What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD)?

Rhiana Holmes
MA, LPC, LAC, & Founding Clinician
September 18, 2023
April 20, 2023
8 minute read
Updated By
Matt Fleming
September 11, 2023
Expert Reviewed By:
Grant Fiddes
SEO Associate
Rhiana Holmes
MA, LPC, LAC, & Founding Clinician
April 20, 2023
8 minute read
Updated By
Matt Fleming
September 11, 2023
Expert Reviewed By:
Grant Fiddes
SEO Associate
Learn what are psychiatric service animals, the benefits of having a psychiatric service animal, and how they are different from emotional support animals.

For millions of Americans, mental health issues are a daily struggle, making life harder than it should be. However, many of them have found the immense value of having a psychiatric service dog (PSD) by their side. Just as physical service animals can help their owners with access and mobility, PSDs are trained to serve their handlers with emotional and mental obstacles. Let’s learn more about what a PSD is and how it can change your life.

353+ reviews (4.9/5 rating)

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog?

A psychiatric service dog, or PSD, is a canine companion that has been trained to perform at least one specific task to aid in the daily life of someone living with a mental or emotional health disorder. This can be anything from fetching medications, performing deep pressure therapy (DPT), or preventing self-harm behaviors. A PSD can also provide love and affection that can assuage symptoms such as anxiety and sadness. This type of service dog is protected by federal laws and has more rights than standard pets in public situations, housing, and travel.

The Bottom Line

  1. What Is A PSD? - Psychiatric service dogs are dogs trained to perform tasks that uniquely help alleviate symptoms of their owner's disability.
  2. Difference Between PSD and ESA? - In addition to requiring special training, PSDs are protected by the ADA allowing them to roam anywhere with their owners, including public spaces, hotels, and airlines. ESAs are only legally protected in housing, and do not require training.
  3. Who Needs To Train The PSD - While some owners may want to seek out a professional trainer, PSDs can be trained by anyone including yourself as per the ADA.
  4. How To Make Your Pet A PSD? - To make your pet a PSD you need to have a mental health evaluation with a licensed professional in your state. If you do not feel you can adequately train your dog to perform psychiatric tasks, we recommend utilizing Pettable's convenient PSD training program.
  5. Benefits Of A PSD - An ESA letter can help keep your pet in your home, waive expensive pet fees, stay in Airbnbs, and travel with your furry friend.
  6. Satisfaction Guaranteed - Pettable is the only PSD service offering a satisfaction guarantee - meaning your letter works for you or you get your money back!
  7. How To Get Started? - You can take our 3-minute quiz and see if a PSD will work for your needs.

How Are PSDs Different From ESAs?

Psychiatric service dogs and service animals are different from an animal that provides emotional support in that they are trained to do certain tasks to help their handler. ESAs earn their title by providing emotional support to their owners because of a mental health condition. A psychiatric service dog, or psychiatric assistance dog, assists a person struggling with a physical or mental impairment. Different types of service dogs include guide dogs and hearing dogs. Interestingly, while the standards for the dogs are different, the list of mental and emotional disabilities that qualify for a psychiatric service dog is exactly the same as the list for qualifying for an ESA.

Psychiatric service dogs are also legally required to be accommodated in more places than emotional support animals. While ESAs are only legally required to be accommodated by a housing provider, service dogs must be accepted at just about any place you might need to go, unless your request for accommodation is unreasonable or the dog poses a threat to anyone else. This includes your place of residence, hotels, Airbnbs, a flight with any airline, supermarkets, and restaurants.

Psychiatric service dogs and service dogs must have basic training to behave well around other people and animals, as well as to complete a specific task (or multiple tasks) to aid the owner with symptoms of their disability. So overall, psychiatric service dogs and service dogs are individually trained to help their owners live independently in the best way possible.

Psychiatric Service Animals vs. Service Dogs

A service animal is a dog (or occasionally a miniature horse) trained to perform tasks that aid a person with a disability – something they couldn’t do on their own. The disability could be physical, psychiatric, sensory, or other.

Often, when people think of service dogs, we tend to think first of those who help with physical disabilities – such as a guide dog who helps direct a person who is blind. Guide dogs help people live a more independent life, but there are many different types of service dogs.

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a type of service dog specifically trained to help with a mental disability. These disabilities might include post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, or panic attacks.

Keep in mind the distinction between this and an emotional support animal – although an emotional support animal can help with mental health disorders, as well, a psychiatric service dog does more. An ESA simply provides a comforting presence. A PSD has special training to complete specific tasks that help reduce symptoms related to the owner’s disability. 

A psychiatric service dog will perform certain tasks to help relieve stress in a person's life, like reminding its owner to take medication or providing calming pressure with its paws. All service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, perform specific tasks to improve a person's quality of life.

