How do I get a service animal?

Taking care of an animal can be a great way to improve your mental health [1]. But not every landlord allows pets. You can get around this if a mental health professional certifies that you need an emotional support animal. There are other types of service animals too—it’s important to understand what you’re trying to get, because the steps are different for each type.

Emotional support animals (ESAs)

An emotional support animal (ESA) is just what it sounds like—a pet that provides emotional support. ESAs don’t need any special training (beyond the normal training a pet needs). Dogs and cats are the most common, but any domesticated animal can be an ESA.

ESAs are covered under the Fair Housing Act. This allows people with an ESA to have their pet in their home even if there is a “no pet” policy. The law also prevents additional pet fees for ESAs. Small ESAs can also travel with you on a plane free of charge. Unlike service dogs, ESAs aren’t allowed into other public places that don’t normally allow pets.

In order to get the benefits of an ESA, you will need a “prescription” from a mental health professional. This is basically just a signed letter stating that you have a mental health condition and that your pet helps you deal with it. Some landlords and airlines will accept a letter from a medical doctor, but often it needs to be a therapist or a psychiatrist.

Service animals (dogs only)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability [2]. This can be a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Only dogs are legally considered service animals. Other domestic animals are covered only as emotional support animals or therapy animals.

Qualifying for a service dog is simple. Actually getting one is a bit harder. To qualify for a service animal, all you need to do is get written documentation from your healthcare provider that you have and are being treated for an emotional or psychiatric disorder or disability and require the assistance of an animal because of it. The work a dog has been trained to do must specifically relate to your condition. Training a service dog yourself can be difficult and can take years. Usually you would get a service dog from someone else who has already trained it.

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs)

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) is a specific type of service animal trained to assist those with mental illnesses. These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. For example, a dog may assist someone with PTSD in doing room searches or turning on lights. Or it might help someone in a dissociative episode from wandering into danger. Providing companionship, calming anxiety, or providing a sense of safety merely by its presence are not legally considered “tasks.”

If you’re not sure whether to get an ESA or a PSD, think about what your specific needs are. Is this animal going to assist you in tasks you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do? You’ll probably need a service animal. Are they primarily going to provide companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, and affection? That sounds more like an ESA, which is much easier to get anyway.

Therapy animals

Therapy animals are used in therapeutic settings, like hospitals or nursing homes. Some examples might be a cat that lives at a treatment facility, a dog that is taken to visit people in a disaster area, or a horse used in equestrian therapy. Therapy animals provide affection and comfort to people, but they are different than PSDs or ESAs. They are screened for their ability to perform a specific type of therapy, and they are handled by professionals.

Can you take care of an animal?

Before getting any kind of pet or service animal, it is important to seriously consider the responsibilities that come along with it. Think about whether you can care for it physically, mentally, and financially. Service animals in particular are a big commitment. ESAs are a little easier since they don’t need special training, but any pet is still a commitment. If you can’t handle a dog, consider a lower-maintenance pet like a cat or a fish. If even that is too much, try starting with a plant or a stuffed animal, or another form of treatment.

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— Update: 05-03-2023 — found an additional article How to Train a Psychiatric Service Dog from the website for the keyword how to get psychiatric service dog.

How to get psychiatric service dog

Psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) are assistance animals who are entitled to federally protected rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because of the important and essential service that they provide their owners, they’re permitted access to public places like stores and restaurants, and are also permitted onboard airline cabins and in living accommodations that normally don’t allow pets. 

However, in order to be recognized as a psychiatric service dog, an animal must be appropriately trained to perform the functions unique to their position.  

How to Train a Psychiatric Service Dog

There are three options available when it comes to training your psychiatric service dog. 

Self Training. The ADA and the DOT permit owners to self-train their service animals. Using guidelines such as those provided by the General Public Access Test can ensure good manners and behavior in your PSD whenever you’re in a public place. However, many who require the services of a PSD understandably may not have the time, energy, or desire to research training methods and best practices specific to PSDs in order to best teach their new assistance animal. Fortunately, there are other options available.  

Adopting from a Service Dog Organization. There are many organizations through which individuals can request a service dog. An animal from one of these service dog organizations will have already received extensive training and will be ready to assist you as soon as you bring your PSD home. However, the average cost of an animal from such an organization can range from $15,000-$30,000.

