CPTAS Service Dogs For Anxiety: Your Complete Guide - CPTAS

Service Dogs For Anxiety: Your Complete Guide

by Cody Stehlik
February 16, 2023

Anxiety is just as real and serious as common physical disorders. All of us experience some degree of anxiety in our day-to-day life. But for some, feelings of anxiety can get out of proportion than the actual situation. Frequent, uncontrolled anxiety begins to interfere with daily activities, causing anxiety disorders, characterized by nervousness, trouble concentrating, panic attacks, and so on. When anxiety attacks catch you off-guard, service dogs for anxiety can lend a helping ‘paw’.

Service dogs for anxiety are different from your regular pets. You might be familiar with the term, you may have even seen one in a restaurant, a grocery store, or even in a hospital. But how much do we actually know about them? Let’s find out everything you need to know about service dogs.

What are Service Dogs?

Service dogs are professionally trained to act as aides for people suffering from any kind of disability. You might have seen one accompanying a person with a visual impairment or mobility problem. They create a degree of independence for their handlers by helping with tasks like crossing the street, opening doors, shopping for groceries, etc. There are also service dogs to assist with conditions that aren’t visible like diabetes, anxiety, depression, and so on.

All service dogs undergo special training to perform specific tasks depending on the needs of their handler. For example, service dogs for anxiety and depression are trained to:

  • Anticipate an anxiety attack
  • Bring medicine and water
  • Provide deep pressure therapy to calm their handler
  • Offer their paw or lick their face to soothe them
  • Bring help

Service dogs are essentially working dogs just like K-9s, search and rescue dogs, herding dogs, etc. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not consider service dogs as pets.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are a subset of service animals that are trained to assist with all types of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, social phobias, schizophrenia, and similar conditions. They can perform tasks like:

  • Body contact and tactile stimulation such as licking your face to disrupt an emotional overload
  • Turn on lights to help handlers with post-traumatic stress disorders
  • Wake their handler from nightmares
  • Block people from their handler
  • Or lead someone to their handler in a time of crisis

Sometimes Psychiatric Service Dogs are confused with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). ESAs include all pets that provide a therapeutic presence to their owners. They are not trained to perform tasks to alleviate their owners’ mental or physical disabilities, which is why they are not covered under the ADA.

Benefits of Anxiety Service Dogs

Dogs contribute to better emotional and mental health of a human being. Even if you don’t own one, if you like dogs and are around them, you will feel an instant lift in your mood and reduced stress. No wonder dogs make lives better. When it comes to service dogs, it gets even better. What differentiates service dogs for anxiety from other dogs is their targeted training. Service dogs for anxiety undergo specialized training to provide emotional as well as physical support. Following are some of the benefits of having a service dog for anxiety:

  • Alleviating Anxiety Attacks

A trained service dog for anxiety and depression can take prompt action during an attack. It can turn on lights and open doors, disrupt a nightmare, create a barrier against potential danger, interrupt repetitive behavior, and stop self-harm attempts. When you get an anxiety attack, your service dog can stand on top of you and apply its weight to specific pressure points to help you calm down. If you are feeling dizzy and faint during an attack, your dog will find you something to lean on or act as a support itself.

  • Companionship and Socializing

A service dog’s companionship goes beyond its loyalty. If you have social anxiety disorder (SAD), it will help prevent an attack by accompanying you in social situations. If an attack renders you incapable of moving, you will know that there is someone to take care of you. When you are in the company of a service dog, you will feel a boost in confidence, a sense of security, and you would never feel isolated. Positive social interactions can be initiated when you go out with your dog. In fact, you are highly likely to meet new people when you have a dog with you. 

  • Accountability and Motivation

Sometimes extreme anxiety can cause you to neglect your self-care. In such cases, having a service dog with you at all times will keep you accountable. It can remind you to take medicines at a specific time or even bring medicine bottles and water when you need them. Even with such amazing capabilities, a service dog still requires care from their owner. Taking your dog for walks will benefit you as well by keeping your motor skills in shape and increasing your willingness to exercise. This co-dependence and connection will keep you going through tough times and motivate you to take better care of yourself.

Can a Service Dog Sense Anxiety?

If you own a dog, you must have experienced them curling up on your lap or near you when you are feeling stressed. This is because dogs, like human beings, are great observers. They can read our body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, breathing, etc. to understand our emotional state. They use this information to anticipate what may happen next. 

On top of this, a dog’s olfactory system is way more developed than a human’s. So, when you feel anxious and your stress hormones are triggered because of it, your dog can smell the chemical signals given off by your sweat. A recent study has confirmed that the organic compounds emanating from a person’s breath and sweat as a psychological stress response are detected by dogs with a 93.75% accuracy. Dog trainers build on this ability to train them to identify anxiety in their handlers. 

