What is a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that service animals are dogs that are trained to work with people who have disabilities. Each dog is individually trained to help people with tasks that they might not otherwise be able to do. Service dogs can help guide people with vision, mobility, or physical difficulties.

Psychiatric service dogs (recognized by the ADA as service dogs) have been trained to do certain jobs that help the handler cope with a mental illness. For example, the dog might remind a person to take prescribed medications, keep a disoriented person in a dissociative episode from wandering into a hazardous situation such as traffic or perform room searches for a person with post-traumatic stress disorder. If it is simply the dog’s presence that helps the person cope, then the dog does not qualify as a psychiatric service dog.

dog wearing a service dog harness

Who Qualifies for a
Psychiatric Service Dog?

A person living with a mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” According to the ADA (Americans with Disability Act), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. A “mental impairment” can include symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, mood disorder, PTSD, or any other mental health diagnosis that limits a person’s major life activities.

Benefits of a Psychiatric Service Dog

Research has supported the idea that animals can provide significant mental health benefits. One research review found that owning a pet has positive effects on mental health by fostering emotional connectivity and helping people manage symptoms of mental health.
Some of the other benefits that emotional support animals may provide include:
  • Improved physical health. Studies have found that emotional support animals help to lower blood pressure, decrease respiration rates, and improve the ability to cope with pain.
  • Less anxiety. Simply petting an animal can create a relaxation response and elevate mood. Some people are even able to stop taking anxiety medication.
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness. Animals can provide companionship, which is especially important for people who live alone and experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Sense of purpose. Caring for an emotional support animal can also help give people a sense of purpose. Our furry friends provide unconditional love and companionship.
  • Trauma support. Pets can provide comfort to people who are dealing with difficult situations, including those who have experienced some type of trauma.

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