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How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog: 6 Simple Steps

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By Misty Layne

black poodle service dog

Canines bring a lot of joy to our lives, but they don’t just make excellent pets. It turns out that they help us in several ways without us even knowing. In fact, studies have shown those with mental health conditions often benefit significantly from having dogs and other pets around!1

If you’re dealing with a mental health condition, you might have considered getting a psychiatric service dog (PSD) to help out. These canines are specifically trained to aid those with mental illness and can be lifesavers. But how do you go about getting a psychiatric service dog?

Below you’ll find all the steps to obtaining one of these service animals. With this guide, you’ll know exactly what to do should you decide on getting a PSD!

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Psychiatric Service Dog vs Emotional Support Animal

You’ve probably heard both the terms “psychiatric service dog” and “emotional support animal” before, but are these the same thing? They are not!

A psychiatric service dog is a service animal, meaning it is allowed in public spaces and is specifically trained to do certain things for its owner. But an emotional support animal is not recognized as a service animal and is not trained to perform tasks, so they do not have the same rights as a psychiatric service dog. So, be sure you’re applying for the correct type of animal!

A white service dog with a woman in wheelchair
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

The 6 Steps to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog

Here are the six steps you’ll need to take to acquire a PSD. The process isn’t very complicated, but it could take a bit of time to get through.

1. Speak with a mental health professional.

If you’re living with mental illness, you might already have a mental health professional you’re working with. In that case, you can speak with them about getting a psychiatric service dog because a mental health diagnosis must be given to obtain one of these canines. If you do not already have a mental health professional, you’ll need to seek one out and make an appointment.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),2 the following diagnoses qualify for a psychiatric service dog:3 autism, anxiety disorders, ADHD, addiction/substance abuse/alcoholism, bipolar disorder, depression and depressive disorders, dissociative and personality disorders, neurocognitive and sleep-wave disorders, OCD, PTSD/trauma/stress-related disorders, and schizophrenia and psychotic disorders.

2. Get a letter from your mental health professional.

The mental health professional will give you a letter with your diagnosis that states a PSD would be beneficial for you. You should receive both an electronic and physical copy of the letter.

handing out insurance documents
Image Credit: RODNAE Productions, Pexels

3. Begin your search for a PSD.

This is where you’ll need to do your research! The dog breed is the first thing to consider when looking for a PSD; some dog breeds are great at being PSDs, while others are not. A few breeds that work well as PSDs include:

  • Border Collies
  • Poodles
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers

4. Figure out where you’ll get your PSD.

You can adopt via your local shelter or buy a dog from an organization that trains PSDs. However, if you get your dog via an organization, you’ll be paying a ton more money (thousands of dollars!).

Young woman with worker choosing which dog to adopt from a shelter
Image Credit: hedgehog94, Shutterstock

5. Train your PSD.

You can skip this step if you have a dog from a PSD training organization. However, if you adopted a dog from a shelter, you’ll need to begin training them on the tasks you need help with. It’s recommended you train your PSD yourself, as it aids in forming a solid bond between you and your dog. But if you need some help, you can find a PSD trainer to take over the training.

6. Read up on the laws surrounding service animals.

Service animals are allowed in many places that pets usually are not, such as theaters and restaurants, but you should check the ADA’s website for the exact places you can bring your pet. Also, check on what owners of establishments are allowed to ask you about your service dog. Knowing the legalities goes a long way in preventing misunderstandings!

Pretty girl is reading book with shiba inu puppy
Image By: Silverkblackstock, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Obtaining a psychiatric service dog isn’t too difficult. The most challenging parts will likely be finding a mental health professional and training your new helper. But the process of getting a PSD isn’t complicated at all. It just takes a bit of time to get through. It will be worth it when you have your new PSD to aid you, though!

Featured Image Credit: grandbrothers, Shutterstock

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