How do Psychiatric Service Dogs Help Their Handlers?

Psychiatric service dogs offer many benefits to their owners. Unlike pets and emotional service animals, PSDs are granted some special access advantages to help their owners both at home and outside the house. Between specific tasks and general assistance, PSDs help their human handles in a variety of ways.

Help Ease Anxiety or Depression

A PSD can provide physical attention and affection, while also promoting more healthy activities, helping ease anxiety and sadness.

Alleviate Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia

In public, the PSD can create a protective buffer between their handler and other humans, as well as help avoid congested areas.

Medical Support or Medical Reminders

Your PSD can remind you when it’s time to take medications, fetching them if necessary; they can also intervene in the case of an emergency.

Relief From Stimuli or Heightened Stress

A dog’s calming nature and soothing presence can be invaluable in situations of elevated stress or excessive stimuli. Plus, tactile stimulation and physical attention can help calm the handler and provide a greater sense of security. 

Help You Stay Balanced

If your anxiety, panic disorder, other challenges, or medications cause you to lose balance, a PSD can intervene and help prevent falls.

Wake You Up During Night Terrors

A PSD is adept at noticing when trauma is occurring, so even in your sleep, it can protect your mental health. Your canine companion can wake you during a night terror attack or nightmare, so you can reset and get more restful sleep.

Push You Towards Selective Solitude

Your service dog can also be trained to recognize when you need to remove yourself from an overstimulating situation and guide you to a space where you can catch your breath and regroup.

Retrieve Help

In the case of an emergency that requires immediate attention, your PSD can be trained to contact emergency services or retrieve help from nearby individuals.

Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT)

If you have a panic attack or experience heightened levels of stress, deep pressure therapy (DPT) is often an ideal remedy. Your PSD can serve as a living weighted blanket, either using its paws or entire body to relieve your anxiety quickly. 

Provide a Sense of Protection

Dogs are well-known for their protective capabilities, and PSDs can provide an extra layer of security both in public and at home.

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

Federal Rights for Psychiatric Service Dogs

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a powerful and expansive law that protects individuals living with physical and mental disabilities, and some of the strongest protections relate to service dogs. The ADA permits PSDs to accompany their handlers in public accommodations, such as restaurants, businesses, medical facilities, and hotels. 

When it comes to housing, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) permits service dogs to live with their handlers even in apartments or condominiums that don’t typically allow pets. If you want to fly with your PSD, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) makes it possible for your service dog to ride with you in the cabin — as long as they can fit and are well-behaved.

Psychiatric Service Dogs Can Travel On Any and All Airlines For Free

Any animal that is classified as a psychiatric service dog can travel on any airline free of charge regardless of size, weight, or breed. This is a federal, legal protection from the Air Carrier Access Act that prevents airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. The only requirement is that you complete a Service Animal Transportation Form and submit it 48 hours before your flight (more on that later).

Service dogs are critically important to their owners and as a result, are a necessary travel companion when flying. An individual’s service dog is an essential component of their treatment and well-being in any daily life situation. But flying and navigating airports can be a high-stress situation for many people. This is why it’s so important for people with service dogs to be allowed to fly and travel with their animals. 

This is distinct from emotional support animals, which can now only travel on select airlines that still honor ESA status. These airlines that still accept ESAs include Aeromexico, LATAM, Volaris, WestJet, and others. ESA owners may also want to call and check in with specific airlines. They might consider ESAs flying on a case-by-case basis so it’s worth a shot, depending on a person’s preferred airline.

Psychiatric Service Dogs Are Accepted At Any Housing Unit, Including Vacation Rentals Or Hotels

Psychiatric service dogs enjoy pretty equivalent benefits to ESAs as they are both federally protected by the Fair Housing Act when it comes to housing, and long-term vacation rentals, and are supported by Airbnb. This, again, is regardless of your animal’s size, age, or breed. You also should not be required to pay any fees or deposits to your landlord for them to allow your PSD to live with you.

Just make sure your accommodation request is reasonable (for example, you’re not asking to bring 5 Great Danes into a tiny studio apartment). Though not required, it’s also a good idea to provide your landlord with your official PSD letter to prove your eligibility for your service dog. 

But remember, the only questions a landlord or other individual can legally ask to verify your service dog are the following: 

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

Psychiatric Service dogs have additional benefits when it comes to hotels. Hotels can accept ESAs at their discretion (so you should call in advance, many will honor ESA status, but some will not). However, PSDs are required to be accepted by any hotel you stay at.

Psychiatric Service Dogs Are Accepted In All Public Places

As long as the animals can be accommodated (i.e. you don’t have a Great Dane in a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant with no room) psychiatric service dogs can travel with you to any public space - including restaurants, supermarkets, museums, etc.

