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If you’re currently living with a psychiatric disability, it’s worth looking into obtaining a psychiatric service dog (PSD). Not only do these comforting companions provide essential assistance with your everyday life, but they also receive important protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
To clear up some of the confusion surrounding PDSs, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide. At the end of the piece, we’ll compare the top three options for obtaining one of your very own.
What Is a Psychiatric Service Dog?
A PSD is a dog that has been trained to perform specific tasks to assist its handler with an ADA-recognized psychiatric condition.
The ADA covers similar disabilities as the American Psychiatric Association DSM, including (but not limited to): Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
What Legal Protections Apply to Psychiatric Service Dogs?
A PSD receives the same legal protections as any other service dog, including canines trained to assist people with physical impairments, such as seeing-eye dogs.
The ADA mandates that all public accommodations (like restaurants, museums, and theme parks) must not discriminate against a person with a disability accompanied by a PSD. Any public accommodation must allow the handler and dog into the venue under the same terms as the general public. It can’t charge any extra fees or force the person or animal into a segregated area.
To receive ADA protections, the animal must be trained to assist its handler with specific tasks related to their disability. There’s no requirement for professional training or certification, and a staff member cannot request documentation of any kind. Staff may only ask two questions:
- Is the animal a service dog?
- What tasks is the animal trained to do?
Furthermore, transportation providers, including airlines, must permit PSDs to travel on their services at no extra cost. Conditions apply, and the handler will need to complete some paperwork before take off.
When in public accommodations (including transportation), a PSD must not exhibit disruptive behavior, including barking, biting, or lunging. The PSD must also be housebroken, and the handler will be liable for any damage caused by urine or defecation. Failure to comply means the public accommodation has the legal right to request the PSD leave its premises.
What Kind of Tasks do Psychiatric Service Dogs Perform?
To classify as a PSD, a dog must be individually trained to perform specific tasks that help the handler manage their disability.
The tasks vary depending on the disability in question:
- Waking the handler up during a night terror
- Detecting distress and providing tactile comfort
- Responding to anxiety attacks by nuzzling the owner to provide comfort
- Leading the handler home or to safety during a dissociative episode
- Applying deep pressure therapy during a PTSD flashback
- Retrieving medication or remind the handler to take their medication
- Interrupting a handler’s incessant scratching
This list isn’t exhaustive. PSDs can be trained to provide psychological support through various means.
Psychiatric Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Animal vs. Therapy Dog
What’s the difference between a psychiatric service dog, an emotional support animal, and a therapy dog? Although all three provide crucial psychiatric support, they differ in many ways.
A PSD is considered a service animal rather than a pet and has been individually trained to assist the owner with specific disability-related tasks. PSDs receive service animal protections under the ADA, allowing them to accompany their handler in almost all public accommodations.
Emotional Support Animals (ESA) provide comfort and support to their owners by simply being present. No special training is required, and any animal species could become an ESA. ESAs aren’t considered service animals by law; thus, they don’t have the right to enter public accommodations where pets are normally not allowed. While ESAs could once fly inside an aircraft cabin at no extra fee, the legislation has recently changed to exclude this arrangement. However, ESAs are still permitted in “no-pet” rental contracts.
Therapy Dogs are often a personal pet, albeit with special training to provide therapeutic support at places like hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and schools. After their work is done, the therapy dog returns home to live with its owner.
|Psychiatric Service Dog||Emotional Support Animal||Therapy Dog|
|Assists with specific disability-related tasks||YES||NO||NO|
|Requires special individual training to perform specific tasks||YES||NO||NO|
|Can accompany the handler into public accommodations||YES||NO||NO|
|Can reside in “no-pet” accommodation||YES||YES||NO|
|Can fly in the aircraft cabin at no cost||YES||NO||NO|
|Requires registration or certification||NO||NO||NO|
How Can I Get a Psychiatric Service Dog?
Now you understand what a PSD is and how it differs from other assistance dog types, it’s time to work out how you can obtain one of your own.
First of all, you must have an eligible ADA-recognized psychiatric disability. Although it’s wise to have it diagnosed and treated by a qualified psychiatric professional, public accommodations cannot legally ask you to provide certification.
The next step is to train your existing dog—or a puppy you’ve selected from a breeder or shelter—to assist you with tasks relating to your disability. Finally, you’ll need to train the animal to behave appropriately in public access locations. Otherwise, the dog will inevitably exercise disruptive behavior, and you’ll be asked to leave.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick-and-easy way to obtain a PSD. The training process will involve a substantial amount of time, money, or effort, depending on which route you choose.
There are three main options to consider.
Obtaining a PSD through a non-profit organization is usually the cheapest method, but it will require a lot of time.
Non-profit organizations source donations from the community and corporate sponsorships to train service animals, then place them into the homes of people with disabilities, usually at no cost. Some non-profits will ask the applicant to pay part of the costs or launch a fundraising campaign to help cover expenses. Nonetheless, it’s still significantly cheaper than enlisting a professional trainer.
However, as demand for their services is high, you’ll have to join a lengthy waiting list, sometimes as long as five years. If you’re in a hurry to obtain a PSD, non-profits don’t offer the ideal solution.
Non-profits also often have a complex (and sometimes costly) application process. The applicant often needs to provide mountains of paperwork, including proof of their disability from a qualified psychiatrist. High demand means many applications get denied, potentially leaving the applicant out of pocket.
Although a professional trainer is by far the quickest and easiest way to get a PSD, their services will cost you a lot of money. A trainer will typically select a suitable puppy from a local breeder or shelter, then train it in an in-house boarding facility to teach the necessary skills. In some cases, you may be able to convince them to train an existing dog, although most prefer to work with select breeds.
Some professional trainers incorporate a mix of in-house and at-home training, getting the customer to do most of the legwork themselves in their own time. This option reduces costs but puts more burden on the client. Other professional trainers come to the client’s home to conduct the training in a familiar setting.
Price and timeframes vary depending on the quality of the training, the disability in question, and the specific tasks the animal must perform. Generally speaking, though, expect a professional trainer to deliver the animal within 1 to 3 years, at the cost of somewhere between $5,000 and $25,000.
Off Leash K9 Training is a reputable nationwide in-person service dog trainer. It’s worth checking out local options as well—again, Google service dog trainers in your state to see who’s out there.
The final option is to self-train your service animal, which requires you to put in a significant amount of effort yourself. Training a PSD is a complex and lengthy task; you must consider whether you’re in a sufficient psychological state to complete this mammoth undertaking.
Self-training rarely costs more than a few hundred dollars, as you only need to pay for a reputable course online. The timeframe depends on how many hours per day you dedicate to the job and the tasks you’re attempting to train. Nonetheless, you should expect to spend somewhere between 1-3 years self-training a PSD.
Dog Academy is the leading online resource for self-training PSDs.
A Better Life With A Psychiatric Service Dog
Although obtaining a PSD involves considerable time, money, or effort, the rewards will be worth it in the end. These adorable four-legged workers will happily perform an array of tasks to improve your overall quality of life, from fetching medication to providing tactile comfort and mitigating panic attacks.