Awareness of one’s own health is key. Whether it be physical or mental, we could all use a little extra support. This is where service dogs come in.
Service dogs have been around since 1970 officially, but for centuries unofficially. Dogs have helped humans since the start of time. They’ve worked as hunters, protectors and as trusted companions for thousands of years. Dogs have helped soldiers, police officers, veterans and many more persons.
Service dogs were officially recognized for the first time in the Americans with Disabilities act in 1990. It’s arguably the biggest act for people with disabilities since the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which made it illegal to discriminate against a person with a mental disability “in programs conducted by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of federal contractors.” This was the beginning of a series of laws protecting those with disabilities, both physical and mental, all across the nation.
What is a Service Dog?
Under the ADA, A service dog is legally defined as “service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” Technically, this applies for any service animal. Dogs are the only animal federally recognized as a service animal, but past programs have seen animals such as a monkey and a miniature horse act as animal assistants.
There are many types of service dogs to assist with both mental illness and physical disabilities. 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 can help with many things. Just a few examples of this include:
- Comforting a soldier or person with post traumatic stress disorder
- Acting as a guide dog someone who is blind or has vision issues
- Acting as a hearing dog for someone who is deaf
- Alerting someone with diabetes of low blood sugar
- Aiding a handler with autism when they have sensory overload
- Letting an owner with epilepsy know when seizures are coming on
- Helping an owner with a mental illness during an anxiety attack
As you can see, these dogs assist with many things and help people make accommodations with their disabilities. Let’s discuss the different types of service dogs now.
Types of Service Dogs
- 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 prevents them from doing on their own. Some of the most common types of service dogs are seeing-eye dogs and mobility service dogs. These animals help their owners safely navigate the world, thus they are allowed in public spaces under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They can also live with their owner in any housing accommodation at no additional charge.
- A psychiatric service dog also receives specialized training and is a recognized service dog, but they help with unseen disabilities, such as anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, etc. These service animals are trained to sense anxiety attacks, depressive episodes, self harming behavior and help support their owner. These dogs have public access rights and certain travel and housing privileges as well.
- Emotional support animals are companion animals who help provide comfort to their owners. Dogs and cats are the most common types of emotional support animals and require no formal training to be recognized as an assistance animal. Emotional support animals are pets, service animals are not. Emotional support dogs only require a doctor’s recommendation on formal letterhead. They 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 according to local law.
- 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.
Service Dogs in Ohio
Federal law protects service animals’ rights, but states’ laws are also a big factor for service dogs and their handlers. Ohio is a great state for service animals! According to the Ohio Administrative Code (Ohio Revised Code 955.43), a person who is blind, deaf or hearing-impaired, or mobility-impaired and who is accompanied by an assistance dog is entitled to the “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all public conveyances.” This means they must be allowed to use any accommodation with their service dog and cannot be denied access.
There are a few limitations and conditions with this law though. The service dog may not occupy a seat in any public conveyance, it must be leashed while using the facilities of a common carrier, and any dog in training to become an assistance dog must be covered by a liability insurance policy provided by the nonprofit special agency which is training the dog.
Ohio is great for accommodations for people with an illness or disability. In fact, it’s ranked 15th in the country for disability access, which includes laws and policies about service animals’ accommodations and general disability accommodations.
What’s 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 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.
Since PSDs require extensive, quality 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 accommodations, such as restaurants, malls, grocery stores and other places 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. This is a federally protected right and in Ohio, is included in their state code.
- Travel rights: These rights ensure that service dogs can travel with their owners everywhere they go. This means they are allowed on transportation services and accommodation, 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. This law may vary state to state in minor ways, but remains true thanks to federal law.
- Fair housing: Under the Fair Housing Act, an animal assistant 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, a working dog 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.
What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?
Common tasks PSDs are trained to handle include:
- Wake up their person from nightmares
- Provide a calming touch or presence for anxious owners
- Initiate public interactions and keep their owner calm
- Help their owner calm down when agitated
- Grounding a person dealing with anxiety
- Help create a safe area if overwhelmed
- Get medication and water when the owner can’t
- Get help if necessary
- Provide balance assistance
- Remind a person to take medication
Now you can see why it’s important to work with a certified trainer. 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.
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.
How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog in Ohio
The first step to getting a PSD is to consult with a mental health professional. A doctor will work with you and discuss the issues you are having to see if a service dog or emotional support animal could be a good fit. To give you an idea, you may fill out a form that states the symptoms of your illness and be asked about previous treatment plans if any. Be honest with this information, it’s vital you are truthful if you’re hoping for the placement of any service animals or emotional support animals for your mental illness.
Once you have a doctor’s recommendation, it’s time to find a dog for you. Any dog can be a service dog. This is important to remember as you look for your perfect fit. A person who struggles with balance may want a larger dog to help support them. Children sometimes prefer smaller dogs due to fear of large dogs. Any size or breed can become a service dog and cannot be denied access to any accommodation based on those factors.
Adopt a Service Dog in Ohio
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 Ohio where you can potentially adopt a new best friend.
- Humane Society of Greater Dayton – Dayton, Ohio
- Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals – Dayton, Ohio
- Animal Friends Humane Society – Hamilton, Ohio
- Toledo Humane Society – Toledo, Ohio
- Cleveland Animal Protective League – Cleveland, Ohio
- One Of a Kind Pets Rescue – Akron, Ohio
Training your Psychological 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 service animals to assist with mental illness. This person will be your main source of information throughout the process, so find someone you trust. You and your dog are the clients here, and you learn as much as the dog, so it’s important to be confident in your choice.
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. Some even call it handler training, because the human learns just as much as the dog. This is why we recommend working with a professional trainer for animal assistants if you have the ability to do so.
Training can be overwhelming, but service work is difficult, so it’s important to be thorough and work with someone who makes the process as simple as possible for you.
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?
A service dog is a well-trained dog that provides assistance and completes tasks for someone with a mental or physical disability.
Can any animal be a service animal?
To be recognized by the ADA as a service animal, the animal in question must be a dog.
What is the difference between an emotional support dog and a service dog?
A service dog is a federally recognized service animal and has rights thanks to extensive training. An emotional support animal is a pet who provides comfort to their owner and has no formal training.