Mental illness is very common in America. In fact, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with one. In 2019, that was nearly 52 million people. It has many forms and varies in severity for each individual, but treatments and assistance are available. Medicine is one route many seek out, but psychiatric service dogs are another another popular support tool.
It’s known that pets can provide positive health benefits. Some examples include decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol, lowered heart rate, help you stay in shape and more. On top of that, pets offer emotional support and their presence has a positive effect on people who suffer from psychological disabilities.
These psychological service dogs have a very important job in the world and make life much easier for their handler. They can boost their quality of life, allow them to work, help alter harmful behaviors, calm anxiety attacks, etc. Let’s learn more about these amazing dogs.
What is a Service Dog?
Dogs have helped humans for centuries, it’s why they earned the nickname “man’s best friend”. The first time dogs were officially documented as helpers was in the 1750s. This was the earliest systematic instruction of seeing eye guide dogs, taking place in a Paris hospital for the blind. Since then, service dogs have become more and more common and accomplish hundreds of tasks for their handlers.
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, 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.” This is just a small list of the amazing tasks these dogs help their handler accomplish with their disability or impairment.
Types of Service Dogs
There are a few different types of service dogs, each with a specific amount of training and federally protected rights.
- A Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) applies both to service dogs and emotional support animals. The aim of the ACAA is to protect people with disabilities from discrimination while flying. Under this Act, people with a service dog receives extensive certified training to help an individual with tasks or activities that their disability limits or prevents them from doing on their own. Some of the most common types of service dogs are a seeing-eye dog and a mobility service dog. These dogs help their owners safely navigate the world, thus they are allowed in public spaces under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, service dogs are also allowed in non-pet friendly housing so they can provide assistance to their owners. There are also other types of service dogs that receive training for special task forces, such as search and rescue dogs, police dogs, bomb sniffing dogs, and more.
- A psychiatric service dog also receives specialized training and is a recognized service dog, but they help with unseen disabilities, such as anxiety, posttraumatic stress 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. Dogs and cats are the most common types of emotional support animals and require no formal training to be recognized as an assistance animal. They are just friendly pets that provide comfort. This is the major difference between service animals and emotional support animals. Emotional support animals are pets, service animals are not. ESAs do require a doctor’s recommendation though. 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 a therapy dog 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. These dogs go home with their owners at night and therefore are pets. They do 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 is the main type of service animal we’ll talk about today. These specially trained dogs help support their owners out in the world as they deal with unseen disabilities such as PTSD, clinical anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Their role greatly differs from a service dog for people with a mobility disability or sight disability.
These dogs help people with mental disorders 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.
Service Dog Rights
Since PSDs 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 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 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. 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, etc. Whether a disability or impairment is physical or mental, if someone needs the support of a service animal to learn, it must be allowed.
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: Yes, it is possible for someone to train their own dog to become a service dog. This route requires a lot of research and must follow certain guidelines set by the ADA to be met during the training though and is not recommended. It’s best to work with a qualified service dog trainer who can help you throughout the process.
- Adopting an already trained PSD from an organization: This method requires a lot of money upfront, as training a service dog is expensive, but connects clients with an already trained dog that is ready to help. This method is great for people who need help soon and don’t have a lot of time for training. The organization will ask you what behaviors or tasks you would need the dog to learn and deliver you a trained dog. The downfall is trained service dogs can cost around $30,000 from reputable trainers.
- Partnering with a professional dog trainer: This is the most popular option for a reason. This allows you and your dog to work together to maximize the ways they can help you. You can modify behavior, help teach additional tasks, explain more about your condition, and make sure you and your dog are on the same page. Service dog training organizations work with you and your dog as an individual and as clients, and provide a lot of assistance.
What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?
So you know you need training, but what do these dogs actually do for someone with a disability? By definition, a PSD must be trained to perform a specific task that aids its owner. This is why partnering with professional service dog programs is often the best option. It’s important for both the dog and the owner to work together, which a dog training organization can help with.
Common tasks PSDs are trained to handle include:
- Wake up their owner from nightmares
- Provide tactile stimulation
- Facilitating social interactions and reducing fears of being around others
- Help their owner calm down when agitated
- Grounding a person dealing with anxiety
- Help create a safe personal space if overwhelmed
- Get medication and water when the owner can’t
- Get help if necessary
- Provide balance assistance
- Remind a person to take medication at certain times of day
Now you can see why it’s important to work with a certified trainer, that’s a lot of information! 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 Florida
The first step to getting a PSD is talking to a mental health professional. This means you must make an appointment with a doctor for a consultation. They will discuss your behaviors, your disability and work with you to decide if a service animal is a good choice for you. Doctors offer assistance to clients with mental health issues every day and are there to help. You may fill out a form, be asked what products or medications you use now to help, and be asked about your support system, such as friends and family. From there, a doctor will help you decide if a service dog could work for you.
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 breed restrictions, size or age requirements or anything like that. 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. Keep things like that in mind when looking for your ideal service animal.
Adopt a Service Dog in Florida
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 Florida 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.
- Orange County Animal Services Orlando, Florida
- Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando Orlando, Florida
- Miami Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption and Protection Miami, Florida
- Humane Society of Greater Miami Miami, Florida
- Animal Welfare Society of South Florida Miami, Florida
- SPCA Florida Lakeland, Florida
- North Florida Animal Rescue Wellborn, Florida
Training your Psychiatric Service Dog
Once you have found your perfect pooch, the training begins. Look for a service dog trainer in your area that has experience with psychological assistance 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, talk to others, etc.
During training, your dog will not only learn the tasks it needs to, but also how to behave in busy public places, how to walk well on a leash, how to respond to you, and many other vital things to make them a successful service dog. Look for a service dog trainer in Florida that you feel confident working with you to train your service dog.
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!
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
What does a psychological service dog do?
This varies from person to person, but psychological service dogs help keep their handlers calm during mental episodes and provide comfort and assistance to combat negative behaviors.
How do I get a service dog for my anxiety?
You must begin by consulting a mental health professional and receiving their recommendation to begin the process.