Service Dog for Anxiety: Is There Even Such a Thing?

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By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: April 16, 2020

psychiatric service dog with anxious girlA service dog for anxiety is the hero dog that is specially trained to physically assist people suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks. Anxiety can be a debilitating condition, with wide-ranging symptoms that can include anything from panic attacks to digestive issues to problems concentrating.  To learn more about what is a service dog for anxiety, read on!

There are Many Types of Assistance Animals!

If you’re not sure about what is a service dog for anxiety, then you’ve come to the right place.

Service dogs are known as assistance animals, because—as you might guess—they assist people. However, these dogs are not the only kinds of assistance animals! Let’s take a look at some of the other amazing animals that help to change people’s lives.

Service Dogs

Service dogs for anxiety are some of the cleverest dogs you’ll ever meet. Service dogs are amazing canines that are specially trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, both physical and psychological. Some examples of the tasks that service dogs can help with include:

  • Mobility-related support for people in wheelchairs (tasks like opening doors, switching lights on and off, and even loading the washing machine)
  • Sensing and alerting handlers to oncoming seizures for people with epilepsy
  • Sensing and alerting handlers to changes in blood sugar for people with diabetes
  • Acting as a guide dog or seeing-eye dog for people with visual impairments

Emotional Support Animals for People with Anxiety

Now one important distinction we need to address is that a service dog for anxiety is not the same as an emotional support animal.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are another kind of assistance animal, but they are different from service animals in a few important ways. Firstly, while service animals can help people with all kinds of disabilities, ESAs exclusively help people with emotional, mental or psychological disabilities.

Secondly, ESAs do not need specific training in the same way that service dogs do: they help their owners by being a calm, loving, and supportive presence.

Thirdly, the laws governing ESAs and service dogs are different, with greater protections for service animals than emotional support animals.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are often confused with emotional support animals, but the two are actually quite different, even though they can help people with similar conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and more.

Once again, the key difference comes down to training: psychiatric service dogs are specially trained to assist their handlers with specific tasks relating to their psychological but physical disabilities.

This could be helping someone with autism to calm down if they become upset or unresponsive, helping to distract someone with PTSD who is suffering from flashbacks, and of course, service dogs for anxiety.

Despite What You Think, Service Dog Training is Very Different from ESAs!

If you’re thinking about getting service dogs for anxiety, then training them is very important.

Training really is key for service animals of all kinds, including psychiatric service animals. Many are trained by specialist service dog organizations or charities, which put them through a rigorous training program that can take years to complete.

Of course, people who have experience in animal behavior may also choose to train their own service dog to perform a specific task for them. Training is difficult though, and not for the inexperienced!

Emotional support animals, meanwhile, do not require special training. They do, however, need to know how to behave in public. Many ESA owners choose to put their animals through at least basic obedience training, such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program or similar.

young girl holding small service dog for anxiety

Who are the Service Dogs for Anxiety: Psychiatric Service Dogs!

Service dogs for anxiety are ones that have been specially trained to perform a specific task to help people who are living with anxiety. These tasks can vary from person to person, but they can include:

  • Helping a person to break out of a negative repetitive thought cycle through tactile stimulation, like licking or nuzzling
  • Assisting someone in regulating their breathing during a panic attack by providing gentle pressure against the chest area
  • Bringing medication or phone during a panic attack so the person can get help

How is an ESA for Anxiety Different From a Psychiatric Service Dog for Anxiety?

Many people often jumble up emotional support animals with a psychiatric service animal. In regards to anxiety in people, an emotional support animal will be ideal for those who suffer from mild forms of stress. In this case, an ESA’s job is to provide comfort through their presence. For example, a person flying in an aircraft may develop mild anxiety from flying. However, if they were to cuddle and hold their ESA during take-off, then the mere presence of the animal will decrease any anxiety.

Now people suffering from severe forms of anxiety—PTSD or uncontrolled panic attacks—may go into a state where they are left entirely incapable of resolving themselves. People suffering from this form of anxiety will thus require a psychiatric service dog who will be able to bring them back to a healthy state of mind.

