You’ve heard the expression man’s best friend. It’s not news that dogs hold this title, but it’s for more reasons than being adorable pets. Dogs have been helping humans for centuries. Prehistoric humans began taming wolves at least 15,000 years ago, turning wild predators into loyal companions. Over time, specific breeds of dogs were created for certain tasks, all to aid humans.
During the 1750s, the first introduction of seeing eye dogs took place at a Paris hospital for the blind. From there, dogs continued to blossom as trusted helpers. While dogs unofficially helped humans with disabilities for hundreds of years, they were not formerly recognized as service dogs until the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990. In this act, service dogs were legally recognized as service animals and entitled to a slew of rights, thus beginning the age of canine companions helping humans.
What’s a Service Dog?
The ADA definition of service dogs is “The American with Disabilities Act, published in 1990, legally recognized service dogs as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, alerting owners to a panic attack, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.”
Types of Service Dogs
There are a few different types of service dogs, each with their own unique training and skill set designed to assist and support their person. Let’s discuss the different types of service dogs below.
- A Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects Americans with disabilities from discrimination. Disabled passengers have the right to have access to their service dog receives extensive certified training to help an individual with tasks or activities that their disability limits or prevents them from doing. Some of the most common types of service dogs are seeing-eye-dogs, autism service dogs, and mobility service dogs. These dogs help their owners safely navigate the world, thus they are allowed in public spaces under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There are also other types of service dogs that receive training for non-disability related issues as well, such as special task forces, such as search and rescue dogs, police dogs, bomb sniffing dogs, and more.
- A psychiatric service dog also receives specialized task training and is a recognized service dog, but they help with an unseen disability, such as anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, etc. These service animals are trained to sense anxiety attacks, depressive episodes, self harming behavior or PTSD episodes and help support their owner through them. Just like other service dogs, psychiatric service dogs have public access rights and certain travel and housing privileges. For example, they are allowed on planes, in non-pet friendly housing, in public spaces, etc. They go anywhere their owner goes and are a legitimate service dog for people with a disability.
- Emotional support animals are companion animals who help alleviate symptoms of mental illness or a mental disorder. Dogs and cats are the most common types of emotional support animals and require no formal training to be recognized as an emotional support animal. They are simply pets that provide comfort to their owner. This is the major difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog. Emotional support animals are pets, service animals are not. An emotional support dog requires a doctor’s note, but no certification or rigorous training. Because of this, emotional support dogs do not have the same federally protected rights as trained service dogs and are not able to accompany their owners in public places or on planes. But, they may be allowed in non-pet housing or not require pet rent in certain housing.
- Therapy dogs are often found in hospitals or nursing homes. The presence of therapy dogs can bring comfort, social interaction, reduced stress, and joy into patients’ or residents’ lives. Therapy dogs usually undergo specialized therapy dog training in order to work in these special settings, but they are not defined as service dogs under the ADA. They do provide emotional support, but these dogs go home with their owners at night and therefore are simply pets, not service animals. They do not have the same rights as service dogs and are not allowed in public places unless specified. If you think your dog may be a good therapy dog, click here to learn how to begin training.
What’s a Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog is a very unique service dog. These diligently trained dogs help support their owners’ unseen disabilities such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, clinical anxiety, and schizophrenia. They undergo specialized service dog training to help their handler
These dogs help people with a disability resume their normal life activities and allow them to go places that might normally overwhelm them or be hard to deal with emotionally. Thousands of psychiatric service dogs help people with mental conditions all across the USA and provide vital assistance and support to their handlers.
Since PSDs require extensive, quality training, they are recognized as a service animal by the ADA and have certain rights protected by federal law. It’s important to know these laws and review this information so you know what your service animal is entitled to.
Service Dog Rights
- Public access rights: This means psychiatric service dogs have a right to come with their owners in public locations, such as restaurants, malls and stores where animals are not normally allowed. This can vary state-to-state law wise, but a service animal must be allowed in an organization if their handler needs them.
- Travel rights: These rights ensure that service dogs can travel with their owners all the places they go. This means they are allowed on all transportation services, including planes, trains, taxis, boats, buses, etc. In fact, these dogs have a right to sit in the cabin and the owner does not have to pay a fee for their service animal to fly with them. Most airlines and travel companies are aware of these rights, but it’s good to know them yourself.
- Fair housing: Under the Fair Housing Act, service dogs can live in housing that doesn’t normally allow pets at no additional fee. This applies even if the housing location has a no pets policy. This way a service dog owner can have the support and assistance they need from their pup in their own home. This is a federal law and cannot be broken by anyone, even landlords or owners of a housing organization. If an individual is denied housing because of a service animal, they are being discriminated against and can make a case with local law enforcement.
- Educational Facility Access: Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, service animals can accompany their owner into schools, colleges, universities, any building of learning, etc. Whether a disability or impairment is physical or mental, if someone needs the support of a service animal to learn in a facility, it must be allowed.
It’s important to remember that these rights only apply to be service dogs, not dogs meant for companionship. Service dogs have important jobs for their owners with a disability and are protected by federal law. An assistance animal is very different from an emotional support animal. There is a place for both types of assistance animals, but it’s important to realize there is a difference and their place in society is very different as well.
Types of Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Let’s talk more about service dog training. Mobility service dogs, psychological service dogs, seeing eye dogs, and all types of service dogs go through extensive service dog training programs. It can be overwhelming to navigate the training world, especially as only one person, so we’re here to help.
