Service dogs have been around in America since the 1920’s. While they weren’t legally recognized until the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. The ADA initially defined a service dog as guide dogs, signal dogs or other animals individually trained to provide assistance to adults or children with a disability. Before that, the only assistance dogs with specific legal protections were seeing eye dogs or dog guides for people with visual disabilities, which have been around since the 1920’s as previously mentioned.
Now, there are many types of service dogs for both physical and mental disabilities all across the country. There are hundreds of thousands that help adults and children with many services and tasks, as well as provide emotional support, physical support and companionship.
What’s a Service Dog?
While dogs are the most common type of service animal, other animals can also be trained to be an assistance animal. In this article though, we will focus on service dogs. There are many different types of service dogs, each with their own unique skill set to help their owner navigate the world with their disabilities.
A service dog is legally 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 licensed dog that provides assistance to a person with disabilities. These assistance dogs can provide assistance to people with mobility issues, emotional support, comfort for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and much more. Out in public, these well behaved pups wear a vest to set them apart from regular pets.
As you can tell, there are many types of assistance dogs. Let’s go over the ones we will discuss in this article.
- A service dog receives extensive certified training to help individuals with tasks or activities that their disability limits or prevents them from doing on their own. One of the most common types of service dogs is a seeing-eye dog for the visually impaired and blind. Other types include mobility service dogs and mobility assistance dogs. These dogs help their owners safely navigate the world, thus they are allowed in public spaces under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). These dogs are allowed on flights, in stores, in non-pet friendly housing, etc. There are also other types of assistance dogs that receive training for special task forces, such as search and rescue dogs, police dogs, bomb sniffing dogs, and more.
- A psychiatric service dog also receives specialized training in order to perform certain tasks for an individual, but a PSD helps with an unseen disability, such as anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, etc. Autism service dogs are a common service dog under this category. Psychiatric service dogs can sense anxiety attacks or PTSD episodes and help comfort their owner and alert them to it. Just like other service dogs, PSDs have public access rights and certain travel and housing privileges.
- Emotional support animals are companion animals who help alleviate symptoms of mental illness. Dogs and cats are the most common types of emotional support animals and require no formal training to be recognized as an assistance animal, they are just friendly pets that provide comfort and support to their owner. They do require a doctor’s note from a mental health professional though, but no other formal registration or training. They do not have the same federally protected rights as trained service dogs and are not able to accompany their owners in public places or on planes, unless specified. But they do have some rights. They may be allowed in non-pet housing, but that is all based on the guidelines that the specific establishment has in place.
- Therapy dogs (also known as facility dogs) are often found in hospitals or nursing homes. The presence of a therapy dog can bring comfort, social interaction, reduced stress, and joy into patients’ and patients families’ lives. Therapy dogs usually undergo specialized therapy dog training in order to work in these special settings, but they are not defined as service dogs under the ADA. They do not have the same rights as service dogs and are only allowed in places that state they allow pets. They do not have any special housing rights either. Another type of therapy dog is a ‘Comfort Dog,’ which visits disaster areas or areas of crisis to calm victims and bring them comfort.
What’s a Psychiatric Service Dog?
We’re going to focus on psychiatric service dogs in this article. These dogs help their persons navigate the world with mental disabilities and disorders. Some common conditions include PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, autism, etc. In what way do they help exactly? These people don’t need assistance with seeing or physical tasks per say, so what do these psychiatric service animals offer?
Each dog is different and is trained to assist their owners with their particular needs, but some common ways these pooches help their person include:
- Retrieving medicine
- Fetching water and drinks
- Nudging to interrupt harmful habits such as self harm, scratching, hair pulling, slapping, etc.
