Train Your Own Service Dog
The most difficult and complicated way to get a service dog for anxiety is to train one yourself. This method also takes a lot of planning and financial preparation.
First, you have to , and whether you want to purchase a dog from a breeder or adopt a pooch from a shelter or rescue.
Puppy or Adult from a Breeder
Starting with a puppy from a breeder is the most highly recommended route.
Choosing a reputable breeder preferably one who focuses on breeding puppies to become service dogs and implements programs like Puppy Culture allows you to control as many elements of your service dogs upbringing as possible.
Dog temperament is a mix of both genetics and environmental upbringing, so getting a puppy that has been properly vetted genetically gives you the best chance of ending up with a solid service dog.
Reputable breeders will test their breeding dogs for overall health, usually through the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, and ensure that all of their litters are thoroughly socialized.
They will also likely have a lifetime breeder support clause, a puppy health guarantee, and they may even begin potty, crate, and obedience training the puppers prior to sending them to new homes.
Getting a puppy, of course, is a lot of work and a big investment of time and money. Puppies from reputable breeders can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 just to purchase, and then you have to invest in vet visits, training, and so on.
Puppy or Adult from a Shelter or Rescue
Do You Need A Service Dog For Social Anxiety
You do not need a service dog if you have social anxiety, but it can help. Remember that your mental health professional will have to evaluate your anxiety symptoms and provide medical documentation so you can get an ADA-approved therapy dog. Emotional support dogs do not have the same legal protections.
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Choose The Right Service Dog
A dogs temperament must be taken into account when choosing one to train as a service animal. While any breed can technically be an emotional support dog, some do not have the right personality. A service dog needs to be smart, calm the majority of the time, not easily excitable, and willing to learn and work.
While you can certainly look into reputable service dog breeders, finding a potential service dog at your local shelter is also possible. Look for one that is alert without startling easily. The dog should be social and quick to greet you, follow you attentively, and not mind being touched and held.
Some of the more popular breeds that are conducive to performing well as service dogs are:
- German shepherds
Emotional Support Animal Defined
An “emotional support animal” is a dog or other animal that is not trained to perform specific acts directly related to an individual’s disability. Instead, the animal’s owner derives a sense of well-being, safety, or calm from the animal’s companionship and presence. An emotional support animal does not need to be a dog, but can be.
Emotional Support Dogs Are Not Psychiatric Service Dogs
There are service dogs, known as psychiatric service dogs that require extensive training to work specifically with people whose disability is due to mental illness. These dogs detect the beginning of psychiatric episodes and help ease their effects. Although this sounds similar to the role of an ESA, the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an ESA is again in the tasks performed by the dog and the training received to perform these tasks.
Psychiatric service dogs have been trained to do certain jobs that help the handler cope with a mental illness. For example, the dog might remind a person to take prescribed medications, keep a disoriented person in a dissociative episode from wandering into a hazardous situation such as traffic or perform room searches for a person with post-traumatic stress disorder. If it is simply the dogs presence that helps the person cope, then the dog does not qualify as a psychiatric service dog.
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How Does A Psychiatric Service Dog Aid Relieving Symptoms Of Anxiety And Depression
Service dogs used for these mental conditions are becoming increasingly popular, and there are many great success stories.
There are several ways that a psychiatric service dog can aid in relieving the symptoms of anxiety or depression in people, including:
- Bringing medications or bringing water so your dog can take medication.
- Fetching helps during a dissociative episode or crisis.
- Laying over an anxious individual to provide physical comfort during anxiety attacks.
- Detecting anxiety attacks before they show themselves.
- Reminding severely depressed individuals to get out of bed or take medication.
- Bringing a phone to call for help or using an adapted phone device to call for help during a crisis.
What Conditions Could Be Helped By A Psychiatric Service Dog
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. To qualify for a service dog, you must be diagnosed with a disability. Depression, stress, or anxiety are only considered a disability if they limit what you can do. For instance, some people cannot go to the store on their own. Others cant leave their homes, cant work, or go to public places when its crowded. If you have depression or anxiety but are still able to go through your day without limitations, you do not qualify for a service dog under the ADA.
