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Psychiatric Service Dog
Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) are hard at work helping people with invisible mental health conditions. While most people think of service dogs as assisting with physical disabilities, PSDs are trained to help with mental health conditions and have the same legal rights as service dogs that assist with physical disabilities. We will explain what psychiatric service dogs are, who qualifies for one, the type of work they do, and the legal rights and protections that PSD owners have under U.S. federal laws.
What is a psychiatric service dog?
In brief: Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) help with mental health conditions and have the same legal rights as service dogs that assist with physical disabilities.
PSDs vs ESAs: Psychiatric service dogs are similar to emotional support animals (ESAs), but with one major difference. Unlike ESAs, PSDs undergo specialized training to help people with mental illnesses and learning disabilities.
Rights: PSDs have broad public access rights that allow them in public places where pets or emotional support animals aren’t allowed. PSDs can also fly on planes free of charge.
Table of contents
- Qualifying for a psychiatric service dog
- Psychiatric service dog tasks
- Overview of psychiatric service dog access rights
- How to get a letter for a psychiatric service dog
- ADA requirements for a psychiatric service dog
- Training a psychiatric service dog
- Different types of psychiatric service dogs
- How do I register my psychiatric service dog?
Qualifying for a psychiatric service dog
Eligibility: To be eligible for a psychiatric service dog, you must have a mental health condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The ADA defines a mental health disability as “any mental or psychological disorder” such as “emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.”
You can ask a licensed mental health professional for a PSD letter to document and confirm whether you have an eligible condition.
Qualifying disabilities (not exhaustive):
- Clinical depression
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders
- Bi-polar disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
PSD training: In addition to having a psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental health condition, the handler must need a task-trained dog to assist with their condition. The key difference between a psychiatric service dog and a normal dog is that a PSD must be trained to perform work relating to their handler’s disability.If the PSD does not perform a task relating to the owner’s disability but provides comfort through its companionship during difficult times, it is more likely an emotional support animal. In the next section, we will give some examples of the tasks that PSDs are entrusted to perform.
If you want to know if you qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog, apply for your PSD Letter. Through our partner, we can connect you with a licensed healthcare provider so they may assist you.
Psychiatric service dog tasks
Psychiatric service dogs are trained to do work that allows people with psychiatric disabilities to function in everyday life. There are too many of these tasks to list in one article, but below is a sample of the important jobs that PSDs perform.
Some common tasks are:
- Retrieve medications – pick up medication from a table or ring a bell as a reminder
- Tactile stimulation and deep pressure therapy (DPT) – can use touch or gentle pressure to provide calm and comfort to a handler that is in distress
- Ground and reorient – can help ground their handler back into a more present state of mind during an anxiety attack.
- Interrupt and redirect – can help limit obsessive–compulsive and self-destructive behaviors by interrupting or redirecting
- Find a person/place – can locate people/places for those with severe anxiety in crowded environments
- Navigation and buffering – can provide a buffer and help guide their handler through stressful environments
- Room search – can perform a room search to help those that suffer from hyper-vigilance caused by PTSD.
- Stabilize routines – can help their handler maintain healthy routines by, for example, preventing them from oversleeping or reminding them to do daily tasks.
No matter what task your PSD is trained to perform, you have a right to privacy and dignity when it comes to your condition and needs for a service animal. Under the ADA, staff members at an establishment are prohibited from asking you to demonstrate the tasks your PSD has been trained to perform.
Overview of psychiatric service dog access rights
Psychiatric service dogs have the same access rights as other types of service dogs. Under the ADA, state and local governments, businesses, and other organizations that serve the public have to let PSDs accompany their owners in all areas where the public is allowed to go.
PSD handlers also have the right to live with their dogs in most types of housing under the Fair Housing Act. Owners of PSDs do not have to pay fees or deposits to their landlord or housing association in order to have a PSD in their residence. Even if the building strictly bans all dogs, psychiatric service dogs must still be allowed.
In addition, under the DOT’s air travel rules, PSDs are allowed to fly in the cabin with their owners, free of charge. In order to fly with a PSD, owners must submit the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form to their airline in advance.