So, a psychiatric service dog is primarily trained to detect oncoming PTSD or panic episodes and respond to the situation appropriately.

Is a PTSD Dog the same as a Service Dog for Anxiety?

PTSD service dogs differ slightly from service dogs for anxiety in that they help people with different conditions: anxiety on the one hand, and post-traumatic stress disorder on the other hand.

The two are still very similar, however: they may perform very similar tasks, and they both enjoy the same legal privileges under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among other things, the ADA permits people with service dogs to bring them to any place where members of the public are allowed, such as shops, businesses, public amenities, and so on.

The ADA does not cover ESAs, but both service animals and emotional support animals are protected by two other laws: the Air Carrier Access Act, which allows people with assistance animals to travel in the cabin with them for free on commercial airlines, and the Fair Housing Act, which allows people with assistance animals to keep them in rented housing, even when pets are not permitted.

Anxiety Service Dog Training

All service dogs require years of extensive training, and anxiety service dogs are no different. In addition to the training involved in teaching them the skills they need to help people with disabilities, service dogs need to learn how to behave perfectly in public.

This training usually begins with complete and careful socialization as a puppy. Although you should never try to pet or distract a service dog on duty, if you’re lucky, you might meet a service puppy in training that needs to meet as many people and dogs as possible!

This socialization helps teach service dogs not to react to other people and dogs, and to keep their focus completely on their handlers.

Service dogs also must be able to communicate well with their handlers, and vice versa. These dogs need to be able to sense when their handlers are going through a bad time with their anxiety in order to direct their attention elsewhere and help stop negative cycles of behavior.

All service dogs, including service dogs for anxiety, must also be impeccably housebroken, and able to alert their handlers should they need to use the bathroom in an emergency.

Who Should You Talk to about Getting One?

woman with emotional support dog for anxiety

If you think that you could benefit from a service dog for anxiety, the first step is to talk to a licensed health professional and to get an official diagnosis of your condition.

Unless you’re experienced in training dogs, most people choose to get a service dog through a charity or non-profit organization that has experts to train dogs thoroughly and correctly. These charities will assess you to see if an anxiety service dog is suitable for you, then help to match you with the right kind of dog.

CertaPet Can Help You Get an Emotional Support Animal for Your Anxiety

A trained service dog for anxiety, depression, or any other kind of mental illness or emotional disability isn’t always the right option for everyone. Some people choose to have an emotional support animal instead, which helps them to feel calmer and more in control, without needing specialist training.

To get an emotional support animal, you need to be prescribed one by a licensed mental health professional, who will do so by writing you an ESA letter.

This is an official document that serves as proof of your need for an ESA and is valid for one year. An ESA letter must be written on letterhead paper by an LMHP who is treating you for a diagnosed condition, and it should contain all the following information:

  • You have been diagnosed with a specific mental or emotional disability
  • The ESA is an important part of your treatment and helps you to maintain your independence and a higher quality of life
  • The issuer’s license details, including place and date of issue and the license number.

CertaPet has streamlined the process of getting an ESA in two great ways. First, you can take a free, 5-minute screening questionnaire that can help you determine whether or not you would qualify for an ESA before you even spend a cent.

Second, if you do qualify, CertaPet can put you in contact with a licensed mental health professional in your state. After a quick consultation, you could have your 100% valid ESA letter in as little as 48 hours!

Don’t Let Anxiety Make Your Day Difficult! Talk to an LMHP

Anxiety can be really tough to live with, and in extreme cases, it can be completely debilitating. The good news is that it is also a condition that is constantly being researched and discussed, meaning that ultimately it is one that can be fought!

For some people, getting a service dog for anxiety can make all the difference, allowing them to manage their anxiety and enjoy a much higher quality of life.

If you think that a service dog or an emotional support dog for anxiety could help you, the first step is to get in contact with a licensed mental health professional.

Common Questions on Service Dogs for Anxiety

What is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal?

How do I get an emotional support animal for anxiety?

What sort of training do service dogs for anxiety need?

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