The dog must allow you to go places and face situations that you would not be able to without a service dog.
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Types Of Service Animals
PSDs are trained animals that arenât to be confused with other types of service animals.
âEmotional support animals.Emotional support animals are pets or animals that can provide you with emotional support during difficult times. Unlike PSDs, ESAs donât 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 arenât 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 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.
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 arenât allowed. PSDs also can travel with you on planes without any additional cost.â
Practice And Proof In A Variety Of Environments
Dogs often struggle to generalize behaviors. This means they might be able to follow cues in a familiar environment but still struggle to perform out and about.
Since your service dog needs to work in every environment you visit, however, its imperative that you spend time proofing their tasks. Here are some tips:
- The first time you ask your service dog to perform a task in a new context, take a few steps back in your training process to make it easier for them. Use your hand signal along with your verbal cue to set them up for success.
- Make things more difficult slowly so your dog doesnt get discouraged. You want to end your training sessions on a positive note, not with frustration!
- Make sure you always use the same visual, verbal cues, and anxiety symptom cues.
- Be aware of other subtle body movements that might confuse your dog, especially in the early stages of training.
- Video your sessions so you can evaluate your marker and reward timing.
- Make sure you arent asking your dog to perform in unfamiliar environments or situations before theyre ready.
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What Places Are Considered Public
In California, the service dog guarantees apply to an even broader range of public places than the ADA covers, including:
- any place to which the general public is invited
- medical facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices, and
- any public conveyance or mode of transportation , whether private, public, franchised, licensed, or contracted.
Public places must allow persons with disabilities to bring in their service dogs and, if necessary, they must modify their practices and to accommodate the dogs. Public places must also permit an authorized trainer to bring in a service dog, even if the trainer herself doesn’t have a disability.
Prioritize What You Most Need
Its important to prioritize the services that will have the greatest impact on your life. Everyones disability, surrounding environment, and personal preferences differ.
Some common anxiety service dog tasks include:
- Alerting you to an oncoming anxiety attack before it happens by nudging your body, barking, or lying in a specific position
- Preventing self-harm behaviors by pawing or nudging at your own hands
- Providing deep pressure therapy by lying on top of you, a bit like a weighted blanket
- Retrieving objects like medication, water, or your cell phone and bringing them to your hand
- Opening doors and flipping light switches
- Reminding you to take a medication by nudging, pawing, barking, or another signal youve chosen
- Circling around you to prevent strangers from approaching
If you think of something that isnt on this list, it can still be a valid service animal task so long as it directly mitigates your psychiatric condition or disability.
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What Makes A Good Emotional Support Animal
Obviously, the purpose of adopting an emotional support animal for anxiety or depression is primarily to provide comfort.
The animal in question must be good at providing said comfort to its handler.
However, there are factors to consider when deciding on a specific canine. Factors that make them a good emotional support animal, including:
- The size of your emotional support animal may be a concern if you are limited in your physical activity, if you live in a tiny home, or if you plan to take your ESA on flights with you.
- A good temperament is a necessity both towards you and other people and animals.
- Overall, health should be a concern as it may limit your dog’s ability to provide emotional support.
Psychiatric Service Dog Defined
California doesn’t have a separate definition for “psychiatric service dog,” but a dog that is individually trained to help a person with a mental disability with specific requirements is considered a service dog, and an individual that uses such a dog is entitled to the same rights under the law as someone with a physical disability that uses a service dog.
Examples of work or tasks that a service dog can be trained to perform for someone with a mental disability include:
- waking someone with clinical depression and coaxing them out of bed at a specified time in the morning
- responding to an owner’s panic attack by initiating contact to comfort the individual, and
- alerting a person exercising poor judgment due to bipolar disorder that they are driving dangerously.
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How Can Service Dogs Help With Anxiety
Psychiatric service dogs assist their owners by performing special tasks that can help alleviate the individuals depression, anxiety, phobia, etc. These tasks will be specific to the PSDs owner and will typically be something that the person cannot do themselves.