Emotional support animals on the other hand are not federally protected when it comes to public places and it is the owner's discretion to decide whether they accept ESAs. That said, most establishments respect ESA status and will allow you to come in with your pet.

Who Can a Psychiatric Service Dog Help?

A PSD can benefit many people’s lives, whether they’re struggling with specific challenges, general anxiety, or even substance abuse. Between the performance of specific assistive tasks and providing love, attention, and affection, many dog lovers (or newcomers to the canine world) can find unparalleled benefits.

If you live with any of these disorders, you qualify for a PSD in your life:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder 
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

What Standard Of Training Do Psychiatric Service Dogs Need To Meet?

Psychiatric service dogs need to meet two different standards of training to be classified as service animals.

Behave Well In Public

All service dogs need to behave well in public. The standard is pretty subjective but, generally, service dogs must not show signs of stress, be aggressive in any way, climb on other people, or chase other animals.

For travel, the DOT now requires passengers with service dogs to fill out and sign a form that certifies that your service dog is trained, and will behave appropriately. Service dogs must be able to keep their composure at the airport, for the duration of a flight, and in other public settings. They must be able to control their bodily functions while in the gate area and for the entire flight.

If a dog can’t meet those standards, or if its behavior shows that it hasn’t been properly trained, the airline can refuse to permit it in the flight cabin and can treat the service dog as a pet by charging a pet fee and requiring your dog to be transported in a pet carrier, possibly in the cargo hold.

Trained to Assist with a Mental Health Disability

To be an official PSD, your dog must be trained to perform specific tasks to aid your mental health disorder, but that doesn’t mean you need professional training or certification. As long as the animal is necessary to your mental health and can intervene in specific situations, your PSD is protected. However, an online PSD training program, as offered by Pettable, can make a big difference.

What Documentation Do I Need For A PSD?

Remember before boarding a flight that dogs ( as well as other service animals) must meet the standard of training laid out by the ADA and DOT.

Psychiatric service dogs, like all service dogs, must have proper training. No other document is technically required but many people get a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter to attest to their need for mental and emotional support.

You will need to complete the Department of Transportation “Service Animal Transportation Form” (“Transport Form”) before you travel with your psychiatric service dog. The DOT requires you to fill out the form and submit it at least 48 hours before departure (or, if you reserve your ticket within 48 hours of the flight, submit it to the airline before the flight or at the gate).

Who Can Train A Psychiatric Service Dog?

A Psychiatric Service dog can be trained by anyone, including yourself, according to the DOT and ADA. The DOT Transport Form asks who was responsible for training your service dog and passengers are allowed to list themselves as the trainer.

Frequently Asked Questions on Psychiatric Service Animals

Are psychiatric service animals considered service animals?

Yes, psychiatric service animals are a type of service animal. Because psychiatric service dogs or animals are specifically trained to perform tasks to alleviate the negative effects of a mental health condition, they are considered service dogs or animals.

Can a cat be a psychiatric service animal?

Unfortunately, no. At this time, only dogs and sometimes miniature horses are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as service animals. A service animal is specially trained to perform at least one task that specifically aids the owner in living with their disability – physical or mental.

It is unfortunate that cats are not legally recognized as service animals. However, cats can be highly trainable – more than many people realize. They can, in fact, be trained to perform many tasks often assigned to regular service animals. 

Can service animals come to inpatient psychiatric hospitalization

This can depend on the situation. Laws regulating service dogs at behavioral health facilities aren’t entirely clear. This sometimes leads staff to deny service dogs because they don’t know what else to do. 

A few guidelines to consider include that your animal should be able to stay with you as long as it would be a reasonable accommodation, and they’re not entering a sterile area or space in which the general public is not allowed. They also must be under your control and care during the entire stay (or you can have a friend or family member come help care for them – provided that person is also permitted in the area of the hospital in which you are staying). 

There are many factors and variables to consider here, so you may want to conduct some research and, if at all possible, discuss your options with a hospital beforehand.

Does a psychiatric service animal help with borderline personality disorder?

Yes, a psychiatric service dog can be immensely helpful to people with borderline personality disorder.

This disability often can strain an individual’s relationships. At the same time, such a person may be prone to feelings of extreme loneliness and fear of abandonment. A loyal pet or psychiatric service dog can provide unmatched companionship and can perform helpful service tasks, as well.

Depending on your unique symptoms, a service dog could help with self-harm interruption, anger alert, medicine reminders, and guiding you during a dissociative episode, among others. You may want to work with your licensed mental health professional to find the most helpful tasks a service dog could perform for you and your unique situation. 

ESA for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) can provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). By reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and loneliness, an ESA can enhance the quality of life and improve the overall well-being of individuals with BPD.

What psychiatric disabilities qualify for a service animal?

