Everyone knows dogs are intelligent creatures, but did you know just how intelligent they really are? They can sniff out medical conditions, they’re left-pawed or right-pawed, their sense of smell is 40 times better than ours, and they have the same level of intelligence as a two-year-old child.
It’s no surprise then that we turn to them for help. Dogs have helped humans for centuries, but really proved their role as assistance dogs or service dogs. You’re probably seen them out and about in public with their vests on. Most commonly, they may be a guide dog for a visually impaired person, but there are many different types of service dogs, which we will discuss below.
What’s a Service Dog?
The legal definition of a service dog is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” On a broader spectrum, a service dog is a trained dog that provides assistance to a person with a disability or impairment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 gave a more specific definition for service dogs: “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.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act was the first piece of law that paved the path for service animals and assistance animals. An assistant dog previously was really only a seeing eye dog. This opened up the door to different types of service animals to help thousands of persons with all different types of mental and physical disabilities.
Types of Service Dogs
As we mentioned, there are many types of service dogs. Each one has specialized training to help their persons and has their own definition, requirements and rights.
- A service dog receives extensive training to help individuals with tasks or activities that their disability limits or prevents them from doing on their own. The most common form of a service dog is a seeing-eye dog for the visually impaired and blind. Other types include mobility service dogs, search and rescue dogs, police dogs, bomb sniffing, dogs, etc. You may have seen some of these assistance dogs in airlines, on airplanes, on the streets and various other places. They serve very important roles in keeping people safe, so they have rights. In fact, did you know a service dog is not a pet? This means they are allowed in public spaces under the American with Disabilities Act and the newly introduced Air Carrier Access Act. They are allowed on airlines, in stores, in non-pet friendly housing, etc.
- A psychiatric service dog also assists their owners and is a recognized service dog, but they assist with unseen disabilities, such as anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, etc. You may have seen these dogs with autistic children or soldiers and veterans who suffer from PTSD. Psychiatric service dogs can sense anxiety attacks or PTSD episodes and help comfort their owner and alert them to it. Their vests will typically declare what type of service dog they are. There is even a new type of service dog under this category, called a community service dog. The first community service dog is serving in Minnesota now, and he comes along with police to comfort and connect with individuals impacted by trauma or experiencing a mental health crisis in the community.
- Emotional support animals are companion animals who do just what their name says, provide emotional support. These animals require no formal training to be recognized as an assistance animal as an emotional support animal, but they do require a doctor’s note from a mental health professional. Since they are pets, an emotional support animal des not have any federally protected rights from the Americans with Disabilities Act, and are not assistance animals. They do not have the same federally protected rights as trained service dogs and are not able to accompany their owners in public places, in airlines, on airplanes, or anywhere else. The recent Air Carrier Access Act made it so only service animals may fly with their owner, not an emotional support animal.
- Therapy dogs are often found in hospitals or nursing homes. They live at home with their owners and are pets, but visit hospitals, schools and other facilities to bring joy to individuals in their housing accommodations. The presence of a therapy dog presence brings comfort, reduces stress and anxiety and boosts the overall mood of everyone around. After natural disasters or tragic events, some of these dogs, known as comfort dogs, visit affected areas to help relieve the stress of victims and their families. They do not have the same rights as service dogs and are only allowed in places that allow pets.
There are important differences between the different types of assistance animals. The main one being service animals are not pets. An emotional support animal or therapy dog are important to the lives of many and to the person they help, but they are not recognized as service animals. An assistance dog is often synonymous with service dog, but it’s important to distinguish the difference.
What’s a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Psychiatric service dogs are Americans with Disabilities Act recognized service dogs that help their handler have a sense of independence in the world with their mental disorders or disabilities. Some common conditions these pups help with include PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.
Each dog is different, as is each disability, and all service dogs offer emotional support, but they have their own unique skill set to best suit their person as an assistance dog. Here are just a few examples of what a service animal can do.
- Bring water to their handler
- Give medication reminders at certain times of day
- Fetch any products their handler may need
- Create a safe space for their handler in public when overwhelmed
- Guide their handler to a safe spot during an episode
- Protect their handler in public if they feel anxious
- Provide tactical therapy during harmful behaviors
This is just a small list of what a service animal can do. An assistance animal received specialized training to learn these tasks and be able to provide vital support for their handler. It’s why it’s important to know the difference between an emotional support animal and an assistance animal. There is a reason they have rights and not to try and pass an emotional support animal as a service animal.
Psychiatric Service Dog Rights
Speaking of rights, a service animal has certain rights protected by law. An assistance animal earns these rights by helping individuals with a disability navigate the world. Emotional support animals, community service dogs, and therapy dogs do not have these same rights. Let’s go over them.
- Public access rights: This means service dogs have a right to come with their owners anywhere, whether that be a store, a restaurant, a federal building, a museum, or anywhere else you can think of. A service animal has the right to go anywhere their handler goes. They are vital for people with a disability and must be allowed access, or else the facilities denying access are breaking the law. Some businesses or places may ask for papers or registration, but legally, you do not have to provide those. They may ask what you service animal does for you though, which they are allowed to by law to separate them from emotional support animals.
