Finding An Anxiety Service Dog

Updated May 04, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

If you suffer from anxiety, you may have considered a service dog, a support dog, or another kind of support animal. Service animals are wonderful for people with physical disabilities, but increasingly they are emotional support animals that benefit people with anxiety and depression. You likely have many questions about service dogs, defined as dogs trained to do work for a person with a disability, enough that the information overload caused an anxiety attack itself. If you’re interested in a service dog or other service animals for your social anxiety, but you are confused about how service animals are defined, we’ve provided a quick introduction here to answer your questions so that you can find the type of service animal or service dog or support dog, you need. Service dogs and emotional support animals are a great alternative to being isolated at home for people with disabilities and social anxiety.

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What Kind Of Animals Can Be Service Animals?

By far, most service animals are dogs, but in no way are they limited to only canines. Federal regulations in the United States define “service animals” under the Americans with Disabilities Act as domestic dogs and miniature horses. Other laws covering housing and airline travel are more flexible and include far more than service dogs. Animals trained to be support animals include capuchin monkeys, cats, parrots, ferrets, and more; not just support dogs, but service animals are more complex. In summary, the species that qualify as service animals depend on the applicable laws. Still, they cannot be more strict than the ADA, allowing service dogs and miniature horses to assist animals.

Are Support And Service Synonyms The Same, Or Are They Different?

Service animals and support animals in some ways serve the same purpose for their people, but they are very different both legally and in training. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA service animals are working animals. The service dog or emotional support animal, usually a dog, has been trained specifically to aid in tasks for a person with a disability or disabling social anxiety. This is why domesticated dogs are considered the best service animals; service dogs can be trained more easily to perform specific tasks on demand.

A service dog must perform related tasks. If the owner has a service dog for anxiety, the dog must assist during an anxiety attack or social anxiety to qualify as a psychiatric service dog. A service dog for dog owners with epilepsy or diabetes is trained for a different service specific to the owners’ needs.

On the other hand, support animals, instead of service animals, are more likely to be from various species. This animal can provide comfort for people with social anxiety but is not necessarily trained for specific tasks. For example, an autistic child may have an emotional support animal because they suffer from anxiety. These support animals may be a support dog who lays in their lap, a rabbit because the soft fur comforts them, or even a goldfish because the back and forth swimming calms them. A support animal may help with depression or anxiety because of a bond but has not been trained to qualify for a service certification and doesn’t have the training to prevent social anxiety, only to calm after it happens.

There are legal protections as service animals that extend beyond the protections for support animals. ADA service animals typically require more training and are harder to find because they’re for people with more debilitating conditions. Emotional support animals often start as pets with whom a family member who is disabled has a close bond. In contrast, the psychiatric service animal is not considered a pet but a worker. Emotional support animals typically have a greater bond, though psychiatric service dogs and other types of service animals have deep bonds with their owners.

Is A Service Dog Certified, Or Does It Need To Be Registered?

Some agencies provide certifications for both service dogs and other service animals and their handlers. Still, a certification is not required, nor is the registry for these working animals. Registered service programs are voluntary and serve a purpose, for example, for search and rescue purposes in the rare event of an evacuation need. The benefit of certification is that the service dog has been trained and has guaranteed skills and health. However, if any organization requires certification or evidence that your companion is a registered service dog or inquire about said documentation, it is an ADA violation. According to the ADA, service dogs cannot be banned from entry, and only two questions can be asked – 1) is the service dog required because of a disability? And 2) what work has the service animal or dog been trained to do? They cannot ask about the disability or to see the tasks the dogs provide performed or command the dog to demonstrate skills.

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People with service animals frequently report violations of these regulations, usually due to ignorance and not malintent. It can help carry a copy of the Americans With Disabilities Act and put the dog in a service vest, though neither is required. Remember, you can only be asked, “Is the dog a service animal?”, “Is the dog a service dog for a disability?” and “What tasks does the dog do?” This way, you can quickly point out that service dogs must be permitted entry according to the Act ADA, even if the disability is invisible such as with social anxiety.

Emotional support dogs have protections but not as many as service animals. Most of the protections are state and local or corporate; these dogs aren’t protected federally by disability access rulings. The only service animals under the ADA are dogs or miniature horses, but this is more flexible for support animals. Depending on your needs, a support dog may be as useful as a service dog for anxiety if you suffer from anxiety.

The only documentation for the dog or animal required is the medical letter stating the need for a psychiatric service dog and its vaccinations. An emotional support dog or support animal does not require paperwork unless in certain situations such as flying and may decline entry to many public locations.

What Is The Difference Between Service Dogs, Support Dogs, Therapy Dogs And Guide Dogs?

The difference between service animals and emotional support animals has been addressed, but subtle differences exist between the other types of service dogs. Therapy dogs are trained to interact with people who are not their primary handlers and often provide comfort to residents in nursing homes and hospices where they may not care for their own service dogs. Therapy dogs are particularly effective for people with anxiety and depression and may help with social anxiety.

Recall that service animals are working animals. Guide dogs are types of service animals trained to work with visually impaired people; these dogs act as their eyes, guiding them around obstacles. The guide dog is the oldest type of service dog, and these dogs are specifically trained. Service animals are working animals, not pets. They provide a service to people. Emotional support animals are vital to their owners, but they are not legally protected and are considered pets and not a type of service dog. However, service dogs and emotional support dogs can support the same person. An emotional support animal provides comfort while the service dogs are trained for medical intervention. For example, in a social anxiety situation, the support animal may provide a distraction to de-escalate while the service animal retrieves medication or guides to a safe resting place.

