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Psychiatric Service Animal Assessments

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are dogs that are specially trained to work with people who have certain kinds of mental illnesses or learning disabilities. These dogs can help their owners perform tasks that they otherwise might not be able to do or help them to live a more independent lifestyle.


Types of Service Animals

PSDs are trained animals that aren’t to be confused with other types of service animals.


Emotional support animals.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are pets or animals that can provide you with emotional support during difficult times. Unlike PSDs, ESAs don’t need any special training. They can be any kind of domestic animal, not just a dog. However, dogs and cats are the most common choices when it comes to emotional support animals.

ESAs aren’t trained to do specific tasks in the way that service dogs are. They can simply offer you comfort and help you relax during stressful situations.


Service animals. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that service animals are dogs that are trained to work with people who have disabilities. Each dog is individually trained to help people with tasks that they might not otherwise be able to do. Service dogs can help guide people with vision, mobility, or physical difficulties.

Who Can Get Psychiatric Service Dogs?

Psychiatric service dog training focuses on helping people with certain mental illnesses, such as:

Depression

Anxiety

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Panic attacks

Bipolar disorders

Schizophrenia

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Agoraphobia

Social phobias


Psychiatric service dogs. 

PSDs are trained to work with people who have certain mental health issues rather than physical disabilities. These dogs have the same rights as service dogs do, meaning they can go with you in places where pets usually aren’t allowed. 


PSDs also can travel with you on planes without any additional cost.‌

Psychiatric service dogs can be any breed of dog or any size, as long as the dog is able to accompany the owner to public places. Psychiatric service dog training can be done by you, as the owner, but usually, these dogs are individually trained by organizations. 


The ADA states that anyone with a diagnosed disability can get a service dog. The disability may be physical or mental, and it must impact your life to the point where major activities are limited.

 

Mental illnesses – like anxiety, depression, or PTSD – can be a disability if they put limitations on your life. Some examples might be if you can’t work or leave your home due to the illness.


To qualify for a PSD, your mental illness has to prevent you from living your life independently. If you have a mental illness, but it doesn’t limit your daily life, you wouldn’t be able to get a psychiatric service dog. You also must be able to show that you can give the dog commands, care for it, and give it a stable and loving home.

PSDs for Anxiety. 

Anxiety is the most common mental illness around the world, and a psychiatric service dog can help you manage it.


A psychiatric service dog for anxiety can:

Pick up on signs and symptoms of anxiety attacks before they start

Distract you during an anxiety attack so that you can calm down

Apply physical pressure with its body to help calm you down

Warn others to give you space

Get your medication during an anxiety attack

Give you a sense of safety with their presence

Alert others for help if they sense that you’re in danger


Tasks and Training

Psychiatric service dogs are highly trained to perform tasks that help their owners.


‌Physical tasks. 

Your PSD can perform physical tasks like waking you up in the morning, or even at night if they sense that you’re having bad dreams or nightmares. They may also be able to get you water or medication if you’re unable to get them for yourself. Your psychiatric service dog may even remind you to take your medication at a specific time.


Emotional support. 

These dogs are also trained to support you emotionally. In social situations, your dog can help you create personal space so that social situations aren’t so overwhelming. PSDs help calm you down during emotional situations so that you can carry on. Your dog can also alert others to help you if they sense that you’re under extreme distress.


While psychiatric service dogs can be any breed, it’s important that these dogs are well-behaved and good-tempered. They shouldn’t be too aggressive or easily stressed, since they will help guide you when you are around others. These dogs should like to be touched, as they will often be around you.‌

Along with this, a PSD must be able to adapt to new environments and situations. These dogs are trained to keep calm in loud areas, crowded places, and environments with lots of stimuli. The calmer they are, the more they can help you.

What is a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter?

A Psychiatric Service Dog letter (PSD letter) provides peace of mind and backup documentation for your condition. PSD owners must be able to represent that they have a trained psychiatric service dog for their disability. For air travel with your PSD, PSD owners are required to make self-certifications on a federal form regarding their qualification for a psychiatric service dog.