- Travel rights: These rights ensure that service dogs can travel with their owners anywhere they may go. Traveling can be especially triggering for those with a mental disability, so it’s important that their dog come with them on airlines to help them stay in control. This means they are granted access onboard planes, in airports, on trains, on public transportation and more. Special accommodations can be made for the service animal too, they have a right to sit in the cabin and the owner does not have to pay a fee for their assistant animal to fly. Some airlines may require ID cards or registration papers for service dogs as proof of their status to fly.
- Fair housing: Under the Fair Housing Act, service dogs can live in housing accommodations that don’t normally allow pets at no additional fee. This is backed by laws, including the Fair Housing Act This applies even if the housing location has a no pets policy. This way a service dog owner can have the support they need from their pup in their own home. Housing providers cannot refuse to make reasonable accommodations in all rules, policies, practices, or services when they are necessary for a person with a disability to live happily in the dwelling with their assistance animal.
- Educational Facility Access: Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, service animals can accompany their owner into schools, colleges, universities, etc. This way owners can still continue their lessons and courses with their dog by their side. Any assistance animal must be allowed on the premises with their person if that disability prevents them from learning properly or thriving.
Service dog rights are always adapting and can differ depending on local laws and regulations, so be sure to check your local ordinances before attempting to adopt or train a service dog. Check all local and state laws and legislation to make sure you know you and your dog’s rights.
How do I get a Psychiatric Service Dog?
The first step in acquiring a psychiatric service dog is finding out if you need one. You should consult with a licensed mental health professional. This is the only legitimate way to acquire a service dog. Any sites claiming to be a registration console for your state are not legitimate. Psychiatric service dogs are only given to people who suffer from mental issues that disturb their quality of life, so you may benefit from just even an emotional support animal. Talk to a professional and ask questions to see what would be best for you.
If they recommend a service dog, the next step is finding a psychiatric service dog for you. There are a few various methods to this, but we’re big advocates of pet adoption, so let’s discuss that method.
Adopt a Service Dog in Texas
Animal shelters and rescue groups are a great place to find a canine companion who you can then train to become a service dog. Below are some shelters and rescues in the state of Texas where you can potentially adopt a new best friend.
- Montgomery County Animal Services – Conroe, Texas
- SPCA Of Texas – Dallas, Texas
- Humane Society of North Texas – Fort Worth, Texas
- Texas Humane Heroes – Killeen, Texas
- Animal Defense League of Texas – San Antonio, Texas
- Longview Animal Care & Adoption Center – Longview, Texas
Search these Texas area shelter’s websites to see if any puppies or dogs stand out and could possibly be your next best friend and part of your service dog journey! Their staff and volunteers will be able to help you find your perfect companion. Be sure to mention your disability and ask any questions you may have about this dog becoming your service dog. Volunteers and shelter staff will gladly answer all of your questions!
According to data, the state of Texas has some of the highest numbers of stray pets in the country. Be sure to search for local shelters to find your trusted canine companion and save a life.
Types of Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Once you have a dog, training begins. Assistance dogs go through extensive training. There are a few ways to do this.
- Self training: It is possible to train your own service dog, but it is not recommended. It is very tiring, extensive and can be confusing. Many people report a decline in mental state when they try it themselves. This method requires a lot of research and is a slower path to a service dog.
- Adopting an already trained PSD from an organization: This method requires a lot of money upfront, as training a service dog is expensive, but connects owners with an already trained dog that is ready to help them navigate the world. Trained service dogs can cost around $30,000, which is a large investment, but you are receiving a well trained dog with minimal time put in. There is often a waiting list for these organizations, so be sure to reach out soon for help with your disability.
- Partnering with a professional dog trainer: This is the most popular option because it allows for you to learn alongside your dog. It assures you are on the same page as your dog and maximizing what they can do for your disability. A trainer has experience and can help you train your dog to what you need it to do to help you with your impairment. They can answer questions, are familiar with the ADA and can help change both you and your dogs’ lives.
Psychiatric Service Dog Training in Texas
It’s overwhelming trying to find all the information you need to train your service dog. Once you have a dog in mind, find a training program that works for you. Service dog training is quite different from basic obedience, so keep that in mind during your search. You want a service dog training program specifically.
During training, your dog will be introduced to new situations and different environments. Some of these could be large crowds, different terrains, your home, walking well on a leash, fetching items, other dogs, etc. You will decide what skills your dog needs to know to help and support you anywhere. You can customize your plan to your disability and it will depend on what your dog already knows.
Look for a quality service animal training program in Texas. Big cities tend to have more programs, so try searching in San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, etc. Familiarize with the ADA and know what to look for in a program. Texas is a large state, so you have plenty of options. You and your dog are the clients here, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or be picky.
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!
What is a psychiatric service dog?
Psychiatric service dogs are ADA recognized service dogs that help their handler have a sense of independence in the world with their mental disorders or disabilities. Some common conditions these pups help with include PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, autism, etc.
What is an emotional support dog?
Emotional support animals are companion animals who simply provide support to their owner. They are pets and require no formal training, only a doctor’s notes. They do not have the same rights as service dogs.
Can my own dog become my service dog?
You can absolutely train your own dog to become a service dog! We recommend working with a certified service dog trainer, but you can also do it yourself if that is a route you want to go.