This is a page for a January 19, 2023 presentation by Brad and Veronica to the nonprofit Open Doors entitled “Service dog work and tasks”. A PDF version of the presentation is available to view or download below the text-only version for screenreaders.

Service dog work and tasks

Veronica Morris, PhD and Bradley Morris, MA, CPhil

Psychiatric Service Dog Partners


Things to take home

There are infinite service dog work and tasks

Terminology is not standard

Owner-trainers can train any type of work or task

The infinite work/tasks

Most common work or task for psychiatric service dogs is pressure therapy

Alerts and responses are also commonly used to warn a handler of an impending issue, or to help them through the issue

  • Anxiety attacks
  • Mood swings
  • Flashbacks
  • Seizures
  • Blood sugar issues
  • Heart conditions/rate

Hallucination discernment allows the handler to perceive which of the things they are seeing are real, and which are not

Grounding keeps a handler present in space and time

Tactile stimulation is often used to interrupt behaviors, ground the handler, remind of routines, do alerts, and respond to medical conditions

Section summary

  • Any list you might find of work/tasks is incomplete
  • The most important factors are that the person has a limitation due to their disability, and that the dog is trained to do something to help
  • Since every person is affected uniquely by their disability, every dog can work differently
  • Two people with the same diagnosis might use different work or tasks

Non-standard terminology

Even among programs, they use different terms for the same action

With owner-trainers, the names of work and tasks become even more varied

People who speak English as a second language, or who have disabilities that affect their cognition or ability to communicate in written English might use terms that seem “off” or “strange” to native English speakers (e.g. “touch me when I feel sad”)

Preconceived ideas or emotional reactions can get in the way

Pressure therapy has many names

  • Hugs
  • Deep pressure therapy
  • Lying on parts of the body

Tactile stimulation is called many things

  • Licking
  • Kisses
  • Pawing
  • Nudging
  • Bumping
  • Paws-up

Pressure therapy and tactile stimulation are just two examples

Always give people a chance to explain what they mean, as there are no standardized terms

Two yellow flags by themselves: “emotional support” or “comfort”; get clarification

Can train anything

Many people think there are some things only programs can do

In fact, owner-trainers can train anything a program can!

Guide dogs can be trained by using a cane, using familiar routes, during times of the day where the person has more vision, or with the assistance of a friend, family member, or pet dog trainer

Allergen detection dogs can be trained using protective equipment like surgical gloves, respirators, ziptop baggies, and baby food jars

Alert and response dogs can be trained by: faking the episode, training during an episode, or enlisting the help of friends, family, or a pet dog trainer

People might have pet dogs that they want to train, or obtain dogs from breeders or the shelter

They may have varying levels of support from others in the service dog community, and so have varying knowledge of “standard” terms and techniques

Owner-training is often better than program training for customization of the dog, avoiding scam programs, and for cost effectiveness


There is such a wide variety of things a service dog can do, what those things are called, and how to train them that the possibilities are infinite

If something doesn’t make sense, ask them to describe what it looks like to someone else when their dog is working/doing tasks

The point is access, not maximum barriers—err on the side of disability rights