Our Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program
Find out about our Program and how to apply for a psychiatric assistance dog.
If you have a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the Psychiatric Assistance Dog Program aims to help you meet your clinical recovery goals. This includes detecting signs of distress and performing tasks to help alleviate the symptoms. It could be such things as:
- waking you if you are having a night terror
- nuzzling you to distract you from emotionally disabling symptoms
- moving you out of stressful situations.
There are currently 4 contracted psychiatric assistance dog training providers enabling us to support veterans nationally.
These providers typically only train Labradors and Golden Retrievers as they are the most suitable for training as assistance dogs because of their intelligence and temperament.
Who is eligible
To be eligible for a psychiatric assistance dog, you must:
- have a Veteran Gold or White Card
- have a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a psychiatrist
- have been undergoing treatment with a psychiatrist or psychologist for your PTSD for at least 3 months
- be assessed as having the emotional resilience needed to be involved in the training and care of a psychiatric assistance dog.
How you apply
If you feel you may be eligible, you should talk with your mental health professional. Mental health professionals who can prescribe a psychiatric assistance dog include:
- mental health social workers
- mental health occupational therapists.
We encourage you to speak to your mental health professional about any concerns you have. These may be stressors in your life now, or that you expect in the next 2 years, which may impact your ability to complete the intensive training to become an assistance dog handler.
What information we need
If your mental health professional believes you are suitable, they will need to complete the assistance dog application form.
They will ask you to complete a 12-question disability assessment schedule with your application. This is known as a World Health Organisation Disability Assessment Schedule (WHODAS). This will help us understand your level of health and disability. Once you have received your assistance dog, we will ask you to complete this questionnaire at various points during your first 2 years in the Program. This information will only be used to evaluate the Program and cannot be linked back to you.
Completing the application form
When your mental health professional is completing the form and providing supporting information, they may ask you questions about your:
- living arrangements and whether you can accommodate a dog living with you
- ability to care for and regularly exercise an assistance dog
- support networks that you have on hand to help with the care of the dog when you are less able or unable to do this
- emotional resilience and your ability to do intensive training
- family dynamics and whether there is a history of domestic violence or history of animal abuse (this includes all members of the household)
- psychiatric admissions to hospitals or clinics in the last 12 months
- misuse of drugs or alcohol in the last 12 months.
Approval is a 2-step process
Your mental health provider must complete the assistance dog application form and attach any supporting documentation.
You need to complete the 12-question WHODAS.
Once your mental health provider has submitted your application, we will assess it to determine if you will progress to Step 2.
Sometimes the progress of your application can be delayed. This may happen if the request form is incomplete, or your mental health professional has not provided all the supporting documents.
If we provide you with conditional approval, we will refer you to one of our dog providers. They will do a face-to-face assessment with you to consider:
- if you are suitable to participate in their training program
- if your home is suitable for an assistance dog
- areas where an assistance dog could meet your needs.
This assessment will help us gain a better understanding of your needs to match you with a suitable dog. It will also help us to decide if you are suitable for our Program.
What happens when we approve your application
If you are approved into the Program, the dog provider will start the matching process. It takes time to breed and train a psychiatric assistance dog, so there may not be an appropriate dog immediately available. If there isn’t, the dog provider will keep you up to date about how things are going.
As each psychiatric assistance dog is specifically trained in a range of tasks to meet your clinical recovery goals, you will also need to be trained as the dog’s handler. This training can take 18 months to 2 years for you and your assistance dog to complete.
Neither DVA nor the dog provider can put in any requests for priority access to a psychiatric assistance dog.
What happens when we do not approve your application
If your request is not approved, you should make an appointment with your mental health professional as soon as possible. We provide them with the reasons for the decline because they are the ones requesting the assistance dog for you. They will talk to you about these reasons and discuss other treatment options which may be more suitable.
If your circumstances change, your mental health professional can submit another request on your behalf in the future.
What your responsibilities are
You will be asked to sign an agreement with our dog provider. Once you have signed this plan, you are required to:
- keep to the assistance dog provider’s program requirements
- participate in all required training sessions
- follow the dog provider’s daily exercise and feeding regime for the assistance dog
- make sure your assistance dog has annual veterinary checks to keep its vaccinations up to date
- continue with ongoing treatment with your psychologist or psychiatrist.
While the psychiatric assistance dog is in your care, you will be supported by the dog provider. They will do checks every 6 months to make sure you and your assistance dog are working well together. You will also need to do an annual Public Access Test (PAT) and any other training that is needed.
We encourage you to ask for help from your assistance dog provider if you experience any difficulty or if you have any incidents with your assistance dog.
More information on assistance dogs
Read more about our arrangements for assistance dogs, including reimbursement of upkeep expenses.