Have you ever heard of a psychiatric service animal in support of social anxiety? We only know of service dogs that serve people with disabilities such as blindness, deafness, and paralysis. However, you would be surprised to meet a person who can walk normally but has a service dog. Perhaps you would suspect that this is not a true service dog. In fact, service dogs serve not only people with physical disabilities, including visible illnesses and invisible diseases (such as diabetes and hypertension), but also people with mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The service dog that helps people with social anxiety disorder is called a psychiatric service dog.
If you want to learn more about psychiatric service dogs and how to make your dog one, the following questions and answers may be helpful.
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When we experience a situation that makes us feel uncomfortable, nervous or shy, such as public speaking or a crowded place with many strangers, most of us can calm down after a relatively short time and adapt to the situation. However, if the stress from these situations has overwhelmed your entire consciousness, you would want to avoid any social contact that makes you feel uncomfortable, like eye contact and brief conversations. When you are in a stressful situation, you might have some physical symptoms, such as a rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, dizziness, light-headedness, stomach upset and shortness of breath. Increasingly, you find it difficult to deal with these symptoms on your own. All of these symptoms indicate that you have a social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, instead of normal anxiety. The cause is still unknown but possibly genetic.
The dogs that help people with intellectual disabilities have different definitions and requirements. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs should be trained individually to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. They are “working dogs”, not pets. The animals that provide comfort and emotional support to people with mental disorders like SAD are known as emotional support animals (ESAs), but they are not recognized as service dogs. Unlike the service dogs, ESAs are not trained in skills to assist with a disability. Generally, the owners of an ESA do not have to go to public places with their pet. In other words, if you suffer from SAD, your emotional support dog would comfort you, but will not be able to perform any special tasks.
What are the duties of psychiatric service dogs?
If you are suffering from social anxiety and are not sure whether to choose an ESA or a service dog, reading about what psychiatric service dogs can do for you might help you to decide. Here are some examples of tasks:
• Warning you of your increasing anxiety so that you can leave the situation or the place before it might overwhelm you.
• Reminding you to take medication in the prescribed time.
• Leading you to a seat or a safe place while you have a panic attack, sometimes even taking you away from the situation if necessary.
• Building a barrier between you and other people.
• Embracing you if you are dizzy or lying on the floor.
How to get a psychiatric service dog?
A psychiatric service dog helps the handler diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) by doctors or mental health professionals. That said, based on the ADA, a diagnosis of SAD is necessary to qualify for a service dog, which is the first step in getting a service dog.
The next step is to get a service dog. You should be aware that service dogs owned and trained by organisations are not provided free of charge. Therefore, costs are incurred both for the service dog as well as the long-term care of the animal for. If you are having difficulty paying for a service dog, you may consider training a dog by yourself. It is advisable to train your own domestic dog because he is familiar with your life, unlike other dogs.
The final step is to certify your service dog. Although the ADA does not mention that the dog handlers must certify the service dogs, it is necessary to have a document such as SERVICE DOG CERTIFICATION if the staff doubts that your dog is indeed a service dog when you visit a place with a “no pets” policy. To prove that your service dog is well trained, you could order your dog to perform simple tasks or show the training record.
In general, people can not compromise your privacy or ask what your disability is because it is protected by law. You do not have to worry about this.