Psychiatric service dogs are specially trained animals that offer assistance to those with mental health conditions. Unlike emotional support animals, they are recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
There are some key differences between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals. The primary distinction is that service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that directly assist their handler with their disability. In contrast, emotional support animals provide comfort and companionship but are not trained to perform specific tasks.
Psychiatric service dogs undergo extensive training that can last up to two years. This includes obedience training, socialization, and specialty task training. Some of the tasks these dogs are trained to perform include:
Alerting their handler when they sense the onset of a psychiatric episode, such as a panic attack or anxiety attack
Providing grounding and reality checks during episodes, such as interrupting repetitive behaviors or nudging their handler to focus on their surroundings
Retrieving medication or emergency supplies on command
Assisting with mobility and balance, such as helping their handler stand up from a seated position
It’s important to note that psychiatric service dogs are not pets, but rather highly trained working animals. They are granted legal protections under the ADA, including the right to accompany their handler in public places, such as restaurants, stores, and hotels, as long as they are well-behaved and under control.