What Is A Psychiatric Service Animal?

Rhiana Holmes
MA, LPC, LAC, & Founding Clinician
April 20, 2023
8 minutes
Learn what are psychiatric service animals, the benefits of having a psychiatric service animal, and how they are different from emotional support animals.

Service animals, psychiatric service dogs, emotional support animals – there are so many terms to describe assistance animals, that it can sometimes get confusing. Psychiatric service dogs, service dogs, and emotional support pets all serve their owners in different ways. In this article, we’ll define what a psychiatric service dog is, what role they play, and what the law says about what they can do and where they can go.

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What Is A Psychiatric Service Dog And Service Animal?

A psychiatric service dog is very similar to an ESA in that they help alleviate symptoms of a person's disability. In addition to providing a comforting presence, however, a service dog must also be trained to a specific task that helps the owner cope with symptoms. Therapy dogs are another type of working dog altogether. Therapy dogs visit hospitals and nursing homes to bring comfort and joy to the residents there.

Psychiatric service dogs and service animals also have more protection from federal law than emotional support animals do. Psychiatric service dogs and service dogs are accepted by all housing and rental properties, hotels, most public places, and on all airlines, subject to a few rules and with complete paperwork. 

PSD training can help you travel and keep your pet. If you are not satisfied with our PSD training program within 7 days we will refund 100% of your payment

The Bottom Line

  1. What Is A PSD? - A psychiatric service dog is identical to an ESA in that it helps to alleviate symptoms of a mental or emotional disability by providing companionship and support.
  2. Difference Between PSD and ESA? - A PSD needs to be well behaved in public and trained in a task that helps alleviate a symptom of your mental health (sitting on your chest, putting their paw on your chest).
  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 an PSD you need to have a mental health evaluation with a licensed professional in your state. To get the process started click here.
  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 pets 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 pet 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 pet 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 that 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 pet 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.

What Are The Benefits of A Psychiatric Service Animal?

Service dogs are conferred numerous benefits and enjoy far greater freedom than ESAs given their added protection under ADA. This includes:

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

Any animal that is classified as a psychiatric service pet can travel on any airlines 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 pets 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 wellbeing – in any daily life situation. But flying and navigating airports can be a higher-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 Animals 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, long term vacation rentals, and 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 pet. 

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 pets 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 Animals 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 pets 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 owners discretion to decided whether they accept ESAs. That said, most establishments respect ESA status and will allow you to come in with your pet.

What Disabilities Qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog or Service Animal?

Any mental or emotional disability that qualifies for an ESA can qualify for a psychiatric service animal. This includes:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Phobias
  • Personality Disorders
  • Panic Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • ADHD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Autism
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Neurocognitive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders

There may be many more mental or emotional disabilities that qualify an individual for a psychiatric service dog. 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. 

Remember, service animals can also serve those with physical disabilities, as well. These may include visual impairment, deafness, paralysis, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, allergies, asthma, and arthritis, to name a few. 

What Standard Of Training Do Psychiatric Service Dog’s 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 pets (dogs and cats as well as other service animals) need to behave well in public. The standard is pretty subjective but, generally, service pets 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 pet 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 In Tasks For The Benefit Of The Mental Health Disability

Psychiatric service pets must be trained in specific tasks that benefit the owner's mental health disability or they will not be considered service pets and will be unable to board the flight.

A service pet can be trained in a variety of different tasks that support your mental health and will qualify them to board the cabin. These include:

Help Ease Anxiety or Depression

A service pet can be trained in a variety of different tasks that will help alleviate anxiety or depression symptoms. This can include laying down on your lap, putting their paw on your chest, or just nudging you with their faces to get you to stop ruminating and break negative thought patterns.

Alleviate Claustrophobia

For people that experience claustrophobia (flying is a big problem for many people with claustrophobia), a service animal can serve as a much-needed buffer for people between them and others. Especially when boarding or leaving the plane, the separation they create between you and others in the air can be a huge relief.

Medical Support or Medical Reminders

A service pet (dogs are particularly good at this) can be trained to remind you to take medication for your mental or emotional disability. This can be particularly important on flights when you're in unfamiliar surroundings and the added stress of flying can cause you to forget.

Relief From Stimuli or Heightened Stress

A service pet can be extremely helpful when you’re experiencing higher stress or sensory overload from increased and unfamiliar stimuli on flights. A lot of people, especially those that don't fly often can have their mental health suffer as a result of the stress.

A service pet can help protect your mental health on these flights by providing a much needed distraction, tactile pressure, or perform other tasks that help alleviate some of the stress from flights.

Help You Stay Balanced

A service pet can also help people stay balanced, especially those that experience dizziness or fatigue as a result of their medication or mental health challenge.

Travelers benefit hugely from a service pet in these situations.

Wake You Up From Night Terrors

Travelers may also experience night terrors and a service animal in the cabin with them can help wake those travelers up from their night terrors.

Push You Towards Selective Solitude

Travelers may also get uncomfortable around people and in situations where they feel drained. A service pet can guide passengers to remove themselves from situations and take a much-needed break in solitude.

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 Animal?

A Psychiatric Service pet 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 pet 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 pet 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 pet can provide an 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 psychiatrics 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 pet 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 An ESA or PSD For Travel?

Emotional support animals are no longer eligible to travel in-cabin on flights, according to the Department of Transportation. However, psychiatric service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning these animals are allowed to travel with their handlers at any given time, provided their handler has been diagnosed with a qualifying mental health condition and the dog has completed an appropriate PSD training program. Enrolling your pet in Pettable’s psychiatric service dog training program is simple:

Take Our 3-Minute Online Assessment

Taking our online quiz will determine whether an ESA letter or PSD training will suit your specific needs. Based on the information you provide, we’ll either connect you with a licensed mental health professional in your state for an ESA consultation or direct you to our PSD training program where you can learn more about what skills your pet will need to learn.

We Can Meet Any Timeline

Pettable’s network of clinicians across all 50 states guarantee we can help you with your service animal needs on any timeline. For emotional support animals, we offer express services that guarantee you an ESA consultation within twenty-four hours. For those in need of psychiatric service dog training, Pettable’s PSD training program is available through our quick three-minute assessment and can be accessed by users at any time – ensuring your pet can be properly trained at the perfect pace.

We’re The Only ESA Company We Know Offering A Satisfaction Guarantee

We believe in the quality of our mental health professionals and our service. We want to make sure our services work for you, so we offer a satisfaction guarantee:

If your ESA letter doesn’t work as intended, or you are unsatisfied with our PSD training program within the first 7 days after purchase, you are entitled to a full refund.

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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