be a wonderful way to pass the time, and it can bring a lot of joy and amusement into your life, which is another reason that this little pooch can make a good psychiatric service dog. They are simply wonderful to be around at all times.

A lapdog fit for royalty, Cavaliers might come in a tiny package but they have a big personality and even bigger hearts. Apart from their lovely looks, these silky pooches are most prized for their exceptionally sweet and loving nature. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that doesn’t enjoy cuddling and snuggling. In fact, it’s their absolute favorite activity! Due to their tendency to bond strongly with their owner and the fact they’re something of a “velcro dog,” they are an excellent candidate for a psychiatric service dog for people with depression or PTSD. Petting their silky coat while they snuggle with you on the couch is certain to keep absolutely anyone calm and tranquil.

Unlike some small dog breeds, Cavaliers are usually not nippy. So you won’t have to worry about them reacting aggressively to strangers when you bring them with you to public places. Of course, it goes without saying that they’ll have to undergo some serious training beforehand, but thankfully these smart puppers won’t have a tough time picking up any new tricks.

A friendly, gentle and quiet breed, this little pooch is highly intelligent and easy to train which makes them excellent and intuitive service dogs. Since Psychiatric Service Dogs are intended to be at their owner’s side 24/7, this smaller breed is a great fit for those who are housebound or living in smaller quarters. They can fill any small space with their large and loving personalities.

It’s no secret that these impressive doggos are born to be service dogs. After all, it’s hard imagining the canine police force without the German Shepherd. There’s a good reason why this dog breed is so popular for the job too: they’re incredibly smart, well disciplined and eager to please their handlers. A win-win combo that ensures a remarkable performance. These loving and wonderful traits apply to any area where that dogs are needed, such as helping those with mental health issues. They will calmly care for anyone, regardless of their mental health challenges.

An even-tempered German Shepherd is a great choice for people with anxiety and OCD issues. With the right training, these dogs can learn how to detect flare-ups in your condition such as panic attacks and successfully prevent them. Or at the very least, they will interrupt unwanted behavior by “pawing” at you to get your mind off the action in question and give you something far more fluffy and lovable to focus on.

This obedient, gentle, and exceedingly loyal breed is a natural fir for our psychiatric service dog breeds list. Dependable, calm, and easy to train, the Shepherd is considered to have human-like intelligence. That’s an absolutely perfect trait for owners suffering from psychiatric challenges. Their fondness for children would make them a great fit for a family living with autism as well.

Originally bred in Tibet to alert Buddhist monks to intruders, this alert and personable little pooch may be wary of strangers, but is tremendously loyal to those closest to him. You might not think that a tiny, fluffy pooch is suitable to be a service dog, but you’d be surprised how intuitive and supportive Lhasa Apso dogs are to their owners.

Provided that they have been trained as a psychiatric service dog, Lhasa Apso can be an invaluable companion to people suffering from PTSD, depression, or bipolar disorder. Their cheerful disposition is sure to put a smile on your face when you need it the most, and they can also learn to recognize the different moods and react appropriately, “nudging” you back to the right course of action in certain triggering situations.

Highly tactile, Lhasa Apsos are entertaining and comical buddies who are easily trained and highly demonstrative. Perfect for individuals in need of uplifting companionship during troubling times. These pups know how to put a smile on the face of any owner.

These imposing doggos might look like they’re all about tough love, but you definitely shouldn’t judge this book by its cover. Dobermans are unjustly perceived as vicious and dangerous by certain segments of the population. In reality, these dogs are just fiercely loyal and extremely affectionate. The connoisseurs of this breed know that Dobies are what you’d call a “velcro dog” in that they bond strongly with their handler. This dog will always be by your side, anxious to provide heaping helpings of support and love.

Dobermans trained as psychiatric service dogs can be particularly suitable for people whose condition requires them to have a dog that gives them reality affirmation. They can be trained to provide tactile stimulation (licking, nudging) when summoned, which “roots” the handler in the moment and prevents the escalation of the problem.

Known as exceptional guardians, military, and service dogs, the Dobie is also a trustworthy and affectionate breed whose commanding presence makes him a great fit for those suffering from PTSD or panic attacks. When simple tasks such as a walk to the corner store are too daunting, the presence of this loyal pupper can help deliver a sense of safety and security.

This breed is known to be a gentle companion who just loves to hang out with humans – a perfect psychiatric service dog whose role is to provide around-the-clock companionship. Boxers are usually known as guard dogs, but once properly trained, they can channel their protective nature quite well and become attuned to their owner’s moods and patterns of behaviour.

Much like all of the dogs pm our list, Boxers can be trained to provide invaluable assistance to people with disabilities. An experienced service dog trainer can teach a Boxer to retrieve medications or use tactile stimulation to interrupt the obsessive-compulsive or harmful behavior of their handler. Their guarding nature makes them particularly suitable to keep strangers at bay. It is quite easy for them to learn how to “bluff” on your cue.

Loyal, alert and friendly, boxers are a great fit for families with kids who may have ADHD. They are also a quick study when it comes to training and easily adaptable to most situations.

Easily one of the most intelligent breeds around, this working dog is devoted, friendly, and a loyal companion whose focus in life is to please their owner. Bred to herd cattle, this pooch will definitely try (and succeed) to keep you in line!

Border Collies are energetic and lively dogs who are very affectionate to their owners. They will motivate you to get up and get moving even when you might not be in a mood, and their cute antics will brighten your day. This makes these canines might an choice for anyone living with depression. Additionally, they are big cuddle bugs and snugglers. There’s nothing better at making you calm and content than petting a pooch.

Because Psychiatric Service dogs are intended to ground their owner during panic attacks by providing physical comfort, this pooch’s highly intuitive personality makes them a great fit for those prone to panic attacks.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Psychiatric Service Dog

Certain canine breeds are better suited to being psychiatric service dogs than others, but because there are so many great breeds to choose from, it can be a daunting task to narrow down those breeds to the one that will work well with you and fulfill your needs best. This is not a decision to take lightly as the right psychiatric service dog can save the lives of those with debilitating mental health issues.

It’s important to keep in mind that different canine breeds will suit different people. Making the correct choice is a matter of considering the dog’s needs as well as your own. This is a relationship after all, not a service. If you can’t provide your animal with the care they need, then they won’t be able to do the same for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work on selecting the psychiatric service dog that will be right for you:

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