Archive for the ‘Psychiatric Service Dog’ Category

If you suffer from anxiety, PTSD, depression, or other psychiatric disabilities, experts say a service dog could help. We all know that pups make us happier with their tail wags and slobbery kisses, but they can also be trained to carry out tasks that make everyday life easier—or perform life-saving tasks when we need them the most. 

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a type of service dog trained to perform a specific task to help a person with a psychiatric condition. They have the same rights as service dogs that perform tasks for the physically disabled. To qualify for the aid of a PSD, a person must have a psychiatric disability that can be assisted by tasks performed by a trained dog. 

PSDs can be trained by a professional organization or by the handler on their own. It’s important to note that only dogs can serve as psychiatric service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals, what’s the difference?

The main difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service dog is that PSDs are trained to perform tasks relating to the handler’s disability. ESAs, on the other hand, do not need any specialized training — the mere presence of an ESA brings comfort to their owner. 

ESAs also do not have legal rights under the ADA. The ADA allows PSDs to enter public areas like stores. PSDs can also board flights and travel with their handlers under the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) rules. 

ESAs are not allowed in public spaces that prohibit pets, but they have housing rights under the Fair Housing Act. Both PSDs and ESAs are allowed to live in no-pets buildings without any charge. 

The ADA gives the following example of a service dog versus an ESA: If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and takes a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. But, if the mere presence of the dog provides comfort with no additional trained actions, that’s an ESA.

It’s important to be aware of the difference between ESAs and PSDs. There is frequent confusion between the two, but you never want to pass off your ESA as a PSD. It’s unethical, and in Florida, it’s illegal to misrepresent an ESA as a service animal. 

What tasks can psychiatric service dogs do?

The benefit of a PSD is their training to complete important tasks, from everyday needs to life-saving emergencies. Everyone’s needs vary greatly, but PSDs can perform the following:

Engage in attention-seeking behaviors, such as nudging, pawing, licking, or tugging on the person’s clothes, any time the person unconsciously starts self-harming behaviors, has an emotional overload, or zones out into a flashback. Reduce the potential impact of triggers when in public. The PSD can be trained to place their body in front or behind their person anytime they stop, keeping strangers at a safer distance. Provide tactile stimulation. Facilitate social interactions and reduce fears associated with being around people. Wake up a person having nightmares. Get medication and water when the person cannot. Provide balance assistance. Remind a person to take medication and nag until it’s done. What Rights Do Psychiatric Service Dogs And Their Handlers Have?

Owners of PSD have rights protected by laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)Fair Housing Act (FHA), and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Unfortunately, the ADA doesn’t provide PSD rights to service dogs still in training. But, this rule is different from state to state. Lucky for those in Florida, the state grants dogs-in-training full PSD rights when accompanied by their handler.

There are no breed restrictions for service dogs, so no establishment can deny service dog rights based on the size or breed of your dog. And, no person has the right to ask that you demonstrate a task, provide service dog documentation, or disclose information about your disability. Per the ADA, if a business needs to verify that your dog is a service dog, they may ask two questions:

Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? 

Service dog accessories like certificates, registrations, and ID cards are always optional. While these items are frequently used by service dog owners and can be helpful, they can never be required by third parties. 

Equal Housing. A landlord cannot make you pay extra to live with your service dog. As with public spaces, you are liable for any damages your service animal may cause to anyone else or the property.

Public Access. You and your PSD have the right to be in all areas of accommodations that the public or customers are normally permitted to occupy. If the public accommodation typically charges a pet fee or deposit, PSDs are not subject to this fee. 

Transportation: Planes, Trains, and Cars. You and your PSD have the right to access transportation, including rideshares, without an extra fee. Before traveling with your PSD by plane, contact the airline to ask if they require Deportment of Transportation service animal forms. Airlines may require:

U.S. DOT form attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, and training; and U.S. DOT form attesting that the animal can either not relieve itself or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner, if the animal will be on a flight that is 8 or more hours

If you’re wondering what happens if you’re denied rights because of your service dog, you’d be right to think the law has your back. In Florida, handlers have won cases for being denied access to public events and fair housing. In many cases, the handlers were wrongly told that they must supply medical and service dog documentation. 

How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter?

A psychiatric service dog letter, or PSD letter, is a letter from a licensed healthcare professional such as a doctor or therapist. A PSD letter states whether the healthcare professional believes you have a mental health disability that qualifies under the ADA for a psychiatric service dog.

PSD letters are obtained by owners to document their health-related needs for their service dog. Third parties cannot demand that you show a PSD letter as a condition for entry or accommodation. Your current doctor or therapist can help you with getting a PSD letter.

