How PSDs Help?

When talking about service dogs, most of the general public still thinks about guide dogs, mobility dogs, and other types of assistance dogs, who support people with physical disabilities. When a person has a visible disability, it is much easier to identify a dog as a service animal and what tasks he/she does for his/her user. It is not the same case when we talk about “invisible” disabilities and assistance animals who help people cope with them. Identifying a dog as a service animal, when it is not obvious what tasks exactly, he/she has been trained to perform is much harder and often leads to difficulties for people suffering from these types of disabilities.

Psychiatric Service Dogs provide people with mental disabilities with invaluable help and are their loyal and inseparable support in their life. That is why we will pay closer attention to their role in people’s lives and why they are so important to them.

What Are Psychiatric Service Dogs?

Psychiatric Service Dogs provide people with mental disabilities with invaluable help and are their loyal and inseparable support in their life. That is why we will pay closer attention to their role in people’s lives and why they are so important to them.

Who is Eligible for a Psychiatric Service Dog?

According to the Americans with Disabilities (ADA), a person must be diagnosed with a physical and/or mental disability, that substantially limits one or more major life activities. People who have a record of such disability, if they do not have a disability at the moment as well as people who do not have an impairment but are “regarded as having a disability” are considered eligible for a service animal.

As you can see in the ADA’s definition, a “disability” is a term, that has a wide range, and is not only limited to physical impairments.

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks

As mentioned above, the tasks that psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) can perform vary on the person’s needs. Some common PSD tasks are:

-Deep Pressure Therapy- it can be performed by both large and small dog breeds; small dogs usually lay over their owner’s body and their weight and body’s warmth has a calming effect on the owner; Dogs of large breeds can put their chin on the owner’s lap, which will also have a calming effect on the owner;

-Tactile stimulation- it can vary from nose-nudging to pawing at the owner and giving a kiss;

-Alerting for anxiety- PSDs can perform a specific behavior, to alert their owner that an anxiety episode is about to occur. This helps the owner take action, such as finding a place to sit, or lie, taking medication…etc.;

-Preventing the owner from having repetitive (harmful) behaviors;

-Retrieving items, i.e., medication, phone, blanket…etc.

-Reminding the owner to take medication;

-Waking up the owner when they are having an episode;

-Notifying other people (i.e., family members) that the owner needs help;

-Guiding the owner to a safe place;

-Protecting the owner through their body, i.e., from falling down and hurting themselves;

-Keeping distance between the owner and passersby while in public;

-Opening/closing doors/ cabinets / or other types of mobility tasks based on the owner’s needs;

-Calling 911 in case of emergency.

As you can see the tasks that a PSD can perform widely vary and depend on the particular individual.

How Can You Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

The first step toward having a PSD is to make sure that you are eligible for a service animal. The best way to do it is to consult a licensed mental health professional. If you are diagnosed with a mental disability, you can ask for a letter as medical proof of your need for a service animal. Once you go through the first step, you should think about the part which involves training a dog.

Based on where you are located, you may have different options. What we mean by that, is that some countries allow dog owners to train their paw friends to become service dogs, while others require service animals to be professionally trained-either by members of internationally recognized organizations like Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) or by an accredited local school.

Getting an already-trained service dog is, of course, another option. However, it is accompanied by high costs (getting a trained service dog can reach up to $30 000-$40 000) or by long waiting lists (if you decide to contact a non-profit organization).

The best you can do is gather as much information as possible in regard to the options listed above prior to taking a decision. Training a dog, yourself is a great option for people who can invest time and effort into a training process and want to really bond with their dog. Having a strong bond with your service dog is essential for these types of partnerships. The more time you spend with your dog, the better you know him/her as an individual and the better your skills as a handler become. You will not only teach your dog to perform tasks, but you will also educate yourself and gain valuable knowledge on the nature of service dogs and how to train them properly. Of course, this option means that you should be actively engaged in the training process and invest time and effort. Patience and persistence are other words that you will need to remember if you decide to go that way. Taking a program, which combines both owner/self-training a dog and benefiting from tutor support, might be a good option.

Getting your dog trained by a professional organization/training school / professional trainer has also its advantages and disadvantages. Your dog will be in the hands of professionals, who are educated and have experience in training dogs. Of course, it is important that you contact the trainer you want to work with and gain information about their qualifications, experience, training approach, and the methods they use. Visiting the training facility and also asking about the duration of the training program and its costs are other important topics you will need to discuss with the trainers.

Always check your local laws first to be aware of what requirements service animals need to meet to be recognized in your country or area.

Do You Need to Certify and Register Your PSD?

Service dog certification and registration are still “hot” topics in the service dog community. The laws in the US and the UK explicitly state that none of these is required for service animals, so you should bear that in mind if you encounter any websites that offer service dog registry or certification. Legit websites would offer certification only upon completion of a program as proof of training. They would not sell a certificate without requiring a dog to go through a training program.

Psychiatric Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Animals

The controversy around the nature of these animals and their rights leads to challenges for people who are in need of an assistance animal. We will clarify the difference between those types of animals to avoid any confusion for those of you who are not familiar with it.

Emotional Support Animals go through basic obedience training only, and they do not perform specific tasks that are directly related to a disability. ESAs are treated as pets when visiting public premises, and they can be denied access by businesses that run a “no pet” policy. ESAs in the US are protected under the Fair Housing Act, and they must be granted housing rights. ESAs can be different types of domesticated species and are not limited to dogs only.

Psychiatric Service Dogs are a type of service animal, who performs specific tasks directly related to a disability. They go through both basic obedience and specialized service dog training. PSDs can be only dogs, or also miniature horses in certain US states. These animals are considered medical equipment, and they must be granted public access rights. They can not be excluded from premises even if they run a “no pet” policy. There are some cases when the presence of service animals can still be prohibited, i.e., if they are not under control, misbehave, and cause damage. Also, religious institutions, parts of a zoo where the animals on display are natural predators or prey of dogs, as well as areas of boarding schools, specially designed for people who are allergic to dog fur, are not required to allow service animals. Service dogs can also be excluded from swimming pools or areas where public health rules apply. However, they must not be excluded from pool decks or areas open to use by the general public.