If you qualify, you will be issued a signed letter stating the licensed professional’s opinion on whether you have an eligible disability. The letter is signed by the provider and contains their license and contact information.


Note that a dog is not fully qualified to be a PSD until it is fully trained to perform a task relating to the handler’s disability. The specialized training is the responsibility of the handler (or a professional trainer the handler has assigned that responsibility to). A fully trained psychiatric service dog has the following rights:

Accommodation without charge or deposits in no-pets buildings.

The ability to board the cabin of planes without fees.

Public access rights to places like stores, restaurants, and public venues.


How to get a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter Letter

Connect with a licensed healthcare professional

Talk to a licensed healthcare professional about your mental health and discuss whether you have a qualifying disability under the ADA. You can consult with someone online here or in person.


Train your dog

Explore whether a trained service dog can perform a task or job that assists with your mental health disability.


Request a PSD letter

If your healthcare professional believes you have a qualifying condition, ask them to provide you with a signed PSD letter documenting their assessment


Do I qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog Letter?

In order to qualify for a psychiatric service dog (PSD), you must meet the criteria for having a mental or emotional health disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). A licensed healthcare professional can help determine whether you are eligible and provide a signed PSD letter if you qualify. Conditions that may qualify for a PSD letter include:

Chronic Depression

Severe Anxiety

Phobias

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Learning Disorders (Including ADHD)

Autism

Bi-Polar Disorder

Mood Disorders


What tasks are psychiatric service dogs trained to do?

There are countless tasks that PSDs are trained to perform – far too many to list here. The following is just a small sampling of the important jobs PSDs are called upon to do:

Reminding their owners to take medication and retrieving their medication.

Providing pressure with paws or licking to calm during moments of panic or crisis.

Interrupting moments of dissociation or emotional overload.

Blocking self-destructive and/or repetitive behaviors.

Buffering the owner against triggering stimuli like large crowds.

Calling appropriate contacts and services in case of emergencies.


How do I train a psychiatric service dog? Do I need a trainer?

In order for a dog to be fully qualified as a psychiatric service animal under the ADA and ACAA, your PSD must be fully trained to perform a task or job relating to the handler’s disability. That training can be done by the owner or handler without the assistance of a professional trainer. There are professional trainers and organizations available that can train a dog if the owner is unable to train the dog themselves. Per ADA and ACAA guidelines, it is perfectly acceptable to self-train a PSD.


How can someone verify that I have a legitimate psychiatric service dog?

To verify that you have a psychiatric service dog, third-parties are allowed to ask you two questions: 1. Is the service dog required because of a disability and 2. What work or job has the service animal been trained to perform? They are not allowed to ask you to demonstrate the dog’s task or request specific details regarding your disability. You do not need to present a registration, certificate or any other documentation. The exception is air travel, where you will need to complete and submit the DOT Air Travel Form prior to your flight.


What documents do I need to fly with a psychiatric service dog?

The only document you need to fly with a psychiatric service dog is the DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form. You must submit this form to your airline prior to boarding a flight with your PSD. The DOT Form requires you to self-certify that you have a trained service dog that assists with a disability. You do not need to submit a PSD letter to the airline – the PSD letter is intended to assist you in your ability to make the representations regarding your mental health disability in the federal DOT Form. There are penalties for making false representations on the DOT Form so it’s important that you are making true statements

Airlines must accommodate passengers with psychiatric service dogs free of charge. PSDs are also exempt from the same weight and size restrictions that are applicable to normal pets that are not assistance animals.

If you would like, you may register your Psychiatric Service Dog but note that this is not a requirement.


Can my emotional support animal be a psychiatric service dog?

An emotional support animal can be trained to become a psychiatric service dog, but it’s important to remember that they are not the same thing. ESAs and PSDs help with the same types of mental and emotional health illnesses, but a PSD must be trained to perform a task relating to the handler’s disability. If the PSD is not tasked trained or the owner has no need for tasks performed by a dog that relate to their disability, then the animal cannot qualify as a psychiatric service dog. 

This website is for informational purposes only and is subject to change at any time, this is not legal advise. For more information please do due diligence and research current laws in your state.

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