Everything You Need to Know About Service Dogs for Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Psychiatric Reasons

Published Categorized as Service Dogs

Can you get a service dog for anxiety, depression, PTSD, psychiatric reasons?


Anxiety, depression, PTSD, psychiatric service dogs can help people in many ways

If you are confused about what an anxiety/depression/PTSD or psychiatric service dog is or can do, how to get one, or if you just want to learn more, you have come to the right place. An anxiety dog can help a person in so many different ways. Due to the wide variety and nature of different health conditions, there are different types of dogs that can help.

First, let’s be clear about the different types of dogs available.

For some reason, there are just so many different types of dogs that people can find useful for so many different types of conditions, that it has become confusing to sort it all out. Dogs are such wonderful helpers for us, so I don’t mean to make this sound like a bad thing. However, it’s important to understand the different types of dogs and what rights each may or may not have.

Definitions of a Service Animal


ADA Definition of a Service Animal

Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

Fair Housing Act Definition of a Service Animal

An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasksfor the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the Fair Housing Act nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.

Service Animal as defined by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal is any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability; or any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.  Documentation may be required of passengers needing to travel with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal.

Three Definitions of Service Dog

The ADA provides just one of the important definitions of a service animal. There are others, and you should realize they are very different, depending on whether you need to know about public access rights, housing rights, or air travelling with your dog. Check it out here:

Three definitions of a service animal

Definition of a Therapy Dog


A Therapy Dog is not considered a Service Dog under the ADA. This dog does not have public access rights under the ADA. This is basically someone’s pet. It has been tested for temperament and possibly trained to be well behaved, and may belong or be registered with a therapy dog organization.

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The purpose of a therapy dog is basically to comfort many different people in many different settings such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes or other institutions.

The dog shows up with its owner, who is usually acting as a volunteer. They take the dog around, and people can then pet and interact with the dog; this can help people with emotional support.

In addition, this helps people especially in a hospital setting to feel less isolated. After a while, the volunteer goes home with his/her pet and carries on with their day. This is the extent of therapy dogs.

Since a therapy dog is a pet, it does not have the same rights as Service Dogs under the ADA, nor for housing or flying situations.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) do not assist people with everyday tasks, but they can provide people with emotional comfort just by their presence, which can help improve the symptoms of certain psychological conditions or disorders.


Emotional Support Animals do not have the same rights as Service Dogs under the ADA, but they are allowed on planes and in a housing situation that would not normally allow pets; as an emotional support animal is not considered a pet.

Emotional support animals are not considered Service Animals under the ADA :

These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person.  Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

However, Emotional Support Animals are defined differently under the Fair Housing Act

An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Smiley faces

Once a dog can perform a specific task for a specific individual, and the task helps to mitigate the disability – whether it be a physical disability or an invisible disability or condition such as a mental health problem – the dog is considered a legitimate service animal under the ADA and for fair housing and air travel laws as well.

So, the type of dog that performs a specific task, that he has been trained to do, to help people with specific mental problems or psychiatric conditions, is now considered a Psychiatric Service Dog, and no longer an Emotional Support Animal. (The difference being that Emotional Support Animals do not perform specific tasks; they merely help people just with their presence alone).

Psychiatric Service Dogs can help with many problems including:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Severe Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

They can:

  • Wake up a person
  • Assist in a medical crisis
  • Provide treatment related assistance
  • Perform security enhancement tasks
  • Provide tactile stimulation
  • Facilitate social interactions
  • Reduce fears associated with being around people
  • Help a person cope with being in a crowd
  • Help the person calm down when agitated
  • Wake up a person having nightmares
  • Grounding a person dealing with fears and anxiety and helping him/her get back to the present
  • Help create a safe personal space
  • Get medication and water when the person cannot
  • Get help
  • Provide balance assistance
  • Remind a person to take medication
  • Assistance with emotional overload
  • Recognize the early signs of a panic attack before you
  • They can give deep pressure therapy for calming you
  • Lead you out of a building
  • They can alert a loved one for you
  • They can find and bring you your phone

Flying With Your Psychiatric Service Dog


Can you fly with your Psychiatric service dog?