How to Get a Service Dog?

To qualify for a service dog for anxiety, a licensed healthcare provider needs to diagnose your condition first. Additionally, your disability must warrant the need for a service dog as a part of your treatment. If you are already undergoing therapy, you can request your medical care provider to include a dog as a part of your treatment. 

Once you are qualified for a service dog, there are two ways to get one. The easy option is to reach out to service dog agencies. There are both non-profit and for-profit organizations that offer specialized training to dogs. Only 30% qualify as service animals and are put up for adoption. You can apply directly to one of these organizations for a service dog for anxiety. They would verify your applications, conduct additional checks, and place a dog that matches your personality and disabilities. But there is generally a long waiting list. 

If you already own a dog, you can get it trained as a service animal by a professional trainer. This is the second option. The expert would train your dog for your specific needs. If you want to opt for this, keep in mind that the training procedure will be a rigorous one because your beloved pet will now graduate into your caretaker. Naturally, the training process takes years to complete. You could be waiting around two years until your dog is ready.

How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?

According to the National Service Animal Registry, the cost of a service dog can range between $15,000 and $30,000 and it can go up to $50,000 as well. This includes the cost of rigorous training of the dog and follow-up training to ensure the reliability of service. Ancillary expenses for food, grooming, vet checkups, vaccinations, toys, etc. are not included in this estimate.

While the cost of a service dog may seem overbearing upfront, the benefits of having an anxiety service dog far outweigh the cost. That being said, some service dog agencies provide financial aid through fundraising or provide a subsidized rate through grants. There are also certain insurance plans that can help cover this cost.

You can also choose to train your own dog to become a service animal. The cost of a certified dog trainer ranges somewhere between $150 and $250 per hour depending on your region. Most dogs with basic obedience training can take around six months to become fully trained for public access. In some cases, this duration can extend to two years. This means that the total training cost can exceed $25,000. 

What is the Best Support Dog for Anxiety?

A dog of any breed can be a service dog for anxiety. Common service dog breeds include Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Poodle, German Shepherd, Boxer, Doberman, Border Collie, etc. While these are popular choices, it’s important to think carefully about your specific needs and the tasks that you want them to perform before getting one. For example, if you need your service dog to open doors or block people from you during an attack, you would need a big and strong breed. Regardless of the breed, the best anxiety service dog is attentive to the handler, desensitized to distraction, and cannot be diverted from their tasks.

How do I Train My Dog to Notify Me of Anxiety?

Alerting the handler of an oncoming anxiety attack is a crucial element of a service dog’s training to avert the attack before it escalates. Typically, an anxiety service dog alerts the handler by touching them with their nose or paw. Other techniques could be leaning on the handler, resting their chin on the handler’s lap, etc. The best alert behavior is always determined by the handler because what may work for one person may be annoying for another.

It’s best to have a certified trainer teach your dog since this requires professional skills. You can work with the trainer by being present in some of the sessions to make it even more effective. A trainer will also help generalize the skill so that your dog can perform the alert behavior even when they are working in a complex setting. This can be a public place with a lot of distractions or when the dog is unable to see your face or body.

What Disqualifies a Dog from Being a Service Dog?

There is a reason why service dogs for anxiety are in such high demand. It is the rigorous assessment process where most dogs don’t make it to the finish line. All for good reason. It ensures that the handler can depend on the dog during their time of crisis. Naturally, not all dogs are suited to become service dogs.

If you are looking to train your dog to become a service animal, you can do so if they do not have the following traits:

  • Aggression
  • Excessive energy
  • Strong reactions like snarling at other dogs or cowering from a person
  • Any physical problems like vision or hearing impairment, genetic illness, structural imbalance like broken or deformed bones, dysplasia, etc.
  • Obesity
  • Unsuitable size – for example, a terrier will be unable to pull a wheelchair or switch on lights

How CPTAS Can Help

At CPTAS, you can apply for assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prescription services for psychological and emotional disabilities. Your application will be reviewed by a licensed mental health professional and once approved, you can download it from our website. Based on your needs, our therapist can qualify you for a psychiatric service dog (PSD). Once you are qualified, you can download your PSD letter from our website. This letter will make you eligible to apply for a service dog. Or, if you already have one, this letter will act as a ‘license’ to take your certified service dog with you to ADA-covered entities like stores, restaurants, hotels, malls, etc. Get in touch with us at (888) 973-0489 to get your PSD letter.