How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety
Research into the human-dog bond confirms how humans benefit from the relationship. Service dogs used to help with mental health conditions are also known as psychiatric service dogs (PSD) and utilize this human-dog bond. PSDs help fulfill tasks that individuals with severe anxiety would generally feel too overwhelmed to perform or can provide actions to prevent or reduce symptoms of anxiety as they occur.
Service Dogs for Anxiety
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the U.S., with approximately 40 million adults experiencing the disorder. Anxiety can become overwhelming and prevent a person from performing major life tasks. In cases where a person with anxiety is unable to function at work, school, or in social situations, a service dog can help them overcome their anxiety.
A service dog is a highly trained dog that can perform specified tasks or services that the individual with a disability may not be able to accomplish on their own. Service dogs are also legally allowed to follow their owners into establishments that are not usually open to animals.
Physiological and Psychological Response to Anxiety
Anxiety stems from a physiological response. The brain gauges situations as dangerous, even when they aren’t or if the danger has long gone. The brain then starts the stress reaction (a so-called “fight or flight” response) and releases hormones into the body. These hormones initiate the physical effects: hyper-awareness, rise in blood pressure, sweating, increase in heart rate, and quick breathing.
The physiological response from anxiety can be detrimental to the body if experienced for lengthened periods. This response can also result in a state of panic that prevents a person from executing necessary activities. Anxiety can also cause insomnia, depression, and anger management issues.
Research has shown that trained psychiatric service dogs can help humans overcome anxiety in several ways:
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Provide a calming influence
- Function as a protective factor against suicide and self-harm
- Provide a sense of security
- Fetch any medication or devices that may help reduce the symptoms
It is important however to recognize that in order to qualify as a service dog, there must be a need for the dog to perform a job or task relating to a person’s disability. If the dog is merely providing comfort for anxiety that qualifies as a disability, it is likely an emotional support animal and not a psychiatric service dog.
Anxiety as a Disability
According to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), a person with a disability meets one or more of the following criteria:
- A physical or mental impairment that severely impacts the ability to perform one or more major life functions
- A past impairment that meets the previous description
- Is regarded by others as having an impairment that meets this description
Many disabilities are not visible to others, meaning that the disability may not be readily apparent, like a physical impairment or injury. Many disabilities are neurological or psychological and can’t immediately be deducted.
Anxiety can be an example of one of these “invisible disabilities.” If anxiety causes impairment in a major life function such as work, school, or personal relationships, then may meet the definition of a disability.
Some forms of anxiety can be very debilitating. Phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders are a form of anxiety. Phobias often prevent people from completing necessary life tasks such as traveling, being in public areas, or having social interactions. In these cases, because it impacts major life activities, anxiety may meet ADA’s definition of a disability.
A healthcare provider can help someone determine if their anxiety rises to the level of a disability. In addition, it’s worth repeating that even if a person has an anxiety disorder that qualifies as a disability, a psychiatric service dog is only appropriate if they need a job or task performed to assist with that disability. If task-trained dog is not required, it is more appropriate to seek qualification for an emotional support animal.
Wonder if you qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Get an assessment from a licensed medical health professional. If you qualify, they can issue a PSD Letter so that you can confidently train and own a PSD.
How can a service dog be obtained for anxiety?
Only dogs can legally be considered service animals and meet ADA requirements to enter areas with their owners.
The following are two qualifications to establish before getting a service dog:
- The level of anxiety must qualify as a disability: A service dog can be obtained for anxiety if the condition is an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
- Establishing a need for a service dog: A service dog must also be able to provide a task that the person with anxiety is unable to do. The dog must be able to perform a task that directly relates to the stated disability.
A licensed mental health professional or medical doctor can provide an assessment regarding whether a person’s anxiety is a disability. If deemed a disability, a PSD letter can be issued. Even though the PSD letter is not required to get a service dog for anxiety, many individuals with anxiety find it reassuring to have a letter from a licensed therapist that confirms their need for a psychiatric service dog.
Getting a service dog for anxiety can be a long process. There are PSDs that are already trained to be service dogs, but there may be a waitlist for such dogs. And even after receiving the service dog, further training alongside the handler may be necessary in order to make the dog sensitive to their specific handler’s needs.
Handlers can also select an untrained dog and conduct all the necessary training themselves. The ADA allows for self-training of service animals. Either way, it will take time and patience until the psychiatric service dog is fully trained and ready for duty.
Keeping a training log will help with analyzing the progress of your service dog’s training. Download this free sample Service Dog Training Log, provided by Service Dog Certifications.
Service Dog Owner Responsibilities
Being a service dog handler comes with many responsibilities. Because service dogs can accompany their handler in public places where pets are not allowed to go, the handler must be comfortable and confident that their dog will behave at all times. The service dog must be able to focus on their tasks at all times, even in unfamiliar and busy places. If the handler loses control of their service dog, or the dog appears like a danger to other members of the public, it may lead to the removal of the dog. Service dog owners must ensure that their animals are safe, clean and well provided for at all times.
Obtaining a psychiatric service dog for anxiety is possible, though it may take time and patience until a suitable dog is fully ready for their job. But for all the benefits and possibly life-changing qualities a service dog for anxiety provides, it can be well worth the effort! If you think a service dog is appropriate for your psychiatric condition, speak to a licensed healthcare professional to see if you have a qualifying disability as a first step.