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Psychiatric Service Dogs: All You Need To Know

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Psychiatric service dogs are also known as psychiatric assistance dogs. Psychiatric service dogs are lawfully recognized service animals by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Psychiatric service dogs assist people with mental health disorders function in their daily lives by providing support or performing specific tasks.

This article will explore what service dogs are and what kind of tasks a psychiatric service dog may be required to do.

Additionally, this article will look at who, how, and why someone may need a service dog and how to go about getting one.

If you are interested in learning more about psychiatric service dogs or perhaps adopting one of your own, keep reading.

Psychiatric Service Dog

What Is A Service Dog?

A service dog provides emotional companionship to someone who suffers from a physical or psychiatric disorder.

What sets service dogs apart from ‘normal’ pets is their ability to perform tasks for their humans to help them navigate the world around them more safely or easily.

For example:

  • A physical or mobility disability service dog may be trained to open doors for people in wheelchairs or with cerebral palsy.
  • A medical service dog will notify their diabetic handler if they smell the handler’s blood sugar get too high.
  • An allergen service dog may be trained to pick up the scent of specific allergens such as tree nuts and alert the handler when their food is contaminated.
  • An autism assistance dog helps build the confidence of a handler with autism, which allows them to be in public spaces that would normally be overwhelming.
  • Hearing alert dogs are trained to alert their hearing impaired handler to their surroundings.
  • Guide dogs are trained to be the “eyes” for visually impaired handlers.
  • A psychiatric service dog may be trained to recognize an anxiety attack and apply deep pressure to their handler’s body to ground them.

What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?

Essentially, psychiatric service dogs are service dogs that have been trained to perform tasks for handlers with psychiatric/mental health disorders.

The mental health disorders and conditions a psychiatric service dog can help with are numerous and include:

  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Epilepsy
  • Seizure disorders
  • Agoraphobia

Psychiatric service dogs may help an agoraphobe expand their physical comfort zones by providing a constant presence by their side.

The psychiatric service dog may also be trained to fetch packages from outside and bring them inside so their handler does not need to leave the house regularly.

Alternatively, psychiatric service dogs may help someone with PTSD feel grounded in their present state and not be triggered by events, sounds, or stimuli around them.

Psychiatric service dogs are common with war veterans who struggle to acclimate to life back home.

Finally, a psychiatric service dog may be able to detect when their owner is about to have a panic or anxiety attack by recognizing their elevated heart rate and indicate the handler should sit down in a quiet space.

The dog may then apply deep pressure stimulation to their handler’s body to help them come out of the attack.

How Do I Get A Service Dog?

A psychiatric service dog will often be included as part of a treatment plan structured by a licensed medical professional, usually a psychiatrist.

If the medical professional feels a psychiatric service dog would aid you in your daily life, they will write a formal letter stating that you need one.

It is then up to you to obtain the pre-trained service dog or start the journey of training your own dog.

Who Should Not Get A Service Dog?

Service dogs are not the right treatment for everyone.

There are serious responsibilities and repercussions involved with owning a psychiatric service dog that need to be considered.

A handler needs to be able to pay for their service dog’s living costs, which include yearly vet visits, vaccine boosters, any medications they may need, booster training sessions, pet insurance, grooming requirements, and food.

Additionally, a handler needs to be able to perform daily functions to maintain their psychiatric service dog’s daily care, such as brushing the dog’s coat and teeth, cleaning their ears out, and picking up after them.

Basic Training

Psychiatric service dog training is very intensive because the dog needs to be able to behave properly in public spaces, be aware of the handler’s state of mind and physical needs, be aware of their surroundings, act on commands, and perform the job they are needed to do.

You can get a psychiatric service dog trained professionally, train them yourself, or do a combination of the two.

Here are a few commands we teach all of our service dog puppies in training.

As your puppy gets old she will need to learn more advanced commands.

What Is The Best Dog Breed For Psychiatric Service Dogs?

In general, there is no right or wrong breed when it comes to service animals. However, there are dog breeds that are more suitable for specific tasks.

For example, you wouldn’t use a Chihuahua as a mobility service dog.

Breeds with calm temperaments that are more easily trained (such as Labradors, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and poodles) make better psychiatric service dogs.

It is important to note you cannot be denied access to a place based on the type of dog breed your service animal is.

For example, if you have a pit bull as a psychiatric service dog (because who wouldn’t want to see that smiling face every day!), a place of business cannot deny you access because of the stereotype surrounding the breed.

In a similar vein, if your state or municipality has banned a specific breed, they have to make an exemption for all service dogs of that breed.

