- Key Points
- What is a Service Dog?
- How Do You Get a Service Dog for Anxiety?
- What if You Don’t Qualify for a Service Dog?
- How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?
- Do You Qualify for a Free Service Dog for Anxiety?
- Financing Options for Service Dogs
- Benefits of Having an Anxiety Service Dog
- Best Breeds for Anxiety and Depression Service Dogs
- Laws Protecting Service Dogs
- Final Thoughts
Companion dogs for anxiety perform specialized tasks for their owners to make their life easier.
A pet is not a service dog and is not protected under the same laws.
You must be medically eligible for a companion dog for anxiety before getting a certification for yourself and your pet.
Service animals are expensive but there are options to help cover the costs, such as fundraisers, organizations, and even loans.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the world, affecting over 40 million adults, or about 30 percent of people in the United States over the age of 18. As anxiety diagnoses continue to rise, it is no wonder that companion dogs for anxiety are increasing in popularity.
There are many medications, remedies, and treatments available for anxiety. No matter the path you choose, there are going to be benefits and drawbacks. The right treatment for you won’t look the same as someone else’s treatment. A companion dog for anxiety or depression provides a sense of calm, anticipates anxiety attacks, and fetches medications for you. Some people still struggle with the idea that these dogs are providing a real service for invisible illnesses. If you suffer from anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be.
If you're considering purchasing or certifying a companion dog, you need to know what it entails before you jump in. Good thing you found this article!
What is a Service Dog?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are dogs who are individually trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.
Service dogs used to be most popular for those who are visually impaired. While seeing eye dogs are still common today, service dogs have expanded their repertoire of potential services.
A service dog who helps with anxiety and depression falls under the psychiatric service dog umbrella. All certified service dogs have completed specialized training and are legally recognized and registered with the ADA. These dogs are allowed to go anywhere their humans go.
How Do You Get a Service Dog for Anxiety?
To get a service dog, you have to meet several criteria. These criteria prove that you have a mental or physical disability affecting your daily life and that a service animal would make an important difference in your life.
The very first step is to see your physician and request the start of applying for a psychiatric service dog. Once that is started, the next several steps are going to be unique to you as different states and different diagnoses require varying specific processes.
You have to prove you have a specific illness and that it negatively affects your life. You also have to be present during your dog’s training to learn the commands and the tasks yourself. Additionally, you need to demonstrate that your home environment is stable.
If you meet all the requirements, it’s time to find the right dog for you. This is often the easy part. Keep in mind that you do not have to get a puppy. You can train an older dog if you wish.
What if You Don’t Qualify for a Service Dog?
While some individuals may benefit from a service dog, they may not meet all the requirements for one.
Those who do not qualify should look into the possibility of an emotional support dog. These animals do not have the same training or rights that service dogs do. Emotional support animals range from cats, horses, pigs, or even your pet hamster. Emotional support animals are not the same as service dogs and do not share the same regulations.
Your pet could be trained as an emotional support animal. However, your pet cannot be trained to be your service animal. This means that your pet will not have access to all of the locations that you have access to. Emotional support animals are great for those who have a milder form of anxiety or depression.
How Much Does a Service Dog Cost?
This is the big question, isn’t it? The help a service dog provides you may be invaluable to you but your bank account might have something different to say.
It's important to consider all the costs before you decide whether a service dog is right for you.
In addition to the upfront cost, there are veterinary visits, the cost of food, and other things your dog needs like a leash and harness.
Service dogs are expensive. You will pay anywhere from $100 to $2,000 on the purchase of the dog or puppy before training. The training alone costs anywhere from $30-$40,000! Depending on your trainer, they may suggest you adopt a dog rather than buy one from a breeder.
Each service dog receives an average of 600 hours or more of training. These dogs are about as expensive as other medical devices, but there are ways to get a service dog if you cannot afford the costs. Some organizations help individuals receive a service dog for little to no cost through fundraising.
Do You Qualify for a Free Service Dog for Anxiety?
Many people are worried about affording the cost of a service dog, which is a valid worry since such a purchase makes a massive impact on your bank account.
There are programs out there that match people with service dogs for a lower cost or even for free. To see if you qualify, find an accredited service dog organization such as Assistance Dogs International. Put in your location and they sort out the organizations in your area that offer help.
Fundraising is another great way to get a service dog for little to no cost. Many organizations have programs that help you get started. Paws With A Cause® has a program that helps waive the fee but encourages the pay it forward movement.
Programs like Service Dog Central often encourage families to fundraise the remaining amount through various channels in their community. Many families have benefited from church or local community fundraising.
Financing Options for Service Dogs
If you cannot get a free service dog but are still worried about the cost, you may be eligible for financing help. Consider the following options:
Several organizations provide grant assistance for individuals who need a service dog. One of the biggest organizations that helps people find service dogs includes the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. However, many other nonprofit organizations provide you with access to a service dog or service dog training if you choose to train your dog yourself.
If you are not military, some financial services can help. Paws4People is an organization that provides help to families who cannot afford a service dog.
Some states allow residents to use their flexible spending account (FSA) attached to their insurance policy. You have to get a letter of medical necessity (LMN) from your doctor before you are allowed to use this account. If you do not have an FSA account, you still need a letter from your doctor.
