Service Dogs for Depression: What You Need to Know

Whether an individual has a physical, mental, or medical disability, service dogs can provide symptom relief and assistance through strict training regimes targeting certain needs.

The tasks that service dogs can complete for individuals may make it easier for the person to maintain a high quality of life and achieve daily tasks without as much stress. Service dogs can even help certain individuals maintain and overcome the symptoms associated with depression, which can be crippling when not treated properly.

A service dog for depression can provide emotional support and comfort to individuals experiencing depression. They are trained to perform specific tasks that can help alleviate symptoms of depression, such as providing physical contact, reminding their owner to take medication, and interrupting self-harming behaviors.

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of service dogs and how they may assist an individual who is diagnosed with depression. We will also talk a little bit about obtaining a service dog and the things that you should keep in mind when you are looking to adopt a service dog as part of the treatment process for depression. Read on to learn everything you need to know.

Are Service Dogs Able to Help With Depression?

Service dogs that are trained to treat mental health conditions are referred to as psychiatric service dogs (PSDs). These pups are trained to help relieve the symptoms of disorders such as PTSD, OCD, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.

It is important to note that a psychiatric service dog differs from both emotional support animals, mobility assistance dogs, and medical service animals because they are trained to help with specific mental health conditions.

Below, we will give you more information on the differences between these support animal types.

  • Psychiatric service dogs – These are trained to help with mental health conditions. They may also provide comfort and routine to those that need it to help relieve their mental health symptoms.
  • Mobility assistance dogs – These are dogs trained to guide the blind or otherwise support those with mobility-centered disabilities. Their tasks include fetching items, turning off lights, and providing physical support.
  • Medical service dogs – These are trained to alert their owners with certain medical conditions, such as seizures, diabetes, or blood pressure conditions. They are trained to bring their owners medications, alert to oncoming medical issues, or fetch emergency help, among other things.
  • Emotional support animals – These dogs are not trained to perform specific tasks. Instead, they offer comfort and companionship to those who may suffer from symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, or autism.

When it comes to depression, both a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal may help provide comfort and specific symptom relief.

However, only a service dog can provide their owner assistance with specific tasks (we discuss this in more detail below) and will be granted public access rights according to the ADA.

Emotional support animals aren’t granted public access, but they are provided with protections in living spaces. You can read more about this here.

Tasks That a Service Dog May Help You With

Psychiatric service dogs are trained to help their owners with a number of different tasks. These tasks can include important daily items or emergency actions that they can use to help out their owner when they are otherwise incapacitated.

Below, we give you an idea of some of the many important tasks service dogs perform to help with depression.

  • Fetching medicine, either on a schedule or whenever the owner gives the command to their dog
  • Retrieving water and food to help the owner take their medicine or as a part of helping them make their daily routine more manageable
  • Turning off lights
  • Opening doors and cabinets to retrieve certain items
  • Bringing the owner their phone in the case of an emergency
  • Interrupting self-harming behaviors by laying on their owner, bringing them a toy or brush to help distract their owner, or by interfering with their owner until they stop
  • Providing support and comfort when their owner is crying or exhibiting signs of distress
  • Acting as a constant companion for their owner as they go about their day-to-day life
  • Offering a sense of routine and grounding as the owner needs to care for their dog daily
  • Finding help in the case of an emergency, including leading rescue teams to a potentially unconscious owner

Depending on your specific condition and needs, your service dog may be taught more specialized tasks in addition to these basic commands that virtually every psychiatric service dog will know.

How Do You Obtain a Service Dog for Depression?

After reviewing how a service dog can help with depression, you may think that a service animal is the right choice for you and your condition. However, there are other things to keep in mind when obtaining a service dog for depression. We discuss these factors below.


According to the ADA, there are a few qualifications that you need to meet if you are to be eligible for a service dog.

Of course, technically, anyone can adopt a service dog, but you are unlikely to be able to adopt one from a reputable agency without some difficulty unless you meet the ADA’s eligibility standards. Some agencies that adopt out service dogs may require you to have a letter stating your need for the animal before they move through the adoption process with you.

These pre-qualifications for obtaining a service dog include:

  • Having a physical or mental impairment (also sometimes referred to as an invisible disability) that significantly limits your ability to complete one or more major life functions
  • Having a history of an impairment that meets the above description
  • Being seen by others as having an impairment that meets the initial description

If you feel that your depression meets these standards, then you are likely eligible to obtain a service dog. Keep in mind that if you feel that your depression could benefit from a service animal but you don’t quite fit into this description, you can always adopt an emotional support animal for therapeutic help.

The Adoption Process

After you have verified that your condition qualifies for a service dog and selected an agency to adopt a dog from, you will likely be required to participate in your service dog’s training.

Not only does this help you form a bond with your dog from the time they are a puppy, but it helps you learn how to command your dog and work together for maximum assistance. It also shows the agency that you are able to independently command your dog, something that is an incredibly important part of being able to adopt one of these amazing animals.

You should also keep in mind that it can take a while for the service dog adoption process to be completed. That’s because this process relies on extensive training and bond-building between you and your dog – the dog must be fully obedient and understand its duties to help your condition.

