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Psychiatric Service Dogs VS. Emotional Support Animals

The first psychiatric service dog was placed with a handler in 2006. Since psychiatric service dogs were passed under the federal law, outsiders of the service dog world have come to question whether psychiatric service dogs are just Emotional support animals (ESA’s). There is a fine line between psychiatric service dogs and ESAs and if you are not in the service dog world you probably have no idea what the difference is. 


Psychiatric service dogs are for people that have been diagnosed by a medical professional with a mental health disorder. The list includes, but is not limited to clinical anxiety, clinical depression, PTSD, CPTSD, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, dissociation disorder, eating disorders, OCD, ADHD, paranoia, psychosis, and schizophrenia.


Psychiatric service dogs perform tasks to help their handler mitigate their disability. Tasks that a psychiatric service dog might perform are:

  • Deep Pressure Therapy - Similar to the way a weighted blanket works - DPT is scientifically proven to bring down heart rate and anxiety levels

  • Circling Handler - This creates space from the handler and other people - Why might someone need this command? - Some people may feel uncomfortable with people being too close and if people do come too close it can lead to anxiety and even a possible panic attack

  • Forward Facing Between The Handlers Legs - A handler can feel protected by their dog in addition to having the option to pet them to feel comfort and reduce anxiety.

  • Backwards Facing Dog Between The Handlers Legs - This gives a handler peace of mind if they are nervous of what is behind them - their dog facing backwards gives the comfort that someone is watching their back

  • Alerting to Head on Knees - For those that suffer from a state of panic and rest their head on their knees, their service dog can nudge them which in turn can possibly prevent an attack.


This is just a few of the MANY psychiatric service dog tasks!


If you have a psychiatric service dog or multi-purpose service dog, leave your favorite psych task in the comments!


Psychiatric service dogs go through the same intense basic obedience and public access training as other types of service dogs. Service dogs are a true money and time investment, whereas ESAs are not. Psychiatric service dogs learn to ignore distractions, be obedient, and problem solve on their own to help their handlers at home and in public.


Emotional Support Animals do not go through any intense training program and are not task-trained to help someone mitigate their disability. ESAs are great for comfort inside a human's home but ESAs are not allowed in public because they are not classically trained. 


Fun Fact: There is no real national registration for ESAs or Service Animals. They are a scam and companies just want your money. 


If you have questions about a psychiatric service dog, please contact us! We would be honored to guide you through this process.


K9 Service Companions

written by: Trinity



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