Thinking about getting a psychiatric service dog? Know which breeds make the best support animal for you or someone you love. Contact Pettable for more details.
Psychiatric Service Animals

Best Psychiatric Service Dog Breeds

Susana Bradford
5 minute read
June 3, 2022

A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is an assistance animal specifically trained to perform tasks to mitigate its owner's mental illness or emotional disorder. The most common psychiatric disorders that benefit from PSDs are:

  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries

What Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Do?

PSDs can perform several tasks that include providing deep pressure therapy during anxiety attacks, fetching medication when their owner has a psychiatric episode, or waking their owner from nightmares. 

PSDs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can accompany their owners where pets are typically not allowed, such as on airplanes and grocery stores. Psychiatric service dogs can significantly improve their owner's quality of life and provide them with much-needed emotional support.

What's the Difference Between Psychiatric Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs?

PSDs and emotional support dogs both provide essential benefits to their owners, but some key differences are. Psychiatric service dogs are trained specifically to perform tasks that their owner cannot do for themselves.

In contrast, emotional support dogs provide companionship and typically do not have any specific training. While anyone can have an emotional support dog, psychiatric service dogs are only awarded to people with a documented disability. As a result, psychiatric service dogs generally have more access rights than emotional support dogs. However, both types of dogs can provide invaluable assistance and support to their owners.

What Breeds Make the Best Psychiatric Service Dogs?

Different dog breeds have different strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the best and most preferred service dog breeds:

German Shepherd

People who suffer from anxiety require a constant source of stability and calm. A German Shepherd is ideal for this since they are readily trained and incredibly loyal. They help their owners stay grounded when they have an anxiety episode. Because of their size, interested people have to consider whether they can care for an animal this big.

  • Lifespan: 9-13 years
  • Temperament: Calm, caring, intelligent, energetic, loyal, loving, and alert
  • Color: Black, gray, sable, black and tan, blue, red and black, black and silver, silver
  • Perfect for People with anxiety attacks and need something steady and calm to keep them grounded
  • Expected full-grown size: 28 inches tall and about 125 lbs.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador retrievers are devoted service dogs. Regardless of your attitude, the cheerful, bright, and naturally friendly Labrador Retriever will never get tired of sharing radiant and dependable energy with its owner. They tend to be hyper, so that they will require regular physical activities.

  • Lifespan: 10-12 years
  • Temperament: Energetic, passionate, loyal, loving, gentle, happy, people-pleasing, and lively
  • Color: Black, yellow, chocolate
  • Perfect for: People who struggle with day-to-day tasks, people who have PTSD
  • Expected full-grown size:25 inches tall and about 80 lbs.

Cocker Spaniel

If you need a lot of love and affection, a Spaniel will gladly give it to you. Their passion for physical touch makes them highly effective in fighting depression.

  • Lifespan: 9-15 years
  • Temperament: Friendly, playful, affectionate, loving, patient, fearless, eager to please
  • Color: Ruby, tri-color, black and tan, Blenheim (chestnut markings against bright white fur)
  • Perfect for: People suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders
  • Expected full-grown size: 14 inches tall and 18 lbs.

Poodle

Poodles can learn and perform tasks for people with cognitive difficulties. They are perfect for children and adults who have allergies because the poodle doesn't shed as much as other breeds do. They can get big, though, so even if their fur makes them ideal for kids, you still need to ensure their size is appropriate.

  • Lifespan: 12-15 years
  • Temperament: Intelligent, loving, loyal, and mischievous
  • Color: Blac, white, pink, apricot, brown, cream, blue
  • Perfect for: People who need help with stress reduction, children with psychiatric disorders
  • Expected full-grown size: 15 inches tall and 70 lbs.

Pug

These dogs are very intuitive to their owner's emotions and can provide them with a sense of comfort and happiness. They're not for people who love traveling, though, because most airlines don't allow them to fly due to their short snouts, which could lead to breathing difficulties.

  • Lifespan: 12-15 years
  • Temperament: Playful, intelligent, loyal, affectionate, charming, mischievous, gentle
  • Color: Fawn, black, apricot
  • Perfect for: People suffering from anxiety, depression, children on the Autism spectrum, and they are known for being able to sense traumatic health problems such as heart attacks
  • Expected full-grown size: 12 inches and about 20 lbs.

Corgi

Affectionate and active, corgis can be taught to perform simple tasks for their humans. Their sweet and loving nature gives their owner the daily dose of happy hormones they need. They're pretty short, though, so even with all their enthusiasm, they will still have limitations regarding tasks.

  • Lifespan: 12-15 years
  • Temperament: Active, bold, protective, intelligent, tenacious, loving, fun, happy, playful
  • Color: Red, fawn, tri-colored, black, sable
  • Perfect for: People with depression
  • Expected full-grown size: 12 inches tall and about 28 lbs.

Things to Ask Before Choosing a Psychiatric Service Dog

If you have a mental health condition that significantly impacts your daily life, you may be wondering if a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) could help. PSDs are specially trained to perform tasks that help to mitigate their handler's disability. 

For example, a PSD might be tasked with providing deep pressure therapy during a panic attack or reminding their handler to take their medication. While a PSD can provide invaluable assistance, it's essential to ensure that you are ready for the commitment before taking the plunge. Here are some things to consider:

How do you qualify for a psychiatric service dog?

