Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues in the world. People living with an anxiety disorder may feel immense physical discomfort, worry, or fear in intensities severe enough to disrupt their daily routine. Today, we know many anxiety disorders differ in their symptoms and triggers. Medication and psychotherapy are some of the popular treatments for this condition. However, non-traditional methods include relying on trained service animals.
At this point, you might be wondering, can you get a service dog for anxiety? This article aims to answer that question and shed more light on the topic.
What Are Service Dogs?
According to Americans with Disabilities (ADA), service dogs are animals trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. One of the most common examples is guide dogs, a common companion for the blind. However, through training, service dogs can perform other tasks such as alerting deaf people about potential danger or pulling a wheelchair. Others can even remind people to take their medication and calm someone suffering from an anxiety attack.
Although service animals can be cute and offer emotional support to their owners, they are pretty different from pets. While you can train your pets to perform a few skills, service dogs receive specific training to help people with a particular disability.
Since the ADA protects service dogs, owners can carry their animal aids anywhere. That includes housing, restaurants, and even airplanes with a strict no pet policy. In other words, you do not have to worry about establishments denying you or your service dog entry. This exemption further highlights the difference between a service dog and a pet. The only time you might have to worry about an exemption for your service dog is when it is considered unsafe. For instance, while your animal aid may go with you to Disneyland, they might not be able to go on the rides with you.
Benefits of Having a Service Dog for Anxiety
Although anxiety is a widespread mental health condition, it varies from one individual to another. Thus, the role of an anxiety dog might differ slightly, depending on its owner’s needs.
Tasks a service dog might perform for someone with anxiety include:
- Fetching water and medication during an attack
- Fetching a phone for their owner to contact a therapist or a loved one
- Alerting people nearby that their owner is in distress
- Keeping strangers at a distance when their owner feels claustrophobic.
- Distracting their owner during an anxiety attack
- Performing deep pressure therapy to calm down their owner
- Offering emotional support
- Alerting their owner to strangers or things that might trigger an attack
Service dogs can receive training for a wide variety of tasks, and it all depends on their companion’s needs. So animal aids can be beneficial to people with anxiety. Thus, while everyone will experience some form of anxiety in their lifetime, not everyone qualifies for a service dog.
Who Qualifies to Get a Service Dog?
One of the most important criteria for getting a service dog is getting a confirmed diagnosis. Service dogs undergo intense training, so you cannot get one unless you need it. Hence, to prove you need a service dog, you need a recommendation letter from a certified mental health professional. Additionally, you will need to show proof of a stable home environment where you can care for and train your companion. Remember that service dogs are animals trained for a special purpose, so not everyone will qualify. As a result, if your anxiety is not severe or debilitating, then it is unlikely you will be eligible for a service dog. You can always opt for an emotional support animal. Moreover, you can find alternative means to manage your anxiety in that scenario.
How to Get a Service Dog
If you think you qualify for a service animal, then here is how to go about it:
Get a pre-trained service animal
This option is the most straightforward but is also the most expensive. Companies pre-train service dogs, but they cost upwards of $20,000. A lot of work goes into equipping your companion with the right skills. Thus, these companies consider temperament testing, veterinary tests, food, and training. All these requirements are what saddle this option with such a hefty fee. Unfortunately, even after paying such a price or making a down payment, there is no guarantee you will get a service dog. That is because these companies have to check you and your home to ensure the animal has a suitable living environment. Additionally, they conduct an economic evaluation to ensure you can provide for the dog.
Train your dog
This option lets you save some money and stick with your pet with who you might have already formed an attachment. However, you might need the aid of a service dog company for temperament testing and a guide on how to train your animal.
That said, if you are feeling rather ambitious or looking to save more money, you could undertake the training yourself. Although this option is a lot more complex, it might not be a bad idea if you have some experience with training dogs. It would be best to carry out this training with a puppy because an older dog would have a more challenging time adjusting to the lifestyle. Note that your animal has to pass a public access test to ensure you can legally bring it into any space with you.
Which Breed Should I Get for a Service Dog?
If you meet the criteria for getting an animal aid, you can also choose which breed you prefer. Many dogs take well to training, including greyhounds, Labrador retrievers, poodles, German shepherds, birdies, pugs, Danes, and much more. So, you can make your selection if you have any preferences.
Although these dogs differ in temperament, it is crucial to consider the task the dog would have to perform beforehand. Also, if you are having difficulty choosing a breed, size is an excellent place to start. The size of your dog will inform what tasks they can perform efficiently and where you can carry them too. Despite the ADA providing an exception for service animals, your dog’s size might still be a source of physical inconvenience. You might also consider if you prefer a larger dog you can hug or a smaller one that can hop on your lap. It would help if you considered these factors when choosing the best breed for your anxiety.
What’s the Difference Between a Service Dog and an Emotional Support Animal?
As the name implies, an emotional support animal is a pet that provides emotional relief to the owner. While they do not need special training, they might receive more priority over regular pets. On the other hand, a service dog is an aid with special training to help an owner with a specific disability enjoy a more fulfilling life. Without them, their owner is likely to suffer from physical and emotional illness or impairments. Sometimes, these animals wear a vest or jacket to show they are working animals and be treated as such. The law also requires public establishments to provide you with entry and service at no extra cost for your service dog. However, emotional support dogs may or may not receive the same treatment.
Tips for Getting a Service Dogs
Here are a couple of tips that might be helpful before you become a service dog owner:
Join a community
There are several social media groups and forums for people with service dogs. Joining these groups can make your experience easier by acting as a needed resource. You can connect with people who understand you and provide realistic advice to set you off on the right track.
Remember that the training is ongoing
Many professionals have to renew their license through an occasional test to prove they are still experts at what they do. Well, the same goes for your service animal. While there is no continuous assessment to renew their status as service dogs, it is worthwhile to remember that the training should be ongoing. That way, your animal companion remains equipped to deal with your needs over the years.
A service dog is not for everyone
Even if you qualify and have the resources to dare for a service dog, it might not be the right choice. As highlighted in the previous point, training your animal aid is an ongoing process, which can be burdensome. If you are not ready for the added stress, it is okay to seek alternative means of treatment.
Hopefully, this guide helped answer your questions and clear your doubts. Service dogs are highly trained animals that can significantly improve the well-being of individuals with anxiety. So, can you get a service dog for anxiety? Yes. As long as your anxiety is severe enough, you have a recommendation from a qualified mental health professional. Also, you stand a greater chance of approval if you are financially capable of sustaining a suitable environment to care for an animal aid.