A psychiatric service dog provides a unique need to their owners as they help people with mental health disorders. However, they are more than emotional support dogs. They perform tasks like bringing owners medication, directing their attention, providing sensory stimulation, and providing other assistance. 

What Are Psychiatric Service Dogs?

A psychiatric support dog differs from an emotional support dog and other types of service dogs in several ways. Here are some differences to consider. 

  • Emotional Support Animals: Emotional support animals comfort humans in difficult times. They don’t require special training so any animal can be an emotional support animal. Although dogs and cats are common, people may also have emotional support birds, pigs, and even snakes. 
  • Service Animals: Service animals are trained to work with disabled people. They typically assist people with physical disabilities like vision or mobility issues. Service animals are usually dogs, but there are some unusual types of service animals, like horses and monkeys. 
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs: Mental health service dogs are trained to work with people with mental disabilities. They have many of the same rights as service dogs meaning they can accompany owners on planes, in stores, and to other destinations where other pets aren’t allowed. They can be any dog breed, but they must be a dog.

Who Can Get Psychiatric Service Dogs?

To qualify for a psychiatric assistance dog, you must have a mental illness that prevents you from living your life independently. Many people have anxiety and depression, but unless the condition is severe enough to limit their ability to perform everyday tasks, they may not be eligible for psychiatric support dog ownership. Examples of disorders that may apply include: 

  • Anxiety: People with anxiety may qualify for a PSD dog if their anxiety prohibits them from completing necessary tasks. 
  • Depression: Individuals with depression may qualify for psychiatric service dog ownership if their condition prevents them from functioning normally. 
  • Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder results in extreme mood swings and a distortion of reality. It may qualify someone for psychiatric service dog assistance. 
  • Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia causes a disassociation with reality that causes individuals to face daily living challenges.  
  • Social phobias: Social phobias can make it difficult for humans to function in social situations. A psychiatric service dog can calm them down and ensure others keep their distance to prevent feelings of claustrophobia and anxiety. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD is a form of anxiety characterized by nightmares and flashbacks related to a past trauma. A dog can wake owners from nightmares and soothe them when they feel anxious. 
  • Panic attacks: Panic attacks are a symptom of some anxiety disorders. A PSD can sense when a panic attack is about to happen so they can fetch help or medication, or calm their owner down. 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: People with OCD often deal with intrusive thoughts which cause them to engage in repetitive patterns. A service dog can reduce intrusive thoughts to promote positive behavior. 
  • Autism: People with autism may use a psychiatric assistance dog to provide stress relief. 
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A dog can assist a person with ADHD by directing their attention as needed and reducing anxiety and hyperactivity. 
  • Dissociative disorder: Dissociative disorder may cause a break from reality. A dog can bring its owner back to earth and provide grounding benefits. 

Handlers must also meet other requirements to qualify for psychiatric service dog ownership, including the following: 

  • Be able to participate in the dog’s training
  • Have the ability to give commands and care for the dog
  • Offer a stable home environment
  • Have the financial means to provide care
  • Provide a recommendation letter from a healthcare provider

Services Provided by PSDs

A PSD dog may offer assistance when various physical and emotional issues arise. They may provide any of the following psychiatric service dog tasks: 

Physical Tasks: 

  • Waking owners up in the morning, when they are having a bad dream, or when they have difficulty waking up due to medication or medical emergencies
  • Ensuring others give owners space to avoid panic attacks
  • Sense anxiety attacks before they start and when they’re happening so they can alert others and get help
  • Fetch medication during attacks and when needed
  • Assist with balance related to dizziness from medications or confusion
  • Search a room before the handler enters so they feel safe 
  • Prevent choking- dogs may even be trained to clear their owner’s airway
  • Guide handlers when they feel disoriented

Emotional Support Tasks:

  • Provide a sense of safety with their presence
  • Offer physical comfort to help owners calm down
  • Distract owners when they feel anxious to reduce anxiety
  • Offer companionship to reduce feelings of depression and isolation

Justice Speaks Promotes a Healthy PSD-Owner Environment

Mental illness service dogs greatly benefit people with emotional disorders. They reduce depression and anxiety. They help them complete daily tasks and improve their quality of life. 

Justice Speaks supports the relationship between PSDs and pet owners by educating society to promote appropriate responses to service dogs and their owners. We train students so they respect and support service dog owners. We train employees and employers to ensure workplaces are compliant with service dog rules. 

Contact us to learn how we are making the world a better place for mental illness service dogs and the people who rely on them. 

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