We raised a Golden Retriever named Apache for the guide dog program. However, the guide dog program is very strict with their requirements and Apache didn’t pass.

Fortunately, for Apache he was career changed and graduated as a PTSD service dog.

Service Dogs: The Legal Stuff

The ADA provides legal protection for psychiatric service dogs and for their handler’s privacy.

Psychiatric service dogs may not be discriminated against and must be allowed into all places of business with only two specific exceptions:

  1. If a service dog will fundamentally alter or affect a specific service, then the dog may be prevented access to it. For example, service dogs may be prohibited from specific areas of a zoo that houses prey animals.
  2. If a service dog becomes aggressive or unmanageable or the handler does not clean up after it or cannot control it, then a place of business may ask them to leave.

Upon seeing your psychiatric service dog, an employer, business, or service provider cannot ask you about your disability.

They may only ask you two specific questions you are compelled to answer under the ADA:

  1. “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
  2. “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”

You do not need to tell the person about your disorder or how it affects your life, and you do not need to justify your need for the service dog.

However, you may be asked for a letter from your licensed medical provider proving you are entitled to a service dog.

This letter should be with you and your dog at all times.


Do I have to register my dog as a service dog?

The ADA does not require an additional license stating your dog is a service animal.

If your state has local laws that require you to register any pet, then your psychiatric service dog must follow those laws.

There are many online services who sell service dog ‘certification’ or ‘registration’ to unsuspecting owners.

You do not need to have any separate registration forms for your service dog.

All you need is a letter from your licensed medical professional stating that you require a psychiatric service dog.

Every state, county, and city will be different. When we registered our service dog puppies with our county they were given a special service dog tag and I might add that they did not charge us a registration fee.

Are service dogs expensive?

If you purchase a psychiatric service dog that has been professionally bred and trained from birth to be a service animal, then you could be looking at paying several tens of thousands of dollars for them.

If you wish to train your own puppy or dog to be a service animal, then the cost will be significantly lower.

Take a look at my detailed breakdown of costs covering everything from purchasing the puppy to how much their food bowl will cost.

Is a psychiatric service dog also called an emotional support animal?

Emotional support animals are not the same as psychiatric service dogs. Psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to help their handler navigate life.

Emotional support animals are prescribed by medical professionals to provide companionship and boost the confidence of someone who needs it.

Emotional support animals do not have the same protection as service dogs do under the ADA.

Read my dedicated articles on emotional support animals to get a better understanding of what they are.

Does my psychiatric service dog need to wear a vest?

No, they do not.

However, they do need to be leashed or harnessed at all times and may not roam freely in public spaces.

Wearing a vest helps make them visible to other people and signals that you may need additional help in the event of an emergency.

Rolling Over On Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs perform specific tasks for handlers who suffer from psychiatric or mental health disorders.

In addition to completing specific tasks for their handler, psychiatric service dogs also provide companionship and emotional support for their handlers, which is a vital part of many people’s mental health journey.

Let’s recap the most important points:

  • Psychiatric service dogs are protected by the ADA
  • You do not need to certify or register your service dog as a service animal
  • People are not allowed to deny you entry because of your service dog
  • Psychiatric service dogs provide more than companionship to people; they also perform tasks to mitigate their handlers disability
  • You need a letter from a licensed medical professional indicating a service dog is part of your treatment plan
  • Any dog with the proper temperament and training can become a psychiatric service dog

Do you have a psychiatric service dog?

If so, tell us about your service dog in the comment section below.

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Psychiatric Service Dogs: All You Need To Know - Poodle service dog working

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for the information!
    Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are specially trained dogs that assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities. They are different from emotional support animals (ESAs) or therapy dogs in that they are trained to perform specific tasks that help their owners cope with and manage their psychiatric conditions.

    How do psychiatric service dogs help people?
    PSDs help people with psychiatric disabilities by performing specific tasks that mitigate their symptoms. For example, a PSD may be trained to:

    – Provide deep pressure therapy to reduce anxiety
    – Interrupt and redirect repetitive or harmful behaviors
    – Provide tactile stimulation to help with dissociation or flashback episodes
    – Guide their owner to a safe place during a panic attack
    – Alert their owner to the onset of a psychiatric episode or symptom, such as a seizure or flashbacks

    Who can benefit from a psychiatric service dog?
    Individuals with a wide range of psychiatric disabilities can benefit from a PSD, including but not limited to:

    – Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    – Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder (SAD)
    – Mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder
    – Schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders
    – Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
    – Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with comorbid psychiatric conditions

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