Working with a Professional Dog Trainer (Most Popular Option). A dog trainer brings years of experience and knowledge about animal behavior to the table and can more quickly train your dog to perform any needed tasks as a PSD in addition to training them to meet the General Public Access Test guidelines. This type of formal and structured training is ideal, considering that the Department of Transportation (DOT) permits airlines the right to ask PSD owners to submit a certification form before departure that includes proof that their PSD has been trained to assist with a disability and is capable of good behavior on a flight. Working with a professional dog trainer is the easiest option available when it comes to submitting this certification form with confidence. It’s also the best option in training your PSD the right way, as a professional trainer can assist you with developing appropriate signals to give your psychiatric service dog when you need a specific task performed.

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How to get psychiatric service dog

Training Requirements for a Psychiatric Service Dog 

Because they’re considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, psychiatric service dogs are entitled to several federally protected rights. This allows them public access to places where pets or emotional support animals are normally not allowed. These rights also extend to travel privileges in airline cabins without owners having to pay extra fees as well as fair accommodation in housing–even if the property has a ‘no pets’ policy. 

However, in order for an assistance animal to be considered a psychiatric service dog, the animal must be suitably trained. 

This is because the Department of Transportation allows airlines to require forms attesting to a service animal’s behavior and training before the service dog is cleared to board a flight. The DOT also allows airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior.

Proper PSD training therefore serves two purposes: it ensures your service animal displays good manners at all times while in public places, and it also ensures that your service animal is able to perform a specific task or type of work that is directly related to your mental or emotional disability (a requirement for all PSDs). 

That said, there are two components of an effective training regimen for psychiatric service dogs:

  • The General Public Access Test, which instills good manners in service dogs, ensuring that they behave appropriately in public settings  
  • Specialized Task/Work Training, which satisfies the requirement of all PSDs to be able to perform a specific action that’s directly related to their handler’s disability 

Let’s explore each of these components in more depth. 

The General Public Access Test 

How to get psychiatric service dog

As a service animal with federally protected rights, your psychiatric service dog will be permitted access to public places where pets or emotional support animals are normally not allowed.

Your PSD must therefore be able to behave appropriately in all public settings, which includes showing good manners around other people and animals. 

The General Public Access Test, typically administered or signed off on by a professional dog trainer, is based on typical scenarios you and your service dog will encounter in every-day life. Successful completion of the test shows that your psychiatric service dog has been appropriately trained to be on their best behavior regardless of the many different situations they may face in a public setting.  

Some of the tasks your PSD will be required to perform during the General Public Access Test include:

  • Performing basic obedience skills such as sit, stay, down, and heel
  • Exiting a vehicle in a safe and controlled manner (e.g. waiting for your signal before exiting)
  • Entering a building in a safe and controlled manner (e.g. no straining against their leash) 
  • Remaining under control as another dog passes by
  • Showing no fear of or aggression toward loud noises

Upon successful completion of the General Public Access Test, your dog trainer will sign off on your test documentation. A copy of this documentation is what you will submit to airlines that require it when traveling with your PSD. 

Psychiatric Service Dog Tasks

Good manners and appropriate behavior when in public are essential traits of a well-trained psychiatric service dog. 

However, there’s one additional aspect of PSD training that’s unique to these particular service dogs, and that’s the ability to perform a specific task or type of work that is directly related to your mental or emotional disability. This is a requirement of all PSDs and is what allows them federally protected rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Air Carrier Access Act and Fair Housing Act. 

In accordance with guidelines established by the ADA, a public accommodation can legally ask PSD owners the following questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

You’ll especially hear these questions when you’re traveling with your PSD via airplane. That said, no one has the right to ask you to identify your specific disability or ask that your pet demonstrate their skill.

However, all PSDs must still be trained to take a specific action (a task or type of work) on cue, and this action must be related to their handler’s disability.

There are a wide range of services that a psychiatric service dog can provide to their owner. The U.S. Department of Justice provides the following examples: “…a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.”

Below are some of the most common types of tasks or types of work that psychiatric service dogs can perform for their handlers, along with their assistance classification and the symptoms/experiences they can help mitigate. 

Keep in mind that according to the Department of Justice, your psychiatric service dog is only required to perform one specific type of action. Some people, however, will train their PSD to perform other tasks as well if needed. 

