What is Anxiety?
For the majority of us, experiencing anxiety is a normal, occasional part of life. According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety is defined as sudden feelings of intense fear, dread and terror that reach a peak rapidly; better known as an anxiety attack. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar disorders being the primary, root causes of developing an anxiety disorder.
There can also be other associated symptoms including: feeling restless or tense, weak or tired, having difficulty concentrating or focusing, and an overall difficulty controlling emotions and these symptoms.
Those with anxiety disorders, of which there are many different kinds, have all too frequent, recurrent episodes that interfere with all aspects of daily life. Because of this increased frequency, and out-of-proportion intensity, many sufferers choose to avoid certain places, people, situations, etc.
This is where our services were designed to shine; the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects Americans with disabilities from discrimination. Disabled passengers have the right to bring their service dog with them wherever they go, as these dogs are trained to perform special tasks that their handler requires.
Common Treatments and Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety
As more and more people seek holistic alternatives when developing their treatment plans, the use of assistance animals such as psychiatric service dogs is becoming more commonplace.
In the past, people with anxiety symptoms were directed to stay active, avoid drug and alcohol use, and get help from a mental health provider as soon as possible – as there is no real way to predict what will cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder, or when. The end result of a doctor’s evaluation would typically consist of mental health counseling and medication treatments.
To evolve with these times, CertaPet has made the process for this revolutionary service completely digital, not to mention easy to navigate. We provide a free, confidential screening test which takes less than 5 minutes to determine your candidacy. From there, you will be matched with a licensed mental health professional in your state and contacted to set up your telehealth appointment. The final step is our therapist’s recommendation, which includes a treatment plan with your particular service dog, and an official ESA letter if you qualify.
And that’s all you will need to obtain either a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal, based on your situation. Whether you receive a therapy dog, emotional support animal, or any other type of service animal, you’ll be taking the safer, more beneficial route that only modern holistic alternatives can provide.
What are Psychiatric Service Dogs?
A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a type of assistance animal that’s trained to perform specific tasks for individuals living with a mental illness. These unique tasks are directly related to the handler’s disability.
Most of us are accustomed to seeing guide dogs supporting those with physical disabilities like a hearing or sight impairment. However, a psychiatric service dog helps people with typically unseen, unnoticeable disabilities.
For example, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who experience panic attacks or similar challenges can greatly benefit from the service of a PSD. Those who live with social phobia or other anxiety disorders can also find the service of a PSD to be incredibly beneficial.
CertaPet’s Blog page is fully stocked with informative articles, testimonials, and data from mental health professionals. For a more in-depth overview of this complicated subject, read our full article.
How Can Service Dogs Help with Anxiety?
Psychiatric service dogs assist their owners by performing special tasks that can help alleviate the individual’s depression, anxiety, phobia, etc. These tasks will be specific to the PSDs owner and will typically be something that the person cannot do themselves.
Assistance from psychiatric service dogs can be physical, mental health related, or it can require the dog to use their natural senses. Either way, a trained PSD will typically serve as a buffer in certain situations and read signals from their handler to help them in whatever way is needed.
An article from the Huffington Post further details the top 10 benefits that therapy dogs give to their handlers who suffer from PTSD, Bipolar disorder, or other mental health conditions that result in anxiety attacks or diagnosed anxiety disorders.
Mental Health Benefits
The range of benefits a service animal can provide is wide and ecompasses both the physical and mental manifestations of anxiety. A piece from thebark.com gives further insight into what a service animal can do for anxiety stricken people.
Psychiatric symptoms can include depression, lack of a social life, stressors of all kinds, and feelings of having no meaning or purpose to life. Service animals can instinctively provide comfort and support for most any mental health response to a triggered anxiety attack.
The methods used by emotional support animals are supported by their keen senses and extensive training. Thereby building a relationship based on tackling anxiety driven symptoms and eliminating them quickly, and safely. This is to create a less overloaded mental space so the owner can not only focus better on the daily tasks at hand but accomplish them as well.