Below are examples of places a psychiatric service dog has access to in the US:
- Housing and lodging – apartment buildings, condos, co-ops, rentals, hotels, college dorms, short-term rentals (Airbnb)
- Transportation – airplanes, taxis, and trains
- Public spaces – restaurants, bars, university campuses, offices, libraries, beaches, stores, parks, markets
No matter where you take your PSD, it’s always important to keep in mind that if your PSD is misbehaving, it can be asked to leave the premises. Service animals can be denied entry if they are acting aggressively, barking or growling repeatedly, or causing an unsanitary condition. A psychiatric service dog has to be under the handler’s control at all times when out in public.
How to get a letter for a psychiatric service dog
Many Psychiatric Service Dog owners get what are known as PSD letters from their healthcare provider. A PSD letter contains a healthcare provider’s opinion on whether a person has a qualifying ADA psychiatric disability or learning disorder.
Documentation for service dogs is not required under the ADA. For handlers with invisible disabilities, however, in the form of a psychiatric illness, a PSD letter provides confirmation that they meet service dog disability standards.
PSD letters are written by licensed mental health professionals such as doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and nurse practitioners. Your provider will first evaluate your mental health and determine whether it meets the criteria of being a disability under the ADA. If you qualify, they can give you a signed PSD letter stating you have an eligible ADA service dog disability.
ADA requirements for a psychiatric service dog
Psychiatric service dog handlers have legal rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly known as the “ADA”). While some states may also have their own laws regarding service dogs, the ADA is a federal law that applies to all 50 states.
What you can be asked: Under the ADA, if you’re out in public or at an establishment and someone wants to verify your psychiatric service dog, they are allowed to ask two questions:
- Is the dog a psychiatric service dog required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the PSD been trained to perform?
The ADA website explicitly recognizes psychiatric service dogs and gives as examples service dogs that remind their handlers to take prescribed medication or calm a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.
ADA protections: Handlers of psychiatric service dogs,
- Cannot be isolated from other patrons by a business
- Cannot be treated less favorably than other customers
- Cannot be charged fees that are not charged to other customers without animals.
- Cannot be charged a deposit or fee that would be paid by customers with normal pets.
Some other requirements to note under the ADA, a handler cannot be asked to remove his psychiatric service dog from an establishment unless (1) the PSD is out of control and the handler doesn’t take effective action to control it, or (2) the PSD is not housebroken. Even when a PSD is properly asked to leave a site, the handler must be offered the opportunity to still obtain goods or services with the animal removed.
Training a psychiatric service dog
Both the ADA’s and the DOT’s rules permit owners to self-train their psychiatric service dogs. If you’re not comfortable training your own dog, however, you can hire a professional trainer or reach out to an organization. Note: there is no “official” training program for PSDs, although there are entities that issue guidelines and suggestions.
In addition to being trained to perform the task related to a handler’s disability, a PSD must always be under the control of its owner. Under ADA rules, a PSD must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times, unless that would interfere with the PSD’s ability to work (in which case, the handler can use other means of control like voice commands or physical signals). For air travel, a PSD must always be harnessed, leashed, or tethered and not engage in disruptive behavior.
Tracking training milestones
There are important milestones a PSD owner should track to determine whether their psychiatric service dog is ready to be taken in public:
- Can the PSD ignore distractions?
- Is the PSD obedient even in busy areas?
- Does the PSD run after or lunge at other people and animals?
- Is the PSD calm when around children and other animals?
- Is the PSD able to maintain its focus on the handler even with the presence of food and treats?
- Does the PSD growl or bark uncontrollably?
- Can the PSD remain on task in loud, crowded places?
- Is the PSD calm around moving vehicles and traffic?
These are just some of the tests you should make sure your PSD can pass with flying colors before going out in public. A PSD that is unruly can be asked to leave an establishment. Of greater concern, a poorly trained PSD may not be able to perform the critical duties it has been entrusted with if it is not accustomed to a particular environment.
