A psychiatric service dog (or PSD) is a subset of service dogs. These dogs meet all the requirements laid out by the ADA, but they specifically work with those who have mental health conditions or disabilities.
A psychiatric service dog can assist anyone with a diagnosed mental health condition or disability, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, or attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).
How Service Dogs Can Help Manage Panic Attacks
A service dog can be a valuable companion for individuals experiencing panic attacks. These specially-trained dogs can provide comfort, grounding, and even physical support during an episode. To be eligible for a service dog, individuals must have a diagnosed disability, and the dog must be trained to perform specific tasks related to the disability. If you're considering getting a service dog for panic attacks, it's important to consult with a medical professional and research reputable service dog organizations to ensure you find the right fit for you."
What Is a Service Dog?
Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), dogs are the only animals that can be classified as service animals. Specifically, the ADA defines a service animal as the following:
- A dog
- Any breed or size
- Trained to perform tasks directly related to someone’s disability
Regarding the requirement to perform a task for someone with a disability, the ADA also specifies that the dog must be trained to take action at a specific time or in a particular situation to assist someone with a disability. For example, someone with depression may have a service dog that reminds them to take medication at the same time each day.
The ADA does not require service dogs to go through a particular training program, nor do they have to wear vests or other forms of ID indicating they are service dogs.
Benefits of a Service Dog for Panic Attacks
People who struggle with anxiety disorders may experience panic attacks, which can last anywhere from five minutes to half an hour.
During a panic attack, a person feels sudden and intense anxiety. Some common symptoms associated with panic attacks include:
- Feelings of disorientation
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Dry mouth
- Feeling breathless
Some people’s panic attack symptoms are so severe that they think they’re having a heart attack.
A psychiatric or mental health service dog can benefit those who suffer from panic attacks by helping them calm down and feel safe. The service dog may also retrieve medication or get the attention of someone who can offer support and assistance.
Psychiatric Service Dog for Panic Attacks Tasks
A psychiatric service dog for panic attacks must be trained to perform a specific task for the person dealing with a panic attack.
The following are some examples of panic attack-related service tasks they may execute:
- Deep Pressure Therapy or DPT (DPT involves a PSD laying on top of its owner during a panic attack; the pressure from the dog’s weight has a calming effect)
- Bringing medication and water to help their owner calm down
- Taking a phone to the owner so they can call a therapist or another member of their support system
- Using a dog-friendly telephone to make a call on the owner’s behalf
- Crowd control (circling the owner during a panic attack to prevent people from getting too close
- Tactile stimulation (licking the face or hands to interrupt during a period of emotional overload)
How to Get a Service Dog for Panic Attacks
If you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and struggle with panic attacks, you could potentially benefit from a psychiatric service dog. Here are some steps you can take to get a service dog for panic attacks:
- Purchase a dog as a puppy from a breeder who specializes in breeding service dogs; these breeders focus on health and temperament to produce dogs that are most likely to be suited to serving those with disabilities.
- Purchase or adopt a dog and work with a trainer who specializes in training service dogs; it’s generally easier to teach a puppy or young dog the skills and tasks they must execute to be a service dog, but older dogs can also learn.
- Purchase or adopt a dog and train them yourself based on the latest ADA service animal requirements.
What Kind of Training Do Service Dogs for Panic Attacks Need?
A psychiatric service dog must go through training to reliably perform at least one task for someone experiencing panic attacks.
Online Psychiatric Service Dog Training
Online classes are one of the most convenient ways to train a psychiatric service dog. This option typically involves meeting with a trainer via video or watching pre-recorded self-guided lessons.
The trainer will provide instruction based on your specific needs and goals. If you are looking to train a Psychiatric Service Dog, Pettable offers an online training program led by a certified dog trainer. The video lessons are entirely self-paced and will teach you everything you need to know about training your own PSD.
In-Person PSD Training
Another option is to work with a dog trainer in person. The trainer can come to your house and work with you and your dog, or you may meet them at a facility or in another public place (like a park).
Purchasing a Psychiatric Service Dog
If you purchase a psychiatric service dog, they will likely have already gone through some training and learned basic cues. You will still need to do additional training, especially if you’re purchasing a puppy before they can reliably carry out the tasks you need them to perform.
Who Qualifies for a Psychiatric Service Dog?
To qualify for a psychiatric service dog, you must have a diagnosed mental health condition that interferes with at least one area of your life. For example, if you’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you likely qualify for a PSD.
Psychiatric Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Animals
Many people confuse a psychiatric service dog with an emotional support animal (ESA) for anxiety. The primary difference is the amount of training PSDs go through compared to ESAs.
PSDs must be trained to perform at least one task that benefits their owner. ESAs do not have to undergo any training; they provide comfort and support through their presence, but they aren’t required to do any specific jobs.
Because ESAs don’t go through the same level of training, they’re not protected by the ADA like PSDs are.
Psychiatric Service Dog Training with Pettable
Whether you have a new puppy or an older dog that you want to train to be a PSD, Pettable offers resources to help. Learn more about our psychiatric service dog training courses today.