How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression (And How Much It Costs)

How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression Guide

How to get a service dog for anxiety?

Just like you, I once Googled this myself.

We know how much pets can brighten our days and give us purpose.

So if and when you're diagnosed with clinical anxiety or depression, getting a service dog may be your best option.

There's no shame in that!

A number of recent studies have proven that assistance animals and therapy dogs provide great relief for people with different conditions, anxiety, and depression.

If you're in this position, know that you're not alone.

This article will explain everything you should know about getting a service dog for anxiety or depression.

We'll also discuss later what it entails, how they truly help with mental health conditions, and the costs involved.

So, read on!

Service Dog for Anxiety: Which is the Right One?

If a dog is helping with anxiety and depression, is he a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animal (ESA)?

I know they pretty much sound the same!

If you're unsure about the difference between these two types of service dogs, I suggest you read this explanation.

Psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs help relieve their handler/owner’s symptoms, and they're both qualified for it.

However, they do have a difference.

Let's break them down below.

The Psychiatric Service Dog for Anxiety or DepressionThe Psychiatric Service Dog

Let's go straight to what the experts have to say about psychiatric service dogs.

According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act):

“A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability… The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

For example, you have an anxiety or depression that literally prevents you from leaving your home to, say, get your medicines.

You need your meds, but you just can't bring yourself to go out!

In this instance, a psychiatric service dog can help you.

As Pawsitivity: Service Dogs for Veterans puts it:

“[Psychiatric service dogs must] assist [their] handler in creating a safe personal space in public, serving as a physical buffer to calm [their] handler and reduce feelings of emotional distress in crowded places.

Need more examples? Read on.

How can PSDs help with Anxiety and Depression?

Other ways a psychiatric service dog can relieve the symptoms of anxiety or depression are:

  • Bringing medications or water so you can take medication.
  • Fetching for help during a dissociative episode or crisis.
  • Laying over an anxious individual to provide physical comfort during anxiety attacks.
  • Detecting anxiety attacks before they show themselves.
  • Reminding severely depressed individuals to get out of bed or take medication.
  • Bringing a phone or using an adapted phone device to call for help during a crisis.

Pretty cool, huh?

What's cooler is you don't need a medical prescription from your doctor to avail a service dog.

However, a doctor's letter may still come in handy in getting one from service dog organizations

One important thing to note, though.

Evaluate yourself first.

Are you able to go by your daily life, even how much anxious and uncomfortable you are?

If yes, then you are abled. Getting a service dog is not a necessity.

But I need emotional support too!

Then there's another “service animal” you can get instead, which we'll tackle next.


The Emotional Support Dog for Anxiety or DepressionThe Emotional Support Dog

So technically, according to AKC and under the ADA's regulation, Emotional Support Animals are not service dogs.

They're pets who, as the name suggest, can provide you with emotional support and comfort when you need it.

Unlike PSDs (which are mostly dogs,) ESAs are not trained to perform specific functions related to a person's mental health condition.

They're just there to be the best boys and girls they can be.

But because of this, there are States that don't allow ESAs entry to certain establishments, unlike PSDs.

So anyway, if a psychiatric service dog isn't for you, then an emotional support animal (whether a dog, cat, or bunny) will be your best option.

How can ESAs help with Anxiety and Depression?

As we've discussed, ESAs do not undergo training to assist an individual with their specific needs, unlike PSDs.

However, they can effectively give you comfort by simply being there for you.

Some examples of how service dogs do that include:

  • A “listening ear” for anxious individuals.
  • Physical closeness for depressed individuals.
  • Calming tactile sensation to detract from anxiety.
  • Providing a reason to get out of bed, i.e., walking the dog, feeding the dog, etc., for severely depressed individuals.

It's important to note that you will need your doctor's approval before getting an ESA.

Now that we got the main difference between Psychiatric service dogs and Emotional support dogs out of the way, let's proceed to how you can have either.

How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression

Psychiatric Service Dogs

You can get a PSD in two ways: (1) through a service dog organization or (2) by training your own service dog.

But as you may imagine, training your own service dog can be tough and far more complicated than “regular” dog training.

