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Need A Service Animal for Mental Health? Here's How a Service Dog Can Help

If you’re struggling with your mental health, you could benefit from the presence of a service dog in your life. Read on to learn more about service dogs.
Expert reviewed by:  
Written by:
Susana Bradford
Published on:  
September 7, 2022
Updated on:  
September 7, 2022

If you suffer from certain mental health conditions, you could benefit from the presence of a service dog. Service dogs receive specialized training so they can help people who live with mental health concerns. While service dogs make up a good portion of assistance animals, service dogs are just one type of assistance animal. Service dogs help people with different mental health disorders and physical disorders, and emotional support animals help people cope with daily emotional ups and downs. 

There are many kinds of service animals, including psychiatric service dogs. A licensed mental health professional can share with you which type of animal can best support you and your needs. 

Continue reading if you'd like to learn more about service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and how these animals can help people with mental health concerns.

At a glance:

What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog? This service dog receives training to help people who suffer from severe mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, severe anxiety, and more.

Do I Qualify for a Service Dog? Psychiatric service dogs receive training to help people with certain conditions. It's best to meet with a licensed mental health professional to know if you qualify for a service dog.

What Can Service Dogs Do for Mental Health? Service dogs help people cope with mental health concerns by recognizing signs of anxiety attacks before they start, applying pressure to their owner's body to calm them down, and more.

How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog? You will need to speak with a licensed mental health professional about your concerns. They'll be able to tell you whether you would benefit from the help of a psychiatric service dog or not.

Take The Next Steps: Get A Psychiatric Service Dog Letter!

What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog?

Because there are many types of support animals, it can be challenging to keep them all straight. A psychiatric service animal is one type of service pet specially trained to help people with a mental disability. 

These disabilities may include obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and more. Psychiatric service dogs can help their owners perform specific tasks, which allows their owners to live a more independent lifestyle. These service dogs might wake up their owners, facilitate social interactions, help calm their owners, or provide tactile stimulation. 

These dogs can perform these tasks and more, depending on what a person's specific needs are for a trained dog. Psychiatric service dogs differ slightly from emotional support pets. Emotional support pets are pets without the need for specific training to perform tasks. Instead, emotional support dogs and animals provide emotional comfort to their owners.

What Can Service Dogs Do for Mental Health?

Psychiatric service dogs can help their owners in many ways. If you have a mental health condition that creates limitations in your life, you may want to consider getting a service dog. There are several tasks that psychiatric service dogs are known to help their owners with. Here are a few examples.

Medication reminders

Taking medication is an essential part of life for some people with certain mental health illnesses. It can be challenging to remember to take medications, especially if a person lives alone. A psychiatric service dog can help its owners remember to take medications on time. Typically, these service dogs receive training to alert their owners to take their medicines in these two ways. Service dogs may nudge their owner's hand to alert them to take their medicine. Psychiatric service dogs may also grab the medication bag and bring it to its owner. Either way, the service dog helps its owner by providing a medication reminder when its owner needs it.

Doing safety checks to alleviate PTSD symptoms

Living with PTSD can be extremely tough on a person, and people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might experience something called hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is when a person is very sensitive to their surroundings and may feel that something dangerous could happen at any moment. This condition is an indicator that someone has PTSD, and it affects many people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder. A service dog can help ease its owner's tensions by performing room checks. The psychiatric service dog will go into each room and alert its owner that the space is safe.

Intervening when someone is showing self-destructive behavior

Psychiatric service dogs also receive training to help when their owner is showing self-destructive behavior. Sometimes, self-destructive behavior can include anything from scratching oneself to cutting oneself. 

Psychiatric service dogs receive training to intervene when they spot their owner showing self-harming behavior. A psychiatric service dog's intervention is vital to its owner's health, especially if its owner is someone who struggles with self-harming practices. Psychiatric service dogs receive training to intervene when their owners show signs of self-destructive behavior by nudging their owners, placing a paw on their owner's arms, or something similar.

Wake up someone

Psychiatric service dogs can also help with sleep safety. Some mental health conditions may cause a person to experience night terrors or recurring nightmares. A psychiatric service dog recognizes the signs of fragmented sleep and can wake its owner, which provides a sense of comfort and safety for the owner. Some people may suffer from a condition called sleep apnea. Service dogs wake their owners when they sense the airway obstruction that occurs because of sleep apnea. Service dogs can also be a comforting presence for its owner after apnea has occurred.

Retrieve items, like a self-care kit

Retrieving items for its owner is another task that a service dog does. As mentioned earlier, some service dogs may retrieve medications for their owners, but that isn't all that service dogs can retrieve for their owners. Service dogs can help their owners by retrieving things like phones, leashes, or keys. Psychiatric service dogs can also retrieve items like a self-care kit. These are just a few of the many ways that service dogs can help their owners. If you feel you could benefit from the help of a service dog, keep reading to learn more about specific reasons you may need a service dog.

Do I Qualify for a Service Dog? 

There are several reasons why a person may need the help of a service animal, service dog, or psychiatric service dog. If you experience limitations in your life caused by your condition, you may benefit from the help of a service dog or psychiatric service dog. If you experience things like depression or anxiety but can still function in your daily life without limitations, you don't necessarily need a service dog. You might be better suited to get an emotional support animal. Here are some examples of mental health diagnoses in which you could benefit from the presence of a service dog or psychiatric service dog.

Anxiety

Living with anxiety can create many obstacles in a person's life. Someone with anxiety may choose to stay home and avoid the outdoors or situations that cause their anxiety levels to rise. A psychiatric service dog can help someone with anxiety live a more independent life unhindered by anxiety-induced limitations. Studies have shown that animals, including service dogs, support animals, or pets, can reduce the physical signs of anxiety. So overall, interaction with an animal helps lower a person's blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones. These are just some ways that service dogs and assistance animals can help improve their owner's mental health diagnoses and mental conditions.

