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Service Dogs for Veterans - A Complete Guide

April Brightman
March 18, 2024
May 22, 2023
7 minute read
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Grant FiddesGrant Fiddes
SEO Associate
May 22, 2023
August 18, 2021
7 minute read
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Discover the potential mental health benefits of Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) for veterans. Learn how PSDs can support your well-being. Explore more now.

Psychiatric service dogs for veterans assist with all kinds of conditions including physical disability, vision or hearing impairments, and mental health conditions. The value of their presence is becoming more and more recognized, and the need for trained service dogs to support veterans is increasing.

In fact, service dogs are becoming so essential that a recently signed law will require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a five-year program that will train and provide service dogs to veterans.

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Service animals and emotional support animals serve and protect their owners in so many ways. Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are specially trained to perform tasks that assist their handler with challenges related to their disability or mental health condition.

Trained service dogs have more protection under federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) when it comes to being allowed in rental housing and other public places.

How Can Psychiatric Service Dogs Help Veterans?

Veterans who have served in our armed forces have different needs when returning from their duty. Psychiatric service dogs can support them in a number of ways.

Provide Companionship

The companionship that dogs provide is something we humans are lucky to experience, and service dogs are no exception. For veterans, having a service dog by their side can help reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation. The unconditional love and acceptance that service dogs give to their handlers day or night can be incredibly healing for veterans.

Interruption Tasks

Interruption tasks are when a service dog disrupts a dangerous situation or overwhelming emotions that their handler might be experiencing. These could be panic attacks, anxiety episodes, nightmares, or being triggered by something at home or in public. The service dog’s job is to interrupt the situation and help to ground their handler. 

A 2020 study found that interruption tasks were among the most important functions that service dogs provide to veterans who experience conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Perform Room Searches

Psychiatric conditions resulting from trauma or PTSD manifest in different ways. Sometimes individuals may have paranoia or perceive threats where there are none, which can cause them to be reluctant to enter a new room or an unfamiliar space. Psychiatric service dogs can help alleviate this fear by doing room searches, where they enter and search a room ahead of their handler and let them know if and when the coast is clear.

This can also serve as a reality check for veterans who may be experiencing flashbacks or hallucinations from traumatic events that have occurred in the past. Because of the trust and the bond between a service dog and its handler, the person can believe that their dog has secured the area and that there’s nothing to worry about.

Act as a Barrier

Service dogs can also benefit veterans by acting as a barrier, meaning placing themselves between their handler and unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. Whether it’s a stranger in public or a potential perceived threat, service dogs serving as a physical barrier can reduce their handler’s stress, bringing them a sense of safety and peace of mind.

Who Qualifies for a Psychiatric Service Dog?

There is a broad range of mental or physical disabilities that qualify for a service dog. Some examples of these include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Arthritis, Cerebral Palsy, and Diabetes. It is important to consult with either a licensed mental health professional or a physician to determine if a service animal is right for you. If you qualify, you can then either purchase a service dog or train one yourself

Best Service Dog Breeds for Veterans

When it comes to psychiatric service dogs, some breeds are better suited for the job than others. These are some of the best service dog breeds for veterans.

Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers are very intelligent dogs and incredibly loyal dogs. As well as being notoriously friendly, they have a strong work ethic and the ability to stay focused and concentrate on important tasks. 

Goldens make great working dogs because they can quickly learn commands and can be trusted to stay motivated in assisting their handlers. They can be especially helpful to individuals with mobility needs since their size allows them to help with duties like opening doors, retrieving items, and providing physical support or assistance to their owner.

Labrador Retriever

Friendly and easy-going, Labrador Retrievers are another top choice for service dogs because of their calm demeanor and eagerness to please. Their large size makes them good mobility assistance partners, allowing them to support handlers who may need help standing or walking.

Labrador retrievers are also very social animals, and exposure to social situations is a big part of being a service dog. Their ability to remain calm in unfamiliar surroundings serves as a grounding presence for their handlers and makes them trustworthy to bring into public places.

German Shepherd

Service dog trainers love German shepherds because of their faithfulness and willingness to work. There’s a reason you see them in all kinds of service roles. These dogs were born to work, and will work hard to assist their handlers and become an essential support system for them.

Shepherds are not only highly intelligent but also extremely intuitive, making them great psychiatric service dogs for emotional and mental health conditions that veterans can often experience like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or panic attacks.

How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog

Getting a psychiatric service dog requires a qualifying disability or mental health condition documented by a health professional.

Complete Our Assessment

Use Pettable’s assessment tool to answer a handful of brief questions about your needs for a service animal, and get matched with a trusted therapist within just a few days.

Consult With a Therapist

Once you’ve completed our assessment, Pettable will match you with one of our qualified therapists in your state to meet with you. After your consultation, you’ll receive your psychiatric service animal (PSA) or emotional support animal (ESA) letter.

Train a Psychiatric Service Dog

There are a few options when it comes to training a psychiatric service dog. Some organizations will help veterans pay for and train service dogs, like the Veterans Affairs office and other similar non-profit organizations.

Online psychiatric service dog training is a popular option for at-home training. Pettable can see you through the entire process of getting a service dog from documentation to providing expert-led online psychiatric service dog training courses.

Emotional Support Animals for Veterans

Veterans’ needs for a service animal can be more than just physical. Emotional support animals can also be an essential part of care for veterans with emotional or mental health conditions. Pettable can help you determine whether a psychiatric service dog or emotional support animal in the best fit, and provide you with resources to train your service animal from the comfort of home.

How To Make Your Dog a Psychiatric Service Dog

Service dogs are defined as working animals who perform assistive tasks directly related to supporting their handlers disability or condition. The tasks they perform help individuals with disabilities live independently and improve their quality of life.

To make your dog a psychiatric service dog, you’ll need two things: a psychiatric service dog letter and to complete psychiatric service dog training. Pettable has created a seamless process that makes it easy to obtain your letter and be on your way to successful service dog training.

Online PSD Training with Pettable

Get a self-paced psychiatric service dog training course with Pettable’s online program. Our lessons are led by certified service dog trainers who are passionate and professional and will guide you and your dog through each lesson. Learn common commands, teach your dog to perform essential tasks, and get your training course certificate upon completion. Get started with Pettable’s online training today!

Meet the author:
April Brightman

April Brightman is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for traveling and hiking with her rescue pup, Marley. She's written for pet-centered sites like Outward Hound, as well as outdoorsy adventure brands like BearVault, Hipcamp, and Explorer Chick.

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