Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the world, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older. There are many medications, remedies, and treatments available for this condition, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. The correct treatment method will depend on the exact circumstances and severity of the condition.
Although this widespread epidemic is highly treatable, only around 35% of Americans who are affected actually receive treatment. This is partly due to the fact that many feel there is a stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental or emotional disorders. Additionally, many people still struggle with the idea that mental illness is a health issue that can be corrected with medical treatment. Instead, many wrongly view depression, anxiety, and similar mental issues as personality defects that can be ignored.
However, anxiety can be very serious, and it should never be ignored. If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from anxiety, you should consult a licensed physician immediately to get a diagnosis and, if necessary, determine a treatment plan that meets your needs.
It is also important to remember that there are many options besides pharmaceutical drugs for anxiety treatment. Animal lovers who suffer from anxiety often ask if they would be eligible to have a service dog to help manage their anxiety. Thankfully, the answer is yes; you can absolutely get a service dog for a mental illness, including anxiety.
What are Service Dogs?
You may hear service dog and think that it is one of the animals that assist cops or military personnel. Dogs can be trained to do this, but these types of dogs aren’t the service dogs we are referring to. Service dogs encompass a wide array of dogs to help support those with mental illness and/or physical disabilities.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Service Animals are defined as follows:
“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Some State and local laws also define ‘service animal’ more broadly than the ADA does.”
Thanks to the ADA, service dogs are granted certain protections by law. Many of these protections relate to where you can and cannot go with a service dog, as well as which questions certain people can and cannot ask about your condition. The ADA provides the following guidelines related to location:
“Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital, it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.”
Additionally, the ADA provides the following information related to questions that landlords, hospital staff, and others can ask of you, as well as certain exceptions to the aforementioned rules:
- “When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
- Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
- A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence.
- Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
- People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
- If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.
- Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.”
Service dogs are specifically trained to help make the day-to-day life of their owner better and alleviate the burden of their condition. These animals can help with different aspects of everyday life for their owner, from retrieving hard to reach items to physically supporting a person with impaired motor skills.
Since they must provide excellent support round the clock, service dogs are truly put to the test. They have to make it through extensive training before they can officially become a service dog. This helps give individuals some peace of mind, knowing that their companion is extremely well trained and reliable.
Service dogs are typically used by individuals with hearing or visual impairments, but those suffering from depression or anxiety can also utilize these furry companions. However, not all dogs can become a service animal. The most common breeds are Labs, Golden Retrievers, and German shepherds, but they will also need to meet certain standards and undergo the proper training.
Standards and Training for Service Dogs
As stated above, service dogs must meet certain criteria to qualify. A registered service dog will need to meet the following criteria:
- Temperament – Service dogs must be well-tempered. This means that they are not quick to anger, and do not get stressed out easily. They should enjoy being touched, and not react aggressively if a patient mishandles them. While some of these behaviors can be trained, dogs will need to be inherently calm to some degree.
- Shedding – Therapy dogs should not shed excessively. Shedding can be a major problem for people with allergies, and it creates an extra mess that owners would need to clean up. Service dogs exist to brighten people’s day, not cause more problems.
- Social – Service dogs MUST be social and friendly. This is perhaps the most important requirement, as they will need to cheer people up when they need it the most. However, dogs that are overly energetic can be too rough with certain individuals (especially the elderly), so service dogs must be social, but not overly-enthusiastic.
- Adapting – Therapy dogs will need to adapt to various environments. Sometimes they may need to provide support while there is a lot of noise going on, and other times they may need to help patients in cramped living spaces. In any case, they will need to be comfortable, no matter the setting. A dog that is uncomfortable might become shy or even aggressive, which could cause unnecessary harm to their owners.
However, these are not the only criteria that service animals must meet. Once it is determined that a given animal checks all the boxes listed above, they will need to undergo training. The type of training that a service animal needs will depend on the type of service animal. Generally, there are 8 types of service dogs, each with their own required skill sets:
- Guide dog – This is a very common type of service animal, and is probably one that you have seen before. Guide dogs help those with visual impairments when they are walking around. A guide dog is trained to stop at intersections, move at the correct pace for their owner, and generally ensure that their owners do not fall or run into any barriers.
- Hearing dog – Hearing dogs help those who are either deaf or hearing impaired. A hearing dog will alert their owner if the phone rings, something falls down, someone is ringing the doorbell, if there is an intruder, and similar situations. The dogs are trained to know that barking is not an effective way to get their owner’s attention, and so they will paw or otherwise make physical contact with their owner.
- Diabetic alert dog – Thanks to the heightened sense of smell in most dogs, they can detect when a diabetic patient’s blood sugar is either too high or too low. These dogs are trained to alert their owners when a hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic episode is about to occur. They can also retrieve the necessary medicine and try to get additional help if necessary.
- Mobility assistance dog – Much like guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs help their owners get around. However, these dogs are specifically trained to assist people who cannot move freely on their own, like those in wheelchairs. Mobility assistance dogs can help open doors, retrieve hard to reach items, and get help if their owner has fallen down.
- Seizure response dog – For those with epilepsy, a seizure response dog can be a real life-saver. These dogs are trained to help their owners “wake up” from a seizure, call for help, and/or move their owner to a safe location if necessary.
- Autism support dog – Much like therapy dogs, autism support dogs help children and even some adults cope with their condition. These dogs are trained to keep a close eye on their owner, and also help boost their confidence in social situations.