Tactile Stimulation, Deep Pressure Therapy, Pressure and Warmth Stimulation  

Assistance Classification: Work, Task

Tactile stimulation and pressure therapy can help ground a person and offer a therapeutic distraction from anxiety, depression, or a pending panic attack. PSDs can also be trained to place pressure on their handler’s chest or lap to encourage emotional regulation, bring calm to a situation, or simply offer warmth.

Commonly used for: Anxiety, Apathy, Chills (pressure and warmth stimulation), Disengagement, Depression, Distractibility, Distress, Fear, Feelings of Isolation, Fight or Flight Response, Flashbacks, Intrusive Thoughts/Images, Panic Attacks, Nausea, Suicidal Ideation 

How to get psychiatric service dog


Assistance Classification: Work, Task

When a person feels trapped by the thoughts in their mind, whether they stem from anxiety, flashbacks, or other types of distress, grounding techniques can be helpful in bringing a person’s focus to their physical body or surroundings. A psychiatric service dog can ground their handler through interaction, tactile stimulation, pressure therapy, or through another therapeutic means that assists their handler.    

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Commonly used for: Anxiety, Catatonic Behavior, Delusions, Depression, Disorganized Speech or Behavior, Dissociation, Flashbacks, Distress, Emotional Escalation, Flashbacks, Hypervigilance, Night Terrors, Psychosis, Self Mutilation, Sound Sensitivity, Sensory Overload, Sleep Disturbance, Startle Response, Suicidal Ideation

Medical Alert or Reminder

Assistance Classification: Work

A psychiatric service dog can be trained to alert their handler to the beginning stages of a medical episode, such as a change in breathing patterns, an increase in heart rate, emotional escalation, or oncoming muscle tension. 

In addition, a psychiatric service dog can remind their handler when it’s time for medication, when it’s time for bed, or when the handler needs to perform other daily routines throughout the day. 

Commonly used for (Alerts): Medical episodes such as changes in breathing pattern or an increase in heart rate, Hallucinations (alerting to real people or noises), Hyperfocus, Hyperlocomotion, Irritability, Restlessness 

Commonly used for (Reminders): Disorganization, Insomnia, Memory Loss 

Assistive Actions 

Assistance Classification: Work, Task 

There are times when a handler may need their psychiatric service dog to perform certain every-day actions that provide assistance, such as retrieving medication if the individual is too nauseous or lethargic to do so themselves, keeping the handler in bed if needed, turning on the lights and waking up the handler during a night terror, providing identification documents to others for assistance, or closing a door to block out loud and disturbing noises.  

Commonly used for: Dissociative Fugue, Forgotten Personal Identity, Hypersomnia, Lethargy, Memory Loss, Nausea, Night Terrors, Sound Sensitivity, Sleep Disturbance 

How to get psychiatric service dog


Assistance Classification: Work, Task

In certain scenarios, such as when a person is overcome with feelings of fear or overwhelm, they may rely on their psychiatric service dog to safely guide them home or to another safe location. This is also an essential source of support when a handler is disoriented or confused. 

Commonly used for: Anxiety, Confusion, Difficulty Navigating, Disorientation, Dissociative Fugue, Fear, Feelings of Overwhelm, Fight or Flight Response, Psychomotor Retardation

Balance Support    

Assistance Classification: Work, Task

Certain medications commonly used for mental health illnesses can come with side effects such as dizziness. This resulting dizziness can make it challenging for a person to walk without ample support. In these situations, a psychiatric service dog can brace their owner and/or provide balance assistance. 

Commonly used for: Dizziness caused by psychiatric medications  


Assistance Classification: Work, Task

A psychiatric service dog’s companionship can provide therapeutic benefit for those living with feelings of depression, isolation, or tearfulness. Through tactile stimulation, deep pressure therapy, or other means, a PSD can interact with its handler in order to bring comfort and calm. A psychiatric service dog can also initiate desired or needed interpersonal interactions for their owner’s benefit. In other situations, such as in the case of insomnia, a PSD may provide interaction until their handler initiates sleep preparations or another necessary routine. 

Commonly used for: Anxiety, Apathy, Depersonalization, Depression, Disengagement, Feelings of Isolation, Insomnia, Sadness/Tearfulness, Social Withdrawal 

How to get psychiatric service dog

Threat Assessment 

Assistance Classification: Work, Task

Approaching certain spaces, whether familiar or new, can sometimes be triggering for those who live with anxiety-related illnesses or stress disorders. In these scenarios, a handler can rely on their psychiatric service dog for assistance. The PSD can non-aggressively search the space for any threats and put their handler at ease.  

