It’s been scientifically proven that mental illness is on the rise in America. In the year of 2017, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, an increase of 1.5 million people from the previous year. In times of turmoil, it’s normal to struggle.
There is not one specific kind of mental illness. Some common ailments include anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more. Mental illness can affect anyone, but certain groups are even more at risk, such as veterans or persons with prior trauma. But anyone, including civilians or any average person, can need assistance.
There are many challenges for people with a mental illness or disability, and this is where service dogs, such as psychiatric service dogs, come in.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog is defined by the American with Disabilities Act 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 has seizures, providing medication reminders for someone with a mental illness, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.” This is just a small list of the amazing tasks these dogs help their handler accomplish with their disability or impairment. Other types include search and rescue dogs, bomb dogs, etc.
Some other ways service dogs help is:
- Helping with mobility issues for someone with cerebral palsy
- Providing pressure therapy for san owner with spinal cord injuries
- Help a person with a mental disability to focus in classes
- And much more
Types of Service Dogs
There are a few different types of service dogs, each with their own specialized training program and skill set.
- A emotional support animal is considered an assistance animal. They provide care and comfort to their owner who suffers from a mental illness. But there are other animals that fall into this category. A service dog receives extensive training to help an individual with tasks or activities that their disability makes difficult or impossible. Some of the most common types of service dogs are a guide dog or a mobility service dog. These dogs help their owners safely navigate the world, thus they are allowed in public spaces under the ADA. Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, service dogs are also allowed in non-pet friendly housing.
- A psychiatric service dog also receives specialized training and is a recognized service dog, but they help with unseen disabilities. These dogs 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.
- Emotional support animals are companion pets who help provide comfort to their owner. ESAs are pets, service animals are not. ESAs do not require formal training, just a doctor’s recommendation. 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 their owner to pay pet rent.
- Therapy dogs are often found in hospitals or nursing homes. The presence of a therapy dog can bring comfort and peace to patients. 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. These dogs go home with their owners at night and therefore are pets. A therapy dog does not have the same rights as service dogs and are not allowed in public places unless specified.
What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog helps their handler with a mental disorder or disability navigate the world. They help with conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, autism, etc. PTSD is not only experienced by veterans and depression can happen to anyone, these dogs are a great tool to help and are great to have on your team.
Common tasks these dogs are trained to handle include:
- Wake up their owner from night terrors
- Provide tactile stimulation and pressure therapy
- Help their owner navigate their home and life
- Facilitating social interactions and reducing fears of being around others
- Help their owner calm down when agitated
- Help their owner complete a task
- Grounding a person dealing with anxiety
- Help create a safe personal space if overwhelmed
- Get medication and water when the owner can’t
- Provide balance assistance
A dog and its handler work as a team to complete the task at hand. Service dogs make people with disabilities lives easier and help their well being both emotionally and physically. 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. Answer the questions to see if a PSD could help you in difficult times.
Service Dog Rights
Since service dogs require extensive training, they are recognized as a service animal by the ADA and have certain rights, such as all of the following:
- Public access rights: This means they have a right to accompany their handler in public locations, such as restaurants, malls and any establishment where animals are not normally allowed. This is vital as a handler may need their dog for a task while out and about.
- Travel rights: These rights ensure that service dogs can travel with their owners everywhere 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. If you’re in the search for a home or rental and they deny you on the basis of your service dog, that is discriminatory and should be brought up with local law enforcement.
- Educational Facility Access: Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, service dogs can accompany their owner into schools, colleges, universities, etc. Whether a disability or impairment is physical or mental, if someone needs the support of a service animal to learn in classes, it must be allowed.
Types of Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Let’s talk more about service dog training. All service dogs go through extensive training programs. This is vital as they help with many things and require a number of classes to be efficient at their job. We’re here to help you on your search for the best training and answer any questions you might have. Let’s address a few.
- Self training: Can I train my own service dog? Yes, it is possible, but not recommended. This route requires a lot of research, and is very emotionally training, as well as physically tiring. It’s best to search for a qualified trainer near your home for a variety of reasons, including their expertise and communication skills help you and your dog as a team in the long run. Task training is difficult to teach and is vital, so it’s best to find a professional.
- Adopting an already trained service dog from an organization: Can I adopt an already trained service dog from a nonprofit organization? Yes, you can! This method is great for people who need help soon and don’t have a lot of time for training. You acquire an already trained dog thanks to this program. The downfall with this is trained service dogs can cost around $30,000 from reputable trainers.
- Partnering with a professional dog trainer: Can I work with a trainer? Yes! This is the most popular option and our recommendation. This allows you and your dog to work together to maximize the ways they can help you and strengthen your bond. You get to work with someone one on one in this program, and you and your dog are clients, getting all the attention you may need. Training dogs is hard, and training psychological service dogs is even harder.
How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog in Colorado
The first step to getting a PSD is talking to a licensed mental health professional or doctor. You’ll discuss the issues you’re having and if a PSD could help you. They may discuss a program option for you or medication. They’ll discuss if you’re fit to be a handler or if you could benefit from the assistance of an emotional support animal, therapy dogs or psychiatric service dogs. If they write an order saying you need a PSD, the process begins.
Once you have a doctor’s recommendation, it’s time to find a dog for you. It’s important to know as a handler that any dog can be a service dog. There are no breed restrictions, size or age requirements. Some breeds are more popular than others, but it’s not a law. It’s all about finding what works for you. If you have a condition that hinders your balance, look for larger dogs who could help support you.
Adopt a Service Dog in Colorado
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 Colorado where you can potentially adopt a new best friend. Each has its own unique adoption program, where volunteers will be able to help you find the best fit for your canine and handler team.
- Animal Rescue of the Rockies Aurora, Colorado, US
- Colorado Animal Rescue Glenwood Springs, Colorado, US
- Humane Society Parks Peak Region Colorado Springs, Colorado, US
- Aurora Animal Shelter Aurora, Colorado, US
- Foothills Animal Shelter Golden, Colorado, US
- Riverside Animal Shelter Brighton, Colorado, US
Training your Psychiatric Service Dog
Once you have found your perfect pooch, it’s time to begin training.. Look for a service dog trainer in your area that has experience with training service dogs. This individual will work with you for the next few months as you train your psychiatric service dog, so it’s important to trust them. Don’t be afraid to look at multiple organizations.
During service dog training, your dog will not only learn the tasks it needs to, but also how to behave in public, how to act around other dogs while working, how to act as a team with you, how to provide the assistance you need, and much more.
Training can be overwhelming, so remember this is all to benefit you and your disability. In the end, you end up with an amazing service animal who is dedicated to helping you navigate the world and keep you safe.
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!
What is a service dog?
According to the ADA, service dogs are dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
How much does a service dog cost?
To adopt an already trained service dog costs around $30,000, while working with a trainer greatly varies in cost across the country, depending on the expertise of the trainer.
Can I train my own service dog?
Yes, but it is not recommended. Training is very intense and we recommend working with a professional trainer.