Emotional Support Dogs for Depression and Anxiety: How They Can Help

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Each year, millions of people are affected by them. While there are many treatments available, such as medication and therapy, some people find that they also need the support of an emotional support dog. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, and emotional support dog may be able to help you get your life back on track.

Recent studies have found that assistance animals and therapy dogs provide significant relief for people with various conditions, anxiety, and depression.

If you are in this position, here is what you should know about getting a service dog for anxiety or depression. A service dog can help with these mental health conditions by doing different things like providing emotional support or helping with tasks. The costs of getting a service dog can vary depending on the organization you get it from, but it is typically not very expensive.

The Right Type of Service Dog

Are dogs that help relieve anxiety and depression in people considered psychiatric service dogs or emotional support animals? If you’re unsure about the distinctive features between these two types of service dogs, read this explanation before continuing further.

There’s a difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs when it comes to anxiety and depression. Psychiatric service dogs help their handler/owner relieve their symptoms, while emotional support dogs provide comfort.

The type of assistance dog you need depends on how much your anxiety or depression affects your daily life.

There are two types of service animals that can help people with mental conditions: psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs. We will explain below how each kind of animal can help you, as well as everything else you need to know about them.

The Psychiatric Service Dog

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) says that a service animal is a dog that is specially trained to help people with disabilities. The task or activity the dog has been particularly trained to do must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Here’s an excellent example to help you understand this:

Some people suffering from extreme anxiety or depression may find it hard to leave their homes. This could be for things as simple as picking up medication that helps to mediate their anxiety or depression symptoms.

A psychiatric service dog can help its handler feel safe in public places. The dog will create a buffer between the handler and other people, which will help to calm them down. This is especially important because it can allow the handler to pick up their medication.

Depression or Anxiety Qualify as a Disability

Not everyone with depression or anxiety can get a service dog to help them feel better. You need to understand if you qualify for a service dog and what the process is.

When is anxiety or depression considered to be a disability?

The ADA (American Disability Act) defines a disabling illness as an illness that limits one or more significant life activities, such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, learning, etc.

If you don’t have any health problems that stop you from doing things, then you don’t qualify for a service animal.

For example, the person we mentioned earlier who cannot leave their home because of their anxiety would be considered “disabled” because they cannot do things that most people can do.

However, a person who experiences mild anxiety levels, such as having a heightened level of worry about what others are thinking about them, is not considered disabled.

The former individual was not able to leave home, which made it difficult for them to live their daily life. The individual with mild anxiety may feel uncomfortable leaving home to pick up medication.

However, some people with anxiety can still live a full life. This is because their level of anxiety does not stop them from doing everything they want to do.

That’s not to say that a psychiatric service dog wouldn’t provide comfort to the individual with mild anxiety symptoms – they probably would; however, in such a case, a service dog is not considered to be as important as it would be for someone with more severe anxiety issues.

Psychiatric Service Dog Aid Relieving Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Service dogs are becoming more popular for people with mental conditions. There are many great success stories of how these dogs have helped people.

Psychiatric service dogs can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety or depression in people in different ways, including:

  • Bring medicine or water so your pet may take medication.
  • Fetching can help during a dissociative episode or crisis.
  • When someone’s having an anxiety attack, it can be helpful to lay on top of them and provide physical comfort.
  • They are detecting anxiety attacks before they start.
  • If someone is severely depressed, it is essential to remind them to get out of bed and take their medication.
  • If you are in a crisis, having a phone call for help is helpful. You can use a regular phone or an adapted phone device to ask for help.

Getting a Psychiatric Service Dog for Anxiety or Depression

There are two ways to get a psychiatric service dog. One way is to get it from a service dog organization. The other way is to train the dog yourself.

It’s important to take note that training your own service dog can be hard. It’s more complicated than regular dog training. Also, this training can serve as a regular exercise for your dog.

Here are two options you should consider.

Obtain a Service Dog Through a Service Dog Program

Service dog programs train dogs for obedience, service work, and socialization. The dogs are then matched with someone who needs an assistance animal.

The training’s not over yet, because the dogs need to go through another set of activities that is specialized for their handler’s needs.

Service dogs that have been trained through service dog programs may come from a reputable breeder who is owned by the service dog program, from other third-party reputable breeders, or, in some rare instances, from shelters or rescues.

In order to acquire a psychiatric service dog from a training program, you will need to meet some requirements. The requirements vary depending on the program you apply to.