Panic Attacks

Psychiatric service dogs also help people who live with panic attacks. There are a few ways that service dogs can help their owners who have panic attacks. A service dog can help disrupt an emotional overload by licking its owner's face or hands. Psychiatric service dogs can also help lower a person's stress levels and blood pressure while providing a sense of calm. These dogs can also anticipate anxiety attacks and retrieve medication for their owners when needed. These are just a few of the ways that service dogs help their owners who live with panic attacks.

Schizophrenia

People living with schizophrenia could also benefit from the help of a service dog. There are several ways that a service dog could help someone with schizophrenia, including helping identify hallucinations. Service dogs can also help by grounding people with schizophrenia back in reality. Psychiatric service dogs can also receive training to remind their owners to take their medications. Whether you live with any of the conditions mentioned here or you, have another mental illness, getting a service animal is worth considering. Service animals help their owners in countless ways, including offering emotional support, helping their owners when they perform tasks, and more. There is nothing like the support of a service dog. There are several breeds that do the job well.

What Is the Best Service Dog for Mental Health?

While almost any animal can serve its owner as an emotional support animal, that isn't the case for a service animal. Almost all service animals are dogs, but some breeds are better for the job than others.

German Shepherd

There are several reasons why German Shepherds are often considered the best choice for a service animal. 

  • German shepherds are brilliant animals. German Shepherds are dogs that are easily trained, and they can understand complex tasks. German Shepherds are often referred to as one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world. 
  • German Shepherds are also very loyal. Anyone with mental health concerns needs to know that their service dog is loyal and that they can trust their service dog to do their job. Because German Shepherds are loyal dogs, they're committed to serving their owners.
  • German Shepherds are also an adaptable breed. These dogs can transfer their learning from one situation to another. They also shouldn't become too confused when routines change. 

Poodle

Poodles also make a good choice for anyone looking for a psychiatric service dog. Here's why.

  • Poodles are another intelligent breed of dog. These dogs rank among one the most intelligent species, rivaling the intelligence of the German Shepherd. Poodles require a lot of mental stimulation, which makes them excellent service dogs. 
  • Poodles, because of their intelligence, are also highly trainable. This is an essential quality for any dog training to become a service dog. 
  • These dogs are also a friendly breed. They get along well with people and other dogs, which is suitable for the moments you need to bring your service dog out with you in public.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers can be excellent service dogs, and here are a few reasons why.

  • Golden Retrievers are medium-frame dogs, making it easier for them to perform specific tasks compared to smaller dogs while also being small enough to fit in your home comfortably. Their size allows them to comfortably navigate around your home, which can be a helpful quality in a service dog. 
  • These dogs also have lots of energy. They love to spend time with their owners, which is a good quality to have in a service dog. They'll love to be by your side and serve you as a service dog.

How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog for Mental Health?

You'll have to go through a few steps to get a psychiatric service dog because psychiatric dogs are specially trained to help their owners. You will also need to go through a few steps to get your official psychiatric service animal letter, PSD letter. First, you'll have to take an assessment quiz to help mental health professionals understand your needs and concerns. Then, you'll have a one-on-one consultation with a doctor. In this consultation, you'll discuss in further detail why you feel you'd benefit from the help of a psychiatric service dog. 

After the consultation, the mental health professional will decide whether they feel you'd benefit from the help of a service dog. If so, they will write and sign an official PSD letter for you. While the psychiatric service dog will need to be specially trained to help you with your specific mental health condition, you don't need to pay someone else to train your dog. You can make a dog that you currently have a service dog with a bit of extra training. 

How Do I Make My Dog A Service Dog?

You can make your dog a service dog in a few different ways. Learn more about PSDs here. First, you can train them yourself to serve you in a way that helps you live with the mental illness that you have. There may be workshops you can take to help you when training your dog or classes you and your dog can take together. You can also look into having someone work with you to train your dog to help you with your condition. For example, you will want to train your dog to recognize signs of an oncoming anxiety attack if you suffer from anxiety attacks. With a little time, your dog can become a service dog that helps you live your life unhindered by your condition. Once your dog is trained to help you live with your condition, you can consider speaking with a qualified health care professional about a PSD letter. You can also begin your journey by taking an easy assessment to get your PSD letter. 

Take The Next Steps: Get Qualified For A Psychiatric Service Dog Letter Today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Deciding to get a service dog to help you with your medical concerns can be an overwhelming process. But there are many resources to help make the process as easy as possible for you. Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers to help you in your search for a service dog. 

Can I Get an Emotional Support Animal Instead? 

Emotional support animals are an excellent choice for anyone looking for a companion. Emotional support animals don't need to be individually trained to offer emotional comfort, so they're an excellent choice for many people. Emotional support animals aren't only dogs but can be cats, birds, pigs, and more.

What mental disorders are service dogs used for?

Service dogs help people with different mental health challenges. Someone in need of a service dog experiences limitations in their daily life that prevent them from living independent lives.

Does depression count for a service dog?

Someone with depression may need the help of a service dog if their depression is so severe that their depression creates limitations in their life. 

Can any dog breed be a psychiatric service dog?

Technically, any breed of dog can be a service dog, though some dog breeds are better suited to be service dogs than others. Some breeds are easier to train, which is a good quality for a potential service dog.

Is a service dog supposed to be with you at all times?

Rules may vary from state to state, but the Americans with Disability Act has not given specific rules regarding when a person needs to have their service dog with them.

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.