Service Dog for Depression

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: April 21, 2023

service dog for depression

What is Depression?

Depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder or seasonal affective disorder, is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Difficulty Sleeping or Sleeping too much
  • Energy Loss or Increased Fatigue
  • Restlessness or Slowed Movements and speech

For more detailed information on depression, the various depressive disorders, their symptoms, treatment options, and associated illnesses, such as post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, click here.

Common Treatments and Coping Mechanisms For Depression

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.

A large portion of the most common coping mechanisms and treatments for depression involve you staying active, keeping a routine and relying on others. In fact, 5 out of Everyday Health’s 10 Ways to Cope With Depression can be put into action through owning an assistance animal; whether a therapy dog, psychiatric service dog or emotional support animal.

From training and learning alongside your chosen therapy dog, to nurturing a most important relationship that will undoubtedly improve many areas of your life; service animals are safe alternatives that are both treatment and coping mechanisms in one.

To further you down the holistic path as fast as possible, 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?

depression service dog
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.

The ADA, Americans With Disabilities Act, has compiled Frequently Asked Questions and comprehensive, revised requirements, specifically about service animals, psychiatric service dogs, and more.

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, depression or other depressive disorders can also find the service of a PSD to be incredibly beneficial.

Certapet’s Blog is updated weekly and full of informative articles, testimonials, and data from mental health professionals. For a more in-depth overview of this complicated subject, read our full article.

Click the below video to learn more about psychiatric service dogs. 

How Can Service Dogs Help with Depression?

service dog for individuals with depression

It’s widely believed that those who own dogs are less prone to depression than people who don’t, largely because they seem to help in so many other areas of health and wellbeing. There’s a ton of evidence that certain dog owners—including isolated elderly women and HIV-positive men—suffer less from depression than those without pets.

Furthermore, the varieties of therapy dogs and service dogs: emotional support dogs, psychiatric service dogs, or companion animals, have been shown to be effective in easing depression for a variety of people, old and young, sick and healthy.

Mental Health Benefits

Our pets make us feel better about ourselves. Dog owners are found to exhibit a number of improved psychological states that may help ease and prevent depression. This includes better self-esteem, less sadness and fatigue and greater interest in life. Linked research identified the ability for pets to provide support and diminish the myriad of depressive symptoms. Support like:

  • Decreasing cortisol levels
  • Reinvigorating your interests, hobbies and daily routines
  • Helping you learn to love yourself better through the service dog/owner connection
  • Interacting and socializing without having to think about it

Especially in the case of people with psychiatric conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety disorders, service dogs, therapy dogs, and support dogs can learn to tell when their human companion is feeling any symptom, or combination of symptoms, of depression.

This Huffington Post article is a fantastic companion piece to this part and adds even more to how psychiatric service dogs and service animals can alleviate all sorts of mental health conditions, including ptsd, anxiety or depression.

Physical Health Benefits

Not only can a psychiatric service dog, or service dogs, help improve stress, depression and anxiety attacks but, their influence includes the drastic improvement of your physical well being also.

It’s truly remarkable the amount and variety of physical benefits service dogs can provide their dutiful owners. The main ones are improved heart health, decreased blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, improved overall health from increased activity and exercise, and becoming less physically isolating.

As your training using service dogs becomes a loving relationship, the cycle of mental and physical improvement becomes second nature and limitless. With years of scientific research being the proof.

The American Kennel Club compiled this comprehensive list.

Specific Tasks Service Dogs Can Perform to Support Their Owner

The various types of depressive disorders carry with them many symptom similarities between them but also some distinct differences in how they manifest, how long they last, and how to safely deal with them.

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. This one in particular describes in great detail this topic.

Here are just some of the many ways that a PSD can help their owner:

  • Tactile Stimulation, Deep Pressure Therapy, Pressure and Warmth Stimulation – Tactile stimulation and pressure therapy can help ground a person and offer a therapeutic distraction from anxiety, depression, or a pending panic attack. PSDs can also be trained to place pressure on their handler’s chest or lap to encourage emotional regulation, bring calm to a situation, or simply offer warmth.
  • Grounding – When a person feels trapped by the thoughts in their mind, whether they stem from anxiety, flashbacks, or other types of distress, grounding techniques can be helpful in bringing a person’s focus to their physical body or surroundings. A psychiatric service dog can ground their handler through interaction, tactile stimulation, pressure therapy, or through another therapeutic means that assists their handler.
  • Medical Alert or Reminder – A psychiatric service dog can be trained to alert their handler to the beginning stages of a medical episode, such as a change in breathing patterns, an increase in heart rate, emotional escalation, or oncoming muscle tension.

In addition, a psychiatric service dog can remind their handler when it’s time for medication, when it’s time for bed, or when the handler needs to perform other daily routines throughout the day.

Emotional Support Dog vs. Psychiatric Service Dog: What’s the Difference?

service dog that helps with depression

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: ). 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: ), 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:

How to Get a Service Dog for Depression

service dog trained for depression

In order to obtain a psychiatric 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.

Certapet wants you to get a service dog as quickly as possible. And we know our services can do just that through our certified telemedicine evaluation and rapidly submitted recommendation letters. If you have additional questions, read these Healthline and Top Dog Tips articles.

How to Train a Service Dog for Depression

service dog helping with depression
In the sections above, we touched on the different training methods of an emotional support assistance dog. 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 from where your depression stems, or how it affects which aspects of your life, 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 Depression

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 Family Minded, a top wellness website, the 10 best breeds for emotional support dogs or service dogs are as follows:

  1. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  2. Pug
  3. Standard Poodle
  4. Labrador Retriever
  5. Yorkshire Terrier
  6. Border Collie
  7. Corgi
  8. Vizsla
  9. English Bulldog
  10. German Shepherd


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!

Service Dog for Anxiety FAQS

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.

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