Psychiatric Service Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs


What You Need To Know

Psychiatric Service Animals are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Emotional Support Animals are not; but there is more to know.

  • Service animals are defined as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, helping a person cease self-harming behavior, helping a person cease repetitive or impulsive behaviors.

  • Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA.

Important distinction: Services dogs are trained in at least one task to support their owner. Emotional support dogs have a positive effect on their owners, but are not trained to do specific tasks.

While emotional support dogs are not considered "service animals" under the ADA, public places still have an obligation to modify their policies when necessary to ensure equal access for a person with a disability. And when it comes to housing, under the Fair Housing Act, persons with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation for an emotional support dog. Additionally, the Air Carrier Access Act permits both service dogs and emotional support dogs to accompany people on flights.

Registration And Certification Process

Legally, there is no required registration or certification for emotional support dogs OR service dogs. The "proof" needed for an emotional support dog is a letter from a licensed mental health professional, supporting the need for an emotional support dog. And this rule may vary state-to-state. Neither service dogs nor emotional support dogs are required to be publicly identified with a vest, etc. A service dog is distinguished as having been trained in at least one task to serve a person with a disability.

Some, but not all, service dogs wear identifying vests or harnesses. Some, but not all, service dogs, are licensed and certified and have identification papers. Some states have certification programs for service dogs, but people cannot demand proof of such certification before allowing them to enter various public places.

The defining difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs is training. Service dogs receive an average of 600 hours of specific training to perform supportive task(s) before being given to their owner. Emotional support dogs generally receive little or no training.

Types of Psychiatric Service Dogs - Protected By ADA Law

  • A Psychiatric Service Dog is a dog that has been trained to perform tasks that assist individuals with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects. Tasks performed by psychiatric service animals may include reminding the handler to take medicine, providing safety checks or room searches, or turning on lights for persons with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, interrupting self-mutilation by persons with dissociative identity disorders, and keeping disoriented individuals from danger.

  • SSigDOG (sensory signal dogs or social signal dog) is a dog trained to assist a person with autism. The dog alerts the handler to distracting repetitive movements common among those with autism, allowing the person to stop the movement (e.g., hand flapping).

DID YOU KNOW? a service dog is a tax-deductible medical expense.

Examples Of Places That Train Psychiatric Service Dogs

Pawsitivity Service Dogs - St. Paul, MN

  • They open their application process twice a year (they are small, train 2-3 dogs annually)

  • They match eligible dogs to eligible owners

  • They spend $33,000 to train dogs, ask you to cover half: $16,500

Canine Companions for Independence - various national locations

  • No charge for their dogs

  • Is a very large organization (place 300-350 dogs/year)

  • One to 2 year process from initial application to meeting your dog

Canines4Hope - Palm City, FL

  • 3-6 month process to train dog

  • Cost falls to the individual getting dog (they provide tips on how to do a fundraiser to help you cover costs, if need be)

  • Need to call them for cost estimate, exact timeline

Guardian Angels - Tampa, FL

13-page application process. Application committee meets monthly; if approved, you go on their waiting list. Dogs come at no cost to owner, but the organization must raise $20,000 per dog to fund it's training. Eligibility:

  • Having a mental or physical disability that limits a major life activity.

  • Must be physically, cognitively and financially capable of working with, and caring for their service dogs.

  • Would have the ability to train at one of their training locations.

Little Angels Service Dogs - Jamul, CA

  • Multi-step application process, takes 1-2 months.

  • Handler (person getting dog) must be able to travel to CA to get handler training.

  • If dog is paid for via private pay, wait can be as little as 3 weeks (average cost around $24,000).

  • If fundraising needs to occur, they ask family to help, but do not require it, and it can take up to 18+ months to get dog.

What are the benefits of having a psychiatric service dog? Check out this helpful page from the organization, Pawsitivity. Here they highlight results of several recent studies, showing how psychiatric service dogs can have major positive beneifts for a person with a "psychiatric disability".

#psychiatricservicedogs #emotionalsupportdogs #knowyourrights #americanswithdisabilitiesact

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Disclaimer: As a therapeutic consultant, Virgil advises, advocates, recommends, facilitates and empowers, but he does not treat mental illness or addiction. While offering 30+ years of mental health experience, he is not a licensed mental health professional, but will often refer clients to professionals and programs for treatment. 

 

Note: Virgil has no financial relationship with any of these programs, except for Houston Methodist Hospital and McLean Hospital for whom he has been a consultant. Any consultation he gives is for educational, informational and motivational purposes only and is not meant to replace professional psychiatric, psychological, programmatic, legal or financial advice the client may need for him or herself or their family member from a licensed professional. 

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