Can service dogs help with anxiety?
Service dogs are companion animals that help people who have physical or mental health conditions.
A service dog for anxiety can provide a sense of calm, anticipate anxiety attacks, and even fetch medication for their owner.
In this article, we look at the benefits of service dogs for people with anxiety. We discuss how to get an anxiety service dog, which breeds make the most successful anxiety service dogs, and how much they cost.
What are service dogs?
Service dogs help people with physical or mental conditions.
Service dogs offer practical and emotional support to people with a physical or mental health difficulty.
The most well-known service dogs are guide dogs, which assist people who have visual impairments.
Psychiatric service dogs
A psychiatric service dog is a dog that helps someone with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, or other mental health conditions.
All service dogs have completed specialized training and are legally recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
These dogs can go anywhere with their owner, from restaurants to airplanes.
Benefits of anxiety service dogs
People can train service dogs to perform specific tasks depending on an individual's needs.
Roles carried out by service dogs for anxiety include:
- detecting signs of an anxiety attack before it happens
- fetching medication or water during an anxiety attack
- bringing someone to help the person in distress
- preventing strangers from approaching the person in distress
- calming a person down during an anxiety attack through distraction, such as licking their face or providing a paw
- providing deep pressure therapy to soothe their owner
- retrieving a phone during an anxiety attack
- reminding a person to take their medication at certain times of the day
- performing safety checks of rooms or turning the lights on for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Merely being around dogs provides many benefits, including:
- Exercise. Having a dog is a great way to encourage those with anxiety to exercise. Physical activity can improve symptoms of anxiety and other mental health conditions. It is also vital for physical health.
- Time outdoors. Walking a dog means spending time outdoors, which can sometimes be difficult for people who experience anxiety or depression. Spending time outdoors can boost people's mental health and increase their vitamin D intake, which can improve a person's mood.
- Company. Dogs provide love and friendship. Having a pet can reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation.
- Stress relief. Spending time with pets can reduce stress and anxiety and boost happiness. According to a 2015 study, having a pet dog may reduce the risk of anxiety in children.
A 2012 review suggests that interacting with animals may:
- reduce depression and improve mood
- encourage more positive interactions with other people
- lower cortisol levels, which is one of the body's primary stress hormones
- lower heart rate and blood pressure
- lower reported fear and anxiety
How to get a service dog
A person must meet specific criteria if they want a service dog.
People can get anxiety service dogs from specialist organizations if they meet specific criteria.
Criteria may include having:
- a physical disability or debilitating psychiatric condition
- a recommendation letter from a doctor or licensed mental health professional
- strong communication skills and patience
- the ability to consistently care for and train a service dog
- the ability to attend a handler training program
- a love of dogs
- a stable home environment
- the finances to care for and maintain a dog for 12 years or more
Many people with anxiety issues may not qualify for getting a service dog. However, some of these people may benefit from having an emotional support animal.
Emotional support animals (ESA) differ from service dogs. While trained service animals perform specific tasks, the law considers ESAs as pets. However, people can still experience tremendous benefits from living with an ESA.
ESAs are companion animals that a medical professional thinks will provide support to a person with a mental or physical health difficulty.
ESAs do not have the same legal protections that service animals do. However, they do have some protections, such as an exemption from no-pet housing rules.
Those who would like an ESA must get a letter from a licensed mental health professional to say that an animal improves at least one characteristic of their condition.
How much does a service dog cost?
Service dogs can be expensive because of the high cost of all the training that is involved.
According to Little Angels Service Dogs, many service dog organizations throughout the United States spend between $30,000 and $40,000 per trained dog.
Each dog receives an average of more than 600 hours of training, along with veterinary care, boarding, and grooming.
Some people choose to train the dog themselves, with the help of a certified trainer. This option is less expensive, but it can still involve high costs.
However, some organizations can help people find service dogs at little or no cost. This is because they meet some or all the expenses through fundraising.
Service dog breeds
Any breed of dog can become a service dog. The most important factors are the individual dog's temperament, and its ability to complete training.
Some of the breeds that work well as service dogs include:
- German shepherds
- golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
Coping with anxiety
People with anxiety can consider regular exercise to help manage symptoms.
Service dogs are not the only option for people with an anxiety disorder. The most common ways to cope with the condition are psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy helps people to reduce their anxiety symptoms. A common type of therapy for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
People may use medications alone or alongside psychotherapy. These may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or sedatives.
People with anxiety might consider making some lifestyle changes to help manage their symptoms. These include:
- getting regular exercise
- eating a healthful diet
- quitting smoking
- reducing caffeine intake
- avoiding alcohol and drugs
- reducing stress through meditation, yoga, and deep breathing activities
- establishing a regular sleep schedule
Having a service dog can provide a range of benefits to those with anxiety. But it is not always easy to get a service dog, and people must adhere to some strict criteria.
Those who wish to get a psychiatric service dog should speak with a licensed mental health professional to see if a service dog would be appropriate for them.
Individuals who experience anxiety but are not eligible for a service dog may instead get an emotional support animal. Other treatments for the condition include talk therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
With treatment, people can recover from their anxiety disorder and enjoy a good quality of life.