Service Dogs for Tourette Syndrome (TS)

Sep 30,2023

What Is Tourette Syndrome?

According to the NHS, Tourette Syndrome is a condition of the nervous system which is expressed by involuntary sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that people do repeatedly. These actions are called “tics” and are entirely outside of the person’s control. Depending on the type of tics a person has, and how long the tics last, a person might be diagnosed with Tourette’s or another type of disorder.

The motor (involving body movement) or vocal (involving sounds you make) tics of TS come and go over time. The tics can vary in type, frequency, location, and severity. The tics are classified as Motor, Vocal, and Complex. Complex tics usually involve several different parts of the body. An example of a complex tic is bobbing the head while jerking an arm and then jumping up.

What Is Living With Tourette’s Like?

Living with Tourette’s can be extremely challenging. The neurological disorder discussed here is known to affect mostly boys and we are not sure what is causing TS yet. As mentioned above, Tourettes is expressed by involuntary tics and vocalizations that can be disruptive and embarrassing which can lead to poor social life, anxiety, high levels of stress, and depression. The tics can interfere with school duties, work, cooking, and many other important life activities. Depending on the case Tourette’s patients can experience migraine episodes, severe fatigue, seizures, and chronic pain.

What Causes Tourette Syndrome?

The scientific data shows that TS usually starts during childhood, but the tics and other symptoms usually improve after several years. We would like to note that sometimes the symptoms go away completely with proper treatment as a case in 2014 publicized by Shanghai Arch Psychiatry shows. A study published in 2019 suggests that vaporized cannabis and CBD therapy can help reduce tics significantly and reinforce a patient’s ability to focus. Another study published in 2021 in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health shows that behavior therapy and medication can help tremendously. Sadly, there is no all-purpose cure for Tourette Syndrome at this time

Are Service Dogs An Option for TS Treatment?

Yes, service dogs can definitely help patients with Tourette’s in many ways. Not all dogs are suitable for this type of work, and you’ll need to find a breed that is calm, obedient, and easy to train. Trained service animals can provide a calming presence and sense of security to their owners, which can in turn reduce the frequency and severity of tics. Service dogs can help reduce anxiety, and stress levels, alleviate depression, and move a person's focus away from the tics.

Service dogs can act as a buffer between their owners and strangers, helping to reduce anxiety in social situations. Service animals for Tourette’s can be trained to nudge their user until they start petting them and thus move their focus away from a tic episode. In addition, a canine can be trained to lay beside a person or on top of them if they have fallen on the ground due to a seizure a temporary paralysis which is not uncommon among TS patients.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Have a Service Dog for Tourette Syndrome

1. A Service Dog can provide you with Deep Pressure Therapy.

Service dogs can be trained to apply deep pressure by leaning or lying on their user. This can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of tics and provide a calming effect during stressful situations like paralysis episodes, seizures, or migraine episodes. If you would like to add DPT as part of your treatment, please check our Psychiatric Service Dog Training Course where we offer guidance on training your dog to provide deep pressure therapy.

2. Alerting and Interrupting.

Dogs can be trained to alert their user before a tic episode or when they sense an impending tic. It is possible to train a dog to recognize tells/cues from your body movement and respond in a way you find beneficial. For example, if you have a tic that makes your hand move in a jerking motion your dog can be trained to nudge you and apply a modest pressure with their paw, head, or full body. If one of your tics involves fainting or losing control of your lower body it may be possible to train a dog to brace your fall. Of course, you will need a big service dog for that so both of you do not get hurt.

3. Retrieving Medication or Items.

Service dogs can be trained to retrieve medications, a phone, a blanket, a stress ball, a water bottle, or other essential items that can help you cope with a tic episode better. As mentioned earlier, medication can help reduce the frequency of your tics and their severity. If you would like to train your dog to pick up a pouch with medication or other items for you, please check our Intensive Service Dog Training Course.

4. Mobility Support.

In some cases, individuals with Tourette's may experience mobility difficulties or balance issues. Service dogs can be trained to provide stability and assistance while walking, climbing stairs, or navigating through crowded areas. You will need a bigger dog and a special harness for mobility support of course.

5. Social Support.

Service dogs can serve as a social bridge for individuals with Tourette's, helping to alleviate social anxiety and providing a sense of companionship. The presence of a service dog can help create a more accepting and understanding environment, encouraging positive social interactions. We would like to add that service animals provide a sense of security that is very important to many people coping with Tourette’s.

How Can You Get A Tourette’s Service Dog?

Each individual's needs and symptoms can differ, so the training should be tailored to address specific challenges. You have several options when it comes to training a Tourette Service Dog, these include 1) in-person training sessions with a local dog trainer/school; 2) obtaining a trained service dog from a dog training organization; 3) self-training a pet dog to become a service dog that responds to your unique requirements.

The first two options mentioned above can have prohibitive costs and only the third option can be considered relatively inexpensive. Additionally, the training of a Tourette’s service dog by a specialized organization can take from one year to two years. Not to mention that the demand for service dogs has only increased and you may need to be put on a waiting list for an indefinite time. Our school offers online self-trained service dog training courses that you are welcome to explore. You can start training your service dog today. We will be happy to assist you in improving your quality of life if you decide to enroll.