An individual must have a diagnosed mental illness before qualifying for a PSD. They will need a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating that the dog would be beneficial. The patient must also be able to care for the dog and provide proof of vaccinations and obedience training. Once these requirements are met, the individual can begin finding and training a suitable service dog. With the help of a psychiatric service dog, many people can lead fuller, happier lives.

What size should your service dog be?

When choosing a service dog, size is an important consideration. A smaller dog may be easier to work with for some tasks, such as opening doors or retrieving dropped items. On the other hand, a giant dog may be a better choice for jobs that require more strength, such as pulling a wheelchair. 

Ultimately, the best size for a service dog depends on the individual needs of the person they will be assisting. With that said, most service dogs are between 40 and 70 pounds. This weight range gives them the strength to perform their duties while still small enough to maneuver in tight spaces. Additionally, this size range makes it easier to travel with their handlers.

Do you have a stable living situation?

A PSD needs a safe, comfortable place to call home, and it's essential to be able to provide this before bringing a dog into your life. A dog is a big responsibility, and one of the most important things you need to consider before getting one is whether or not you have a stable living situation.

If you're constantly moving around or don't have a place to call your own, it's probably not the right time to get a dog. However, if you're settled in a safe and welcoming home, you might be ready to take on owning a furry friend. As a PSD, your dog should have easy access to your home and have food and water available.

Do you have the time and energy to train a PSD properly?

Training is essential for both the dog and the handler, and it takes time and patience to do it right. A well-trained PSD can make an enormous difference in someone's routine, but it's essential to ensure that you have the time and energy to train before getting one.

A PSD needs to be trained in basic obedience and specific tasks required in their work. Training can take many months and even years of consistent effort. In addition, PSDs need a great deal of physical exercise - they are working dogs, after all, which means multiple walks or runs every day and regular trips to the dog park or other off-leash areas.

Are you able to care for a dog financially?

Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that they require care and attention. In addition to needing regular exercise, dogs also need to be fed a high-quality diet and receive regular veterinary care. This can all add up to a significant financial investment.

Before getting a PSD, make sure you can afford all associated costs. Once you have committed, be sure to stick to it. Your dog will depend on you for everything they need, so be prepared to provide them with the care they deserve.

How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog

With Pettable, it can be easy to retrieve an emotional support letter which can help get you one step further to owning a PSD.

Complete Our Assessment

To help us analyze your scenario and emotional pet support needs, you'll first complete an evaluation. The next step is to choose the emotional support animal letter you require (housing, travel, or both).

Consult With a Therapist

To see if you qualify for a PSD, you'll complete a mental health evaluation. You'll be matched with a licensed mental health professional and offered a link to arrange a live consultation with them after completing our essential privacy and permission papers to authorize our doctors to work with you. 

Get a Psychiatric Service Letter

Our licensed mental health professional will write a legally recognized PSD letter for you once they've determined that a PSD is necessary for your care and wellness. Except for California residents, you'll have the option of receiving the letter within 24 hours of your consultation.

We care about you. If your PSD letter does not work for you, we will fully return your money.

Can Any Dog Be a Psychiatric Service Dog?

PSDs are trained to perform specific tasks that help their owners manage their mental illnesses. They can be a tremendous asset for people with cognitive difficulties, but not every dog is suited for the job. Essential qualities for a psychiatric service dog are a calm temperament, good obedience skills, and staying focused in stressful situations.

Dogs that are aggressive, easily distracted, or prone to anxiety are not a good fit for the role. If you consider getting a PSD, it is essential to consult with a qualified trainer to find a dog with the right personality and temperament for the job.

Frequently Asked Questions about Psychiatric Service Dog Breeds

While a PSD may seem challenging to get, there are many positives to getting one, such as a higher quality of life and the feeling of having a constant companion. Yet, there may still be some questions remaining.

How much does a psychiatric service dog cost?

The cost of a psychiatric service dog can vary depending on the dog's specific breed, training, and needs. However, most service dogs cost between $10,000 and $30,000.

What breed of dog is best for anxiety and depression?

While any dog can provide companionship and love, some breeds are better suited for people suffering from anxiety and depression. Although similar species will work, one of the best breeds for people with these conditions is the Labrador Retriever.

Can my physician prescribe a psychiatric service dog?

It depends on your physician's specialty and the state they practice. Psychiatrists and other mental health providers can prescribe service animals for their patients, but with restrictions.

Do psychiatric service dogs have to be on a leash?

Because of the nature of their work, PSDs must be obedient and be able to follow commands accurately. For this reason, most PSDs are kept on a leash when working to keep both dog and owner safe.

Does insurance cover psychiatric service dogs?

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses to allow service dogs in public places, but no federal law mandates insurance companies to cover their costs. As a result, coverage for PSDs is often excluded from standard insurance plans. 

How long does it take to train psychiatric service dogs?

It takes between one and two years to train a PSD breed in most cases. The first few months of training are spent teaching the dog basic obedience commands and socialization skills.

Are psychiatric service dogs allowed everywhere?

The ADA recognizes PSDs as working service dogs, meaning they are allowed anywhere with their owners, even in places with a 'no pet' policy. A letter or proof of the dog being a PSD may be requested to be shown. It is against the law for someone to ask for demonstrative proof of your disability or the tasks your PSD performs for you.

How can I get a psychiatric service dog for PTSD?

You can contact a service dog organization, apply to have a dog bred specifically for you, or adopt rescue dogs and train them yourself.

Meet the author:

Susana Bradford