Service dogs, specially trained to act as companion animals to those living with mental or physical conditions, have proven beneficial to those who suffer from anxiety-related mental health issues.
Service dogs for anxiety bring calm to their human companions, can anticipate an anxiety attack before it occurs, and can fetch medication or other items when necessary.
Read on to learn more about the benefits that a psychiatric service dog can bring to individuals with anxiety and how you can get a service dog for anxiety-related mental health issues.
What’s a Service Dog?
A service dog is a specially trained dog that offers emotional and practical support to humans with mental or physical difficulties.
Perhaps the most common and easily recognized service dog is the guide dog. A guide dog is a service dog that assists individuals with visual impairments. A guide dog, however, is just one type of service dog.
Service dogs can be trained to assist individuals suffering from various conditions, from diabetes and epilepsy to depression and anxiety.
What’s a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Psychiatric service dogs help individuals with specific mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. A service dog for anxiety can accompany their human companions anywhere, including airplanes, restaurants, and hotels.
A general requirement for psychiatric service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the dog must be trained (by anyone) to perform the task(s) expected of it to help the person’s condition. For example, for someone with PTSD, a dog could be trained to perform safety checks, turn on lights, or help unwanted strangers from approaching during an active panic attack if in public.
What are the Benefits of a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Service dogs can be trained to perform a wide range of tasks to meet the individual needs of their human companions.
Here is a list of some of the tasks that trained service dogs for anxiety can carry out in support of their human companions:
- Service dogs for anxiety can detect anxiety attacks before they occur.
- Service dogs for anxiety can fetch a phone, water, or medication during anxiety attacks.
- Service dogs for anxiety can get help when their human companion is in distress.
- Service dogs for anxiety can prevent strangers from approaching when their human companion is in distress.
- Service dogs for anxiety can calm their human companion down when they are having an anxiety attack.
- Service dogs for anxiety can remind their human companion to take their medications.
- Service dogs for anxiety can help those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by performing safety checks or turning on lights.
Beyond the proven practical benefits that a trained psychiatric service dog can provide, just being in the presence of a dog can encourage increased self-care, including:
- Proper Exercise. Studies have shown that increased physical activity benefits those with anxiety, depression, and other conditions related to mental health. Having a dog encourages exercise.
- Spending Time Outside. Getting outside is often a challenge for those who experience depression and anxiety. Dogs need to be walked regularly, so their human companions will need to spend more time outdoors. Time outside can help boost an individual’s mental health, increase vitamin D, and improve their mood.
- Friendship and Stress Relief. Dogs provide their human companions with friendship and love, which can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Similarly, studies have shown that spending time with a pet reduces stress and boosts happiness.
In fact, a National Institute of Health (NIH) study found that interactions with your psychiatric service dog can:
- improve your mood
- reduce depression
- encourage positive human interactions
- decrease your cortisol (stress hormone) levels,
- lower your blood pressure
- reduce your heart rate
- decrease anxiety and fear
How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety
A person can get a service dog for anxiety from special organizations as long as they meet certain criteria, which may include:
- the presence of a debilitating physical or psychiatric condition
- having a referral or letter of recommendation from either a doctor or certified mental health professional
- participation in a handler training class
- patience and good communication skills
- a love for fogs
- an ability to care for and work with a service dog
- the financial ability to care for the dog in the long term (12+ years)
- the ability to provide a stable environment
Unfortunately, some individuals with legitimate anxiety issues will not qualify for a psychiatric service dog. When service dogs for anxiety are unavailable, you might benefit from an emotional support dog.
An emotional support animal (ESA) is different from a service dog. In the eyes of the law, it is considered a pet, therefore, not always permitted to go everywhere with its human companion. However, ESAs do have some protection under the law, such as exemptions from no-pet housing requirements.
An emotional support dog can tremendously benefit individuals with anxiety or other mental health issues. What separates them from other household pets is that an ESA is a companion animal that your doctor or other medical professional has certified as a benefit to helping your anxiety.
Registering Your Psychiatric Service Dog
If you are getting a service dog for anxiety, consider service dog registration with us. Registering your psychiatric service dog gives you access to ID cards, identifying vests, leashes, and tags that are easily recognizable to help you eliminate the hassle of being questioned when bringing your dog into public spaces. Registration also includes 24/7 support from our staff to help you navigate laws, understand best practices and get assistance if any access issues come up.