Posts Tagged ‘psychiatric dogs’

For a person living with anxiety or depression, even the most trivial tasks can feel exhausting. To deal with their mental illness, some take medication or schedule consistent therapy sessions. But it’s not widely known that anyone with diagnosed anxiety or depression also qualifies for a psychiatric service dog.

What is a psychiatric service dog?

A psychiatric service dog is a dog that assists a person with a mental illness with their everyday activities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these dogs perform tasks for their handlers which relate directly to the disability. These dogs typically accompany their handler both inside and outside of their homes and will spend the majority, if not all day, assisting, alerting, and supporting.

Having a service dog does come with some dismay from other individuals who may not understand the handler’s needs. Thus, some handlers decide to also register their Service Dog in order to make the dog’s purpose more transparent.

Who qualifies for a psychiatric service dog?

Potential handlers must undergo a psychiatric evaluation from a healthcare professional. This may be a:

Physician Nurse practitioner Licensed social worker Psychologist Psychiatrist

The professional will discuss the mental experiences and evaluate the particular symptoms. They will provide a diagnosis that is most closely related to what their patient is experiencing.

A person that is diagnosed with a mental illness qualifies for a psychiatric service dog.

The most common mental illnesses that service dogs can assist with are:

Anxiety Depression Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Disordered Eating Panic Disorder Agoraphobia  Service dogs can help overcome diagnosed anxiety or depression. I have anxiety and/or depression. How do I get a psychiatric service dog?

In order to get a psychiatric service dog for anxiety or depression, these steps need to be taken:

1. Get an official diagnosis.

To comply with the ADA, each individual with a disability needs to have a recorded diagnosis from a healthcare professional. Make an appointment with your general practitioner to discuss your symptoms. Your general practitioner may be able to diagnose you, or they may refer you to a mental health professional. If you already see a mental health professional, obtain written proof of your diagnosis and keep it for your records. Common symptoms of anxiety and depression include:

Feelings of helplessness Loss of appetite Loss of interest in daily activities Stressing or obsessing that is out of proportion to the actual event Feeling nervous Increased heart rate Trouble concentrating  2. Obtain your new service dog.

The ADA doesn’t have requirements for where you get your dog. You may purchase a dog from a breeder, from a site that trains service dogs, or you could rescue one from your local shelter.

When selecting a dog, be sure to look for one that has the temperament needed to be a service dog. They must be calm, patient, eager to please, a fast learner, determined, and have no history of aggression. Without these particular traits, your dog may struggle and become distressed and unhappy. 

3. Train your service dog to complete tasks relevant to your particular symptoms.

The ADA requires that all service dogs must be trained to perform tasks that will assist you directly with your mental illness. Service dogs for anxiety and depression may complete the following tasks:

Detecting panic attacks before they happen Providing grounding and physical stimulation during panic attacks  Fetching medication and water   Accompanying their handler outside  Fetching a phone during emergencies  Start your new life

A person with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness could greatly benefit from a service dog. These dogs can help individuals navigate through their day-to-day lives, and provide the extra support needed for them to feel more comfortable. With the support of a psychiatric service dog, a person has the potential to live a happier, more fulfilled life.

A person with a mental illness may struggle to accomplish daily life activities. When in need, some individuals depend on family, friends, or caretakers, while others rely on Psychiatric Service Dog. A Psychiatric Service Dog is a support for a person with a mental illness to help complete their everyday tasks.

Definition of a Psychiatric Service Dog

A Psychiatric Service Dog falls under the category of Service Animals. These are dogs or miniature horses that assist a person with a disability with tasks that directly relate to their disorder. Per Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is a physical, medical, or mental disorder that impairs their daily activities. Originally, Service Dogs were only used for individuals with physical disabilities. As the number of other disorders grew, The ADA service dog laws conformed to the increasing numbers of people in need and began to allow Service Dogs for individuals with mental disabilities, and calling them Psychiatric Service Dogs. 

Service Dog watching over his owner in the pool Mental Illnesses a Psychiatric Service Dog can help with

To qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog, a person must have a diagnosis of mental illness from a medical professional. Several mental illnesses qualify as a psychiatric diagnosis. Among those are:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Panic Attacks Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Eating Disorders Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  Schizophrenia Agoraphobia 

If you are interested in registering your trained psychiatric service dog, the below image is a helpful guide for service dog registration. We recommend saving this or sending it a loved one who may benefit from having a service dog.

