Fact checked

How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD)

The process on how to get a psychiatric service dog is quite simple. First, you need to have a mental disability that could benefit from the assistance of a psychiatric service dog. Then you need to acquire a dog and ensure it is trained to behave in public and perform at least one specific task that aids your disability, such as deep pressure therapy (DPT).

Susana Bradford
May 15, 2024
September 27, 2023
10 minute read
Updated By
Matt Fleming
April 2, 2024
Expert Reviewed By:
September 27, 2023
August 18, 2021
10 minute read
April 2, 2024
If you have a mental health disability, a psychiatric service dog may be beneficial to you. With the proper training, a PSD can be a valuable companion.

The Bottom Line

  • Do You Need a Medical Diagnosis to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog? If you want to bring a psychiatric service dog into your life, you must first be diagnosed with a mental health disorder by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).
  • Can Any Dog Be a Psychiatric Service Dog? Any domesticated canine of any breed can qualify as a PSD as long as it is trained to perform specific tasks related to its owner’s mental health condition.
  • How Do I Train My Dog to Be a PSD? To train your dog to be a PSD, you can sign up for an in-person program, or with the help of Pettable, you can teach your dog using our online PSD training course.

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 comfort, 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.

How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

To get a psychiatric service dog you must meet certain criteria. Start by consulting with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) to assess your eligibility and determine if a psychiatric service dog is appropriate. Familiarize yourself with the legal requirements and guidelines for service dogs in your jurisdiction. Focus on obedience training, socialization, and task-specific training tailored to your needs. Consistency, positive reinforcement, and patience are key throughout the training process. Consider enlisting the guidance of a professional dog trainer experienced in psychiatric service dog training for expert support and advice.

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

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals who have symptoms and a diagnosis of a mental illness. Psychiatric service dogs can be trained to retrieve medication and water and can sense when their owner is in distress to provide deep pressure therapy (DPT), or even contact emergency services in case of a fall or seizure.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are not the same as psychiatric service dogs. Emotional support animals help their owners feel better by providing general comfort and support. While ESAs are very similar to therapy dogs and psychiatric service dogs, they do not have the same legal rights as psychiatric service dogs. Owners can take their service 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 individuals feel better with their sheer presence and affection. 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 PSDs 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 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 service 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 qualify for service animals or emotional support animals include:

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.

A psychiatric service dog lounging in the family room.

How Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Help?

There are various tasks for which service dogs and emotional support dogs can be trained to help an individual with a mental illness. PSDs trained to do these tasks are usually taught to spot warning signs in their owners. They are individually trained to do jobs including:

  • Applying deep pressure therapy (laying across the owner’s lap or body)
  • 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.

Where Can I Get A Psychiatric Service Dog?

Once you and a medical professional have determined that a PSD is right for you, it’s time to acquire or train your new animal assistant. For this step, you have a few options:

  • Buy or Adopt a Trained PSD: One of the quickest and easiest ways to get a PSD is to acquire a dog that has already been trained to suit your needs. However, this is often the most expensive path.
  • Enroll Your Current Dog in a Training Program: If you already have a canine companion you want to convert into a working dog, you can enroll in an in-person PSD training program. This can benefit some dogs with attention issues but is less convenient.
  • Self-Training Your Dog: Another option is to self-train your dog with the assistance of an online PSD training program, such as the one offered by Pettable. This is a flexible option that you can take at the perfect pace for you and your dog.
A service dog out in public assisting their handler.

Can Any Dog Be A Psychiatric Service Dog?

Yes, 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 period, it is called “washing out.” If this happens, the dog may need to be adopted into a new 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.

Did You Know?

Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and are legally granted access to places where pets are prohibited, such as airplane cabins, storefronts and restaurants. Find out more

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 popular dog breeds for PSDs include:

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.

A woman with her psychiatric service dog out on a walk.