An excellent example of some standard requirements can be found on the eligibility policy from Canine Partners for Life, and they include:

  • You should be physically able to control, manage and care for a large dog weighing 50 – 100 pounds. You should also have a good support system in place.
  • You need to learn how to communicate with dogs so that they understand you.
  • The financial ability to provide for a dog’s daily care, routine, and emergency veterinary needs.
  • A lifestyle that a canine would provide would significantly enhance independence.
  • The willingness to ask for help and advice from other people who have already graduated from college.
  • Understanding your disability and what you can do.
  • The motivation to be as independent as possible.
  • The ability to learn new things in a group setting, usually consisting of 12 – 16 people.
  • An applicant medical details form.
  • All graduates should attend “team training” classes to get a service dog.
  • You must attend graduate support classes as required.

Cost of a Psychiatric Service Dog Through a Professional Training Program

The cost of a psychiatric service dog varies depending on the organization you get it from. Generally, the cost ranges from $20,000 to $30,000. This is a lot of money, but it can be worth it for people with anxiety or depression.

This high price reflects the effort, time, resources, and amount of work to raise and train an assistance dog. The dog will be specialized for you specifically and is essential “custom-tailored” for your condition and lifestyle.

This may look like a lot of money, but programs actually often spend much more than this to train a dog. This includes boarding for a dog and providing vet care.

Training Your Own Service Dog

It’s possible to save money by training your own service dog. However, this is a difficult task that takes a lot of time and effort. It is essential to meet all the requirements that professional training programs have.

If you wish to train your own service dog, it will take a lot of hard work and time. You will need to be very disciplined and dedicated.

Another benefit of training your own service dog is that you don’t have to wait a long time to get one. Many professional service dog organizations have long waiting lists of people who want one.

But people with depression and/or anxiety may not be able to do the training needed for a service dog.

Type of Dog Breeds Can Be a Psychiatric Service Dog

Some dogs are suitable for service dog work for people with depression or anxiety because they have specific characteristics.

Some breeds of dogs are more prone to have the characteristics needed for service work.

When considering if an animal is fit for service dog work, it is essential to ask the following questions:

  • Is the dog people-centered?
  • Can they carry out the tasks that are needed of them to help their owner?
  • Do they have a desire to please?
  • Are they trainable?
  • Do they have a high frustration threshold?
  • Do they get easily distracted?
  • Are they already in their senior years? (senior dogs usually experience the physical toll of age that could influence their ability to perform tasks. A credible training program will not invest the money into training a dog that will only provide service for a short period.)
  • Is this dog free from various signs of personality flaws that might impact their ability to perform their job?
  • Are they easily distracted by excessive drive or energy?
  • Are they free from the various signs of genetic or physical illness that would impact their ability to perform their job?
  • Are they loud, reactive, or timid when encountering unfamiliar or overwhelming situations?

The key is to assess each dog’s individual abilities, rather than just targeting specific breeds of dogs as being capable or incapable of providing service.

Even though some dogs might be suitable for this purpose, a chihuahua would not be a good choice for a service dog.

Cost of Training Your Psychiatric Service Dog

Training your psychiatric service dog can be expensive, depending on how you go about it and how much help you need. Generally, it could cost from a few thousand dollars to $20,000.

This figure heavily depends on the particular dog you select. Dogs that have already experienced serving as pet dogs are not generally well suited for service dog work. So, if you want a service dog, you’ll more than likely wish to select and adopt a puppy with the express purpose of training it to be a service dog.

You will want to find a healthy and psychologically stable dog to work with. The best way to do this is by getting a dog from a breeder. Once you have the dog, you will need to invest in training. This will begin with teaching the basics, like obedience, and then move on to more specialized skills that are specific to your needs.

Outfitting a Service Dog

People often think that a service dog needs to have some kind of special marking, like a vest or harness. This is not true. There is no requirement for your service animal to have any type of identification.

Even though you may not need a service dog vest, you can still get one to make yourself more visible. The vest will also help people know that your dog is a service dog. You might also want to get other supplies that will help you better control your dog or that will help your dog assist you better.

Service Dog Licensing or Prescription Requirements

You don’t need a doctor’s prescription to have a psychiatric service dog. However, if you get your service dog from an organization, they may ask how a service dog would improve your life. This information will help them to find the right canine for their particular needs.

There’s no requirement for a service dog to be licensed or registered with any particular agency.

It is discouraged to use “licensing services” because they are a scam, and people use them to get away with having fake service animals.

This means that business owners are taught to expect service animals to have certification, which makes it much more difficult for legitimate service dog handlers.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently remarked that:

There are people and organizations that sell documents online that say a dog is a service animal. The Department of Justice says these documents don’t mean anything and that the dog has no rights under the ADA.

