Obtaining a service dog is an involved process, but a well-trained dog can be incredibly helpful to owners with a variety of challenges. Often, people with anxiety or panic disorder believe that, just because they don’t face an outwardly-apparent challenge like blindness or a mobility-issue, they’re ineligible for a service dog. This is not the case.
Service animals are permitted and prescribed on a case-by-case basis. Because these animals tend to have a high price tag that is only feasible when paid for by insurance, many people don’t even bother to consider the possibility. However, if you believe that a service animal could help improve the quality of your life, then it is more than worth your consideration.
Those who suffer from panic attacks could greatly benefit from a psychiatric service animal. These animals are trained to pick up on cues and intervene to help alleviate high-stress situations with their owner. Oftentimes those who have panic attacks have generalized anxiety disorder can be greatly helped by a trained service animal or emotional support animal in multiple ways.
What Is the Difference Between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support Animal?
Service animals are highly trained to perform specific tasks that are tailored to the needs of their handler. The tasks they can perform vary drastically depending on the disability from which the handler suffers and how they might need help with challenges. Service animals are incredibly intelligent and professionally trained to perform their duties even in times of extreme duress. Service animals are almost always dogs.
In contrast to a highly trained service animal, an emotional support animal (ESA) is generally used purely for the comfort its presence provides. ESAs are closer in demeanor to pets than service animals, but this does not mean ESAs are any less valid or effective at performing their roles. ESAs can help those with anxiety and panic disorders by providing a constant sense of comfort and security by their mere presence. They’re scientifically documented to mitigate feelings of isolation and loneliness as well as alleviate anxiety and depression. ESAs aren’t necessarily always dogs.
Service animals trained specifically for those with extreme panic or anxiety disorders have very specific tasks they will perform if given a command or when they sense their handler is in need of help. This signal (or automatic response) can vary from one person to the next due to the varying nature of mental disorders. Both ESAs and service animals play vital roles in helping their handlers cope with their daily lives. The only real difference is the specialized training that service animals undergo.
How a Service Dog Can Help With Panic Attacks
Service dogs can provide an enormous variety of services and support to help people deal with their panic and anxiety issues. Here is a brief look at some of the more common tasks that service dogs for patients with anxiety and panic disorders are trained to perform:
- Bringing medication and water during an anxiety attack
- Bringing a phone over during an anxiety attack, which you can use to call your therapist or another support system
- Leading someone to you if you’re in crisis
Tasks that both service dogs and emotional support animals can perform during a panic attack:
- Providing tactile stimulation such as licking your face or hand to help disrupt an emotional overload
- Providing pressure against your chest or abdomen to create a calming effect during moments of distress
- Providing a calming presence
As you can probably tell from this list, these tasks are tailored to the specific requirements and circumstances of the person in need. Not everyone will necessarily feel comforted by having a dog climb up onto their chest in the middle of a panic attack, and not everyone takes emergency medication in times of panic. This is why a service dog can be particularly valuable and important in some cases, while in others, all that’s needed to mitigate a panic attack is a calming, soothing animal presence.
Due to these differences, there are cases where emotional support animals (ESAs) may be preferred over service dogs. ESAs are much less expensive than service animals due to the fact that they don’t typically require much, if anything, in the way of training. Furthermore, ESAs can be animals that are more convenient than a dog. Requirements for qualifying for a service animal are much more stringent than those of an ESA.
Secondary Benefits of a Service Dog/ESA
There are some general, non-medication guidelines often recommended by medical professionals that can alleviate symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including panic attacks.
- Regular Outdoor Time: Sunlight, natural areas, and being exposed to open air can all have positive effects on mental health. A service dog can get you outdoors regularly, simply by necessity.
- Regular Exercise: Some studies show that regular exercise can have an effect on mental health that’s as strong as an antidepressant. Dogs require walks, so a service dog or ESA can help you maintain an exercise routine.
How to Qualify for a Service Dog
Qualifying for a service animal isn’t really a cut and dry process because each individual has different needs, symptoms, and responses to stimuli. The primary requirements for obtaining an official service animal are having a diagnosed disability and a recommendation from a trained physician that a service animal could help in overcoming related issues.
Here are the primary qualifications for obtaining a trained service animal:
- Having a physical disability, debilitating illness, or disorder
- Being able to participate in the dog’s training process
- Being able to independently command and care for a service dog
- Having a stable home environment
In most cases, to qualify for a service animal you will need to have a recommendation from your medical doctor or another licensed professional. It’s important to understand that the patient will be responsible for the care and handling of their service animal.
As such, not all cases are ideal cases for the use of service animals. Some people may crumble under the added pressure of having to take care of another living creature in addition to themselves.
Service Dogs vs Other Therapeutic Alternatives
Some of the reasons that those who suffer from frequent panic attacks benefit from service dogs are because the dogs can help provide company even when you don’t realize you want or need it. Some major perks of choosing a furry companion over paying for a caretaker include:
- Consistency: one dog takes the place of multiple caretakers
- Dogs can live with you 24/7
- Dogs are non-judgmental and completely faithful
- Your daily activities with your dog help establish consistency and routine
All of the above probably sounds pretty great, and it is! The important thing to remember is that service dogs aren’t as easy to acquire as other dogs, and they don’t cost remotely as much. The average price of a psychiatric service dog ranges from 20-30k, although it is sometimes covered by insurance.
An emotional support animal might be a more practical option for many anxiety sufferers due to price and accessibility, and can be equally as effective as a service dog. Regardless of the option you choose, you can likely keep your animal with you in almost any situation provided you have the proper documentation and clearance from healthcare professionals; however, keep in mind that some public and private spaces don’t allow ESAs, but will allow service dogs.
Rights Afforded to Owners of Service Dogs
Those with disabilities can take service dogs to pretty much any place that a person without an animal would be allowed to go (even if that place normally prohibits animals). This means you can take your service animal with you into grocery stores, taxi cabs, theaters, public transportation, parks, and airplanes, among many other places. This ability to keep your service dog with you provides you with the constant safety and comfort of knowing you won’t ever be separated from the animal you depend on.
Additionally, service dogs are permitted free of charge in places that would normally add a pet fee. This means landlords, airlines, or hotels cannot charge you extra for bringing your service animal with you wherever you go. This can be a big deal as pet fees can be expensive, especially if you travel with your pet. Furthermore, public entities are not allowed to assess disabled handlers with additional pet fees, or require the handler and their service animal to be seated away from other patrons to intentionally separate them.
If you think one of these animals could greatly benefit your life, then the investment is more than worth it. However, you probably shouldn’t get a trained service animal if you have only suffered from a handful of panic attacks in your life. These animals go through intense and thorough training to ensure that they are equipped with the skills to help those who truly depend upon them. An ESA is probably more your speed, and more economical.
Going through official channels to properly obtain and register a service dog can be a difficult process, but the value a service dog (or ESA) can provide in a disabled person’s life cannot be overstated. USSA can help guide you through the entire process and make sure you have everything in order so you can make the most of your service dog investment.
Acquiring a service dog is not a process that should be taken lightly due to the fact that you are assuming responsibility for the safety and well-being of an animal. However, when trained well and used properly, service animals can provide services that can make daily life more pleasant; they may even provide life-saving services in some cases. Contact a service animal professional today to learn more about the process and get started on a path toward a better life.