- Alerting owner to heavy breathing, which could lead to an anxiety attack
- Offering grounding and stability support so owners don’t fall during attacks or episodes
- Retrieve phones during crisis situations
- Summon help
- Medication reminders
- Providing tactile support, including sitting or laying on parts of owner to help calm them down
This is just a small list of the tasks these amazing service animals can do. Some testimonials include: “Sandra Leavitt suffers from a rare seizure disorder, and she relies on her 4-year-old pit bull, named Nikki, trained to detect the scent changes in her blood and provide warning signs up to two hours before the seizures actually occur. The 2-year-old Alida Knobloch can play with her friends thanks to the help of her pooch named Mr. Gibbs who carries her oxygen tank for her to breathe.” They make life for people with disabilities much easier and can change life for a disabled person. The services these dogs provide, not only emotional support, but also physical support, is vital to their owner.
Psychiatric Service Dog Rights
Since PSDs require extensive, quality training, they are recognized as service dogs by the ADA and have certain rights, such as:
- Public access rights: This means psychiatric service dogs have a right to come with their owners in public locations, such as restaurants, malls and stores where animals are not normally allowed. They must be on a leash at all times though. Legally, stores cannot ask for proof of registration for a service dog either.
- Travel rights: These rights ensure that service dogs can travel with their owners everywhere they go. This means they are granted access onboard planes, in airports, on trains, on public transportation, such as buses, and more. These dogs have a right to sit in the cabin and the owner does not have to pay a fee for their pet to fly. It’s important to remember the dog must be on a leash during all travel.
- Fair housing: Under the Fair Housing Act, service dogs can live in housing that doesn’t normally allow pets at no additional fee. 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.
- 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. Again, the dog must be on a leash.
Service dog rights are always growing and changing and have rules that can differ area to area, including state to state. It’s important to respect these dogs and not hinder their important job. Look for a vest to tell for sure if a pup is a service dog or not. Never bring your pet anywhere and claim they are a service dog. This severely damages the reputation of well trained service dogs and makes life harder for service dog owners.
How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Getting a PSD is not a simple process if done correctly. These dogs are at your service, so they must undergo extensive training to be prepared for life as an assistance animal. Service dog training is very different than training dogs may go through to be emotional support dogs, guide dogs, therapy dogs, etc.
The first step in acquiring a psychiatric service dog is consulting with a mental health professional. Psychiatric service dogs are only given to people who suffer from mental issues that disturb their quality of life and a psychiatric service dog could help ease the burden. PTSD is a common ailment these dogs show support for. Search for a licensed mental health professional near you and contact them via phone or email for more information or a consultation to see if you could be a good candidate. Sometimes there is a waiting list to speak to a professional, so reach out soon if you’re struggling.
The next step is finding a dog that works for you. The good news, according to the ADA, 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.
Finally, it comes down to training. If you adopt an already trained dog, continuous training is still important, but if you adopt a shelter dog or purchase a puppy from a breeder, even more training is absolutely vital.
Types of Psychiatric Service Dog Training
To be a service dog, these dogs go through extensive service dog training programs. There isn’t one set path for training, but rather a few routes owners can take to end up with a trained PSD.
- Self training: If you do this, you train your service dog yourself. This requires a lot of research and must follow certain guidelines set by the ADA to be met during the training. It’s a slower path as well, and can lead to more errors.
- 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 from a reputable service dog trainer.
- Partnering with a professional dog trainer: This is the most popular option because it ensures that your dog exhibits the best behavior when out in public and helps the dog understand all the specific signals for the task its owners will need it to do. It also allows the owner and dog to form a bond during the process. It’s important to work with a reputable trainer or business if you seek out this method.
Adopt a Service Dog in MA
Now you know where to begin with searching for a psychiatric service dog! But it can still be overwhelming. We’re setting out to help owners find their perfect service animal all across the country, so let’s help you narrow it down.
Animal shelters and rescue groups are a great place to find a canine companion who you can then train to become a Psychiatric Service Dog. Below are some shelters and rescues in Massachusetts where you can potentially adopt a new best friend. Each of the following are a nonprofit organization.