Legal Protections of Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are protected by laws that make it illegal to discriminate against them. The three laws that protect service dogs are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), as well as the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The Emotional Support Dog

Now let’s adopt emotional support dogs to help people with anxiety or depression. These dogs are a little different from psychiatric service dogs, but there are many things that are the same.

ESAs, or emotional support animals, can be helpful for people with specific mental health conditions. They can be seen as a second tier of assistance dogs in some ways.

People with mental health conditions may find comfort in having an emotional support dog. These dogs cannot do specific tasks like psychiatric service dogs, but they can provide comfort just by being around their owner.

Qualifying for an Emotional Support Dog

You will need a doctor’s prescription in order to officially adopt an ESA and for a dog to be treated like an assistance dog.

In order to have an emotional support animal, you must have a mental illness and be given a prescription for an ESA by a doctor.

Emotional Support Dog for Anxiety or Depression

If you want to look for a dog that can provide emotional support but doesn’t require the particular assistance that psychiatric service dogs can provide, then look for rescue organizations or breeders who make a note of these dogs.

Sometimes, people mark a dog as an ESA when they adopt it or when they get the dog from a breeder.

But if it isn’t, try to contact the rescue or breeder and ask if they have a dog that would be a good fit for your needs.

What Makes a Good Emotional Support Animal?

The primary purpose of getting an emotional support animal is to provide comfort.

The animal in question needs to be good at providing comfort to its handler.

You need to consider several factors when deciding if a specific dog is right for you as an emotional support animal. These factors include:

  • If you’re limited in your physical activity, if you reside in a tiny home, or if you’re looking forward to taking your ESA on flights with you, the size of your emotional support animal may be a concern.
  • You need to be patient when you’re selling a home. You also need to be patient with other people. And you need to be kind to animals.
  • Overall, it is essential to take your dog’s health into consideration as it may limit their ability to provide emotional support.

Emotional Support Dog Help Relieve Depression or Anxiety: How it Works?

Psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained to help people with mental health conditions. However, emotional support animals provide comfort to their owner by just being there. This can be really helpful for people who have depression or anxiety.

Some ways that service dogs help people include:

  • A “listening ear” for anxious and depressed individuals.
  • Physical closeness and affection for depressed individuals.
  • Calming tactile sensation to relieve anxiety.
  • Providing a reason to stand up and be active, i.e., walking the dog, feeding the dog, etc., for severely depressed individuals.

Emotional Support Dog Licensing or Prescription Requirements

As with psychiatric service dogs, individual organizations have no official licensing of emotional support dogs. However, as mentioned earlier, a person requiring an emotional support dog and using ESA’s services legally should have a prescription from a doctor. The doctor should believe that the pet will be of benefit to the patient’s mental health.

Legal Protections of Emotional Support Dogs

Another difference between psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs is that emotional support dogs aren’t provided for as stated with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

However, they are also protected by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Act.

To learn more about how to take care of your dogs, click here.

Man with disability with his service dog using electric wheelchair.

Frequently Asked Questions about Emotional Support Dogs For Depression and Anxiety

Can people with depression get an emotional support dog?

Emotional support animals can significantly help people suffering from mental illness. Pets can help keep a person grounded during a panic attack, give someone a sense of purpose, reduce social anxiety, and provide comfort.

What is the best emotional support animal for depression?

Labrador and golden retriever breeds are some of the most common emotional support animals. These breeds are known for being social and playful. Other breeds, such as German shepherds or smaller dogs like chihuahuas, are also often registered as emotional support animals.

How do emotional support dogs help with anxiety and depression?

An emotional support animal doesn’t need to be trained to do specific things, but it can help people who have anxiety. Some ways that an ESA dog can help are by being a calming presence, cuddling with the person, and distracting them from anxious thoughts.

What pets help with anxiety?

Rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, horses, and even crickets have been shown to help people reduce their anxiety and stress. Pets, including dogs and cats, have been traditionally known to help reduce anxiety symptoms, but now science has shown that having a family pet can also help.

How do I get a service dog?

If you’re struggling with an emotional or psychiatric disorder and need help, you can get a service animal. You just need to get a letter from your doctor that says this is true.

How bad does your anxiety have to be to get a service dog?

People who have a physical disability or a debilitating psychiatric condition may be able to get a service dog from a specialist organization. The organization may require that the person has: A doctor’s recommendation letter or a licensed mental health professional’s recommendation letter.

What’s the difference between a service dog an emotional support dog?

Emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA. They may be trained to help a specific person, but they are not explicitly trained to do tasks to help people with disabilities like service dogs are.

Are Pitbulls good emotional support dogs?

Pit Bulls can be significant emotional support dogs. If they do not cause any damage and are well-behaved, your landlord must accept them as an ESA. An emotional support animal must be under your control at all times.

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