If you do not meet the specific requirements for financial help from an organization and fundraising isn’t possible, a personal loan is another option for financing your service dog.
Unlike grants or fundraises, personal loans must be repaid. Keep your credit score in mind as this will affect what kind of loan you get, as well as the interest rate you’ll have to pay. If taking a personal loan out will put you into debt you can't afford, don't do it. It’s not worth the risk.
If you do not qualify for full financial assistance then adopting a dog and getting a certified independent trainer to offset the larger cost is an option.
Find a certified trainer that works with service dogs. Training a service dog isn't like training a pet. Not all trainers are qualified to train service dogs. Before settling on a trainer, always ask about their qualifications and if they’ve ever trained a service dog for anxiety before. If they haven't, it is better to move on to a trainer who has experience.
Training your dog yourself is an option that lowers the cost. However, there is no guarantee that the dog you adopt is going to be trainable. Always speak with an expert before choosing a breed.
If you can cover the upfront cost of a dog but are worried about the future, then you can always seek pet financial aid for assistance. Vet bills are often unexpected, and are often costly.
Benefits of Having an Anxiety Service Dog
Bringing medication to you at the first sign of an anxiety attack is one of the many tasks your service dog is trained to do. They are also trained to lead someone to you if you are in an emotional crisis, or bring a phone to you during an anxiety attack so you can call your therapist or support person.
Many psychiatric service dogs are trained to help their owners with grounding techniques. Some of these techniques are licking your face or applying deep pressure to your chest or abdomen.
The companionship of owning a service dog also provides a sense of calm. Knowing that you are not alone is a good way to keep a panic attack at bay.
Not only does having a service dog help with getting items, but it also offers a reason to exercise. Physical activity helps improve anxiety and other mental health conditions. Walking your service dog for 30 minutes a day not only improves your mental health but your physical health, as well. Your dog must get sufficient exercise, too; if you can’t walk your dog, find someone who can.
It’s important to note that having a service dog is not a cure for anxiety or depression. They are a tool to help you cope with your mental illness.
Best Breeds for Anxiety and Depression Service Dogs
Most any dog breed can be used as a service dog for anxiety and depression, though some breeds offer certain benefits. The traits and personality you are comfortable with and the size that suits your needs best determine the right dog for you.
No matter the breed you pick, they have to suit your individual needs. You must also consider the grooming and activity requirements of your dog.
Even for folks who don’t struggle with anxiety, golden retrievers are well-suited for eliciting smiles and soothing frazzled nerves. These dogs are often calm, compliant, and easily trained. They are on the bigger side of the dog breeds making them great for deep-pressure therapy.
If you have ever come across a Great Dane, you know just how massive they are. These big dogs are confident, calm dogs who would rather cuddle you than run around and cause chaos.
Great Danes are easily trainable, have the weight to apply deep pressure therapy with ease, and are typically great with children.
American Pit Bull Terrier
American pit bull terriers make great service dogs for people with anxiety! Pibbles, as many owners call them, are affectionate dogs who love cuddling and kissing your face. They’re confident, outgoing, and easily trainable.
Pomeranians are great for people who need a dog that enjoys staying at their side all day, every day. They are very in tune with their owners and how they feel. If big breeds are not on your list of preferred dogs to have, then a Pomeranian could suit your lifestyle.
Corgis are one of the most affectionate and devoted dogs. These traits make them ideal service dogs for those with anxiety and depression. They are easy to train and love working in most cases.
Laws Protecting Service Dogs
Thanks to the ADA, your service dog is granted certain protections by the law. There are places your service dog cannot go, like an operating room where everything must be kept extremely sterile. However, if you were to have to stay at the hospital, your service dog is allowed to be there to do their job.
The ADA also helps regulate what kind of information you have to give to people when questioned about your service animal. Here is a list of rules that you should know if you have a service dog:
When deciding if public access should be granted, people may ask if the service animal is required because of a disability, and what task they have been trained to perform. They cannot ask for proof of your disability, identification for the service animal, or any certifications.
A fear of dogs or allergies is not a valid reason to refuse access to a service dog. Ideally, both parties should stay separated, but neither party may feel isolated or like they are a lesser part of the premises.
A service dog can be asked to leave the premises if the dog is aggressive or destructive. If the dog must leave, the staff must offer the handler the chance to remain without their service animal present.
A person with a service dog cannot stay isolated from others or be treated as less than other patrons.
The staff at any premises are not required to provide food, water, or care to a service animal.
The laws are strict which is to protect you and your service dog. It sounds weird, but these dogs are medical equipment trained to help make your life better and easier. If someone were to harm medical equipment meant to help keep you alive, there would be serious repercussions. The same goes for your service dog.
A service dog is a big decision, and if you and your doctor agree that a service animal could benefit you, then you shouldn’t have to worry about how to get one.
There are plenty of things to consider when thinking about a service dog. Getting a service dog is not an easy task. You have to be willing to put in the effort to get your eligibility, find the right dog for your needs, keep up with training, and take care of your new family member. All of this is overwhelming but it is well worth it.
A service dog is a great tool to help with your anxiety or depression so that you can live life to the fullest!