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How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD)

With Pettable’s help, finding the best psychiatric service dog for your needs is made easier.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
March 16, 2023

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) can perform various tasks for their owners. From being able to sense the signs of a panic or anxiety attack to retrieving medications or providing assistance, psychiatric service dogs help their owners live a full quality of life. However, there can be numerous questions about how to obtain a psychiatric service dog and the steps to ensure a psychiatric service dog is a correct fit. Psychiatric service dogs are not to be confused with emotional support animals (ESAs) or therapy dogs. 

The Bottom Line

  • What is a Psychiatric Service Dog? - A psychiatric service dog is a specific animal that is individually trained to help with the diagnosis of a mental illness.
  • Do You Need a Medical Diagnosis to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog? - For some mental or emotional health problems, a psychiatric service dog can be beneficial, however, a medical diagnosis may be needed before receiving a PSD
  • Can Any Dog Be a Psychiatric Service Dog? - Any dog individually trained and specifically trained to perform tasks for an individual can be a psychiatric service dog
  • How to Get a PSD Letter - Take Pettable’s online quiz to get your PSD letter today, excluding California residents.
  • Get Your PSD Letter Today - Getting your PSD letter within 24 hours is easy, thanks to Pettable’s online service.

Get your PSD letter today!

What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog, And Who Can They Help?

Psychiatric service dogs offer a variety of services for individuals that have symptoms and a diagnosis of a mental illness. Psychiatric service dogs can be trained to retrieve medication and water daily, can sense when their owner is having a bad dream and wake them up from it and can enter a dark room and turn on the lights so that the owner can enter, and much, much more.

Emotional support pets are not the same as psychiatric service dogs. Emotional support pets help their owners feel better just by being there. While emotional support animals (ESAs) are very similar to therapy dogs and psychiatric service dogs, they do not have the legally protected rights that a psychiatric service dog does. With a psychiatric service dog, owners can take their dogs anywhere in public, even in places that may not be pet friendly, and can have pets in housing developments that may have a "no pets" policy.

Emotional support animals usually make the person feel better just by being there. A therapy dog is often used in places or situations where there is a lot of stress, like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. What separates these two from psychiatric service dogs is that they are specifically trained to aid their individual with specific tasks and jobs that align with the individual’s mental illness.

Do You Need A Medical Diagnosis To Get A Psychiatric Service Dog?

To qualify for a psychiatric service dog, individuals must be legally disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and be able to provide proper medical documentation. This states that a service dog will help the individual with tasks that can aid them in having a better quality of life. The person must also be able to handle the psychiatric service dog on their own and be able to give the dog commands on their own. Extra training sessions may be required for service dogs, meaning the individual must be able to accompany the dogs to the training sessions.

According to the ADA, being legally diagnosed with a disability means having a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more “major life activities," or someone who has or has had an impairment that does so.

Mental health disorders that may require service animals or emotional support animals can include the following:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Once a psychiatrist or mental health professional provides a letter or specifies a need for a PSD, an individual can go about getting a PSD to begin helping them in their day-to-day lives.

There are various tasks for which service dogs and emotional support dogs can be trained to help an individual with a mental illness, such as the ones listed before. Psychiatric service dogs trained to do these tasks are usually taught to spot warning signs in their owners. They are individually trained to do jobs that include:

  • Applying deep pressure therapy (laying across the owner’s lap or back)
  • Using grounding techniques (such as licking or pawing) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other anxiety disorders
  • Retrieving medications
  • Leading the owner out of a high-stress situation
  • Help the owner establish a daily routine.
  • Prevent the owner from being too stationary for long periods
  • Provide protection and security to the owner

PSDs can be individually trained for specific tasks, such as retrieving medication during a particular time of day or being prepared to wake up their owner at an exact time or when an alarm beeps. PSDs can also be trained to retrieve ringing phones and alert the individual to doorbells or someone knocking at the door.

To begin the process, complete an assessment, book a consultation with a licensed medical health professional, schedule an appointment, and receive a PSD letter within 24 hours after the talk.

Where Can I Get A Psychiatric Service Dog?

After being legally diagnosed with a disability and determining that a PSD is the best fit for you, the next step is obtaining one. This can be tricky, as the process for the perfect PSD is based on behavior toward situations and the individual and how quickly the service dog can learn the tasks needed. Thankfully, a few programs specialize in matching PSDs with the perfect companion to aid in their lives. Some programs partner with disability insurance to help cover the cost of training a PSD.

Can Any Dog Be A Psychiatric Service Dog?

Any breed can be trained to be a PSD. There are some qualifying markers to look for before beginning training. These include the dog being housebroken, the dog not exhibiting aggressive behavior, and the dog being calm in public. The dog must be trained to recognize and respond to the signs of the owner’s disability. If the dog cannot be trained after a specific length, it is called “washing out.” If this happens, it is requested that the owner still provide a loving home. If that cannot happen, for whatever reason, then the process begins again, with a different dog or a different breed altogether.