Commonly used for: Anxiety, Distress, Fear, Hypervigilance 


Assistance Classification: Work, Task

Sometimes, a psychiatric service dog’s role may be to interrupt their owner from performing a certain action. This is commonly seen in situations when a PSD must interrupt a person’s repetitive or compulsive behavior or when they may need to ground a handler by interrupting a dissociative episode through tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy. In the case of self mutilation, a PSD may interrupt the act by alerting or by providing tactile stimulation.   

Commonly used for: Dissociation, Dissociative Flashback, Repetitive/Compulsive Behavior, Self Mutilation


Assistance Classification: Work, Task

In crowded and/or claustrophobic situations, a psychiatric service dog can act as a buffer to provide their handler with needed space. The PSD can increase their owner’s personal bubble by standing between their handler and other people so that their owner is at ease and comfortable.  

Commonly used for: Anxiety, Distress, Fear, Feelings of Overwhelm, Startle Response  


This is by no means a comprehensive list of all possible tasks and work types that a PSD can be trained to perform. Instead, the above examples are only meant to serve as a guide regarding the type of actions a psychiatric service dog can perform for their handler. 

Working together with your dog trainer, you can determine what tasks would best suit your unique situation and then begin training your service animal for that specific function. 

Need Help Training a Psychiatric Service Dog?

How to get psychiatric service dog

When it comes to training a psychiatric service dog, the best course of action is to partner with a professional dog trainer.

This option conveniently takes out all the guesswork when it comes to providing your PSD with training that’s suitable and sufficient enough for them to be officially recognized as a psychiatric service dog. It’s also a stress-free option that saves you time and energy, which makes it the most popular option people pursue when it comes to training a PSD.

Considering that the Department of Transportation allows airlines to require forms attesting to a service animal’s behavior and training before the service dog is cleared to board a flight, working one-on-one with a professional dog trainer gives you the peace of mind you need to travel with your PSD without fear of coming across any issues or restrictions. 

Here at CertaPet, we are currently coordinating with dog trainers who specialize in the service animal space and who will soon work in tandem with our network of licensed mental health professionals to make the process of getting and training a psychiatric service dog affordable, convenient, and hassle-free. We’ll have more information available soon about our Psychiatric Service Dog Training options. In the mean time, you can take our FREE pre-screening below to see if you qualify for a PSD!

— Update: 17-03-2023 — found an additional article How to Get a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) from the website for the keyword how to get psychiatric service dog.

A Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD) is a Service Animal specifically trained to support individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. A well-trained PSD is able to ease symptoms caused by the mental disability and can comfort their handler in times of distress.

In this article, we’ll cover how to be approved for a PSD, what to look for when selecting a dog, and how to train a Psychiatric Service Dog to become a handler’s life-saver.

Is there a registry for Psychiatric Service Dogs?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require any registration for Service Dogs. Psychiatric Service Dogs can accompany their handlers unmarked and without any id or paperwork. However, some handlers find it reassuring to register their Service Dogs and to purchase a vest and id. It helps them to communicate that their dog is, in fact, a working Service dog, and their rights should be respected.

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1) Speak with a Health Care Professional about Psychiatric Service Dogs

A Psychiatric Service Dog can only be acquired if a health professional gives a diagnosis of mental illness. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a Service Dog must be able to assist their handler with tasks that directly relate to their disability. To be eligible for a Psychiatric Service Dog the diagnosis may include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 
  • Schizophrenia
  • Agoraphobia 

With this diagnosis, an individual is allowed to get a Psychiatric Service Dog and train it to complete tasks that help them with their symptoms. 

2) Obtain your Psychiatric Service Dog 

When starting to look for a Psychiatric Service Dog several considerations are necessary. Most dogs have the potential of being a Service Dog but not every dog can perform the tasks their handlers require to help reduce the impact of the mental disorder.

Where to find a dog

To select the perfect Psychiatric Service Dog the two most common ways are:

  • Purchase from an organization that specifically trains PSDs.
  • Adopt from a local animal shelter.

Either way, it is crucial to find a dog that is best suited for the work ahead. Among these considerations are the dog’s characteristics, breed as well as its age and health.


