- Frequently Asked Questions
Here you will find some of the most commonly asked questions that we receive. To see the answer to any of these, just click on the question and it will appear. If you've got a question that's not listed here, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What is a psychological assistance dog?
A psychological assistance dog is a dog which has been specifically trained to assist a person with a psychological disability. Like all assistance dogs, they are trained to perform specific work and tasks which mitigate symptoms and compensate for lost function as a result of a qualifying disability. To read about some specific ways that dogs can achieve this, see our information document here. To be a “recognised assistance dog”, it must be trained and qualified by a charitable organisation registered as a member of Assistance Dogs UK. PADsUK is currently at candidate status for this recognition.
- Is a psychological assistance dog the same as a therapy dog?
No. A therapy dog is brought into hospitals and other facilities to provide comfort to people suffering from a wide variety of ailments. These dogs perform a valuable service, but it is very different from that of an assistance dog. Each type of dog has an important job – the therapy dog works for many people, but the assistance dog only works for one – its handler. To learn more about therapy dogs, visit Pets As Therapy.
- Who can use a psychological assistance dog?
To utilise an assistance dog, regardless of the type of disability, a handler must qualify as disabled under the Equality Act of 2010. This means that their disability must have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Psychological assistance dogs in other countries have been used by people with a wide variety of diagnoses, including Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, PTSD, and Schizophrenia. PADsUK does not discriminate based upon diagnosis (or anything else, for that matter) and is open to recipients with any psychological condition, provided they meet the legal standard to qualify as disabled. Potential clients will be assessed to assure that they would benefit from an assistance dog, that they can provide for the dog’s needs, and that the use of the assistance dog would complement their treatment plan.
- Where can a registered psychological assistance dog go?
Psychological assistance dogs have the same legal access rights as other assistance dogs in the UK, provided they are trained using AEDU standards by a recognised organisation. Handlers of registered assistance dogs have the right to access all publically available spaces, including shops and restaurants, places of employment, and housing accommodation. There are a small number of exceptions to these access rules, including sterile environments, which apply to all assistance dogs. While not all people are aware of the variety of conditions, including invisible conditions such as mental illness, for which assistance dogs may be used, PADsUK is dedicated to supporting our clients and their rights of access. All handlers of dogs trained by PADsUK will have access to a supportive officer to assist them in the event of an access challenge.
- How can I tell the difference between a PAD and a pet dog?
All PADs will wear a vest displaying our logo, and our handlers will be able to show you an ID card with contact information for their personal supportive officer. PADs will be trained to an extremely high standards, and will not display any signs of aggression. Be aware that some tasks may require a dog to scrabble at its handler's leg or demonstrate another activity that may appear, out of context, to be disobedience. Please note that at this time there are currently NO fully trained PAD partnerships in the UK.
- How much does a psychological assistance dog cost?
Like all legitimate assistance dog organisations, PADsUK does not charge clients for their services. Clients will however need to provide for the cost of their dog’s food, veterinary, and grooming needs, as well as the costs of any medical consultations required during the application process. In cases where there is a clear need for assistance with these costs, PADsUK will evaluate the situation and work with the handler and other charities to ensure the best outcome. Funding for the operation of the charity will come from grants, legacies, and other donations.
- How are psychological assistance dogs trained?
All psychological assistance dogs will be trained using a rewards-based method by qualified trainers. Dogs will be sourced in one of two ways: If a client already has a dog that they believe to be a suitable candidate, that dog will be assessed. If the dog passes the initial assessment, it will then be trained according to a specialised plan created by the trainer and handler, and informed by members of the handler’s health care team. The dog-handler team will be supported throughout the training process and beyond by a trainer specifically assigned to their case. In addition, the handler will have access to organisational support via email and phone throughout their time with PADsUK.
We do not, however, advise handlers to obtain a dog simply for this purpose. If the handler does not have a dog at this time, or their dog does not pass the assessment, a suitable dog will be sourced with the help of PADsUK from a breeder or rescue centre and trained in the same way. The experience of our staff means that this supported sourcing will increase the likelihood of the chosen dog having a suitable temperament for this work.
- My dog is very well-behaved. Can I put a vest on him and present him as an assistance dog?
Because of the high standards required of assistance dogs, and the importance of their role in the handler’s therapeutic plan, we do not recommend this. You will have no legal right to access and may be challenged, which is a stressful experience and may even exacerbate your symptoms. It can also be stressful for your dog; assistance dogs are thoroughly assessed and highly trained in order for them to cope with the demands of public access work. Finally, you will lack the support that comes from working with an organisation dedicated to meeting the needs of both you and your dog.
We want all assistance dogs to be given the access required to support their handlers. All assistance dog teams, regardless of the handler’s disabilities, must help to ensure this by maintaining a positive public view of the behaviour of assistance dogs. For this reason, and those stated above, we feel that it is crucial for handlers to have the support of an organisation whose role is to ensure the maintenance of these high standards.
- Can you register my dog as an assistance dog?
We are not a registration service for pet dogs. If you believe that your dog is suitable for assistance dog work, we will be happy to assess its potential. If you and your dog pass the assessment, we can train your dog to make the most of his skills while meeting the high standards required of an assistance dog. The length of this process varies depending on the individual, but will take at least one year, and requires significant levels of commitment.
