When considering service dogs for anxiety and depression, the first thing to know is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support dog. While both types of working service canines can ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, there is a big difference between the two. In this article, I'll cover the difference between the two and how to get a service dog for anxiety or depression to help with these conditions.
To obtain a service dog for anxiety or depression, an individual must be prescribed a psychiatric service dog by a licensed mental health professional. The prescription must be written on a formatted letter that outlines the need for the psychiatric service dog.
This letter must also state that the dog is needed to perform specific tasks for their handler and that the handler is unable to perform these tasks for themselves during certain situations. Psychiatric service dogs for anxiety or depression can be purchased through reputable service dog organizations, or trained by reputable service dog organizations.
This means that dogs can be partially trained by organizations, paid for by handlers, and then have further training to cater their tasks to their new handler OR a handler can provide their own dog to a service dog training school for training. In either situation, an individual must be able to provide their letter from their mental health professional to prove their need for a service dog.
How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression & the Costs of It
Psychiatric Service Dogs
A psychiatric service dog is a dog that is officially recognized as a service dog just like a seeing eye dog, a hearing dog, etc. The role of the psychiatric service dog is to perform a major task or assist a handler in performing a major task that is necessary to the handler’s life.
A great deal of training goes into psychiatric service dogs so that they can perform specific tasks. These dogs receive protection under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). Protections afforded to psychiatric service dogs and their handlers under the law include:
- Equal access to anywhere that is open to a non-disabled individual while accompanied by a service dog.
- The ability for the dog to travel in the cabin of an aircraft along with their handler without paying any additional fee for the dog’s presence.
- Access to “no pets allowed” housing with a service dog present.
To legally qualify for a psychiatric service dog, a handler must have a severe psychiatric impairment. This impairment must be so severe that it interferes with their ability to perform a major life activity without assistance. Major life activities may include things such as driving a car, going shopping for groceries, or having a relationship with other people.
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A psychiatric service dog handler does not have to carry proof of the need for a service dog around with them. A handler must, however, be able to specifically state the tasks that a service dog can perform for them if asked. A handler must also answer if asked whether their dog is a service dog by the owner of an establishment that is open to the public.
Only if taken to court or faced with legal action, must a handler present evidence of their need for a psychiatric service dog.
Psychiatric service dogs can provide relief from the symptoms of anxiety and depression in several ways including:
- Accompany a severely agoraphobic individual so that they may leave the house.
- Remind depressed individuals to take medications necessary to functioning by bringing the medications to them.
- Bring the telephone to anxious individuals in crisis.
- Wake a depressed handler suffering severe fatigue so that they can perform necessary life tasks.
When learning how to get a service dog for anxiety, you may want to look at these breeds, as they are most often selected for the job because they are highly intelligent, large enough to perform physical tasks, and they are eager to please.
Emotional Support Dogs
An emotional support dog is a dog that offers emotional support to their handler simply by being there. It is the dog’s presence alone that provides mitigation of symptoms associated with a condition. Emotional support dogs are NOT recognized as actual service dogs.
These dogs do not have to be trained to perform tasks for their handler, but they also do not receive the multiple protections offered to psychiatric service dogs. The only protections that emotional support dogs and their handlers receive under the law are:
- The ability to travel in the cabin of an aircraft with their handler.
- The ability to live with their handler in housing that does not permit pets.
To legally qualify for an emotional support dog, a handler must be able to provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional certifying their need for their emotional service animal. The handler will be asked to present this letter when taking advantage of either of the privileges mentioned above and this is not considered to be discrimination.
Emotional support dogs can provide relief from the symptoms of anxiety and depression in several ways including:
- Providing companionship for those who experience anxiety when left alone.
- Help depressed individuals find value in themselves and their lives.
- Help to refocus anxious individuals on the dogs needs rather than their own anxieties.
- Help anxious and depressed people to connect with the outside world.
When learning how to get a service dog for anxiety, any dog can serve as an emotional support dog so long as they serve in some capacity to remedy symptoms of emotional distress associated with a recognized condition.
How To Get a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression?
The Trained Service Dog
When purchasing a service dog from a reputable organization, a dog is selected by the organization and trained in basic tasks prior to being assigned to a handler. After initial training, this dog is then matched up with an applicant to the specific service dog program.
This dog and handler must then pursue further training together so that they can fine-tune to each other. During this process, the dog is taught how to perform tasks specific to their handler’s disability. There is currently no set curriculum for training service dogs in the United States, however, individual training organizations have their own guidelines that must be met for dogs to graduate their program.
Despite there being no set training curriculum, a service dog must be thoroughly trained in obedience, performing specific tasks, and public access behavior. The dog must be obedient 90% of the time at a minimum.
The initial cost of obtaining a service dog can be upwards of $20,000. This cost covers the breeding, selection, training, and initial work with a service dog. In addition to this, service dog handlers must keep up with regular workshops to fine tune the dog’s skills. These workshops carry additional expenses as well as travel expenses that the service dog handler must pay for.
Using Your Own Dog as a Service Dog
The costs of having a service dog can be reduced by using your own dog as a service dog or selecting your own dog to train as a service dog. Although this can reduce the cost of the dog itself, it does not limit the cost of training if done by a professional organization.
In this case, the cost can be cut to around $7,200 per annum or $14,400 for the basic two years of training. Again, this does not include the added cost of keeping up with new skills, training workshops, etc.
In some instances, owners eliminate professional training programs and professional trainers altogether. These owners take on training their dogs themselves through consulting professional program guides, taking part in training classes and workshops, and simply investing time in their dogs.
The cost of training your own dog as a service dog and doing the training yourself is minimal, however, it does not provide the benefits of professional service dog trainers. In order to fully understand how to get a service dog for anxiety, you need to understand all the costs associated. It certainly isn't a cheap endeavor.
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Certifying a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression
The skills of any service dog are what gets him certified. While some training programs provide training and certification credentials to dogs that graduate from their program, these credentials are not necessary.
This means that so long as a dog that is trained to perform a task to a legitimately disabled individual and that function can be proven, then the dog can be proven as a service dog.
It's not just as simple as learning how to get a service dog for anxiety – you also need to understand how to get your new helper certified. There is a handful of service dog registries that provide “certification” information, ID tags and service dog supplies to dogs and their handlers. One such organization is the Service Dog Registration of America.
The Service Dog Registration of America will certify service dogs for psychiatric illness such as anxiety and depression. Upon registration, handlers are listed in a central database that can be searched.
As mentioned above, it is the task performance of a dog that proves the dog as a service animal, however, registration in a central database certainly doesn’t hurt a handler and their animal.
Additionally, registration with a reputable organization like the Service Dog Registration of America provides the handler with support. This support includes resources where they can report business owners who violate the handler’s rights, a resource to purchase additional service dog supplies, answers to ADA based questions, and other answers to general questions about being a service dog handler.
It is important that if you decide to register your service dog with a central registry, that you do so with a reputable organization. There are, unfortunately, a number of questionable organizations that target individuals looking to take advantage of ADA laws.
These organizations provide credentials to dogs regardless of their abilities and being affiliated with these organizations can be detrimental. If you have questions about the legitimacy of a certification program or how to get a service dog for anxiety, contact a specialist on ADA laws or the American Psychological Association for more information.