You can also seek the help of an online provider for PSD letters. Remote therapists and doctors can assess your mental health and give you a signed PSD letter if you qualify.

Where Can I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog in Florida?

There are a number of organizations in Florida that can help with training and sourcing service dogs. Below are a few examples. 

Dogs for Life New Horizons Service Dogs K9s for Warriors Southeastern Guide Dogs Canine Companions for Independence 

Purchasing a fully trained service dog can be prohibitively expensive for many people. Fortunately, for lower-income and capable handlers, ADA rules allow PSD owners to train their dogs themselves. Many service dog owners have the ability to train their PSDs themselves and have successfully done so. 

You do not need the help of any organization to train a service dog, but it is strongly recommended if you have minimal experience in training animals. It’s important to be honest about your skills as a trainer and the capabilities of your dog. 

How do I find the right PSD for me?

Selecting a PSD for your needs is a highly personal decision. While some might think of Golden Retrievers and Labs as the traditional types of service dogs, a PSD can be any breed you like. In Florida, a dog could be bred to be a service dog, rescued, or you can train an existing pup to be your PSD.

The important thing is that the dog has the proper temperament and ability to become a trained service dog. The personal connection you have with a particular dog should not be underappreciated — the bond between a PSD and their owner is like no other relationship. 

An emotional support animal (ESA) can help manage your emotional or mental health condition. They provide comfort and affection when you need it the most. But an ESA can’t come with you into “no pets allowed” areas — except where you live — and airlines no longer allow emotional support animals to fly as pets. A psychiatric service dog (PSD), however, can do all the above and more. If you’re looking at your emotional support animal and wondering if it is possible to make it a psychiatric service dog, here’s what you need to know.

Emotional Support Animal versus Psychiatric Service Animal

An emotional support animal is an important part of dealing with a person’s emotional or mental health condition. An ESA owner possesses supporting documentation — an ESA letter — from a licensed mental health professional indicating the individual’s needs an ESA for their mental health. An ESA does not require any formal training; it just needs to offer comfort to its owner in times of need. 

An ESA is protected under federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) law, allowing ESAs to reside with their handler, even in housing with a no-pets policy. However, an ESA can’t accompany their handler outside the home into places that don’t allow pets.

On the other hand, a psychiatric service dog receives extensive training to perform specific tasks for its handler. Unlike an ESA, a PSD may accompany its owner wherever the public is allowed. These areas include movie theaters, parks, and shopping malls. Federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Air Carrier Access Act enable a PSD to reside and travel with their handler, even in instances where pets aren’t typically allowed. 

Can an Emotional Support Animal become a Psychiatric Service Dog?

It depends. First, only a canine qualifies as a psychiatric service dog. As cute, cuddly, and warm as a hamster, cat, or rabbit is as an ESA, they cannot qualify as a PSD. If your dog is an ESA, it may be possible to qualify for a PSD but it requires significant effort.

Qualifying Your ESA Dog to Become a PSD

First, evaluate your situation. Are there any essential tasks you need a service dog to perform for you? How could your condition or quality of life improve if this task were done for you? Is this task something your emotional support dog could be trained to do? Is the task needed to assist with your mental health disability?

Then, evaluate your dog. Your dog might be excellent at giving affection and playing catch, but is your emotional support dog eager to learn and easy to train? Can it readily follow commands, be friendly with strangers, and be tolerant of other animals? All service dogs must be on their best behavior, especially in public areas, and not every dog has the capacity to maintain the required composure or perform complicated service dog jobs. Make an honest assessment of your needs and your emotional support dog and decide if it’s up for the task of becoming a psychiatric service dog. 

Train Your Dog 

The primary factor that sets a psychiatric service dog apart from an emotional support animal is the service dog training regarding your emotional or mental health disability. Most service dogs go through months — sometimes years — of daily training to become safe and effective service dogs. For your ESA to qualify as a psychiatric service animal, it must undergo the same training and perform its assigned service dog job. 

In addition to training your dog to perform its tasks, a service dog must also have public access training. Public access training ensures that your dog will exhibit the behavior it needs to be a service dog. Because service dogs are welcome to follow their handlers into public areas, they must maintain safe and controlled behavior. Despite performing its service tasks well, if the dog exhibits aggressive or disruptive behavior, a service dog may be asked to leave the area. A service dog can’t do its job if it’s not safe in public. Public access training teaches dogs to exhibit calm behavior, even when faced with crowds, other dogs, noises, or busy streets. 