Another kind of service dog similar to guide dogs is the alert dog. These dogs can be trained as service animals who can alert to blood sugar problems in people with diabetes and help prevent or alert seizures in epileptic people or people with mental health problems that can cause seizures. These service dogs are specifically trained to alert to sudden onset life-threatening situations related to the owner’s disability. These are dogs whose sole function is this alert.

Types of service dogs and support animals are varied, and if a disability limits you, the assistance dog can be trained to help you. If the task you cannot complete is a task a dog can be trained to do, you can have a service dog or an animal simply for support.

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I Heard Service Dogs Aren't Available For Mental Health Disabilities. Is That True?

That is false. Service animals are available for psychiatric service as well as physical service needs. Individuals who suffer from anxiety know well that it is as disabling as a visible need. Psychiatric service dogs provide a type of service that may even be more important when you consider that people who suffer from anxiety and other mental health problems may not be able to communicate their need and observers cannot simply look at them and guess what their need may be or if they have one at all. These dogs are trained to provide vital psychiatric service, to recognize stressors and the signs that their owners are entering a crisis, they know how to alert others and seek help, and can take action to attempt to bring their owners out of the state they are entering. The type of service depends on the individual.

Can I Afford A Service Dog?

The easy answer is that if you can afford a pet in general, you may be able to find a way to afford a service dog. The dog cost may be high if you want to choose from the best dogs, a registered, certified purebred service dog who comes to you fully trained specifically for your unique healthcare needs.

Many service dogs begin as rescue pets, then support animals when you notice their unique bond and intuition with a family member, and they are trained to be service animals. You may need to find a master trainer, or you may find that your future service dogs are highly intelligent and a family member is a good trainer, and your service dogs are trained at home. In most cases, though, that is not recommended. Recall that once animals are working, they are service animals, not pets.

A service dog cost can range from almost free to tens of thousands of dollars for the best dogs, but some investment is recommended to ensure your service dog will meet your needs. Part of this is because the dog’s training takes a lot of time and attention from highly skilled trainers, and while certification isn’t required, it is available and costs more. For dogs whose sole purpose is to assist you or your loved one, you want the best you can afford, and dogs that are individually found instead of through an organization or trainer have a greater risk.

How Do I Qualify For A Service Dog?

Once again, to have service animals, there is no registration or certification required. Legally, you need a letter from a mental health professional who provides a psychiatric service stating that your mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or related condition, prevents you from completing at least one major life task without assistance to qualify for a service animal. This professional might be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a therapist, a counselor, or a social worker. Major life tasks are a daily requirement, such as cooking, cleaning, self-care, bathing, etc. A service dog can assist in completing them.

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You must command the dog independently, participate when the dog is trained, care for the dog, and financially provide for the service dog. You may feel it will be harder to prove your need for a psychiatric service dog, but you will meet the requirement with a professional’s letter. If you are unsure if you need a service dog, you can meet with therapy dogs to get an idea about service dogs.

What Can A Service Animal Do For Me?

Service dogs provide psychiatric service in a variety of ways. Consider a service dog if you suffer anxiety and depression. These dogs are trained for types of service tasks that include but aren’t limited to:

  1. Remind you to take regular medications at scheduled times
  2. Bringing your medication during an anxiety attack
  3. Fulfill the simpler tasks of assistance dogs when not in crisis
  4. Preventing an anxiety attack or performing intervention to stop an anxiety attack
  5. Predict and prevent anxiety attacks
  6. Bring you a phone during an anxiety attack
  7. Dial a phone for emergency services or a preprogrammed contact
  8. Tactile support during overstimulation when suffering from anxiety
  9. Prevent overload
  10. Guide you toward safety while experiencing social anxiety
  11. Create an excuse to leave a room if you provide a secret signal for reasons not limited to social anxiety
  12. Identify medical needs such as an anxiety attack
  13. Recognize symptoms of anxiety or depression or your particular medical condition
  14. You can take your service animals in public so that you don’t have to worry about having a health problem when away from the safety of your home.
  15. Recognize your triggers in the event you suffer PTSD during an anxiety attack.

If the trained task has the dog only doing things unrelated to your diagnosis, it is not considered a service dog. However, a psychiatric service dog provides services for a hidden illness. The service dog for anxiety has more specific skills in comparison to others.

Conclusion

A service dog’s necessity is immeasurable to a person with social anxiety or other mental and physical health needs. Service dogs are trained specifically to your needs, and the dog’s training is intense. It isn’t hard to find a service dog if you know where to start and what to expect. All you need is service animal required paperwork, which is a letter from your medical professional. A service dog or emotional support dog has guidelines under different rules and regulations. Service animals are defined differently in different contexts.

Recall that dogs and miniature horses qualify as service animals under the ADA, not just emotional support animals. They have protections as service animals and can accompany you as working animals in public or at your place of employment. Service dogs and emotional support animals provide different functions, and a guide dog is what most people are familiar with, but emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs for those who suffer from anxiety are both greatly needed; psychiatric service animals sometimes are more challenging to train than those dogs for owners with physical or unhidden disability. According to ADA service dog regulations, the service dog for anxiety and other psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained for their person’s needs. At the same time, a support animal has less training and less oversight.


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