That said, some specific breeds may be better suited to being trained to work as psychiatric service dogs.

Which Breeds Make The Best PSDs?

There is no right or wrong breed for a PSD as long as the dog is trainable and able to learn new commands and follow them accordingly. However, some may be better suited, depending on the situation and the person’s needs. Some of the most common are:

Australian Shepherds

Australian Shepherds are naturally loyal and loving and have plenty of traits that make them great for being trained as a PSD. They have a natural herding ability, which can help when leading an individual out of a high-pressure or extremely crowded room, especially if they have agoraphobia (fear of open or crowded spaces) or anxiety that makes public places challenging to be in. They are also a great choice for people who can't see because they have a natural sense of how to herd.

Border Collies

Border Collies are one of the most intelligent breeds of dogs. They can learn new commands and follow through with them. They pay a lot of attention to body language and hand signals, which makes them great for people with seizure disorders, OCD, and PTSD. They are also very affectionate and caring, which can help an owner feel needed and loved.

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers are one of the most well-known service dog breeds. Retrievers are very good at taking care of their owners' needs and wants because they are loyal, loving, gentle, and smart. Golden retrievers have a temper that is easier to train to control than other dogs, and they can be trained to retrieve things such as medications or water and guide their owner through high-stress situations.

Can My Dog Get Certified To Be A Psychiatric Service Dog?

It is possible to have an already owned dog trained and certified as a PSD. However, most training programs will prefer to use a dog already in their program. This is because a service dog in a training program will not be used to living with you as a pet first and will be able to distinguish the fact that it has a specific job. The ADA does not recognize service dogs as pets but as working animals. However, if you want your dog to be trained, there is the option of self-training, which involves working with your already-owned dog to be trained as a service dog.

How To Get A PSD Letter?

Using Pettable's website, you can obtain a valid PSD letter that certifies your individual need for emotional support animals in a few simple steps. After meeting with a licensed medical professional, the letter should be sent within 24 hours. The letter is legally valid and gives the legal dog rights to be in public places or places that may not otherwise allow dogs.

Complete Our Assessment

The first step to obtaining a letter for your emotional support animal or service animal is completing a quick assessment on Pettable’s website. This helps Pettable specialists evaluate your situation and emotional support needs. Users will also be asked to choose whether they need a letter for housing, for travel, or for both.

Consult With a Therapist

After completing the assessment, users will fill out consent and privacy forms that authorize the clinicians to work with them. A match will be made between the user and a licensed mental health professional, which will lead to a link being sent to the user’s email to book a live consultation with them. To find out if the user is eligible for an ESA letter, a mental health evaluation will be done. This live consultation is done virtually.

Get a Psychiatric Service Letter

Upon which the licensed mental health professional determines an ESA is essential for the user, a legally recognized letter will be written that ensures the individual may have an ESA or PSD. The letter will allow users to accompany their PSD to public places, including those that may not allow animals. The option is that users may receive the letter within 24 hours of the consultation time, excluding California residents.

Your satisfaction is important to us. In the unlikely event that your ESA letter does not work for you, we will provide a 100% refund.

Frequently Asked Questions About Psychiatric Service Dogs

PSDs raise a lot of questions, such as about insurance, costs, and how to get one. It can be a confusing and lengthy process. However, having a new companion that helps you live life to the fullest can be a rewarding and beneficial ending.

Can psychiatric service dogs go anywhere?

Yes, as long as there is documentation that the PSD is needed by the owner, they can go into public places like restaurants, stores, shops, etc. They can also stay in housing with a "no pets" policy.

Does insurance cover psychiatric service dogs?

Health insurance does not cover the cost of a service dog. However, funding programs are available to help an individual obtain one by helping either reduce the price or help pay for it.

How much do psychiatric service dogs cost?

The price ranges from $20,000 to $30,000 for an already-trained dog. Depending on the trainer and the situation, the cost of training a dog you already own can range from $150 to $250 per hour of training.

Are psychiatric service dogs allowed on planes?

Yes, PSDs are allowed in cabins on planes at no extra fee. Documentation may be asked to be provided; however, it is not legal for the airline to ask what your disability is or to ask for proof of your disability.

Do I need a psychiatric service dog?

If you believe a PSD will help you in your day-to-day life, it is something to consider talking about with your mental health care provider or therapist.

Are service dogs allowed in psychiatric hospitals?

If documentation states that a patient or visitor needs a PSD, then service dogs are allowed in psychiatric hospitals. However, if the dog is simply an emotional support animal, it is not allowed.

Can you get a service dog just for anxiety?

Yes, service dogs are allowed for those who have anxiety disorders. A letter may be needed from a doctor or healthcare provider, as service dogs specifically for anxiety can be argued to be an emotional support pet rather than a PSD.

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.