Dogs not only make excellent pets but also help us in many ways, particularly in improving our mental health. Studies have shown that individuals with mental health conditions can benefit significantly from having dogs and other pets around. There is a specific type of dog that is trained to aid those with mental illness- a psychiatric service dog (PSD). This guide aims to provide you with all the steps to obtaining one of these service animals.
It is essential to distinguish between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal. A psychiatric service dog is recognized as a service animal, allowed in public spaces and specially trained to perform specific tasks for its owner, while an emotional support animal is not recognized as a service animal and is not trained to perform tasks, thus does not have the same rights as a psychiatric service dog.
Here are the six steps you need to take to acquire a PSD:
1. Speak with a mental health professional: If you are living with mental illness, you might already be working with a mental health professional. In that case, you can speak with them about getting a psychiatric service dog. However, if you do not already have a mental health professional, you will need to seek one out and make an appointment. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the following diagnoses qualify for a PSD: autism, anxiety disorders, ADHD, addiction/substance abuse/alcoholism, bipolar disorder, depression and depressive disorders, dissociative and personality disorders, neurocognitive and sleep-wave disorders, OCD, PTSD/trauma/stress-related disorders, and schizophrenia and psychotic disorders.
2. Get a letter from your mental health professional: The mental health professional will give you a letter with your diagnosis stating that a PSD would be beneficial for you. You should receive both an electronic and physical copy of the letter.
3. Begin your search for a PSD: Dog breed is the first thing to consider when looking for a PSD. Some dog breeds are great at being PSDs, while others are not. A few breeds that work well as PSDs include Border Collies, Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers.
4. Figure out where you’ll get your PSD: You can adopt via your local shelter or buy a dog from an organization that trains PSDs. However, if you get your dog through an organization, you’ll be paying a lot more money (thousands of dollars!).
5. Train your PSD: You can skip this step if you got a dog from a PSD-training organization. However, if you adopted a dog from a shelter, you’ll need to begin training them on the tasks you need help with. It’s recommended you train your PSD yourself as it aids in forming a solid bond between you and your dog. If you need some help, you can find a PSD trainer to take over the training.
6. Read up on the laws surrounding service animals: Service animals are allowed in many places that pets usually are not, such as theaters and restaurants. Still, you should check the ADA’s website for the exact places you can bring your pet. Also, check on what owners of establishments are allowed to ask you about your service dog. Knowing the legalities goes a long way in preventing misunderstandings!
Obtaining a PSD is not too complicated, but it could take a bit of time and effort to get through all six steps. Finding a mental health professional and training your new helper may be the most challenging parts. But the process of getting a PSD is not complicated at all and is worth it when you have your new PSD to aid you.