- What types of dogs can be psychological assistance dogs?
Due to the different needs of PAD handlers, dogs of many different shapes and sizes can be used. There are a wide variety of breeds being used for this work in other countries, from tiny Yorkshire Terriers to huge Rhodesian Ridgebacks. More important than the breed is the dog’s ability be thoroughly assessed and monitored in terms of temperament and ability to not just cope with, but enjoy, the training and function required of it. The breed of dog chosen will depend on the handler’s specific needs and preferences.
In general, we will not be selecting dogs from breeds with characteristics not suited to the difficult work of assisting a disabled handler. Some breeds, for example, have a tendency to obsess about performing tasks and thus are vulnerable to stress; others are more susceptible to health issues like hip dysplasia. This does not mean, however, that we will not consider exceptional individuals for assessment. We will assess each dog on individual merit and will not exclude a potential dog based on its breed alone.
- I'm interested in getting a psychological assistance dog, where do I start?
First, take a look through our information document, which contains more detailed specification. Print out a copy and bring it to members of your health care team and discuss with them how a psychological assistance dog might help you. Please be aware that we are still growing as an organization, and that due to high levels of demand our waiting list is currently closed, so these discussions should focus on how you can best prepare for this option in the future.
- I have a physical disability as well as a psychological disability. Would a psychological assistance dog be appropriate for me?
Mental and physical health are not two separate entities. If you also have a physical disability, and feel that a dog could perform functions to help with both your mental and physical needs, please contact us at email@example.com. It may be possible to collaborate with another Assistance Dog charity in the training of a dual-purpose dog. Similarly, if you have a registered assistance dog with one of the other charities which you feel benefit from extra training to assist with a function related to mental health, we would be interested in collaboration on dual-purpose training. Contact your supportive officer to discuss this.
- I'm a doctor and one of my patients has expressed an interest in getting a psychological assistance dog. What do I need to know?
Have a look through our information document, which contains more detailed specification. You may find the case studies and task list to be of special interest. Discuss this information with your patient and consider how an assistance dog might fit into their treatment plan. Are there specific issues that a dog might help where other treatment options haven’t? What are the patient’s recurring issues and how might a dog fit in to his or her life? Remember, an assistance dog is not for everyone – not all blind people use guide dogs, after all. But for many patients, a dog can mitigate symptoms, help them develop insight, and compensate for lost functionality. Please be aware that our waiting list is currently closed, so any discussions that you have with your paitent should focus on how they might prepare for utilising this service in the future.
- Why haven't I heard of psychological assistance dogs before?
Psychological assistance dogs have been used in other countries for several years now. However, because of differences in legal structures, it is not possible to simply replicate the process here in the UK. Assistance dog organisations have known for some time now that there is a need for a psychological assistance dog charity, but were not able to undertake this work. Each assistance dog organisation has a very specialised set of goals and skills which means that they are unable, given finite resources, to take on handlers outside of their mission. These organisations recognise the need as it exists, and have been very positive about our project to create a new charity with this mission in mind.
There have been attempts in the past to bring psychological assistance dogs to the UK, but they have not been successful in part due to the wide variety of skills needed to run a successful assistance dog charity. PADsUK is made up of a group of individuals who together have a broad set of skills including dog training, organisational management, law, and mental health. We also bring in consultants whenever possible to bridge the gaps in our knowledge. We know how important this work is, and we are working hard to ensure that we create an effective and sustainable solution for this problem.
- Who is behind this organisation?
Carri Westgarth is a Full Member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors and a
Medical Research Council Fellow at the University of Liverpool, researching the effects of
dog ownership and dog walking on human health. Before her academic career she was an
instructor for the charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, where she trained and placed dogs
with deaf recipients.
Fiona Cooke was also an instructor for Hearing Dogs at the same time as Carri. She
previously studied Psychology and worked as a Communication Support Worker with
students with special needs. She has since trained in Law, and is now working on PhD
research in Animal Welfare Law and Public Law at the University of Aberdeen.
Jes Peters has worked extensively in the training of Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD)
partnerships in the USA as well as being a PSD handler before moving to the UK. She has
nearly a decade of experience advising consumers, providers, trainers, and the general
public on the use of PSDs.
In addition, the team is grateful for the assistance of many individuals who have consulted on this project.
At this time we are not affiliated with any other assistance dog charity or organisation. We are not responsible for the actions of other organisations working on this cause and their views and actions do not necessarily reflect our own. All official announcements will be made through this website and our official Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
- How can I donate to PADsUK?
Clicking on the "Donate" button on the sidebar will bring you to our paypal donations page. If you would like to set up a recurring donation, you can do so on our How You Can Help page. If you would prefer to donate in another way, or are interested in organising a fundraising event, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Where does my money go?
All donations go directly to our work - we are a mostly volunteer organisation; only our trainers are paid at this time. Your donations also help us pay for basic running expenses, such as insurance, web hosting, and other fees.
- Can PADsUK help me with something not related to assistance dogs?
At this time, we do not have the resources to assist with training, care, or legal issues surrounding companion dogs,general queries about mental health or other issues outside our specific remit. These are specialised areas of expertise and we recommend you seek help from an established organisation dedicated to these concerns. In the future we may offer resources on these subjects, but at this time we are dedicating all our resources to developing a sustainable platform for PADs in the UK.
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