Studies show that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks. What’s more, dog owners who do have heart attacks have better survival rates following the events.
Service dogs, as with all dogs, need to regularly be outdoors – and active. Both psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals are able to help you bridge those gaps, by just being themselves and noticing the physical effects of anxiety attacks and other mental health conditions. By going out in the world with your anxiety service dog, you will, without realizing it, be keeping active, fit and losing weight.
The American Kennel Club wrote this science-based piece that further speaks to these benefits and more.
Specific Tasks Service Dogs Can Perform to Support Their Owner
The various types of anxiety disorders carry with them many similarities between them but also some distinct differences in how they arise and affect the afflicted handler.
We have several articles on our website’s blog page to help gain greater understanding about the lengths service dogs can go towards improving your well being. Here’s a particularly good one.
Here are just some of the many ways that a PSD can help their owner:
- Ease Claustrophobia – in crowded situations or tight quarters, a psychiatric service dog (PSD) increases the size of your personal bubble by standing between their owner and others. Also, a trained service dog can sense its owner’s subtle signalling of a triggering event and knows to immediately lead the owner to a more spacious area.
- Assess Any Threats – For some, just turning a corner and seeing an area full of people can trigger an anxiety reaction; requiring the instant assistance of a service dog. Certified service dogs will enter those types of spaces before the owner and carry out a room search efficiently and completely.
- Therapeutic and Tactile Distraction – Tactile stimulation and pressure therapy can help ground a person and offer a therapeutic distraction from anxiety, depression, or a pending panic attack from PTSD. Therapy dogs can be trained to place pressure on their handler’s chest or lap to encourage emotional regulation and bring calm to a situation.
- Medical Assistance or Reminder – A psychiatric service dog can remind their handler when it’s time for medication and continue to pester them until they take their drugs. If an individual cannot retrieve the medication due to nausea or lethargy, they can train their service dog to fetch it for them, along with a bottle of water.
- Retrieve Help – Individuals who suffer from certain psychiatric disabilities can find themselves in situations where crippling fears and escalating symptoms could necessitate medical assistance. This is sometimes seen in those with PTSD or anxiety disorders. Service dog handlers can signal to their service dog that they need to fetch help.
Service dogs and therapy dogs, of the appropriate, desired breed, require training to hone their natural gifts, to best serve their owners during all points of their lives. Thankfully, there are a few options when it comes to training a service animal or service animals.
- Self Training – The ADA and DOT provide specific guidelines for those in need of a service dog, allowing owners to train the service animal themselves. However, many who require the services of a PSD understandably may not have the time, energy, or desire to research training methods and best practices specific to PSDs in order to best teach their new assistance animal.
- Adopt from a Service Animal Organization – This option removes the burden of the training of service animals from the owner and places it in the capable hands of certified service dog trainers. The only downside is the cost, which can reach upwards of $30,000.
- Working with a Professional Dog Trainer – The downsides of the above two options are non-existent when the therapy dog is allowed to train with both the owner and a licensed professional simultaneously. Which is why this option is the most popular route taken. Both you and your anxiety service dog will be learning the distinct roles, best practices and how to manage your anxiety together; at all times.
Emotional Support Dog vs. Psychiatric Service Dog: What’s the Difference?
PSDs and ESAs are both a type of assistance animal that a licensed mental health professional or doctor can prescribe to someone as part of their treatment plan.
However, only PSDs are recognized as official ‘service animals’ under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As legally recognized service animals, they’re entitled to the following rights:
- Public Access Rights (under the Americans with Disabilities Act they can accompany their owner into grocery stores, restaurants, etc.)
- Travel Rights (under the Air Carrier Access Act, they can accompany their owner in the airline cabin and the owner does not have to pay a pet fee)
- Fair Housing (under the Fair Housing Act, they can live in housing units even if there’s a no pets policy)
- Educational Facility Access (under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they can accompany their owner into schools, colleges, universities, etc.)