The Training Process

Training a service dog can be a complex and time-consuming process, but it can also be rewarding for both the dog and the handler. Here are the general steps to train a service dog:


The first step in training a service dog is socialization. This involves exposing the dog to different people, environments, and experiences to help them develop confidence and coping skills.

Basic Obedience Training

Basic obedience training is essential for all service dogs, as it lays the foundation for more advanced training. This training should include commands such as “sit”, “stay”, “come”, and “heel”.

Task Training

The specific tasks a service dog is trained to perform will depend on the needs of the handler. Common tasks for service dogs include providing physical support, reminding their owner to take medication, and interrupting self-harming behaviors.

Public Access Training

Service dogs must be well-behaved in public and able to work calmly and effectively in various environments. Public access training helps prepare the dog for situations they may encounter in public, such as crowded areas, loud noises, and unfamiliar surroundings.

Advanced Training

Depending on the needs of the handler, advanced training may be necessary to perform more specialized tasks. This can include training for specific medical conditions, such as alerting the handler to low blood sugar levels or assisting with mobility issues.

Getting Help Training Your Service Dog for Depression

Training a service dog requires patience, consistency, and a commitment to the process. It’s important to work with a professional service dog organization that has experience in training service dogs and can provide guidance and support throughout the process.

Online training offered by US Service Animals (USSA) focuses on psychiatric service pooches and consists of six courses and twelve training videos. You’ll also get a training clicker, and can choose from a variety of optional extras, like a service vest, a collar tag, and leash.

At the end of the course, you’ll also receive a certificate for a trained service dog. A group of experienced service dog trainers with more than 20 years of combined experience developed the training programs offered by USSA. Depending on the current level of training your dog is at, training your dog might take anywhere from 10 hours to 10 weeks to finish.

It’s also important to remember that not all dogs are suitable for service work, and it’s important to have realistic expectations for what a service dog can do for their handler. A service dog should not be viewed as a cure for a disability, but rather as a tool to help improve the quality of life for the handler.

What Dogs Make Good Service Dogs?

Many breeds can be good service dogs, but some are more commonly used due to their temperament, trainability, and physical attributes. Some of the most popular breeds for service dogs include:

  • Labrador Retriever: Labs are highly intelligent, friendly, and eager to please, making them one of the most popular breeds for service dogs.
  • Golden Retriever: Goldens are similar to Labs in terms of their friendly disposition and trainability and are often used as service dogs due to their calm and gentle nature.
  • German Shepherd: German Shepherds are highly intelligent and versatile dogs that can be trained to perform a variety of tasks, including assisting people with mobility issues, as well as emotional support.
  • Poodle: Poodles are highly trainable and have a low-shedding coat, making them a popular choice for people with allergies. They can also be trained for various tasks, including emotional support and assistance with mobility issues.
  • Border Collie: Border Collies are highly intelligent and energetic and can be trained for various tasks, including assisting people with mobility issues and emotional support.

It’s important to note that a good service dog is not solely determined by breed but rather by temperament, trainability, and physical attributes. The best way to determine if a dog is suitable for service work is through evaluation and training by a professional service dog organization.

Caring for Your Service Dog

Another important item to remember when obtaining a service dog is that you must verify that you can financially and physically take care of your pup. Your service dog is there to help you, but they are still a dog that needs to be walked, fed, taken to a veterinarian, and given playtime with toys.

If you cannot maintain independent command of your dog nor prove that you are fit to take care of it (including unexpected medical expenses), you will likely not be allowed to bring it home.

Items you will need to prepare before your service dog’s arrival include leashes, food and water bowls, brushes, toys, a dog bed, treats, and food.

You can speak with the agency you are adopting your dog from to see if they already have a preference for food and treats or a favorite type of toy. After all, you want to welcome your service dog into your home and make them as comfortable as possible to have a long and beneficial working relationship.

Understanding Your Next Steps

If you think that you meet the qualifications for receiving a service dog and believe that adding a service dog to your life would help you manage the symptoms of your depression, then your next steps are to reach out to a medical provider.

A mental health professional or doctor can help you evaluate your need for a service dog and provide a recommendation, though you don’t need any type of prescription or doctor’s note to obtain a service dog.

From there, you can look into reputable service dog adoption agencies and start seeking a pup that will meet your service animal needs. Remember that service dogs can be expensive to purchase outright, often costing between $10,000 and $50,000, so you should also be looking for agencies that provide free or lower-cost service dogs to those in financial need. Searching local and national charities or organizations can help you determine your options.

You can also train a dog to be your service dog yourself. Online courses are significantly less expensive than in-person training or purchasing a service dog outright, and training your dog yourself can help your bond be even stronger.

Service Dogs Can Change Lives

Service dogs undergo rigorous training to learn the skills needed to help all individuals relieve the symptoms of a mental or physical disability. Using a service dog to treat a serious mental health condition can be incredibly helpful and improve an individual’s quality of life.

If you suffer from depression and believe that a service dog would help you manage your symptoms and improve your day-to-day experience, then don’t hesitate to reach out to your mental health provider and organizations that provide service dogs to learn more about adopting one of these amazing pups.