Dogs are a staple in American households. Especially in Washington, where nearly 43% of households own a canine companion. Dogs provide proven benefits in terms of health, such as lower cholesterol, increased mood, a more active lifestyle, lower blood pressure and much more.
A pet can offer social interaction with other people, emotional support, acceptance, companionship to children and adults, give a person confidence, teach compassion, help children learn to walk and play, and so much more.
It’s not surprising why dogs are man’s best friend! They’ve been helping people for centuries, providing physical and emotional support. Once wild predators, humans began to tame wolves to help with hunting and protection and now, they provide even more help for people as service dogs.
What is a Service Dog?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 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.”
This was the first time a service animal was recognized by state law or federal law. This was huge for people with a service dog. Now their animal was protected under law and their rights couldn’t be questioned in public.
Types of Service Dogs
There are a few different types of service dogs, all that go through their own unique training to provide the best assistance and services for their handlers.
- A service dog receives extensive training to help an individual with tasks that their disability makes difficult for them. Some of the most common types of service dogs are guide dogs, epilepsy service dogs, and mobility service dogs. These dogs help their handlers navigate the world, and therefore are allowed in public spaces under the 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 training and is a recognized service dog, but they help unseen disabilities, such as post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders and others. Just like other service dogs, psychiatric service dogs have public access rights and travel and housing privileges. They are allowed in any public accommodation, on planes, om public transportation and in any housing accommodation.
- 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. This is the biggest difference between emotional support animals and service animals. Emotional support animals are pets, service animals are not. If one were to acquire an emotional support animal, they only need a doctor’s note or recommendation. Service dogs require formal training. Emotional support animals do not have any federally protected rights, but may be allowed in housing places that don’t normally allow pets, or may have pet rent waived.
- Therapy dogs are often found in hospitals or nursing homes. Therapy dogs usually undergo therapy dog training in order to work in these special settings, but they are not defined as service animals under the ADA. They do not help with disabilities, but provide comfort for patients and families. 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 animal, click here to learn how to begin training. Therapy dogs can be any breed of dog, they just must pass a Canine Good Citizen test and wear a proper identification tag when visiting approved sites.
What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?
A psychiatric service dog is a very unique type of service animal. These specially-trained service dogs help their owners with unseen disabilities, which is quite different from physical disabilities, such as anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder and more. A psychiatric service dog guides their handler through life and helps them overcome emotional and mental challenges. Since psychiatric service dogs require extensive training and have a vital role, they are recognized as a service animal by the ADA and have certain rights protected by federal law.
Remember, therapy dogs and emotional support animals do not have these same rights. It’s important to know the law surrounding service animals. Let’s discuss those rights below.
Service Dog Rights
- Public access rights: This means psychiatric service dogs have a right to come with their owners in public accommodations, such as restaurants, malls, businesses and other places where animals are not normally allowed. This can vary with state law, but a service animal must be allowed in an accommodation if their handler needs them. Service dogs are the only animals with these rights.
- Travel rights: This ADA ensured right states that service dogs can travel with their handlers anywhere they go. This means they are allowed on all public transportation, including planes, trains, taxis, 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.
- Fair Housing Act: 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 home. If an individual is denied housing because of a service animal, this violates disability law and is discrimination and can be brought up in a court of law.
- 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 in a facility, it must be allowed. This partnership of human and dog is vital and must be honored in both public and private schools.
Remember, these laws do not apply to emotional support animals, therapy animals or therapy dogs, or a normal pet, only to service dogs. In fact, only dogs are recognized as service animals under the ADA. No other species of animal can be defined as a service animal that received federally protected rights. Any questions about these policies should be asked to local law enforcement.
What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?
So we know these service dogs are important. They obviously undergo more training than an emotional support animal or a therapy dog, but why? By definition, a psychiatric service dog must be trained to perform a specific task that aids its owner with their disability. A therapy dog, pet, or emotional support dog do not undergo task training. These tasks assistance dogs perform are what help their handler get through life. Some tasks PSDs are trained to handle include:
- Waking their owner up from a nightmare
- Providing tactile stimulation during anxiety attacks
- Grounding a person dealing with anxiety
- Providing companionship during depressive episodes
- Fetching medication and water
- Leading their handler to a safe, isolated place if overwhelmed from anxiety or PTSD
- Provide balance assistance if their handler is struggling to stand or get up
- Remind their handler to take medication at certain times of day
The services these dogs provide are very important to people suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD and many other disabilities. They are more than comfort animals or emotional support animals, they provide vital services to their handler and help them with any accommodations they need. They act as a dog guide through life for them. This is more than a therapy dog or therapy animal does, hence why training is so important.
Speaking of, 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
We keep mentioning why training is so important. Service dogs go through extensive training programs to be prepared for anything their handler may experience. This dog guides their owner through any situation or issue that may arise. The ADA lays out the foundation, but training is specialized per person and dog.
Training service dogs is difficult. There is no law or state law in Washington or anywhere that states a minimum amount of training is required for a service animal, but it’s important to train well and to train for a while. Unlike a therapy dog or a household pet, service animals have to be prepared for any situation to support their owner. They act as a dog guide and their owner relies on them.
There are a few different ways to train your service animal.
- Self training: It is possible for a handler to train their own service dog, but it is not recommended. Task training is very difficult. It varies from disability to disability and requires a lot of accommodations and a very patient person to take charge. This is especially important with children, as children cannot train their own service dog. The services they provide are very important and handlers can get overwhelmed or have questions during the process, so we recommend working with a professional trainer.
