How to Train Your Dog to Help With Depression

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3-6 Months
Work

Introduction

Let's face it, puppy kisses are one of the best medicines when you find yourself having a bad day or feeling depressed. And one of the best things about an emotional support animal is that, by law, there are no special requirements with regard to age, gender, or breed. For the most part, all that is needed is for your pup to pass a puppy temperament test to ensure your pup has the right temperament to be a support animal, and he needs to be in good overall health.

For those who suffer from depression, it has been scientifically and medically proven that an emotional support dog can make a huge difference in their lives. In fact, a number of medical professionals now prescribe Emotional Support Animals (ESA) as one part of the overall treatment protocols used for those patients with depression issues. 

Defining Tasks

The job is to train your dog to first recognize when you are feeling depressed, but also to provide much needed emotional support until you begin to "feel" better. Sometimes, all; it takes is having your furry friend sit by you, allowing you to pet him and run your hands through his fur. Other times, your dog may need to engage in deep pressure therapy (DPT) in order to help reduce the strength and duration of the situation and resulting depression. 

Since most dogs are tuned into their owner's moods and are truly devoted to their owners, training them to provide the necessary emotional support should not be overly difficult. You should consider starting your pup's training at around one year of age, a point at which he should have mastered the basic commands and knows what it means to be calm and relaxed in nature. 

Getting Started

The biggest requirement before you should consider training your dog to be an emotional support animal is to ensure he has mastered the four basic commands; 'sit', 'stay', 'come', and 'down'. He should be around one year old, and he should have passed a puppy temperament assessment to ensure he will always be there for you. You may also need a few supplies, depending on the method of training you plan to use.

  • Treats: For training and reward purposes.
  • Couch: A couch or bed to be used both for training purposes and as part of your therapy.
  • Patience: No matter how smart your pup is, you will still need plenty of this.
  • Time: It will take time for you to train your dog to recognize when you are depressed and how he should behave when this happens.

The best part of training your pup to be an emotional support dog that can help with depression is the amount of time you get to spend with your furry four-legged friend. Nothing can beat the feeling that comes with getting lots of support and love from your pup. 

The In Place Method

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Step
1
Gather supplies
In order for this training to work, you need a large supply of your pup's favorite treats.
Step
2
Choose your spot
Depending on the size of your pup, choose your training site. If you have a smaller to medium sized dog, you can teach them to lay on your chest. With a bigger dog, you should try to train him to lay his head on your feet or lap.
Step
3
Starting positions, please
Assume your chosen position and do your best to demonstrate the way you typically act when you are very depressed. This could be weeping, crying, pulling at your hair, anything you typically do when you are depressed.
Step
4
Paws up
The standard acceptable cue phrase is 'paws up', using this cue call your pup over and guide him into place. For smaller breeds, the preferred position is laying on your chest with their head and paws on your shoulders. For bigger breeds, it can be with their head on your lap or even on your feet as you sit. Keep practicing until your pup gets it right. Repeat this in reverse using the 'paws down' command to teach him to get down.
Step
5
And in the end
With plenty of practice, your pup will learn to pick up on the signs of depression you have been using to train him and be ready to assume the correct position anytime he notices you are depressed, which in turn should help you to feel his unconditional love and help with your depression.
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The Smaller Dog DPT Method

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Step
1
On the sofa
If your pup does not get up on the couch, use a few treats to lure your pup up on the couch. Show him the treats in your hand, move your hand to the back of the couch while giving him the "Paws up!" command. This may take a few attempts, or your pup might get it right away.
Step
2
Positions, please
Smaller dogs can be taught to jump all the way onto the couch. Keep practicing until you are sure your pup knows exactly what to do when he hears the 'paws up' command. Be sure to practice until you no longer need treats to get him to follow the command.
Step
3
Retreat
The next step is to teach your pup the 'paws off' command. To do this you simply work the 'paws up' command in reverse. Use a treat as a reward and as a lure to train your pup to get down off the couch. Again, practice until he will follow the command without the need for treats.
Step
4
On the couch
DPT works best when you teach your small or medium size dog to lay on your chest with his paws on your shoulders and his head laying right next to yours. So, go ahead and lay or sit down on the couch.
Step
5
Paws up
Give your dog the 'paws up' command to bring your dog up, assist him into position, and give him the 'down' command. Give him the 'down' command and then give him a treat. This pressure is the important part of this method.
Step
6
Signs, signs, everywhere signs
After your pup has mastered the above behavior the rest involves letting him see the signs that you are dealing with depression while you are doing okay. Use the signs and the commands together frequently, soon he will pick up on when you are feeling depressed and be right there where and when you need him.
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The Big Dog DPT Method