While flying, you are covered under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and not longer the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) – although while in the airport, generally you are covered by the ADA; (various laws can affect access in Airports)

If you are a passenger flying with your service dog that is exclusively used for your psychiatric disability, you could be required to provide a letter from your licensed mental health professional, that says you have a disability and that you require the assistance of the animal during the flight, or at the destination.

A similar letter can also be required of passengers who are traveling with an emotional support animal.

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations – Required Details of the Letter Here

Do you need a letter to be accompanied by your psychiatric service dog?

By law, you don’t need your doctor’s letter when you go out in public places with your psychiatric service dog. However, you may need to produce your letter for certain situations for flying, housing, and the workplace.

It’s also good to keep your doctor’s letter on file in case you need to go to court, as proof that your doctor has been supportive.

What kind of dog would be the perfect service dog for you?

This is no easy decision, and you should definitely take your time with this! This article can help :

Important Steps to Becoming a Service Dog User

In order to become a service dog user, there is a lot to consider.

You must have a disability in order to have service dog. This is a major and life-limiting condition. You can talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure if you have a disability. And you can talk about what specific task a dog might be able to do to assist you with your disability.

Qualified Disabilities for a Service Dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Is a Service Dog for You?

Consider as well the pros and cons of having a service dog in your life. This should not be rushed into and should be considered very carefully, as service dogs aren’t for everyone. You can talk with other service dog owners to get an idea of what it would be like.

Get him checked out

Not just any dog can become a good service dog. If you already have a dog that you’d like to train to become a service dog, it’s important to get him temperament-tested to check whether he’d be a good candidate or not. Some signs that he wouldn’t are things such as signs of aggression towards other animals or towards humans. This is just not Okay. You can talk to a vet or a trainer to make sure that your dog would be able to do the tasks you would need him to.

It’s important too to also get your dog examined by a vet to make sure he is healthy and in good shape to be able to do the tasks that you need him to do.  Some dogs are prone to hip problems and other health issues, and it’s better to find those out earlier rather than later.

Practice with your dog some basic obedience at home and at some local shops, parks and other dog-friendly places. You need to work on the socialization of the dog to ensure he is comfortable with people of all kinds, different colours, shapes and sizes as well as comfortable with other animals.  You should always keep a training log of how your dog is doing, what you’ve been doing together and some details about his degree of obedience and assistance behaviours.

Canine Good Citizen Test

Once your dog can pass the Canine Good Citizen test, it’s time to visit public places with your dog again with his “in training” vest/patch.

  • Test 1: Accepting a Friendly Stranger. The dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach and speak to the handler (the dog owner) in a natural, everyday situation.
  • Test 2: Sit Politely for Petting.  The dog will allow a friendly stranger to pet it while it is out with the handler.
  • Test 3: Appearance and Grooming. The dog will permit someone to check its ears and front feet, as a groomer or veterinarian would do.
  • Test 4: Out for a Walk (walking on a loose lead). Following the evaluator’s instructions, the dog will walk on a loose lead (with the handler/owner).
  • Test 5: Walking Through a Crowd. The dog will walk through a small crowd of pedestrians, passing in close proximity to at least three people.
  • Test 6: Sit and Down on Command and Stay in Place. The dog must demonstrate sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay.
  • Test 7: Coming When Called.  The dog will come when called by the handler (from 10 feet away on leash).
  • Test 8: Reaction to Another Dog. The dog will behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries.
  • Test 9: Reaction to Distractions. The evaluator will select and present two distractions such as dropping a chair, etc.
  • Test 10: Supervised Separation. This test demonstrates that your dog can be left with a trusted person. The evaluator will hold your dog’s leash while you go out of sight for three minutes.

Public Access Rights for Dog-in-Training

Check out your state laws to determine public access rights for your dog in training. Gradually you should visit more and more public places and slowly increase the difficulty of the environments. Aim for the public access standard.

You can use the Animal Law Resource Center’s search tool

Public Access Standards

 public access standard

Public Access Test

Take a public access test with your dog and preferably have someone video tape it. You can get a friend to give the test if you don’t have a trainer. This video would be very useful in the event you ever had to go to court. If you’re unable to get a video, at least try to obtain a letter from a trainer saying your dog has completed the test.

By Sam Nelson

Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.