There are a few routes you can take when looking to train your service animal
- Self training: One can train their own dog to become a service dog, but it is not recommended. Task training is not for everyone, and is very difficult. A handler may not even know everything they need their dog to do for them. It’s best to work with a qualified service dog trainer who can help you throughout the process. If you do go this route, it’s important to do your research.
- Adopting an already trained PSD from a service dog training organization: This is a popular, albeit, expensive method of acquiring a service dog. Service dog trainers work with a dog, usually from birth, to prepare them to be a service dog. This is a great option for those who need a service dog quickly. The main problem with this method is the high price. A trained service dog will cost you around $30,000 from reputable trainers.
- Partnering with a professional dog trainer: This is the most popular option and for good reason. Working with a service dog trainer allows you and your dog to work together to address any problems you may have and create task training to address it. You can modify behavior, help teach tasks, explain more about your condition, and make sure you and your dog are on the same page and work as a team.
What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?
That’s a lot of training! But what exactly do these dogs learn during training? By definition, a psychiatric service dog must be trained to perform a specific task that aids its owner with their disability. Some tasks PSDs are trained to handle include:
- Wake up their owner from nightmares
- Provide tactile stimulation
- Help their owner calm down
- Get help if necessary
- Facilitating social interactions and reducing fears of being around others
- Grounding a person dealing with anxiety
- Fetch medication and water when the owner can’t
- Lead their owner to safe place
- Help create a safe personal space if their handler is overwhelmed
- Provide balance assistance if their owner is struggling
- Remind their person to take medication at certain times of day
This is why training is so important! The services these dogs provide are very important to people suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD and many other disabilities. We’re currently onboarding our professional dog trainers and will be offering this option very soon. In the meantime, those interested in getting a psychiatric service dog can begin the process by seeing if they qualify for a PSD through our free screening here.
How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog in California
The first step to getting a PSD is talking to a mental health professional. The doctor will discuss your mental health and see if a service dog or an emotional support dog may be a good fit for you and your disability. Remember, there is a big difference between service animals and emotional support animals, but both are known to provide comfort and peace to individuals suffering from depression or other mental illnesses.
Once you have a doctor’s recommendation, it’s time to find a dog for you. For the record, any dog can be a service dog. There are no laws about breed restriction or laws about size or age requirements. Any dog can become a service dog, though some breeds are preferred for training programs and services.
It’s all about finding what works for you. If you struggle with balance because of your medication or condition, a larger dog may be a good choice so they can support you. Small dogs also have many benefits as well. The ADA states no specific animal or breed is better than any other at providing services to their handler. This information is important to remember as you embark on a journey of finding the perfect service dog for you.
Adopt a Service Dog in California
Animal shelters and rescue organizations are a great place to find a canine companion who you can then train to become a psychiatric service dog. Below are some shelters in California where you can potentially adopt a new best friend. Visit their website and see if you find your perfect match! Volunteers will be able to offer a lot of great information about a dog’s behavior and personality to see if they would be a fit for you.
- Central California SPCA – Fresno, California
- San Francisco SPCA Mission Adoption Center – San Francisco, California
- South LA Animal Shelter – Los Angeles, California
- Pasadena Humane – Pasadena, California
- North Central Animal Shelter – Los Angeles, California
- Family Dog Rescue – San Francisco, California
- Rocket Dog Rescue – Oakland, California
Public shelters and private rescues are great places to search for your new companion. Their adoption program ensures you’ll find your perfect fit in the California area. Be sure to mention your disability during the process to see if the dog would work well for you as a service dog and do well in service dog training.
Psychiatric Service Dog Training in California
Once you have found the perfect canine compassion, it’s time to begin training. As mentioned earlier, partner with a service dog training organization or service dog trainer for the best results. Look for service dog trainers in your area, whether that be Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, etc. that have experience with psychological assistance dogs.
The trainer will map out a service dog training program for you and your dog based on information you provide about your disorder. Remember, you and your dog are clients here, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or make recommendations. Dogs are individuals, so custom service dog training plans are usually necessary. During training, your dog will learn the tasks it needs to perform, be introduced to busy places, learn how to deal with multiple persons in a public area, how to behave in public, and much more.
The services a service dog provides are very important for a person with a disability. Each task has a purpose and a quality training program should know that. There are hundreds of service dog training programs in California, so research each one thoroughly and read the information they provide to see if it would suit you.
Service dog training is not a simple process, so if this sounds like a lot, you may benefit more from emotional support animals. But if a disability affects a persons’ quality of life, a service dog can make a world of difference. Vigorous training is definitely worth it in the end, as you earn a family member that helps you through life.
Are you interested in getting a psychiatric service dog?
Here at CertaPet, we can help. Certapet is an online telehealth platform that improves access to mental health care in the U.S. with a focus on providing services to individuals who are seeking animal assisted interventions as part of their treatment plan.
We are currently coordinating with dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free. We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options. In the meantime, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I buy an already trained service dog?
There is no set path one should take, but we recommend working with a trainer with a dog for best results.
What tasks can a service dog perform to help with my mental illness?
Dogs can perform many tasks, such as fetching water, aiding with balance, providing a calming touch, getting help, providing medication reminders, etc.
Can my dog be my service dog?
Your own dog can become your service dog. There are no breed or size restrictions, though we do recommend working with a professional trainer.