At CertaPet, we are a dedicated team focused on one thing: Getting those in need the help they deserve as quickly as possible. Whether from a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal, our easy and painless 3 step process will direct you down the path to regaining the power to live a life free from stress and worry.
The purpose of this article is to inform and educate people about service dogs, the differences between a therapy dog, another term for a psychiatric service dog, and a support dog or emotional support animal.
We relay how service dogs can help all people who experience stress from anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders, adverse life situations, or other physical and mental illnesses, how they are specifically trained, and what you can do to acquire one for yourself.
What is Stress?
Stress is our body’s response to pressure. Many different situations or life events can cause stress. It is often triggered when we experience something new, unexpected or that threatens our sense of self, or when we feel we have little control over a situation.
We all deal with stress differently. Our ability to cope can depend on our genetics, early life events, personality and social and economic circumstances.
When we encounter stress, our body produces stress hormones that trigger a fight or flight response and activate our immune system. This helps us respond quickly to dangerous situations.
Sometimes, this stress response can be useful: it can help us push through fear or pain so we can run a marathon or deliver a speech, for example. Our stress hormones will usually go back to normal quickly once the stressful event is over, and there won’t be any lasting effects.
However, too much stress can cause negative effects. It can leave us in a permanent stage of fight or flight, leaving us overwhelmed or unable to cope. Long term, this can affect our physical and mental health.
MentalHealth.org has much more on this topic here.
Common Treatments and Coping Mechanisms for Stress
As stress affects us all, at one time or another, the initial treatments and coping strategies surround taking stock of one’s daily life, re-evaluating certain activities, and gradually changing. Things like getting better sleep, forging more fruitful relationships, eating healthier, and exercising can greatly improve stress level and reduce the risk of long term effects.
For those people suffering from stress due to a mental illness – PTSD, depression, Bipolar disorder, addiction, anxiety disorder, etc., the above discussed strategies become more difficult to put into action.
In order to get folks to a place, internally and externally, where they feel they can accomplish lifestyle improvements, they may benefit from an evaluation by a mental health professional. Treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and interpersonal counseling can help reduce stress by creating coping mechanisms specific to each individual.
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.
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 Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) protects Americans with disabilities from discrimination. Disabled passengers have the right to have access to their 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.
Click the below video to learn more about psychiatric service dogs.
How Can Service Dogs Help with Stress
The human-animal bond can impact people and service dogs in positive ways. Research shows therapy dogs can reduce stress physiologically (cortisol levels) and increase attachment responses that trigger oxytocin – a hormone that increases trust in humans.
Service dogs also react positively to animal-assisted activities. In response to the human-animal bond, dogs produce oxytocin and decrease their cortisol levels when connecting with their owner. Often dogs feel the same when engaging in animal assisted activities as if they were at home, depending on the environmental context.
The Conversation has a lot more to say here.
Mental Health Benefits
The range of benefits a service animal can provide is wide and encompasses both the physical and mental manifestations of anxiety. A piece from thebark.com gives further insight into what a service animal can do for stress ridden people.
Psychiatric symptoms can include depression, isolation, anxiety, 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 stress reaction.
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.
Physical Health Benefits
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 stress and other mental health conditions.
By going out in the world with your service dog, you will, without realizing it, be keeping active, fit and losing weight. And all of these small improvements will greatly reduce stress and its associated effects.
Find out more from The Huffington Post, here.
Specific Tasks Service Dogs Can Perform to Support Their Owner
A common symptom of most mental disorders is stress, which can negatively impact people physically and mentally. These disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety, and Bipolar disorder carry with them many similarities 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.
Some of the best stress relieving examples provided by psychiatric service dogs are:
- Tactile Stimulation, Deep Pressure Therapy, Pressure and Warmth Stimulation
- Grounding, Guiding, Interrupting, and Interacting
- Threat Assessment and Barrier implementation
- Many other supportive, assistive actions.
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 Stress
In order to obtain an anxiety 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 or therapy dog. Your anxiety service dog 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 animal 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 Stress
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 support, therapy, or service dogs.
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 animals, 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 the underlying causes of your stress and anxiety, 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 Stress
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 K9 of Mine, the top 10 are as follows:
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- German Shepherd
- Great Dane
- Border Collie
- Bernese Mountain Dog
The mentioned post describes the distinct abilities and necessary details about each dog on the list and how well they will perform 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!
Can you have a service animal for stress?
Absolutely, yes. Service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals 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 animal 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.