Different types of psychiatric service dogs
There are many types of psychiatric service dogs that serve individuals with a wide range of invisible disabilities. Below are just a few examples:
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may affect those that have gone through an extremely stressful or life-changing situation. Many people who suffer from PTSD use psychiatric service dogs to help treat their symptoms. Some of the tasks a PSD can perform for someone with PTSD include:
- Help block and buffer the handler in crowded areas
- Calm the handler using deep-pressure therapy
- Retrieve medications
- Provide security enhancement tasks (such as room search)
- Interrupt destructive behaviors
People who suffer from severe depression oftentimes do not want to leave their homes and find it difficult to engage in life activities. They have constant negative thoughts and are sometimes suicidal. PSDs help chronically depressed people get back to living a normal life by:
- Providing comfort with responsive touch
- Retrieving medications (and reminding the handler to take them)
- Providing tactile stimulation by licking the face when the handler is distressed
- Helping the handler establish a daily routine
- Preventing the handler from oversleeping or being too sedentary
Anxiety can strike us at any time, but for those that have chronic anxiety, it can be debilitating. This condition can create excessive uneasiness and apprehension and may lead to compulsive behaviors or panic attacks. A PSD can be trained to help anxiety attacks by:
- Keeping the person grounded by licking or pawing
- Applying deep pressure therapy (for example, by lying across the handler’s body)
- Recognizing the signs of an impending panic attack
- Retrieving medications
- Leading the handler out of a building
- Alerting a loved one
- Finding/bringing a telephone
- Blocking people from crowding the handler
How do I register my psychiatric service dog?
What’s required: If you have a psychiatric service dog, you may benefit from voluntarily registering your animal with ServiceDogCertifications.org and obtaining service animal paraphernalia. Under ADA rules, registering a service animal does not confer legal rights, but registrations and service animal accessories are routinely used by handlers for their personal convenience.
Why do it: As someone with an invisible disability, you may want a method for strangers or workers to understand immediately that your animal companion is not just a pet or an emotional support animal. Not only does this help set proper boundaries, PSD registration and accessories can also help protect your privacy by reducing the need to answer unwelcome questions. Keep in mind this is completely optional and does not substitute for proper training and professional help in evaluating a psychiatric condition.
What can help: Vests, tags, ID cards, harnesses, and other service animal gear are designed to help you enter public spaces with your PSD with confidence. These items also help ward off annoying and potentially unsafe approaches by strangers and children who may not realize your PSD is a working animal and not a pet. Service Dog Certifications can keep your psychiatric service dog’s information in its registration database and issue an identification ID card, certificate, or vest, depending on your needs.
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My daughter has Down syndrome and autism and I suffer from panic anxiety attacks and Vasovagal syncope. Do we qualify for a
Psychiatric Service dog?
We suggest consulting with a licensed healthcare professional. You will also have to consider whether a service dog could perform a task that assists with your condition.
How can you buy a trained psychiatric dog? My daughter is a 18 an has depression, anxiety an PTSD. She doesn’t like crowds an loud locations an has only 1 friend. She won’t drive on the interstate an doesn’t like to drive by herself unless she has too. Has problems getting things done in the day an is avoiding going to college due to her limitations. If you could give me advise on a program to get a therapy dog I think it may help her.
Unfortunately we do not give out referrals for service dog providers, but we wish you luck in finding the help you need.
I need to train my dog as a psychiatric service dog for ptsd.
Please advise, plus certificate
Unfortunately we do not offer training services or referrals. We would be happy to help you with a certificate however once your service animal has been fully trained and qualified.
Hello! I am diagnosed with PTSD and my psychiatrist said he will write me a letter, when the time comes. I need help finding a dog, and maybe the training. Unless I can get a dog that has already been trained. I’d appreciate hearing back from you!
We’re glad you’re on your way to getting the help you need! Unfortunately we do not provide referrals for dog adoptions.
I wish more employees were trained on PSD and some of the task they give service for. Multiple times I’ve had staff ask the two questions and they say “we don’t recognize that as a service dog” even though I bring up the ADA and that they are not an emotional support dog. I’m usually left embarrassed and having to see a manager that will usually allow us in the store.
