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Humans’ best friend in mental health support

by Heike Hahner

Many of us feel a deep connection with animals. We enjoy their company and are endlessly fascinated by their behaviours and  their interactions with us.

We have also known for decades to utilise this beneficial connection  with us by recruiting, especially dogs, as therapy and support dogs in hospitals and nursing homes, as well as guides and support for blind, deaf and disabled people.

In 2011 a new organisation, mindDog, was established in Australia by a small group of volunteers. mindDog sees its role in assisting mental health sufferers to acquire, train and certify psychiatric service dogs.

These dogs assist people with mental health issues and provide much needed emotional support for people whose lives are severely hindered by anxiety and fear. The dogs make it possible for their owners to participate again in everyday activities such as travel on public transport, access to public places and to take part in social activities.

For many people with mental health issues the company of animals is less stressful and intrusive than the company of people. Dogs can help control and manage mental health issues such as agoraphobia, the fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places, depression, bi-polar or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Interestingly, when I spoke recently to Cath Phillips, Chairman of mindDog, on Canberra Radio 2CC, she pointed out that mindDog dogs are self-taught and learn by living with a person in need but need certification for public spaces.

They can be any breed or gender, but preferably have a temperament that is more than usually focused and positive towards humans. Ideally they are calm, confident and show a willingness to participate positively in their owner’s daily life. However mindDogs still need basic training such as walking well on lead and knowing how to behave well in public places, on public transport  and at venues.

A mindDog needs to qualify as an assistance dog after passing a Public Access Assessment test and certification. If you wanted to choose a dog for this job consideration should include the dog’s activity level, size, personality, lifestyle, type of assistance required and coat type/ maintenance.

For more information about mindDog:

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