The best breeds for Psychiatric Service Dogs

To find a Psychiatric Service Dog that fits the individual’s situation, they must look at several factors, such as breed, temperament, and trainability. Dog breeds that excel in this type of work and tend to enjoy service work are:

Labrador Retrievers German Shepherds Border Collies Poodles Golden Retrievers

These breeds share similar traits, such as high levels of trainability, desire to please, intense focus, and generally good temperament. These characteristics go a long way in training and allow them not only to learn the tasks needed by their handler but to form a strong bond. It’s important to choose a dog that enjoys working on specific tasks—if a dog struggles to learn new skills, or appears to be in distress while training, they may not be a good fit for service work.

Dogs with desirable working traits enjoy their responsibilities as Psychiatric Service Dog and will serve their handlers best. 

Golden Retrievers make great Psychiatric Service Dogs Tasks a Psychiatric Service Dog provides

Once a handler identifies their ideal Psychiatric Service Dog, they need to think about what the dog can do to assist them. Each disability has different factors that impact an individual’s daily life. The goal with a PSD is to discover what they can do to help ease or even eliminate the handler’s undesirable symptoms. What a Psychiatric Service Dog needs to do depends on their handler’s demands, which again depends on their mental illness. Here are some examples based on different mental disorders:

Fetching medication for a person with depression who is unable to leave their bed Accompanying a person who has agoraphobia to go outside Detecting a panic attack and providing physical comfort until it subsides Fetching a phone for a person with anxiety so they can reach out for help Providing physical stimulation for a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder to distract them from their rituals  Waking up a person with post-traumatic stress disorder who is experiencing nightmares or night terrors A Psychiatric Service Dog to fit

Thousands of individuals nationwide benefit from the assistance of a PSD. As everyone’s needs are different, each Service Dog is trained to complete distinct tasks that benefit their handlers. Continuous, honest communication with the therapist can help to determine what symptoms need extra support. And that insight will dictate what their Psychiatric Service Dog can do to help live their lives independently, safely, and as fulfilling as possible.

A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a Service Animal specifically trained to support individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. A well trained PSD is able to ease symptoms caused by the mental disability and can comfort their handler in times of distress.

In this article, we’ll cover how to be approved for a PSD, what to look for when selecting a dog, and how to train a Psychiatric Service Dog to become a handler’s life-saver.

Is there a registry for Psychiatric Service Dogs?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require any registration for Service Dogs. Psychiatric Service Dogs can accompany their handlers unmarked and without any id or paperwork. However, some handlers find it reassuring to register their Service Dogs and to purchase a vest and id. It helps them to communicate that their dog is, in fact, a working Service dog and their rights should be respected.

1) Speak with a Health Care Professional about Psychiatric Service Dogs

A Psychiatric Service Dog can only be acquired if a health professional gives a diagnosis of mental illness. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a Service Dog must be able to assist their handler with tasks that directly relate to their disability. To be eligible for a Psychiatric Service Dog the diagnosis may include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Depression Panic Attacks Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  Schizophrenia Agoraphobia 

With this diagnosis, an individual is allowed to get a Psychiatric Service Dog and train it to complete tasks that help them with their symptoms. 

2) Obtain your Psychiatric Service Dog 

When starting to look for a Psychiatric Service Dog several considerations are necessary. Most dogs have the potential of being a Service Dog but not every dog can perform the tasks their handlers require to help reduce the impact of the mental disorder.

Where to find a dog

To select the perfect Psychiatric Service Dog the two most common ways are:

Purchase from an organization that specifically trains PSDs. Adopt from a local animal shelter.

Either way, it is crucial to find a dog that is best suited for the work ahead. Among these considerations are the dog’s characteristics, breed as well as its age and health.


When choosing a dog, the handler must be aware of certain behavioral traits. While there are no specific regulations that a handler must follow, it’s important that the dog displays the following qualities:

Eager to please Easily trainable Non-aggressive Accepting of strangers Disciplined  Strong work ethic

Dogs with these traits tend to succeed as Service Dogs, as they want to please their handlers and enjoy learning new tasks. It is crucial to adopt a dog that enjoys working on specific tasks. It’s important not to choose a dog for the wrong reasons; handlers may need to change the PSD if they seem to be in distress while training or cannot comprehend the tasks they should perform.

