Anxiety is one of the most common mental illness in the world today, and more than 40 million American adults are suffering from it. While there are many medications, treatments, and remedies available for the condition, each of them comes with their unique benefits and drawbacks.
However, people suffering from anxiety can gain tremendous benefits from owning a specially trained service dog that serves as a companion and aids in getting out of the condition. From helping to fetch medications for their owners to providing a sense of calm, service dogs offer lots of benefits to people with anxiety.
In this article, you will be seeing what these dogs really are, what breeds and types of service dogs are available, how they help with anxiety, and the difference between them and emotional support dogs.
What Exactly Are Service Dogs?
When many people hear service dogs, they often think they are one of the animals that assist military personnel and cops. Even though dogs can be trained to do that, these types of dogs are not the service dogs we are talking about here.
Service dogs, are dogs that have been specifically trained to offer practical and emotional support to people with mental or physical health difficulty. The type of service dogs we are most familiar with are the ones that assist people with mobility impairments, hearing or visual impairments.
However, these dogs can also be trained to assist people with a wide range of conditions that aren’t visible, including diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.
Service dogs are different from pets. Before a dog will be recognized as a service animal, it must have been trained to perform certain tasks that can help someone with a disability. This could be anything from fetching the person their medication during the times of crisis, to finding help when an emergency occurs – depending on the need of the person.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
These are dogs that have been trained to help a person perform some necessary tasks while also protecting them from harm. Like “standard” service dogs, psychiatric service dogs assist people who have mental health conditions that interfere with their day-to-day lives, including anxiety, bipolar disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions.
These dogs are legally recognized and can go anywhere with their owner, from airplanes to restaurants.
Service Dog Breeds
Any breed of dog can be trained to become a service dog. What is most important is the temperament of such a dog and its ability to complete training. Some common breeds that work well as service dogs are:
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- German Shepherds
- Golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
How Do Service Dogs Help People With Anxiety?
A service dog can help individuals who have anxiety in various ways, including:
- Helping to bring medications or water when the owner is in crisis. It can also help you swallow medication during an anxiety attack.
- Detecting signs of attack before it happens.
- Retrieving a phone during anxiety attack so their owner can call their therapist or support system.
- Bringing in someone to help in distress.
- Calming a person down during anxiety attack through distraction such as providing a paw or licking their face.
- Warding off stranger if the person is in distress.
- Providing deep pressure therapy to soothe their owner.
- Reminding their owner to take their medications at certain times of the day.
- Encouraging their owners to have more exercise which helps improve their conditions.
- Leading their owner to an exit or quiet place if they have become overwhelmed by anxiety.
- Leading their owner to a seat if they are about to faint.
How to Get a Service Dog
The first step toward obtaining a service dog if you have anxiety is to speak with your mental health professional or doctor. You will need to be qualified to obtain a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – for which a diagnosis of a service dog is sufficient.
Your qualification means you must:
- Have a physical disability or debilitating disorder or illness.
- Be able to consistently care for and train a service dog.
- Be able to participate in the training process of the dog.
- Have strong communication skills and patience.
- Have a love of dogs and a stable home environment.
- Have the finances to appropriately care for and maintain a service dog for 12 years or more.
Not everyone having anxiety issues is qualified to own a service dog. But some of these individuals can still help their condition by going for an emotional support animal. In most cases, all that you need to get an emotional support animal is a letter from your medical professional. A service dog is however, not the same as an emotional support dog.
Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals: What’s the Difference?
Emotional support animals (ESA) are a great option for individuals that are not qualified to own a service dog, or suffers from a milder form of anxiety and may not require the assistance of a service dog. ESA are cost-effective and easier to obtain than service dogs.
Unlike service animals, ESA's are not trained to support a disability by providing some specific tasks for you (sometimes, life-saving tasks). They are only there as pets to offer comfort or emotional support to people having mental conditions. Because ADA considers emotional support animals as pets, they are not legally allowed to access certain buildings and areas like service dogs can.
However, because ESA's undergo less intensive training, an existing pet can be trained as emotional support animal. These animals are also not restricted to dogs alone. Emotional support animals could be dogs, cats, pigs, horses, and even hamsters.
What Is the Cost of a Service Dog?
The help that a service dog provides may be invaluable to you. However, the toll on your bank account is also another thing to carefully consider before you opt to get one.
Service dogs are expensive because of the intensive training that is involved in making sure they are ready to care for their owner. The cost of training a dog could range from $30,000 to $40,000. This does not account for the cost of feeding and grooming each year together with veterinary services. These expenses can really start to add up.
Some people also opt to train their dog themselves which seems to be less expensive, but it will still involve a lot of money. However, some organizations through fundraising can help you get a service dog at little to no cost. So if you are bothered about the cost, you are not completely ruled out.
Can Your Dog Become My Service Animal?
Going through the article, you will find out that we have already covered this, but this is for the sake of emphasis. If you have a dog and think you can put it through training so it can become your service dog, it doesn’t work like that. Dogs that are used as service dogs are specially trained for the course. Also, dogs that have already been trained as pets can not be trained as a service dog.
Getting a service dog to help with anxiety comes with a range of benefits. But it is not very easy to have a service dog. It requires a lot of money and some strict criteria also needs to be met. If you wish to get a service dog, you should speak with your mental health professional to help determine if a service dog really fits your needs.
People who suffer from milder anxiety or aren’t qualified for a service dog may instead go for an emotional support animal to help their condition. Remember, an emotional animal isn’t trained to perform certain tasks and can not follow you everywhere you go.