Let's look at both of these options.

Obtaining a Service Dog Through a Service Dog Program1. Obtaining a Service Dog Through a Service Dog Program

Service dog programs train PSDs with obedience training, service training, and socialization.

But that's not all there is to it.

After these, the PSD undergoes another set of rigorous specialized training to meet their specific handler's needs.

These service dogs either came from a reputable breeder or from shelters or rescue centers.

To qualify for a service dog from a psychiatric service dog training program, they will subject you to certain “rules” or “requirements.

A good example of some common requirements can be found in the Canine Partners for Life eligibility policy.

It includes:

  • Physical ability to control, manage, and care for a large dog weighing 50 – 100 pounds and the ability to create an effective support system.
  • Ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with the canine.
  • Financial ability to provide for his/her canine partner’s daily care, routine, and emergency veterinary needs.
  • A lifestyle that the increased independence would significantly enhance that a canine would provide.
  • The willingness to seek assistance and advice from the graduate network.
  • A realistic view of his/her disability and appraisal of his/her abilities.
  • The motivation to achieve as much independence as is realistically possible.
  • The ability to learn new information in a group setting, usually consisting of 12 – 16 students.
  • An applicant medical information form.
  • All graduates must attend “team training” classes to receive their service dog.
  • All graduates must agree to attend graduate support classes as required.
How much does this cost?

Now, let's talk money.

A psychiatric service dog’s cost will vary based on which service dog organization you contact.

But the average cost is between $20,000 to $30,000.

Very expensive, I know.

But this high price reflects the time, effort, resources, and amount of work that goes into raising and specialty training an assistance dog.

Remember, you'll get them “custom-tailored” for your condition and lifestyle.

And also, programs spend much more than this to devote 600+ hours to training and providing boarding for a dog.

Not to mention vet care too.

2. Training Your Own Service Dog

Now, if money's a little tight, it's possible to save money by training your own service dog.

However, this is a challenging task to undertake.

It requires time, dedication, discipline, and many of the criteria required by the professional training programs noted above.

Individuals with depression and/or anxiety may be unable to do hundreds of hours of training a service dog.

But on the bright side, aside from saving money, there's no waiting list!

Many professional service dog organizations have lists of applicants for years into the future.

What Type of Dog Can Be a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Can our Golden Retriever be my PSD?

Sure, why not?

However, the key is to assess their capabilities rather than target specific breeds.

Certain characteristics make a dog a good candidate for service dog work for people with depression or anxiety.

Consider the following questions when assessing if an animal is good for service dog work:

  • Are they capable of carrying out the tasks that are required of them to help their owner?
  • Are they trainable?
  • Do they have a high frustration threshold?
  • Do they have a desire to please?
  • Is this dog free from signs of personality flaws that may impact its ability to perform its job?
  • Are they free from signs of genetic or physical illness that would impact their ability to perform their job?
  • Is the dog people-centered?
  • Are they distracted by excessive drive or energy?
  • Do they get easily distracted?
  • Are they loud, reactive, or timid when faced with unfamiliar or overwhelming situations?
  • Are they in their senior years?

You should also listen to your common sense when assessing a dog's capability.

Senior dogs experience the physical toll of age that can influence their ability to perform tasks.

Reputable training programs will not train a dog that can only provide service for a short period.

Also, I know I said breeds shouldn't be a factor.

But obviously, you can't expect a Chihuahua to provide service to a person in need.

How much will this cost me?

Training your own psychiatric service dog can still be expensive.

It depends on your approach and how much help you'll need.

Generally, it can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $20,000.

This figure also depends on the type of dog you select.

Dogs that have already served as pet dogs are generally not well suited for service dog work.

You'll more than likely adopt a new pup with the sole purpose of service dog training in mind.

Also, you'll want to ensure you choose a physically healthy and psychologically sound dog to work with.

The best place to get that is from a legitimate breeder.

From here, you will need to invest in training.

You should begin with the basics of obedience and work your way up to teaching specialized skills tailored to your needs.

Emotional Support Dogs

So let's say you qualify for an emotional support dog but not a psychiatric service dog.

Where do you get them, then?