Assistance from psychiatric service dogs can be physical, mental health related, or it can require the dog to use their natural senses. Either way, a trained PSD will typically serve as a buffer in certain situations and read signals from their handler to help them in whatever way is needed.
An article from the Huffington Post further details the top 10 benefits that therapy dogs give to their handlers who suffer from PTSD, Bipolar disorder, or other mental health conditions that result in anxiety attacks or diagnosed anxiety disorders.
Support To Take Your Medication
If you need to take medication for your mental illness, service animals can be specifically trained to remind you to take your medicine at specific times. Incredibly intuitive and intelligent animals, they are even able to fetch and bring you your medicine.
This ability can have profound implications on outcomes from medication use because it increases the likelihood that folks will take their medication regularly and on time, which is essential for the good mental health of many people. Having support from an animal can make taking medication easier.
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When In Doubt Seek Professional Guidance
Service dog training can be overwhelming, especially if youre trying to do it all on your own. Feeling stuck? Not sure how to troubleshoot new issues that are cropping up? Dont worry: A professional trainer can make a world of difference!
Some canine professionals even specialize in assistance animals . That means they can provide feedback on everything from public access behavior to specific tasks.
Professional dog training lessons can get expensive but its a worthy investment to make sure your service dog is ready to act as medical equipment out in the world. If the cost of in-person private training is prohibitive, you might consider group classes, virtual sessions, or online content as well.
State And Federal Law
- Assistance animal and service animal mean a canine that is specially trained or equipped to help a person with a disability and is used by the person.
- Harass means any conduct that:
- is directed at an assistance animal that impedes or interferes with, or is intended to impede or interfere with, the animal’s performance of its duties or
- places a person with a disability who is using an assistance animal, or a trainer who is training an assistance animal, in danger of injury.
NOTE: Though state law conflates the terms service animal and assistance animal, they should be considered as two separate categories of animals under federal law. Assistance animals may not always enjoy the same level of legal protection as service animals. Service animals are typically dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Some laws are not necessarily limited to dogs. It is important to know which definition will apply in any particular scenario.
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Housing Accommodations For Individuals Who Use Emotional Support Dogs
Individuals who use ESAs are provided certain accommodations under federal law in the areas of housing and air travel. The Fair Housing Act includes ESAs in its definition of assistance animals. Under the act, people cannot be discriminated against due to a disability when obtaining housing. Rules such as pet bans or restrictions are waived for people who have a prescription for an ESA, and they cannot be charged a pet deposit for having their ESA live with them.
Rights Afforded To Owners Of Service Dogs
Those with disabilities can take service dogs to pretty much any place that a person without an animal would be allowed to go . This means you can take your service animal with you into grocery stores, taxi cabs, theaters, public transportation, parks, and airplanes, among many other places. This ability to keep your service dog with you provides you with the constant safety and comfort of knowing you wont ever be separated from the animal you depend on.
Additionally, service dogs are permitted free of charge in places that would normally add a pet fee. This means landlords, airlines, or hotels cannot charge you extra for bringing your service animal with you wherever you go. This can be a big deal as pet fees can be expensive, especially if you travel with your pet. Furthermore, public entities are not allowed to assess disabled handlers with additional pet fees, or require the handler and their service animal to be seated away from other patrons to intentionally separate them.
If you think one of these animals could greatly benefit your life, then the investment is more than worth it. However, you probably shouldnt get a trained service animal if you have only suffered from a handful of panic attacks in your life. These animals go through intense and thorough training to ensure that they are equipped with the skills to help those who truly depend upon them. An ESA is probably more your speed, and more economical.
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What Proof Do I Need To Provide For An Esa
Since ESAs have limited public access, proof is usually required to get them into the spaces they are permitted in.
- In no-pets housing or simply to receive a medical financial exemption from pet rent you will likely have to provide a doctors note or prescription stating that you must be allowed to have your assistance animal.
- When traveling by plane, you will need to provide your medical letter and potentially vaccination records.
While some situations may require a doctors note, in other cases a letter certifying your dog as an emotional service animal is all you need. Services like CertaPet make obtaining a record like this easy to do, although this practice is somewhat controversial.