Psychiatric service dogs help their handlers with emotional or psychiatric disabilities, including depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or schizophrenia.
Unlike service dogs trained for people with physical disabilities, psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) manage their owner’s mental and emotional state, provide security and treatment, and prevent unfavorable reactions.
PSDs are afforded more rights and allowances than emotional support animals. Still, any canine can become a PSD if it has the right skills, temperament, and training.
If you think you would benefit from a PSD, read below for an outline of the steps to follow to find the right dog and prepare it for its psychiatric service dog duties.
First and foremost, you should speak with a licensed mental health professional to learn more about the qualifications for a PSD. The Americans with Disabilities Act set forth specific eligibility requirements for the PSD diagnosis, which include:
With a diagnosis and the okay from your doctor, you can begin your search!
With the go-ahead from your doctor, it's time to decide whether you want to adopt and then train a canine to become a PSD or simply purchase a dog that is already prepared to be a PSD.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both options, so let's explore the pros and cons of each.
Adopting and training a dog is a more affordable option for those who may not have the funds to purchase a pre-trained dog, which can be tens of thousands of dollars. You also get the opportunity to choose an animal with which you can form a deeper bond.
The downsides are that you will have to do much more work to train the canine, which takes time and effort. There's also the risk that the dog won't have what it takes to go all the way to become a PSD.
The other option is purchasing a dog that is already a psychiatric service dog. These dogs come from specialized breeders and have gone through intensive training to meet the needs of their handlers.
They are costly but require little to no training. However, PSDs are not always readily available, and you may have to wait for the right canine to come along. You also won't choose the dog you bond the most with and will most likely be assigned a dog the breeder thinks would be the best fit.
Once you've determined whether you're going to buy a pre-trained PSD or adopt a dog and manage the training yourself, you'll know which next step to take.
When you browse available options, whether at an animal shelter or on a PSD-trained dog website, there are some things you may want to look for to ensure the best chances of finding the right fit.
Certain personality traits make for better PSDs, such as an eagerness to please the handler, foot-motivation, trainability, non-aggression, acceptance of strangers, strong work ethic, concentration, and discipline.
While most dogs can be psychiatric service dogs, some breeds tend to naturally hold many of these qualities and excel in these roles. Some breeds you may want to consider include:
These breeds all have a desire to please, intense focus, high trainability, and overall good temperament, especially with new people and in public places where PSDs are on the job.
You also want to consider the age (and the health) of the dog you're considering getting. They should be in excellent health and at least one year old.
There are a few things that all owners should do for their dog’s well being:
The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require any formal documentation, outfit, or registration for psychiatric service dogs.
PSDs are allowed in public spaces as long as they are behaving well and not a threat to the safety and health of others.
But many people still choose to register their dog as a PSD for peace of mind when it comes to legal and classification changes. .
When finding a psychiatric service dog, there are a few other things you should keep in mind:
Under federal law, PSDs can live with their owners even in no-pet housing, accompany their owners into public businesses, and fly in an airplane cabin at no extra fee, which pets and ESAs cannot.
To qualify under the ADA, the owner must have a life-limiting mental disability. The dog must be trained to respond to the disability through tasks. The dog must not disrupt in public, and the dog must be housebroken.
Training a PSD on your own can take six months - 1 year of work. Working with a trainer can take closer to 3-6 months.
If you're struggling to manage everyday tasks or trips in public due to a mental health disorder, you may benefit from a psychiatric service dog.
There are easy ways to find a good PSD, including adopting and training a dog on your own or buying a dog that is ready to go on day one!
Regardless of which route you take, proper training and a good temperament are the keys to a successful PSD that will be with you for years to come.