I have all the required diagnosis that warrant a psychiatric service dog, my dog is fully trained by me. she is a 6lb toy poodle. How can i prove that with the airlines when completing their forms? They want the name of the training school? I would like to register with your service
Airlines will require you to submit the DOT’s service animal air transportation form. You do not need to list a training school unless you used one. Please see this guide for step by step details on flying with a psychiatric service dog: https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/flying-with-a-service-dog-guide/
Hi. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder since 2001. My doctor wrote a letter 14 years ago for my Chihuahua as my psychiatric service dog for the housing that I reside in. My dog has helped me tremendously throughout the years and continues to do so. She grounds me when I am having an episode. She is now up in age and I am going to be traveling internationally next year and I need her on the plane with me. Can I register her through you. Even if she’s up in age and her hearing is going and so is her eyesight? She is very well behaved and is my Velcro dog I call her. She goes everywhere with me. I can’t see myself taking this trip without her. I need to know the steps to take to get her on that plane with me. She would never survive flying in cargo. She would literally die from stress. I would NEVER put her life at risk. Does a psychiatrists letter help get her approved as a psychiatric dog? Please any information you can give me would be appreciated so I could officially register her. Thank you
Registrations and PSDs are not required to travel with a service dog. Please see this link for a guide to flying with PSDs: https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/flying-with-a-service-dog-guide/
If my dog is 4 years old and she is a great Pyrenees mix would she still be able to get trained to be a psd? I don’t know if she is too old or not
There is no age restriction for service dogs but older dogs can be more difficult to train. We suggest reaching out to a professional trainer for advice if you do not have experience training service animals.
do you have to give your other dog up to get a PSD? or can i have both a pet dog and a PSD?
A pet dog may be trained to become a PSD, but not all dogs are suited to be service animals.
A copy-paste quote: “Under ADA rules, registering a service animal does not confer legal rights, but registrations and service animal accessories are routinely used by handlers for their personal convenience.”
If registering the animal doesn’t confer legal rights, What does??
I have Yorkie she is four months. I have her registered as ESA. I have been diagnosed with ADHD and have anxiety attack. Can I register my dog as a Service dog? What steps to take?
You do not need to register an ESA or a service dog. An ESA is not the same as a PSD – you can only have a psychiatric service dog if you have a need for a task trained dog to assist with a disability. If you don’t have such a need or your animal is not trained, then you are not able to qualify for a PSD.
Under American disability act after June 11th 2021 you are not required to legally show or prove anything about any service dog for any reason. For an establishment to deny you they would be violating federal law. Similar to wheelchair access for any store. Someone may never use it but they are required under federal law to have it.
Actually, a business is allowed to ascertain if your dog is a service dog. Two questions may be asked. Is it a service dog due to disability and What task is it trained to perform. Your comment is mostly correct, but there are protections for businesses to help them protect against people just taking a dog into a restricted place.
Can cats be registered as a service cat? My daughter has a lot of illnesses one being kidney failure and on dialysis. Also has anxiety especially when having to be alone while I work. We tried a dog but because of them barking it made her anxiety worse! So we got a cat and it has helped her so much! We are having to move and the owner says only way to keep an animal is a service animal. I need help!
Unfortunately, cats cannot be service animals. They can however become Emotional Support Animals. While ESA don’t have the same access right as a service dog, they are allowed to live in no-pets housing, so with a legitimate ESA letter your house owner should allow for an ESA cat to live with you. And there are some establishments and offices that are tolerant to ESA’s. You may find this article on cats and emotional support animals interesting https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/can-cats-be-service-animals/
If you obtain a properly trained Psychiatric Service Dog for your daughter due to her anxiety barking would not be an issue. PSDs that are properly trained don’t bark and run around like untrained dogs because of their training. Or if you have the patience, a dog with the correct temperament can to trained not to bark at random thereby eliminating it making daughter’s anxiety worse. If you don’t have the time any regular dog trainer can train a dog to not bark randomly but you would still need to be involved. It’s a lot of work, I know.We are on month three of training a PSD and we work at it everyday. Best wishes!