ESAs on the other hand, do not have the same privileges when it comes to public access and travel, due to new DOT regulations put into place on January 11, 2021. Many major airlines now only recognize ESAs as pets, which means owners will have to pay a pet fee. (More information on these regulations and the airlines that have changed the policies here: https://www.certapet.com/new-dot-regulations-for-emotional-support-animals/ ). However, people can still enjoy fair housing rights with their ESAs, even if they live in a no pets unit.
The reason for this difference is that PSDs have to be specially trained to perform a certain task or type of work that helps support a person living with a disability (ESAs on the other hand receive no special training – they’re just meant to offer comfort through their companionship).
To be considered a service dog, a PSD must be trained to perform a specific task (examples here: https://www.certapet.com/how-to-train-a-psychiatric-service-dog/ ), which is why partnering with a professional trainer is the best option.
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: https://www.certapet.com/psychiatric-service-dog-screening/
How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety
In order to obtain a service dog, or therapy dog, you must receive a recommendation from a licensed mental health professional or a doctor. This ‘prescription’ takes the form of a letter, which will be written on your health professional’s letterhead and include their license number.
There are no limitations to the breed of dog you can use as your psychiatric service dog. Your PSD can therefore either be a dog you already own, a dog you adopt from a shelter or rescue group, or a dog you receive from a service dog organization. Keep in mind, however, that the dog must be specially trained to perform certain tasks in order to be recognized as a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A supporting Health Line article lends some knowledge in helping to answer the question, “Can I Get a Service Dog For Anxiety?” Also, the US Service Animals blog rounds out how one can obtain an emotional support dog quite well.
How to Train a Service Dog for Anxiety
We began to discuss the different training options for service dogs of all types in the above sections. Here are some more details, along with a supporting blog post, regarding the typical training of a service dog, therapy dog, or support dog.
There are two components of an effective training regimen for all service dogs. First, the General Public Access Test is performed to instill good manners in service dogs, ensuring that they behave appropriately in public settings. The second step, the specialized task/work training is done, which satisfies the requirement of all PSDs to be able to perform a specific action that’s directly related to their handler’s disability.
No matter where your anxiety stems from, or how it comes out in which life situations, this two step training process can not only create a service dog out of any dog but tailor their abilities to combat each and every symptom the handler may encounter.
The Best Service Dog Breeds for Anxiety
Any breed of dog could be transformed into an emotional support dog or psychiatric service animal. It could be a dog you have owned for years or one you just picked up from a shelter or adoption agency. But, like with most things, there are a handful of dog breeds that are superiorly adept than the rest.
According to a blog post from Bully Max, a safe and healthy dog food company, the 10 best breeds for support dogs or service dogs are as follows:
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- German Shepherd
- Pit Bulls
- Border Collies
- Great Dane
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
The mentioned post describes the distinct abilities and necessary details about each dog on the list and how well they can do as psychiatric service dogs.
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 emotional support 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
Can you have a service dog for anxiety and depression?
Absolutely, yes. Service dogs are trained to assist in the activities of daily living for those who have one or more mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.
How do you qualify for a psychiatric service dog?
We have a fast, easy, and stress free way to determine just that. We start with a free screening, move on to a telemedicine evaluation from a licensed professional, and finish with a personalized plan and ESA letter of qualification.
What can a psychiatric service dog do?
Under the ADA, a 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.
Can I use any breed of dog as an emotional support dog or psychiatric service animal?
Any breed of dog can take to the psychiatric service training well and you can even use one you already own. However, there are particular breeds that excel in these kinds of emotional, stressful, and difficult situations.
How are support dogs trained?
Service dogs can be trained by you, the handler, or by you with the assistance of a certified trainer. A third option is to adopt a service animal from an accredited training organization for service dogs.