- Adopting an already trained PSD from a service dog organization: This is a popular method, as it doesn’t require a lot of effort on the handlers’ part, but the cost is very high. Service dog trainers work with puppies bred for this job on site to prepare them to be a service dog. They train them for any disability and deliver you a fully trained dog. The main problem with this method is the high price. One trained service dog will cost you around $30,000 from reputable trainers. That is a lot of money for one person and you don’t get the bonding experience with your dog during training.
- Partnering with a professional dog trainer: This is the most popular option and the one we endorse. Working with a service dog trainer allows you and your dog to work together to address any problems you may have and find a task to help solve it. You can modify behavior of your pooch, explain more about your condition, and make sure you and your dog are on the same page and work as a partnership. It also helps to be able to ask someone questions as you and your dogs are the clients in this situation.
There is a lot of information out there about service dog training. You’ll hear many terms you might not be familiar with. Trainers are familiar with state law, therapy dogs, service animals, home behavior, the ADA, each disability, a good training site or place, persons with experience and are a wealth of information. It’s best to partner with them for optimum results.
How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog in Washington
The first step to getting a psychiatric service dog is consulting with a mental health professional in the Washington area. They will discuss your mental health and see if a service dog or an emotional support dog may be a good fit for you. You may even benefit from a therapy dog or simply a pet. You may even qualify for a service animal, but this varies person to person.
It’s important to remember that in order to get a service dog, you must have a diagnosed disability. There is no state law defining mental illness or disability, so a doctor will help you define that and see if a service animal could help you. Many people benefit from the presence of a pet, whether it be a therapy dog, emotional support animal, a service dog, or simply a pet or animal in your home. That accommodation alone can have drastic results on mental health for a person.
Once you have a doctor’s recommendation, it’s time to find a dog for you. Any dog can become a service animal. There is not a law with breed restrictions or size or age requirements. 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 breed is better than any other at providing services to their handler, so any information stating
Adopt a Service Dog in Washington
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 animal shelters in Washington where you can potentially adopt a new best friend. Public and private shelters have thousands of animals up for adoption in the Washington area, so there’s a perfect animal match for each person!
Visit their website, see if you find your perfect match and fill out an application! All contact information is available on their site. Plenty of animals are available, and could make a great therapy dog, emotional support animal, therapy animal, service dog or service animal. People at the shelter will help you find your perfect service animal to bring home.
- Humane Society for Southwest Washington – Vancouver, Washington
- Humane Society of Tacoma and Pierce County – Tacoma, Washington
- Seattle Animal Shelter – Seattle, Washington
- Homeward Pet Adoption Center – Woodinville, Washington
- Auburn Valley Humane Society – Auburn, Washington
- Seattle Humane – Seattle, Washington
- Whatcom Humane Society – Bellingham, Washington
- Everett Animal Shelter – Everett, Washington
These shelters, or any animal adoption nonprofit organization in Washington, will help you find your perfect dog guide! Be sure to mention your disability during the process to see if the dog would work well for you as a service animal. You need a dog guide through life, so don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Ask questions about their personality, trainability, age and more. Each person is unique, and the same applies to animals. Get to know an animal and they can be your perfect team mate with your disability. You can save each other.
Psychiatric Service Dog Training in Washington
Once you have found the perfect canine compassion, it’s time to begin training. We again recommend partnering with a service dog trainer, who can answer your questions and help you understand terms and other things you may need to know. This person or these persons will help you a lot on your training journey and can help you with accommodations, finding a place to train, helping with definition of training terms, informing you of registries and other law requirements for service dogs and more.
All training accommodations are different, but most will map out a service dog training program for you and your dog based on information you provide about your disorder and your pooch. Handlers and dogs are all individuals, so each person and dog may be slightly different. They’ll make any necessary accommodations and begin task training with your dog.
During training, a dog will learn the tasks it needs to complete for its person or persons. They’ll be introduced to new places in public , the owner’s home, other animals, large areas with large groups of people, other service animals, and much more. It’s not only about training tasks, but also training behavior at both home and out in public. The trainer will help find the best tasks to benefit your disability and work with you and your service dog as a team the entire way.
Search for trainers in your area. Be sure to search for service dog trainers, not for therapy dogs basic animal training. Contact multiple people or organizations, not just one. You’ll want to find your perfect match for the best results. Look for prior experience with service animals and disability service dog training. Some dogs do best with training in their own home and some do better with public training. Consider all these factors while searching.
So now you know all about service dogs, therapy dogs, service animals and therapy animals. You’re familiar with the law surrounding service animals, therapy dogs and people with disabilities using them as a dog guide. You probably have a lot of questions, and that’s what we are here for. It’s time to start the process!
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!
How long does it take to train a service dog?
Every dog is unique, and there is no law stating minimum training requirements, so this answer varies greatly depending on the dog, the type of training and where it takes place. Most dogs are trained in 6 months to a year.
What is the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal?
A service dog is a federally recognized assistance animal that undergoes specialized training to assist people with disabilities, while emotional support animals are merely pets who help provide comfort to people and require no formal training.
What is a therapy dog?
A therapy dog provides comfort to people in stressful situations. A therapy animal is usually in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, or places along those lines. They are a pet who passes a good citizen test and provides comfort, then goes home with their owner at night. They are not service animals, they merely provide comfort to people.