- Allergy detection dog – If a person has an allergy to something specific, like peanuts, their support dog will be trained to smell it before their owner can. This way, they can alert their owner and avoid a severe allergic reaction.
- Psychiatric service dog – This is one of the broadest categories of service animals, as these dogs can help provide assistance to those with depression, PTSD, and a myriad of other mental illnesses. This is the type of service dog that is most relevant to those suffering from anxiety, and we will go into further detail about psychiatric service dogs below.
How Do Service Dogs Help Those with Anxiety?
A service dog can help individuals who have anxiety in a variety of ways. These include:
- Detecting signs of anxiety attacks before they begin.
- Retrieving water, medications, or other items that provide comfort during the attack.
- Getting someone to help if the owner is in distress.
- Warding off strangers if the owner is in distress.
- Distracting the owner during an anxiety attack to help calm them down.
- Providing physical pressure to help soothe their owner.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
There are many ways psychiatric service dogs can help people with mental disabilities like anxiety. Psychiatric service dogs can be trained to bring medication or water to their owner at the first sign of an anxiety attack. Dogs may also lead someone to their owner to help with an emotional crisis, or bring a phone during an anxiety attack in order for the owner to call their therapist or support person. Psychiatric service dogs provide love and comfort, often with tactile support such as licking their owner’s face or applying pressure to their owner’s chest or abdomen to disrupt an anxiety attack. Companionship can also help release tension and ward off a panic attack by letting the owner know that they are not alone.
How to Get a Service Dog
To get a service dog, the owner must meet several criteria. First, the owner must have a physical or mental disability that affects their day-to-day life and must be able to show that the animal can provide a service that benefits the person’s specific illness. You will need to see a physician to request the recommendation needed to apply for a psychiatric service dog. There are specific requirements in place that the individual must meet before they can bring home a furry companion.
- You must have a physical disability, specific illness, or disorder.
- You need to be present during your dog’s training.
- You must still be able to give commands and care for your dog.
- Your home environment must be stable.
- You need a recommendation letter from your healthcare provider.
- You must have the necessary finances to care for the dog.
Dog owners must be able to command and care for their service dog independently and provide a stable home environment for their animal. Often, owners are required to be a part of their service dog’s training as well.
How Much Does A Service Dog Cost
The help provided by a service dog may be invaluable to you, but the toll on your bank account may cause you to question if it is really necessary.
Service dogs are expensive because of the training that is involved to get them ready to care for their owner. Training could cost anywhere between $30-$40,000. On top of this cost, you have costs of food, grooming and veterinary visits each year. Some organizations will help individuals receive service dogs at little to no cost through fundraising. So, if cost is an issue for you, you aren’t immediately ruled out.
Service dogs can change your life and it is only fitting that every individual in need can have access to this opportunity.
Can Your Dog Become My Service Animal
You may already have a dog and think that you can put it through training to become your service animal, but this isn’t how it works. Dogs that have already been trained as pets can’t be trained as service animals.
What If You Don’t Qualify For A Service Dog
Some individuals may greatly benefit from having a trained animal companion, but they may not meet the specific requirements for a service dog.
These individuals aren’t out of luck. They still have the possibility of being able to obtain an emotional support dog. Those with anxiety are typically given the go-ahead for these animals. In most cases, all that is needed to obtain an emotional support dog is a letter from your medical professional. It may sound silly, but this letter is literally a prescription for an emotional support dog. This way, you can show that your animal is a necessity for your mental well being.
Emotional Support Animals
Emotional support animals are a great option for people who suffer from a milder form of anxiety and may not need the level of support a psychiatric service dog provides. Emotional support animals are easier to obtain and more cost-efficient than service dogs.
Unlike service animals, which are strictly limited to dogs, there are many animals that can be considered emotional support animals, including dogs, cats, horses, pigs, and even hamsters. However, service dogs are covered under more laws than emotional support animals, meaning that service dogs can access certain buildings and areas that emotional support animals cannot.
Additionally, emotional support animals undergo less intensive training, and existing pets can often be trained as emotional support animals. The main role of these animals is to provide emotional support and comfort throughout the day and in times of distress. Pet owners also need a letter from a physician to have an emotional support animal.
If you suffer from anxiety or another mental illness, a psychiatric service dog may be the right treatment for you. Whether your anxiety is debilitating and something that hinders your everyday life, or you have a more mild disability, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to discuss the possible treatment options that could be right for you.
Acquiring A Service Dog For Anxiety
There are significant benefits to having a service dog if you suffer from anxiety. If you are looking for a way to feel a bit more independent, a service dog is a major step in the right direction. Additionally, service dogs can perform vital tasks such as retrieving items, alerting others in the event of an emergency, and perhaps most importantly, providing companionship and emotional support.
That said, not everyone who has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder will qualify for a service dog. You will first need to consult with a physician who is familiar with your condition to determine if a service dog is the right treatment option for you. If not, you might also consider an emotional support animal, as they can provide similar assistance, without the high costs and training process.
If you and your doctor agree that a service dog or emotional support animal could benefit you and help alleviate some of the suffering caused by your anxiety, then you can continue the process of obtaining your animal. That’s where we come in. The experts at usserviceanimals.org know how much a service dog or ESA can mean to someone in need. Additionally, we understand the legal process that you must go through to qualify for one of these animals, and we can help you every step of the way. To learn more about qualifying for a service dog or emotional support animal, or if you simply have questions about how these animals can benefit you or a loved one, feel free to contact us directly at this link.