For an emotional support animal to qualify as a psychiatric service dog it must undergo strict task-based and public access training. Obtain a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter

A psychiatric service dog letter is authored and endorsed by a licensed healthcare professional and addresses whether a person has a qualifying disability for the purposes of a owning a psychiatric service dog. A PSD letter gives owners peace of mind and documentation regarding their mental health disability. Other optional steps for fully qualified PSD owners include obtaining ID cards, registrations, certificates and other service dog accessories.

Having a Psychiatric Service Dog

Once your ESA fully finishes training to become a psychiatric service dog, your new psychiatric service dog can accompany you anywhere the public can go, including areas where pets aren’t allowed.

You’re probably familiar with service dogs that assist people with physical challenges, like guide dogs for people with vision impairments. They’re easy to spot because their handlers typically have noticeable disabilities. However, some service animals work with people who have invisible disabilities. One example is a psychiatric assistance dog. You might wonder, “What’s a psychiatric assistance dog?”, and “Who can get a psychiatric assistance dog?” We’ll answer these and other questions for you below. 

What is a Psychiatric Assistance Dog? 

Some disabilities are readily identifiable, as in the case of someone with a wheelchair or an amputee. Others, however, have disabilities or illnesses that aren’t visible from the outside. Psychiatric conditions, for example, are a type of invisible disability. Rather than having an obvious disability, psychiatric disabilities aren’t immediately apparent. Psychiatric assistance dogs — also known as psychiatric service dog (PSD) — are as vital as service dogs for amputees or the vision impaired; the difference is the disability they assist with isn’t readily apparent.

A psychiatric assistance dog performs tasks that their handler can’t do for themselves. Here are a few functions that a psychiatric assistance dog may be trained to perform:  

Navigate through crowds to find a safe area in times of psychological distress.  Act as a buffer between their handler and people or places that are potentially upsetting. Retrieve medication from a location not accessible by their handler.  Search rooms before their handler’s entry, typically performed for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Prompt their handler to perform routine activities of daily living, like grooming or eating.  Interrupt and redirect a handler who has obsessive-compulsive or self-harm behaviors.  Provide tactile stimulation or pressure therapy for people who suffer from anxiety or PTSD.  What Conditions Qualify for a Psychiatric Assistance Dog? 

Any mental disability or emotional disorder may qualify for a psychiatric assistance dog, as long as there is a task that the animal can perform for its handler. However, the job must be

a necessity for safety or day-to-day functioning, directly related to the disability, and not something the handler would otherwise be able to do for themselves.

The following are a few examples of conditions that a psychiatric assistance dog could assist with: 

Clinical Depression Anxiety Phobias Bipolar Disorder Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder PTSD Schizophrenia Panic Attacks Autism  Any individual with a mental disability or emotional disorder may qualify for a psychiatric assistance dog. Is a Psychiatric Assistance Dog the same as a Therapy Dog or Emotional Support Animal? 

The short answer is “no.” Although therapy dogs and emotional support animals do help people and provide comfort, they don’t receive service dog training. In contrast, psychiatric assistance dogs receive extensive training to perform a specific task. They also pass a public access test to act appropriately in public areas and are exceptionally well-behaved. Although PSDs are typically dogs, they are not like regular pets; they perform an essential function for which they undergo months’ worth of training. 

More importantly, psychiatric assistance dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can accompany their handler almost anywhere. PSDs can enter areas where pets, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals are not allowed. Because service dogs are vital to their handler’s well-being, according to federal laws, they are also allowed to: 

Live with their handlers in “no pets allowed” housing areas.  Enter restaurants, hospitals, or theaters where other animals are prevented from entering.  Fly with their handlers in the cabin of an airplane under the Air Carrier Access Act Can I Get a Psychiatric Assistance Dog? 

First and foremost, you must have a diagnosable psychiatric condition if you would like a psychiatric assistance dog. Second, you must have one or more vital tasks in mind that a PSD can accomplish for you. Speak with a licensed mental health professional or physician to see if a psychiatric assistance dog could improve your quality of life and work for you. 

Do you already have a dog that you’d like to train? Not all dogs are fit to be service dogs. Your dog should be eager to learn and respond to commands readily. Dogs that are anxious or fearful don’t typically perform well as service animals.

Can I Care for a Service Animal? 

The last question requires an honest answer from yourself. You and your mental healthcare provider may want to discuss your ability to care for psychiatric assistance dogs. Despite their intelligence and training, a PSD still needs daily feedings, grooming, and routine veterinary care. It’s important to determine whether the time and financial costs of a service animal is not beyond what you can provide.

Take good care of a psychiatric assistance dog so it can take good care of you.

See if your mental or emotional disability qualifies for a psychiatric assistance dog. Get an PSD Letter assessment from a licensed medical professional.