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Step
1
Not on the sofa
Most people don't necessarily want to teach their big dogs to get up on the couch, let alone lie across their chest. This time you will be teaching him the 'paws up' command means putting his front paws on the couch. Using a treat, encourage him to do this and give him a treat when he does.
Step
2
Keep working at it
Keep working at the above training until your dog will follow the 'paws up' command without question and without the need for a treat.
Step
3
The right position
Have a seat on the couch and give your pup the "paws up" command, patting your lap to show him where you want him to put his paws or head. With a big dog, the pressure needed will be applied when he lays his head or legs in your lap and relaxes. Again, repeat this step until he will do it without treats every time.
Step
4
The 'paws off' command
Each time you want your pup to get off your chest or lap, simply give him the 'paws off' command as you use a treat to lure him down. Repeat this at the same time as you are working on teaching him the 'paws up' command for the best results.
Step
5
You've got to know when to hold 'em
Or in this case, your pup needs to know when to hold you. Try to recreate to the best of your abilities how you sound and behave when you are truly depressed. Each time you practice these signs, work your dog through his training. This will teach your pup what to look for, which will help him make the right decision and act to help you.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Otis
Goldendoodle
10 Months
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Otis
Goldendoodle
10 Months

I would like to know where I can train and receive a certificate for my dog as a service dog for my daughter whom suffers from depression and anxiety and her dog provides tranquility for her and helps calm her down. However, I would like to legally register him so she is allowed to take him everywhere. Thank you

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Melissa, To qualify as a service dog, first, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Anyone who offers a certification in the United States may be testing pup according to their own standards for the task training and general manners and behaviors but the certification will not be legally recognized and qualify pup - it's pup's behavior and skills and her own needs for a service dog that qualifies pup as a service dog according to ADA law. https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm As far as who trainer pup, a specific organization doesn't have to do the training (seeing eye dogs are an exception, but this is for most types of service animals). You will need either a board and train program that has successful experience training the type of service dog you need, or a private trainer who will meet with you with the dog to train. A board and train will do the training for you and is more expensive. A private trainer is more affordable but you will have to do most of the training practice with pup, with the instructor teaching you how. There are some groups where you can apply to receive a dog who has already been trained. Some of these programs are need based that you can apply for, then usually wait at least a couple of years for if you qualify. Others are dogs you pay for. It sounds like you are most likely interested in a Board and Train program. I would google Service Dog Board and Train (your state) and see what shows up on google. I would then read reviews or ask for client referrals you can look into, call to ask about their experience with psychiatric service dog training specifically, and go from there based on your findings. With board and train, anywhere you are willing to drive is likely an option for a training facility, so if you don't find somewhere fantastic in your state, I would also look into neighboring states training groups. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Chachi
Shar Pei
1 Year
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Chachi
Shar Pei
1 Year

I have a dog that I am training to be my service dog. She is learning scratch interruptions and pressure. She has been learning these for about six months now. She will preform the tasks no problem during training but when I actually need her help she just walks off. What do I do?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Oliver, Have you been practicing in public and working up to the staged interactions around distractions? When you are training, you are likely engaging with pup, your body language and focus is different, and there are less distractions or your interaction helps to hold pup's attention. Pup is likely not ready for the level of distraction that's involved in real situations yet. I would continue your practice and start easing into more distracting locations and decrease your engagement during training. Giving less engagement, then giving a hint of becoming more engaged if pup doesn't respond, to help pup learn to respond to the lack of engagement without the hint at first. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Percy
Labrador Retriever
7 Months
0 found helpful
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0 found helpful
Percy
Labrador Retriever
7 Months

Has a tendency to jump on people

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brynn, Is pup jumping out of excitement in hopes of getting attention, or is the behavior aggressive in nature? If the behavior is due to excitement and friendliness, then check out the article I have linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump If the behavior is due to aggression, I would address the underlying aggression first, desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle, and address the jumping with less contact with the help of a trainer experienced with aggression, who works with a staff of trainers. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Adora
Australian Cattle Dog
1 Year
0 found helpful
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Adora
Australian Cattle Dog
1 Year

I have some chronic illnesses and am struggling to train her properly due to a lack of energy. She is very energetic and gets aggressive when men are near me. I want to be able to give her enough training and stimulation that she isnt bored, tone down the aggression, cement obedience basics, and train her to come to me when I am stressed. Ideally I would like to be able to train her to go in public with me, but that feels like a long way off, if its possible.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lyss, I would hire a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression, and works with a team of trainers, so pup can get used to lots of different people who know how to work around pup, to help the training progress more quickly. This can help take the pressure off of you and give you access to lots of different people to practice counter conditioning and obedience around to help the training go faster. Check out trainers like Jeff Gellman on youtube to learn more about aggression. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Piper
Labrador Husky
7 Months
0 found helpful
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0 found helpful
Piper
Labrador Husky
7 Months

She is very hyper and will only listen for treats without distractions. She is very hyper with people and animals also.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Claudia, I suggest working on commands that can build calmness and focus - calmness and focus are skills that have to be worked up to gradually for many dogs. Also, use methods that enforce the commands a bit more, and are less dependent on treats - the treat can come from a hidden pocket after obeying still, but pup isn't obeying just because there is or isn't a treat, but for other reasons, like follow through and getting to what they are wanting by obeying first. Also, motivate pup using life rewards, Working method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Come - Reel in method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Come - Premack Principle and long training leash tips especially: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ Sit - Pressure method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-sit Down - Leash Pressure method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-lay-down Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

A trick to get a dog’s attention and keep them focus is to teach them the “touch” command where you say “touch” while holding out your hand and make them tap your palm. Give them a treat once they do it and keep giving him treats while he keeps his focus. If his attention is lost, say “touch” once again and keep teaching him this. Maybe start hand feeding some of his food by hand and teaching him while he’s eating his meal.

Good luck!

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