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Service Dog for Anxiety – Everything You Need to Know

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Service Dogs are used for a variety of purposes, ranging from guiding individuals with visual impairments to notifying those with medical disorders of impending episodes. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Service Dogs can also be used for those with mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety. These support animals fall under the category of Psychiatric Service Dogs.

  • Psychiatric Service Dogs are trained to complete specific tasks that aid a person with a mental illness.
  • Emotional Support Animals provide a sense of security and comfort through their companionship.
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Psychiatric Service Dogs should not be confused with Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Before a person looks for a dog, they must know the distinction in order to choose the best option for their needs. The difference between the two lies in the training.

How to get a Service Dog for anxiety

One of the most common reasons a person requests a Psychiatric Service Dog is for anxiety. In order to qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog, an individual must first have an anxiety diagnosis from a medical health professional. Upon the diagnosis, the individual needs to either train or obtain a dog that meets ADA standards. These state that the Service Dog must be able to perform certain tasks to aid the person with a disability. Only after the dog meets these requirements, they will be ready to begin assisting their handlers. 

Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal or Therapy Dog?
Comparison of (Psychiatric) Service Dog, ESA and Therapy Dog

Where to get a Service Dog for anxiety

Psychiatric Service Dogs need to be specially trained to assist a person with debilitating anxiety in order to detect when their handlers will need assistance. These dogs can be trained independently by the owner or can be bought through an organization that raises and trains dogs to support people with mental health needs. Some organizations train all types of Service Dogs, while others specifically produce Psychiatric Service Dogs.

At this time, it is not necessary to register a dog as a Service Dog. However, certain organizations have national registries that can provide documentation and identification for the dog. 

service dog at home
Service Dog at home

How to train a Service Dog for anxiety

A Psychiatric Service Dog will best suit its handler when it’s trained to complete tasks that assist their handler with their disability. In order to meet these standards, the dog must have demeanors that allow them to be trained to follow their handler’s commands.

Young Service Dog in training
Young Service Dog in training

Traits that a psychiatric Service Dog should have include:

  • Capability to learn basic obedience skills, such as sit, lay down, and stay
  • No signs of aggression
  • Calm demeanor with no hyperactivity 
  • Ability to ignore distractions in public
  • Doesn’t jump or lunge at others

If a dog obtains these qualities, they will likely have the ability to learn their handler’s tasks and qualify to become a Service Dog. An individual can take training upon themselves, or hire an organization to perform the training. 

Service Dog tasks for anxiety

A person with severe anxiety may not be able to complete various tasks needed to go through everyday life. In these moments, a Psychiatric Service Dog may be able to step in and assist their handler. Here are some basic tasks that can be beneficial to a person with anxiety:

  • Identifying distress related to anxiety 
  • Calming down their handler during an anxiety attack
  • Retrieving medication
  • Applying pressure to their handler to relieve stress 
  • Retrieving a telephone
  • Notifying others if they sense their handler needs additional assistance 

The tasks that the dog is trained to perform will depend on what is valuable to the individual person. Not all dogs need to learn all tasks, and not all tasks will be helpful to every person. Each individual needs to determine how their dog can help them, and train them accordingly.  

Man and his Service Dog side by side
Man and his Service Dog side by side

Best Service Dog breeds for anxiety 

Certain dog breeds exhibit specific traits that are beneficial for Service Dogs. For example, dogs are easier to train if they’re naturally intelligent. They should be calm and even-tempered in order to stay focused and on task at home and in public. They should be eager to please and happy to work for their handler. Not all dog breeds fit these prerequisites, but the ones that do excel as Psychiatric Service Dog.

Among the more suitable Psychiatric Service Dog breeds are:

  • Labrador Retriever 
  • German Shepherd 
  • Border Collie
  • Golden Retriever 

With patience and proper training, a dog can be taught to become the Service Dog a person with anxiety needs. Having a properly trained Psychiatric Service Dog will allow the individual to live their lives without having to worry about being limited by anxiety. 

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2 comments

  1. Bethann Horton says: January 25, 2020
    • Brian says: February 4, 2020

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