Psychiatric service dogs


The special ability animals have to connect with people with psychiatric problems has been long known. As far back as the Crimean War in the mid 19th century, Florence Nightingale kept a tortoise called Jimmy to occupy the wounded soldiers on her ward. In 1950, Boris Levinson, an American child psychiatrist, first showed that companion animals were a valuable help in the treatment of some psychiatric disorders.

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A go-between for the well-being of people


A relationship with an animal helps fulfil people’s psychological and emotional needs.


Dogs are used as a go-between when treating people with psychiatric, physical or social health issues. A relationship with an animal helps fulfil these people’s psychological and emotional needs, increasing their self-esteem. While animal-assisted therapy is about therapeutic contact with animals, in animal-assisted activities the aim is to use the animal to motivate, engage or educate. Pets As Therapy and Equine Assisted Psychotherapy are two British charities active in this field. Similar organisations exist in France, Canada and the United States.

Therapy dogs are also used in care environments to improve morale and reduce stress among patients. Animals are sometimes integrated into physiotherapy, where they may be used as a form of motivation. The patient may be driven by the idea that if they work hard enough they will one day be able to brush their dog, for instance. In care homes, therapy dogs have a social function in bringing residents together. They can have a soothing effect on Alzheimer patients and provide residents of homes for the elderly with something to look forward to if they are otherwise cut off from their family. Along with horse and cats, dogs are the most commonly used therapy animals for autistic children.

Dogs are also used to teach respect to children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, helping them to find their place in society. Similarly, future guide and hearing dogs are sometimes taken into prisons as part of the social re-education of prisoners.

All told, dogs are able to achieve great things in helping people find their place in society and the wider world. Their exceptional learning abilities, motivation and strong bond with humans have given them a position in human society that goes far beyond that of a simple companion.

Learn more

Association of Animals for Therapy

Animal- assisted therapy comprises all goal-oriented measures using animals to achieve positive effects on a person's physical and mental health.

The realtionship between human and animal has a positive impact on the quality of life; especially effective for younger and older people, it is scientifically proven to be a postive stimulus for healing processes.

The association “Animals for Therapy” (TAT-Tiere als Therapie) has been using animals sucessfully as co-therapists for more than 20 years, working with educational, geriatric and therapeutic projects.

TAT offers training for humans and animals. Through the Veterinary University of Vienna, TAT runs the course “Therapy through Animals” for professionals. This is the only university course in this field available in Europe.


Helga Widder
Veterinary Surgeon,

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