A handler needs to take special consideration finding a Psychiatric Service Dog to guarantee they are a perfect fit for the challenges ahead. 


With the right characteristics, any dog has the potential to become a Psychiatric Service Dog. The ADA does not restrict breeds that qualify to become a Service Animal and therefore facilities and landlords do not have the right to exclude a Service Dog based on breed. However, among the dog breeds that generally excel in this type of work are:

Labrador Retrievers German Shepherds Border Collies Poodles Golden Retrievers

These breeds share traits, such as high levels of trainability, desire to please, intense focus, and generally good temperament. Dogs with these characteristics usually do well in training and are able to form a strong bond with their handlers.

Health and age

For any Service Animal, it is essential that they are in top health condition. Any health issue, such as diabetes or arthritis, could hinder the Psychiatric Service Dog of performing the tasks in the time needed and therefore become an additional burden in times of distress.

To get the best out of the Psychiatric Service Dog these points need to be recognized:

An inaugural visit to the vet is absolutely needed, to make sure the dog is in top condition. Once the PSD is in service, taking well care of them and revisiting the vet for regular checkups is necessary. All Service Dogs should be neutered. This will make males less aggressive and females without distraction when in heat. The dog should be at least 6 months old and more importantly have outgrown the puppy phase.

If the handler understands and can accommodate these prerequisites, finding the perfect Psychiatric Service Dog is merely a matter of time. However, it’s still only halfway through the process as the next, big step of training the dog will begin.

3) Train your Psychiatric Service Dog

Each dog will respond differently to learning the tasks needed; some are naturally intuitive and already understand what their handler needs, others might require several training sessions to master the complexity of the task. Therefore, a Psychiatric Service Dog doesn’t need to attend any specific training program. The only requirement is that the PSD is trained to perform tasks that directly relate to their handler’s disability.

For example a person living with anxiety could train their Psychiatric Service Dog to detect panic attacks. The PSD would alert its owner of an upcoming panic attack, and then work to comfort and support their handler until the attack subsides.

Using a reputable PSD trainer

Handlers might want to get the help of a professional Psychiatric Service Dog trainer if they are not confident enough to do all of the training themselves.

The cost of having the PSD trained professionally will differ based on the dog’s ability to learn and the complexity of the tasks needed. Talk to several potential trainers beforehand and get an estimate of the time and effort involved. However, the benefits of having a fully dependable Psychiatric Service Dog at hand could be worth every penny spent.

When looking for a trainer, handlers should put some research into the trainers available in their region. Getting recommendations from other individuals with PSDs are a safe way to be connected with a reputable trainer.

Train yourself

If the tasks at hand are easy, or the dog and their handler already have a strong bond, training themselves could be an option. Training might start with basic commands and slowly building up the skills until the PSD knows how to behave in public and stressful situations.

It is important that the Psychiatric Service Dog has enough confidence in performing the special task even in conditions when the handler might not be able to give proper instructions. Following a strict regimen will help the PSD to learn what is needed and to perform the tasks with few to no errors. 

As long as the Psychiatric Service Dog is able to complete the tasks directly related to the handler’s mental disability, it does not matter who trains them.

4) Be aware of the stipulations surrounding Psychiatric Service Dog

Per the ADA, handlers are allowed to bring their Service Dogs into pubic establishments that normally wouldn’t allow pets, such as:

Apartment complexes Hotels Restaurants Movie theaters Retail stores and markets

Although the ADA doesn’t require Psychiatric Service Dogs to be registered, handlers can bring their PSD unmarked into these buildings. Nevertheless, some handlers do prefer to register their Service Dogs to ensure that their rights will be respected. Establishment owners are unable to legally ask if a dog is a Service Animal. They are, however, allowed to ask two questions:

Does the dog assist the handler with a task related to their disability? And if so, what tasks do they perform?

Handlers should be prepared to answer the two questions but also remain aware of the limitations of what can be asked. 

Patience and knowledge will lead to the perfect Psychiatric Service Dog

The path to finding and training a Psychiatric Service Dogs for the tasks needed may be long. Still, once the PSD is ready and can help their handler to overcome symptoms caused by the mental disability, the handler’s life will become safer and more fulfilling.