Psychiatric Service Dogs For Anxiety: Everything You Need to Know

By  //  February 1, 2022

Generalized anxiety disorder can often be difficult to live with. People who have chronic anxiety revolve their lives around their condition, preventing them from living life to the fullest. A psychiatric service dog can help people with anxiety-related issues find peace and comfort.

What are Psychiatric Service Dogs?

You’ve likely heard or seen a person walk with a service dog if you live in a big city. They’re very noticeable, and it isn’t because they’re cute. Service dogs have to wear a bright red vest that tells other people and businesses that their dog is currently working to protect their owner.

Service dogs offer practical and emotional support to people experiencing physical impairments or mental health disabilities. More specifically, a psychiatric service dog helps someone with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and several other mental health conditions. 

Service dogs undergo a specialized training process and are legally recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You can take a service dog to public businesses and airplanes.

What are the Benefits of Owning a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Psychiatric service dogs offer direct and indirect benefits. Since you need to take your dog for walks, a service dog will help you exercise. Exercise is known to decrease anxiety, so does vitamin D, which you can get from the sun. Dogs can also help you communicate with others.

If you’ve had difficulties making friends in the past, dogs give you something to talk about. Plus, dogs are great company, reduce feelings of loneliness, and reduce stress in children and adults.

Besides their indirect benefits, a psychiatric service dog can be trained to:

 Detects signs of an anxiety attack before they start.

Find someone who can help you if you’re distressed.

Fetch water or medication during an anxiety attack.

Remind you to take your medication (i.e., barks).

Grabbing the phone if you need to call someone.

Calm you down by distracting you (i.e., giving paw).

Lay or sit on you to offer deep pressure therapy.

Guard you against strangers when you’re distressed.

Turn the lights on (for PTSD) or check on you.

Interacting with animals has proved to be beneficial for humans. A Frontiers in Psychology study found that animals help lower your heart rate, reduce fear, and improve your overall mood.

How Can I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

While having an anxiety disorder is a prerequisite, you still may not require a psychiatric service dog. To be eligible for a service dog, you have to meet several criteria, including:

Having deliberating anxiety and/or PTSD disorder

Being able to participate in the dog training process

Being able to command and care for your dog

Having a stable (preferably permanent) home environment

A dog that was previously homed as a pet can’t be retrained later as a service dog. Therefore, your service dog must be trained from birth and then placed in your care. To apply for a psychiatric service dog, you must get a recommendation from your doctor or psychiatrist.

Although 18% of American adults experience some form of mental disorder, many of which aren’t anxiety, only 4% of adults have a mental health disorder that severely impacts their quality of life. That means only a few million Americans will qualify for a psychiatric service dog.

What if I Can’t Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

If you were denied access to a service dog, get a second opinion. However, if it’s confirmed that your anxiety doesn’t severely impact your life, you could opt for an emotional support animal. While they aren’t trained to help with your anxiety, they can still be great companions. 

Coping with anxiety varies from person to person. Some people find that going for a walk, practicing mindfulness, or exercising regularly can help relieve stress.