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

You might be surprised to learn that you don’t need any certification for your psychiatric service dog (PSD). However, you do need training to teach your dog how to do tasks or therapies related to your mental health condition. Pettable makes online PSD training easy and convenient with our self-directed on-demand program. Upon completion of your dog’s training, we will issue you a Certificate of Completion, but this is not a legal or necessary document, just a bit of peace of mind.

Getting a Psychiatric Service Dog

Pettable makes it easy to get your canine companion trained as a PSD. All you need to do is take our online PSD assessment to get started. After this is complete, you can enroll in our online PSD training program, which gives you the power to train your dog from the comfort of your home, and at a pace that fits your lifestyle. 

What you don’t need is a certification or to register your PSD with any federal agency or other organization. Nor do you need an ID card, vest, or harness that indicates that your canine companion is an assistance animal.

Psychiatric Service Dog Training

When it comes to training your dog to be a PSD you have two options: enroll in an expensive in-person training class with other dogs or sign up for online training with Pettable. Not only is online training convenient, but it’s also flexible enough to suit any lifestyle. In-person training is more expensive and less convenient, and worst of all — it’s less effective. With Pettable, we guarantee that our online training will work for you and your dog, or your money back!

Myth: Service Dog Registration

Although some websites might try to sell you on an official “PSD registration,” this is not something that exists or is needed. There is no federal or state government registry for any type of assistance animal, including psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals. You also don’t need any sort of certificate to make your PSD legitimate, all you need is to complete a training program. 

However, if you feel like some documentation could help you with housing, your workplace, or anything else, speak with your LMHP about getting an official letter from them verifying your disability and need for a PSD. Also, at the end of the Pettable online PSD course, we will issue you a certificate of completion, which is just as good.

A well trained psychiatric service dog out in a park.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 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 psychiatric service dogs are trained to assist someone with their disability, they can go into public places like restaurants, stores, shops, etc. They can also stay in housing with a "no pets" policy.

However, it's important to note that there are some exceptions. Psychiatric service dogs may be excluded from certain areas where their presence would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or where their presence would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods or services provided. Additionally, psychiatric service dogs must be under control and housebroken while in public.

It's also worth mentioning that laws and regulations regarding service animals may vary by country or region outside the United States. Therefore, individuals should familiarize themselves with the specific laws and regulations that apply to service animals in their area.

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. You must submit some documentation; however, it is not legal for the airline to ask what your disability is or to ask for proof of your disability.

What Forms Do I Need to Fly with a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Most airlines require a Department of Transportation form to be completed before traveling the friendly skies. These airlines should make the form available through their websites, as well. Also, although not required, an official PSD letter an LMHP from Pettable can help you make this process a bit less stressful.

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, it is not necessarily allowed if the dog is simply an emotional support animal.

Can You Get a Service Dog for Anxiety?

You can get a psychiatric service dog (PSD) for anxiety disorder — just as long as it is trained to perform tasks that alleviate your symptoms. This will require you to either train your current dog or adopt a pre-trained pup.

How Can Someone Verify My Service Dog is Legitimate?

They are allowed to ask you two questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

They may not ask you to disclose your disability. Having a PSD letter issued to you by an LMHP can help in the case of anyone questioning your service dog's legitimacy.

What's the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?

The primary difference is training, emotional support animals aren't required to undergo special training and provide mental health benefits simply with their presence. As a result, however, ESAs are only legally protected in housing, not in public spaces or on airplanes.

What tasks does a psychiatric service dog perform?

Psychiatric service dogs can perform a wide variety of tasks, the specific tasks a dog may know will depend entirely on their handler's needs. One of the most common and simple tasks a PSD can perform is called deep pressure therapy (DPT), whereby a dog will put their body weight on their handler, acting like a weighted blanket and giving a calming sensation.

This article was reviewed by Jennifer Bronsnick, MSW, LCSW for accuracy and updated to add clarity on when psychiatric service dogs are and are not allowed into public places.

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.

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