Fact checked

Do Service Dogs Have to Be on a Leash?

Service dogs help people struggling with psychiatric or physical disabilities in immeasurable ways, but there are rules regarding their behavior in public places. Learn whether service dogs have to be on a leash and several other laws with Pettable.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
March 2, 2023

People with special needs cannot always rely on human care to help them navigate their day-to-day activities. Service dogs offer a convenient and effective way of treatment to help those with both physical and psychiatric disabilities increase their quality of life and live comfortably. 

However, navigating the world of service dogs is not easy, especially when it comes to understanding the rules around getting and keeping one. One of the most frequent questions we get is about whether or not a service dog has to be on a leash, especially in public places.

Read on to understand what exactly to expect from your service dog, the different kinds of service dogs and how all these factors determine whether or not your service dog is required to stay on a leash.

What is a service dog?

A service dog is a specially trained dog that accompanies people with disabilities navigate through daily activities. These dogs have responsibilities, including ensuring the people they care for avoid danger, get help when they can’t call for help themselves and have all the assistance they need to be independent. 

The only animals legally allowed to be service animals are dogs or miniature horses, and all other animals that facilitate therapeutic comfort to their healers cannot be considered psychiatric service animals. Emotional support animals are often confused with psychiatric service dogs, but these types of pets are not protected in the same ways under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What is a psychiatric service dog?

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a service dog that is specifically trained to assist people with diagnosed psychiatric illnesses. They can be trained to perform a wide array of tasks tailored to the specific needs of their owner. PSDs are helpful in both aiding the recovery and management of mental illness of people with psychiatric conditions.  

Psychiatric service dog tasks

The most common conditions that psychiatric service dogs are trained for include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, PTSD, autism and bipolar disorder, however, there are several additional conditions that qualify. Therefore, the PSD tasks cover a wide array of things, including:

  • Interrupting anxiety or panic attacks.
  • Providing emotional support through physical contact.
  • Encouraging social interaction.
  • Alerting their handler to important cues.

Psychiatric service dog qualifications

To become a psychiatric service dog, an animal must pass tests in areas such as basic obedience, task-specific training, public access, and temperament. These areas serve as the foundation for more specific training that allows them to treat clients with a variety of psychiatric conditions.

Do psychiatric service dogs have to be on a leash?

Typically, your service dog will need to be harnessed, leashed, or tethered when in public places. This is the best way to ensure that they stay focused on their job of assisting you and that they don't get distracted or runoff. However, if the use of these devices interferes with your service dog's work or if your disability prevents their use, you may need to rely on other means of maintaining control of your dog.

Other PSD rules

In addition to being trained to assist their handler in specific tasks related to their disability, psychiatric service dogs must have completed basic obedience training to ensure they are well behaved in public places. Service dogs must not bark, bite or act otherwise unruly or disruptive when in public places. A service dog must also be trained in not relieving itself indoors for extended periods of time.

How to get a psychiatric service dog

Here are the easiest ways to get a psychiatric service dog:

Psychiatric Service Dog Training

Do you already have a dog? You can take your dog through PSD training and get them certified. Here are some options to choose from:

Online PSD Training

Pettable’s Online PSD Training is a cost-effective and flexible option for dog owners who need to work on their schedule. This training, led by licensed psychiatric service dog trainer Lisa Gallegos, is a 15-video series that empowers people to train their own dog in specific tasks through systems of rewards and memorization. You can do the training in the comfort of your home and at the pace that works best for both you and your pet without breaking the bank.

In-person PSD Training

You can also opt for in-person training where you will physically accompany your dog to the nearest training center, a few times each week. Though this takes the training out of your hands, this can be a costly option and some dogs may not respond as well to your commands when the trainer is not present.

Purchasing a Psychiatric Service Dog

If training seems like an uphill task, you can opt to purchase a PSD instead. However, with the average price of PSDs ranging between $20,000-$30,000, this may be an inaccessible option for many.


PSDs are different from ESAs because psychiatric service dogs undergo specialized training and are recognized by law. However, states like Illinois and New York have federal laws that cover ESAs as well. PSDs also offer more support for their owners as opposed to ESAs. 

Are you interested in getting a service dog? Learn more about PSDs and ESAs on Pettable’s blog.

Meet the author:
Susana Bradford

Susana is an avid animal lover and has been around animals her entire life, and has volunteered at several different animal shelters in Southern California. She has a loving family at home that consists of her husband, son, two dogs, and one cat. She enjoys trying new Italian recipes, playing piano, making pottery, and outdoor hiking with her family and dogs in her spare time.