Many mental or emotional disabilities can qualify for a psychiatric service animal. This includes (but is not limited to) depression, anxiety, phobias, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, psychotic disorders, neurocognitive disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders.

What qualifies you for a psychiatric service dog?

To qualify for a psychiatric service dog, you must have a mental or emotional disability that can benefit from a service dog who can perform tasks specifically helpful to your condition – tasks that you cannot perform yourself.

Ultimately, a licensed mental health professional is the only one who can determine if you have a disability that qualifies you for a psychiatric service dog. It’s important that you have a live consultation with an LMHP to find out if you are eligible for a PSD. 

How do I make my dog a psychiatric service dog?

The process of making a dog a psychiatric service dog is quite simple, however, may be somewhat time-consuming. First, your dog must be trained to perform specific tasks that assist with a mental disability such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression. These tasks may include clearing a room before a handler enters, reminding a handler to take medication at a specific time, or applying pressure to help offset an oncoming panic attack. In addition to being able to perform these tasks, your dog must behave well in public places such as grocery stores, airports, and restaurants. Depending on your dog’s level of obedience and ability to learn skills

Multiple methods can be used to train your dog to learn the skills needed to become a psychiatric service dog. One common method is in-person PSD training, in which you bring your dog to a trainer for them to teach your pet the skills it needs to become a service dog. This can be advantageous for those who do not have the time available to train their pet themselves but is often costly and the way your pet responds to its trainer may vary compared to how it responds to you.

Alternatively, many looking to train their dog to become a psychiatric service dog will opt for an online training program, such as Pettable’s PSD training program,  in which a professional PSD trainer will walk you through the steps for training your dog to become a PSD on a lesson-by-lesson basis. These courses typically include helpful hints on efficiently training your dog directly from a professional’s point of view while allowing you to follow the training program at the pace that works best for your dog’s comfort and your schedule. 

Pettable’s psychiatric service dog training program begins with a 3-minute assessment to determine your eligibility for a psychiatric service dog. Once qualified, you will have the option to sign up for the online PSD training program. Upon completion, you will be issued a certificate proving your dog has been trained as a PSD.

What services do psychiatric service dogs perform?

PSDs can provide a wide array of different services to individuals with mental disabilities. Some PSD tasks may include: 

  • Medication reminders
  • Awaking you in the morning or from nightmares or night terrors
  • Bringing water or snacks
  • Paying for items
  • Retrieving items
  • Mobility support or balance assistance (for dizziness or disorientation)
  • Self-harm interruption
  • Interruption of obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Deep pressure stimulation
  • Turning on lights
  • Performing room searches (for those with PTSD)
  • Finding a person or place and guiding their handler there

If there is a task you need assistance with that, due to a mental illness, you cannot perform yourself, a PSD may be able to help you.

How Do I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog

If you think a PSD is right for you, making it a reality is easier than you might expect. All you need to do is take our online assessment, meet with one of our licensed mental health professionals (LMHP), and train your dog to perform your needed tasks. For an extra sense of security and support in certain situations, Pettable can issue you an official PSD letter.

Take Our 3-Minute Online Assessment

First, take our easy online assessment, so we can determine your eligibility for a PSD. It’s completely anonymous and can help narrow down your needs as you proceed with the PSD process. 

Attend a Brief Consultation with a Licensed Mental Health Professional

Once you’ve taken the assessment, you’ll schedule a virtual appointment with a Pettable LMHP, who will diagnose your mental health condition and help you determine what type of dog can best suit your needs (if you don’t already have a dog). 

Train Your Psychiatric Service Dog

Unless you have experience training dogs, we recommend enrolling in the Pettable PSD training program. It’s flexible, built to cater to any human or canine needs, and can fit into anyone’s schedule, so you can get the best results. We’re so confident in our program that we offer a money-back guarantee.

Receive a PSD Letter

For that extra bit of confidence, our team can issue you a legitimate PSD letter, which can be helpful when acquiring housing or during travel. It can also come in handy if you want to bring your service dog to the office with you, so it’s worth having just in case.

3-minute assessment

Access Your PSD Training

Get your PSD certification

As a final note, be wary of companies that offer an official letter without first needing to speak to a doctor. Because many individuals are speaking out and seeking treatment for mental health conditions, companies have sprung up claiming to offer legitimate ESA letters or PSD letters. If a company guarantees a letter without having an individual first speak to a healthcare provider, like a medical doctor or licensed mental health professional, it could be a scam.

Don't be afraid to reach out to a legitimate company that prioritizes patient health. Sometimes symptoms can be brought on suddenly by major life activities, a traumatic event, or by everyday stress. Reach out to speak with a medical professional with any concerns regarding mental health issues.

Meet the author:
Rhiana Holmes
MA, LPC, LAC, & Founding Clinician