Some rescue organizations and breeders identify dogs within their programs that have the potential to be good ESAs.

They mark it on the dog’s adoption profile or the breeder’s notes.

But if it isn’t, you can contact the rescue center or breeder directly.

Ask if they have one or can help you find a dog that suits your needs.

What Makes a Good Emotional Support Animal?

Well, first, the animal in question must be good at providing comfort to its handler.

Apart from that, there are a few other factors to consider when deciding on a specific canine, including:

  • The size of your emotional support animal may be a concern if you are limited in your physical activity, if you live in a tiny home, or if you plan to take your ESA on flights with you.
  • A good temperament is a necessity – both towards you and other people and animals.
  • Overall, health should be a concern as it may limit your dog's ability to provide emotional support.

Just like with PSDs, you shouldn't just look at the breed type but rather the individual dog's capabilities.

Getting a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression: Other Things to Know

Licensing or Prescription

Psychiatrist Service Dogs

As we've said before, you do not need a doctor’s prescription to get a service dog.

However, service dog organizations may ask how a service dog would improve your life.

This information will help them match you with the right canine for your special needs.

There is also no requirement for a service dog to be licensed or registered with any special agency.

In fact, it’s discouraged to use “licensing services.”

Not only because they scam to make money off service dog owners but because they are widely used by people posing as fake “service animals.”

The U.S. Department of Justice even remarked quite recently that:

There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA, and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.

Emotional Support Dogs

There is also no official licensing of emotional support dogs by individual organizations.

However, as mentioned above, you need to have a prescription from an overseeing doctor to legally have ESAs.

He must prescribe that the pet will be of benefit to the patient’s mental health.

Legal Protections

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Fair Housing Act.

These basically protects the PSD and his/her guardian from getting discriminated in any establishments, while traveling by plane, or in owning or renting a house.

You can read more about the protections afforded to Service Dogs in our article here.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional Support Dogs, sadly, are not provided protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

They are, however, provided for under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Act.

You can read more about the protections afforded to Emotional Support Dogs in our article here.

Outfitting a Service Dog

Service Dog Outfit or Label

There is a common misconception that a service dog must somehow be “marked” as a service dog either with a harness, a vest, or some other type of identification.

This is untrue, and there is no official requirement to outfit your service animal.

To quote the American Disabilities Act once more:

The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.

That said, you may still choose to pick up a service dog vest or other must-have supplies.

These will allow you to better control your service dog and the dog to assist you better.

FAQs about Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals for Anxiety

If you are interested in learning more about service dogs for anxiety disorders, the following FAQ should help.

How Bad Does Your Anxiety Have to Be to Get a Service Dog?

Your mental health professional can help you decide if your anxiety disorder is severe enough to need a service animal.

Psychiatric Service Dogs don't need a prescription, while Emotional Service Animals do.

Get a recommendation letter from your licensed mental health professional, as they are responsible for evaluating if you need this type of therapy dog.

Can You Have a Service Dog for Anxiety and Depression?

Yes, you can have a therapy dog to help with mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Just remember that an official anxiety service dog has to be trained to complete tasks related to your disability.

How Do I Get a Service Dog for Anxiety Australia?

Getting anxiety service dogs in Australia requires a medical professional to diagnose.

You must be diagnosed with a mental disability, and they will recommend this therapy dog.

Check out Assistance Dog Australia for more information.

Do You Need a Service Dog for Social Anxiety?

You do not need a service dog if you have social anxiety, but it can help.

Remember that your mental health professional will have to evaluate your anxiety symptoms.

They should provide you a medical documentation so you can get an ADA-approved therapy dog.

Final Thoughts on How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression

So there you have it!

I hope this article helped clear up how to get a service dog for anxiety or depression.

Dogs sure are the best animals you can have to help you get through difficult times, making them the perfect service dogs or emotional support dogs.

If you need more reading about service dogs or support animals, you can check out our related articles below!

I hope you'll feel better soon!

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How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression Guide

Diana currently lives and works in London, UK and she's been an animal lover and dog owner since she was a child. After graduating high school, she focused on getting her degree in English to become a writer with a focus on animals, pets and dogs.