When choosing a dog, the handler must be aware of certain behavioral traits. While there are no specific regulations that a handler must follow, it’s important that the dog displays the following qualities:

  • Eager to please
  • Easily trainable
  • Non-aggressive
  • Accepting of strangers
  • Disciplined 
  • Strong work ethic

Dogs with these traits tend to succeed as Service Dogs, as they want to please their handlers and enjoy learning new tasks. It is crucial to adopt a dog that enjoys working on specific tasks. It’s important not to choose a dog for the wrong reasons; handlers may need to change the PSD if they seem to be in distress while training or cannot comprehend the tasks they should perform.


With the right characteristics, any dog has the potential to become a Psychiatric Service Dog. The ADA does not restrict breeds that qualify to become a Service Animal and therefore facilities and landlords do not have the right to exclude a Service Dog based on breed. However, among the dog breeds that generally excel in this type of work are:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Border Collies
  • Poodles
  • Golden Retrievers

These breeds share traits, such as high levels of trainability, desire to please, intense focus, and generally good temperament. Dogs with these characteristics usually do well in training and are able to form a strong bond with their handlers.

Health and age

For any Service Animal, it is essential that they are in top health condition. Any health issue, such as diabetes or arthritis, could hinder the Psychiatric Service Dog of performing the tasks in the time needed and therefore become an additional burden in times of distress.

To get the best out of the Psychiatric Service Dog these points need to be recognized:

  • An inaugural visit to the vet is absolutely needed, to make sure the dog is in top condition.
  • Once the PSD is in service, taking well care of them and revisiting the vet for regular checkups is necessary.
  • All Service Dogs should be neutered. This will make males less aggressive and females without distraction when in heat.
  • The dog should be at least 6 months old and more importantly have outgrown the puppy phase.

If the handler understands and can accommodate these prerequisites, finding the perfect Psychiatric Service Dog is merely a matter of time. However, it’s still only halfway through the process as the next, big step of training the dog will begin.

3) Train your Psychiatric Service Dog

Each dog will respond differently to learning the tasks needed; some are naturally intuitive and already understand what their handler needs, others might require several training sessions to master the complexity of the task. Therefore, a Psychiatric Service Dog doesn’t need to attend any specific training program. The only requirement is that the PSD is trained to perform tasks that directly relate to their handler’s disability.

For example a person living with anxiety could train their Psychiatric Service Dog to detect panic attacks. The PSD would alert its owner of an upcoming panic attack, and then work to comfort and support their handler until the attack subsides.

Using a reputable PSD trainer

Handlers might want to get the help of a professional Psychiatric Service Dog trainer if they are not confident enough to do all of the training themselves.

The cost of having the PSD trained professionally will differ based on the dog’s ability to learn and the complexity of the tasks needed. Talk to several potential trainers beforehand and get an estimate of the time and effort involved. However, the benefits of having a fully dependable Psychiatric Service Dog at hand could be worth every penny spent.

When looking for a trainer, handlers should put some research into the trainers available in their region. Getting recommendations from other individuals with PSDs are a safe way to be connected with a reputable trainer.

Train yourself

If the tasks at hand are easy, or the dog and their handler already have a strong bond, training themselves could be an option. Training a service dog might start with basic commands and slowly building up the skills until the PSD knows how to behave in public and stressful situations.

It is important that the Psychiatric Service Dog has enough confidence in performing the special task even in conditions when the handler might not be able to give proper instructions. Following a strict regimen will help the PSD to learn what is needed and to perform the tasks with few to no errors. 

4) Be aware of the stipulations surrounding Psychiatric Service Dog

Per the ADA, handlers are allowed to bring their Service Dogs into pubic establishments that normally wouldn’t allow pets, such as:

  • Apartment complexes
  • Hotels
  • Restaurants
  • Movie theaters
  • Retail stores and markets

Although the ADA doesn’t require Psychiatric Service Dogs to be registered, handlers can bring their PSD unmarked into these buildings. Nevertheless, some handlers do prefer to register their Service Dogs to ensure that their rights will be respected. Establishment owners are unable to legally ask if a dog is a Service Animal. They are, however, allowed to ask two questions:

  • Does the dog assist the handler with a task related to their disability?
  • And if so, what tasks do they perform?

Patience and knowledge will lead to the perfect Psychiatric Service Dog

The path to finding and training a Psychiatric Service Dogs for the tasks needed may be long. Still, once the PSD is ready and can help their handler to overcome symptoms caused by the mental disability, the handler’s life will become safer and more fulfilling.  


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