There has been much controversy around service animals for some time now, especially Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs). There are still many people who confuse PSDs with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) or are not completely aware of what the difference between these types is and what PSDs actually do.
Psychiatric Service Dogs are invaluable assets for many people with mental and emotional impairments, as they greatly improve their quality of life.
How easy it is for a dog to become a Psychiatric Service Dog and who can have one, are questions whose answers concern a lot of people.
Psychiatric Service Dogs are dogs who have been individually trained to do specific work, that is directly related to an individual’s mental disability.
This work mitigates the symptoms of the impairment and makes it easier for a person to face everyday challenges. PSDs are a type of service animal and not just companion animals.
The tasks may vary based on the owner’s needs, but the most common ones are:
-Deep Pressure Therapy;
-Disrupting harmful behaviors;
-Guiding the individual to a safe place;
-Grounding the person (bringing them back to reality when they are having an episode);
-Bringing items such as medication, beverages, keys, phone...etc.;
-Helping the person keep balance (usually when there are side effects of medication);
-Playing the role of a buffer in crowded places.
There is a variety of tasks that PSDs can be trained to perform. The individual can adapt these to their needs.
Since PSDs are deemed service animals, they are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and they have access rights to places free to use by the general public.
These include restaurants, grocery stores, hotels...etc., and other public areas, where otherwise pets can be prohibited.
However, service animals do not have limitless access to all types of places.
There are still limitations for service dogs, i.e. when it comes to facilities where food is prepared, to religious institutions or to hotels, gyms, fitness centers, or municipalities with swimming pools.
The ADA does not override public health regulations. Also, service animals may be excluded from the premise, if they are not under control or behave disruptively.
Unlike Emotional Support Animals, Psychiatric Service Dogs have the right to fly in the passenger cabin free of charge. However, there are many factors to consider prior to traveling with a service animal.
Service dog owners need to check what documentation will be required (health certificate, training certificate, vaccination records, microchip number..etc.), as some airlines specifically require service animals to have
been trained via a recognized organization or by an accredited local school to be accepted in the passenger cabin.
Also, your service dog must be able to fit under the seat in front of you, which makes it challenging for dogs of larger breeds. In most cases, a person is allowed to bring up to 2 service animals.
In this case, however, they must be able to explain what tasks the two dogs perform for them to help them in their daily life.
Last but not least, you need to check the laws in the country of destination and countries where there will be connecting flights, to make sure that your service dog meets all the criteria to be accepted.
As you can see, there are many aspects that should be taken into account.
A person must deal with a mental disability, that substantially limits one or more major activities. Common mental impairments are:
-Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
A person should have gone through medical evaluation with a licensed health professional and have been prescribed a PSD as a part of their treatment. This letter issued by a medical professional proves that the individual actually needs the dog to mitigate their symptoms.
It is important to distinguish an ESA letter from a PSD letter, as ESAs provide companionship and comfort, but do not do specific work.
If a licensed mental health professional confirms that you will benefit from the extended support and specific tasks that a PSD performs, you can turn your ESA into a PSD.
Generally speaking-yes, you can. However, certain requirements must be met for your dog to become a PSD.
1. You must qualify for a service animal;
2. Your dog must be properly socialized;
3. Your dog must go through basic obedience training including Public Access Test;
4. Your dog must go through advanced service dog training to perform tasks directly related to a disability.
We have already covered the first point in the article above-you need to have been consulted by a mental health professional and prescribed the service animal as part of the treatment.
Dogs must be socialized while still young, to be able to cohabit with other animals and people.
Exploring their environment, learning how to interact with the other members of society, as well as knowing their own boundaries are essential for the proper integration of dogs into our world.
The third requirement implies that your dog must be able to fulfill basic obedience commands and remain calm as needed. Common basic obedience commands for service dogs are:
Sit, Stand, Stay, Come, Down, Name, Leave it, Go to Your Spot, Heel, Walking on a loose leash.
Of course, owners can extend this list, based on their preferences and needs.
Public Access Test is also included in service dog training, as canines must show good manners in various public settings. They need to behave well, listen to their owner, remain focused on them, and ignore distractions in the surroundings. The Public Access Test ensures that the service dog is well-mannered and can be trusted by the general public.
Once your canine knows basic obedience, you can start teaching him/her more advanced tasks. These tasks are specifically related to your disability, hence, they may be different for every person.
Service dog owners may be asked by employees to answer two questions:
1. Is this a service dog due to a disability;
2. What tasks the dog has been trained to do,
It is important for owners to be able to explain what tasks their dog performs for them.
Depending on where you are based, you may or may not be allowed to train your own service dog, including a PSD. We want to clarify that we refer to the public access rights your dog will have in case you have trained him/her yourself. Of course, you can always conduct training yourself, however, whether it will be recognized as sufficient in your country, depends on the local laws. The law in countries such as the US and the UK, allows dog owners to train their beloved paw friends as service animals. This is valid for some Canadian provinces like Ontario as well. However, owners should always double-check the local laws to ensure that their owner-trained service dogs will be allowed in public areas.
You may need to go through professional training with a member of an international organization like ADI or an accredited local school that offers in-person training.
A good option for you might be to take an online course, that offers theoretical and practical lessons and where you will be supported by a professional tutor online.
This variant will ensure that you will adapt the training to your needs but will not be alone on the way and will receive constant guidance.
Dogs should possess certain qualities to become good service animals. Such traits are:
Trainability, a friendly personality, a calm demeanor, intelligence, a strong bond with the owner, the ability to get along with animals and people, and tolerance to physical contact.
Dogs who show a tendency to be anxious or fearful, as well as dogs who are too stubborn, independent, or intolerant to petting/touching, are not likely to become good service dogs.
This does not mean that you should give up on training your paw friend if he/she has some mild behavioral issues, but that some dogs have the right temperament for this type of work.