- Animal Rescue League of Boston
Address: 10 Chandler Street, Boston, MA USA 02116
Phone: (617) 426-9170
Email: [email protected]
- MSPCA Angell
Address: 350 South Huntington Avenue Boston, MA USA 02130
Phone: (617) 522-7400
Email: [email protected]
- Northeast Animal Shelter
Address: 347 Highland Avenue Salem, MA USA 01970
Phone: (978) 745-9888
Email: [email protected]
- Last Hope K9 Rescue
Address: Foster based
Phone: Contact via email
Email: click here
- Animal Care and Control Shelter
Address: 26 Mahler Road Roslindale Boston, MA USA 02131
Email: [email protected]
- Great Dog Rescue New England
Address: Foster based
Phone: Contact via email
Email: [email protected]
- Worcester Animal Rescue League
Address: 139 Holden St. Worcester, MA USA 01606
Phone: (508) 853-0030
Email: Click here
- Sweet Paws Rescue
Location: Foster based
Phone: contact via email
Email: [email protected]
Search these 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!
Psychiatric Service Dog Training in MA
We discussed the different types of training available to train dogs and puppies to be service animals and we discussed how to acquire a service dog. But it can still be overwhelming trying to begin the process and find the proper service dog trainers or training methods.
Finding a training program that works for you is key. Look for board certified dog trainers that specialize in service dog training. Service dog training is quite different from basic obedience, so keep that in mind. You’ll do an evaluation with your pet, which will be different depending on the dog’s age and past, to assess their current level. Then, the trainer will discuss your goals for your dog and begin mapping out a plan that ends with a trained service dog to help individuals navigate the world.
What Goes On During Training?
During training, your dog will be introduced to new situations, puppies and dogs of all sizes, other animals and new people, large events, both leash and off-leash training, your home, their vest, and much more. You will decide what skills your dog needs to know to help and support you anywhere. In any quality programs, any issues or problems will be addressed during your course.
Dogs must pass a series of tests in training to become a service dog, including a public area test, so it’s important to practice all they have learned in an unfamiliar area, not just at home. Expose them to new situations and new people as part of their program so they can help serve you and are comfortable in their evaluation. It’s important they pass and receive a service dog registration, but also receive all the skills and training they need to make you a great team. Take them to a business so they’re used to behaving in stores and not causing damages. Get them used to wearing their vest, retrieving your phone, helping you walk around your home, etc.
Look for a quality service animal training program in Massachusetts, whether that be in Boston, Salem, Springfield, Worcester, Cambridge or others that specializes in service dog training. Find a service dog trainer you trust with experience in assistance animals, specifically dogs in your local area. Contact them once you have found a dog you’re welcome to do dog training with. It’s important to trust your trainer because they are the person who is going to help your dog help you.
You don’t want to work with just anyone for service dog training. You want an expert trainer who will help you and provide vital information to make your pup a well trained service dog. Know what your requirements are and find a course that caters to what you need from your dog. It is a lot of work and a lot of training, but the results are a companion that can help anyone with a disability navigate the world on a level they hadn’t been able to before.
Service animals and assistance animals are a vital part of life for people with disabilities or people who could benefit from the support of a pet. Whether that be service dogs, an assistance animal, therapy dogs, or emotional support dogs, they provide great comfort and assistance to the person they help. Whether that be adults or children, these dogs offer vital services to their person. Over 500 thousand trained assistance dogs live in the USA and offer assistance for those with disabilities. Service dog trainers help these dogs with vigorous service dog training to make life easier for those with disabilities.
It can be hard to find a service dog and a service dog trainer, but we’re here to offer our services and help.
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!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can service dogs go?
Service dogs can go anywhere their owners go. This includes stores, malls, restaurants, airplanes, airports, trains, etc.
What’s the difference between a service dog and emotional support animal?
A service dog is an ADA accepted dog specifically trained to help with physical or mental hindrances their handler faces. An emotional support animal is a pet who helps relieve symptoms of mental illness for owners, but has no special training.
How do I train my dog to become a service dog?
You can either train yourself, work with a trainer or adopt an already trained service dog.