How Psychiatric Service Dogs Help People

How Psychiatric Service Dogs Help People

Author WDF Staff


When talking about service dogs, most of us imagine a guide dog. However, there are different types of service dogs trained to help with all sorts of disabilities. One type of service dog is the psychiatric service dog. These dogs have the same rights as other dogs that help with disabilities, which is, of course, described in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

ADA defines them as “dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” Since each disability is unique, each dog is trained to help one person. Some disabilities have common characteristics, but people have individual needs that only one dog is trained to help with.

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Psychiatric service dogs are dogs that are trained specifically to help a person with mental disabilities. Psychiatric service dogs are not emotional support dogs, and they should not be confused as such. These dogs can do all sorts of different tasks that will help a disabled person become more independent, and these dogs should be treated as such.

happy girl and dog

Who can qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog?

People with diagnosed mental or learning disabilities are eligible for a PSD. Under the ADA, people who have “any mental or psychological disorder” such as “emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.” Some of the disabilities that qualify a person for a psychiatric service dog are;

  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Clinical depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism
  • OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

However, having a mental disorder alone does not qualify a person for a psychiatric service dog; they must also require a dog to help them with a specific task. Dogs that will become psychiatric service dogs must be individually trained to help with a unique task. Otherwise, it is just an emotional support dog that doesn’t have the same rights as a service dog.

If you are interested in learning about the process of getting a service dog, check out this article - How do I get a service dog?

What tasks can Psychiatric Service Dogs do?

The critical difference between a psychiatric service dog and a normal dog is the ability to help their handler with a specific thing or several things. Psychiatric service dogs can help a disabled person with many things, and some of those are;

  • Alerting before a panic attack - PSDs can be trained to alert a person about an upcoming panic episode.
  • Help with a person’s balance - people who need to take tranquilizer medication might need help with walking.
  • Locate a person or space - People suffering from depression or anxiety can get overwhelmed in large crowds, and PSDs can help track a person or a space that will help their handler.
  • Calm and reorient - People suffering from anxiety attacks can space out during an episode. Psychiatric service dogs can help them come to a more “present state of mind:”
  • Interruption and redirection - A psychiatric service dog can interrupt self-harming behavior and limit the effect OCD has on a person.
  • Navigation - Psychiatric service dog will lead their handler through a stressful situation and provide comfort and confidence.
  • Medications - A PSD will help a person retrieve medication or even ring a bell to remind them they should take medications.
  • Room search - This is a task mostly PTSD service dogs do. They can search an entire room to help people who have PTSD feel safer.

dog and girl laying on grass

What is a PTSD service dog?

Like we already said, PSDs can perform different tasks, and one of the most common mental disability dogs are used for is PTSD. PTSD service dogs help people that went through extraordinarily stressful or life-altering situations and were left with scarring. PTSD service dogs can help a person with PTSD calm down by performing pressure therapy. These dogs can also buffer their handler in crowded areas, perform room searches, and interrupt self-harming behavior. War veterans often use PTSD service dogs to help them battle their PTSD symptoms.

If you want to know more about service dogs, check out this article - Service dog training.

The Psychiatric Service Dog law from 2021

The US government voted in the law regarding the rules and access rights of psychiatric service dogs. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) rule is effective from January 11th, 2021, and it allows PSDs and PTSD service dogs to fly inside the airplane cabin. This was a bit confusing since other service dogs were already allowed that before January 2021.

People trying to pass their dogs as service dogs

Since the beginning of the year, there were many complaints about people try to pass their dogs as service dogs. The only goal is to grant their dogs access to places that otherwise restrict dog’s presence. Places like the subway, restaurants, or movies won’t allow normal dogs to enter. However, psychiatric service dog such as PTSD service dogs should have the right to enter such places of business.

kid hugging dog

People trying to pass their dogs as service dogs are doing massive damage to those who actually require assistance. People are developing distrust towards all service dogs, and that is not something that helps anyone. Just because someone wants to carry their pet inside the store doesn’t mean they should do so. That is a misdirected sense of privilege some people have.

How to spot a service dog?

Service dogs are not required to wear any ID tags or service dog harnesses. That is a common misconception. Under the law, there are only two questions a disabled person can be asked;

  • Is the dog a psychiatric service dog required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the PSD been trained to perform?

It is illegal to ask for a demonstration, and luckily, most people with disabilities take their IDs with them. However, we should all strive to make the world a more inclusive place where service dogs and people with disabilities won’t be called out.

There is a big difference between service dogs and ESDs. Check out this article for more information - Emotional support dogs.

World Dog Finder team

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