They can recognize signs of a panic attack before you do.
Dogs have incredibly acute senses, more so than we give them credit for. Your dog notices when you begin to breathe more quickly or heavily. He notices when you begin biting your nails or pacing. He can even detect a change in your scent or heart rate as you begin to feel stressed. So before you even start to realize that you’re becoming panicked, a service dog that has been trained well will let you know it’s time for an intervention.
They won’t take no for an answer!
A service dog will not hesitate to bother you until you take action when a panic attack is on the horizon. Well-trained service dogs will nudge you, whine or bark or stop moving until you let them help you, so you’d better listen and not wait until it’s more convenient (which could mean it’s too late).
They aren’t afraid to tell you when something is wrong.
A friend might be worried about making you sit down in the middle of an aisle in a grocery store and giving you a hug, but your service dog will always prioritize your well-being over anything else. Your service dog will bother you until you take care of yourself, and this will keep panic attacks from getting too bad to handle.
Their presence is automatically relaxing.
Dogs, even non-service dogs, provide a calming effect just by being nearby. Having a service dog by your side drops your heart rate and blood pressure. Even people with agoraphobia often find that a dog helps them get out much further than they have before – just because of the relaxing presence that a dog has.
Focus is shifted from you to your dog.
One nice thing about being out in public with a service dog is that you don’t have to worry that people are focusing on you. All that they are interested in is your dog. So all eyes are on the dog and you don’t have to feel as worried about people staring at you.
They bring more opportunities for easy conversation.
This one may seem like a drawback, but realize that the people will be focused on your dog instead of you. When you are talking about your dog (an easy subject) and people aren’t usually looking at you, it’s a good way to ease into social interaction. Your service dog makes a great go-between.
They can remind you to take medication.
If you’re anything like me, the alarm for your medication goes off several times a day. You turn off the alarm, get distracted, and the next thing you know your anxiety is rising and you realized you forgot to take your medication. Service dogs are great, because they can be an alarm that won’t leave you alone. A well-trained service dog knows when it’s time for your medication and they will bother you until you take it.
They can give deep pressure therapy (DPT) for calming down.
Deep pressure therapy (DPT) is scientifically proven to be very relaxing and calming, especially during a panic attack. This therapy has been shown to shorten and lessen the severity of panic attacks. If you have a service dog, he can lay his head or body against your chest to give you deep pressure therapy at any time of the day. It’s a medication-free way to help if your dog notices an attack coming on.
They can ground you to the present.
During an anxiety attack, you begin to lose sense of the here and now – which is part of the panic that grips you. Part of a service dog’s training can be to lick your face or hand or poke at you to help you keep a hold of your senses during an attack. You might also find that petting your service dog helps ground you as well. If your dog gives you deep pressure therapy by pressing up against your chest in your lap, and is licking your face while you pet them, you’ll find that you can keep from losing yourself in the panic much more easily.
They can lead you out of a building.
This is one of the more impressive tasks a service dog can do. Service dogs can be trained to find the exit from a store or building for you. This is absolutely fantastic if you begin to feel claustrophobic or overwhelmed and need to get outside or away from people as quickly as possible. It’s most useful, of course, if you lose your sense of direction. Your service dog can get you out in no time. They can also find your car, which is useful even if you aren’t having a panic attack.
They can alert a loved one.
If a panic attack comes on while you’re upstairs and your friend/roommate/family member/significant other is in the basement, how can you let them know something is wrong in time? The answer is that your dog can find them and let them know. A service dog can be trained to find people by name, so they can fetch a person to help.
They can find and bring you your phone.
Another task a service dog can provide is to bring your phone to you. This can do two things: help you feel comfortable knowing your dog can find and bring your phone if it’s lost, or get your phone if you need to call someone to help you. If you struggle with health anxiety (what if I break my leg and can’t get to my phone?) like I sometimes do, it feels good to know that your dog is there to help if you can’t find or get to your phone.
They can keep people away from you.
Sometimes during panic attacks, well-meaning people try to come help you. Many times, however, strangers can make a panic attack worse. A service dog can act as a barrier between you and strangers, pacing around you and pushing people away while you calm down.
They can help give you back your independence
So many people with crippling anxiety have found relief through service dogs. They go from having to rely on and inconvenience a family member to being able to live, go to school, travel and work with a dog by their side. A service dog can be literally freeing.
They bring a higher quality of life and lower depression.
If you suffer from depression along with your anxiety, dogs have been scientifically proven to treat depression. People have a higher quality of life and are happier when they own a service dog because they know they have someone to take care of them. Everyone is happier when they can take care of themselves.
I probably should have come up with a much more traditional post and introduction to DogKnows. After all, this is supposed to be a very serious business, right? The fact is, I’ve never been, what the rest of my business instructors and trainers would call normal. To me, normal is a setting on the dryer, and it’s boring. So, instead I thought I would break the ice using one of my favorite questionnaires. If I were on “Inside the Actors Studio” these would be my responses to James Lipton’s 10-questions:
1. What is your favorite word?
I’ve always loved the word serenity. I love the way it tastes on my tongue as well as the meaning behind the word.
2. What is your least favorite word?
The R word. It is truly one of the most repugnant words.
3. What turns you on?
Multi-sensory experiences when I need to quiet my brain from overloading.
4. What turns you off?
Hoarding, bureaucracy, and stupidity
5. What sound do you love?
The sound of my husband’s chortle in my ear and the contented sighs of my dogs as they are settling in to sleep.
6. What sound do you hate?
The scream of wounded animal.
7. What is your favorite curse word?
“F-it.” I say it often, although I wish I didn’t.
8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Chef or an owner of a B&B; preferably both.
9. What profession would you not like to do?
Hands down Accountant or anything to do with Finance. I’ll also add lawyer, and politician as well.
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
See, I told you were strong enough! All of your animals and people are here waiting for you, we set the table, and are waiting for you to be seated to tuck in. Oh, and you will never have to do the dishes again.