For anyone with a mental health diagnosis, the companionship and unconditional love of an emotional support animal (ESA) or a psychiatric service dog (PSD) can be incredibly beneficial.
- ESAs are companion animals that provide emotional support for those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder.
- ESAs do not need any specialized training but must be well-behaved and clean.
- PSDs are specially trained service dogs that are able to assist individuals with mental health diagnoses in ways an ESA cannot.
- PSDs require extensive specialized training in order to accomplish tasks specific to their human partner’s needs and must pass a series of tests that prove they have been properly trained according to ADA regulations.
- Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) can provide physical and emotional support to their handlers including task-oriented benefits such as environmental assessment; stability support; disruption prevention; prompting medications; fetching items; companionship; and unconditional love.
- The primary difference between Emotional Service Animals (ESAs) and Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) is the type of tasks they are trained to perform.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
ESAs are companion animals that exhibit a calming presence for those with psychiatric or emotional disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder.
These animals provide emotional support by being present with the individual during difficult times and helping them to cope with their symptoms.
ESAs do not need any specialized training, but must be able to behave in public settings. They must be well-behaved, clean, and up-to-date on all vaccinations.
Here is a list of common mental health reasons that are approved for people to get an emotional support animal letter:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome
- Bipolar Disorder
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Panic Disorder
- Major Depressive Disorder
Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs)
Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) are specially trained service dogs that are able to assist individuals with mental health diagnoses in ways an ESA cannot. Unlike ESAs, PSDs require extensive specialized training in order to accomplish tasks specific to their human partner’s needs. For instance, PSDs may be trained to:
- Fetch items
- Wake their human partner from nightmares
- Offering verbal reminders during difficult times
- Help their human partner through anxieties in public situations by providing deep pressure therapy
- Remind their human partner to take medications on time
- Alert their human partner of approaching people or objects
- Provide stability support (such as “bracing” for balance when standing or walking)
- Disruption prevention (interrupting repetitive behaviors or calming a person in the midst of an anxiety attack)
In addition to these task-oriented benefits, PSDs can also provide incredible emotional support to their handlers in the form of companionship and unconditional love. All of this, and more helps create a sense of safety for their handlers, allowing them more freedom and reducing the intensity of their symptoms.
Unlike traditional service dogs who lend physical support, such as guide dogs for the blind or those who assist individuals with mobility impairments—these highly skilled animals are taught how to recognize subtle changes in an individual’s state of mind and respond accordingly.
Registering an ESA vs a PSD
Unlike ESAs which can be registered online and obtained without any special training requirements or certification standards, PSDs must pass a series of tests that prove they have been properly trained in order to qualify as a legitimate service dog according to ADA regulations. This means that while both types of animals can provide emotional support for those with mental illness, only PSDs offer more specialized assistance and therefore greater freedom for those who need it most.
The process of registering an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is typically less complex than that of registering a Psychiatric Service Dog (PSD). For an ESA, the handler simply needs to obtain a letter from a licensed mental health professional or other qualified provider stating that the animal provides emotional support or comfort.
In contrast, PSDs require more extensive registration paperwork in order to be recognized as service animals. This includes documentation such as veterinary records, proof of training, and certification from a qualified third party organization. It is important to note that the standards for certification vary between organizations and that not all certifications are accepted everywhere.
The effect of these different certification standards on the human owner of the pet depends on the particular situation. Those who already have a well-trained pet may find it relatively easy to get their ESA certified whereas those with more complex needs may need to invest time and money into gaining PSD certification before they can enjoy public access rights with their animal.
Public Access Privileges of an ESA vs PSD
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) have different levels of access when it comes to public spaces. ESAs are not granted the same access rights as service animals, though they may be given limited privileges depending on the rules and regulations in place.
Generally speaking, an ESA is allowed access to places like housing and workplaces that may not allow pets. However, they are not necessarily allowed access to places like restaurants and stores unless given special permission by the establishment.
On the other hand, PSDs are legally allowed access to all public places where pets are allowed due to their status as service animals. This means that owners are typically permitted to bring their PSD with them anywhere – from movie theaters to airplanes – without fear of discrimination or refusal of entry.
The effect of these different access privileges on the human owner of the pet largely depends on the individual’s needs and circumstances. For someone who only requires an animal for emotional support, having a limited range of places they can take their ESA may not be a major issue; however, for those whose mental health issues require a more reliable level of support, being able to take their PSD into all public spaces could greatly enhance their quality of life.
ESA vs PSD Training Requirements
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) have different training requirements due to the services they provide. ESAs don’t require any special training, but PSDs must be trained in specific tasks that are related to their handler’s mental health condition.
For an ESA, the handler simply needs to prove that their pet provides emotional support or comfort. This typically involves a letter from a mental health professional or other proof demonstrating how the animal helps with the individual’s mental health issue.
In contrast, PSDs need specialized training in specific tasks such as calming their owner during panic attacks, reminding them to take medication, blocking people who are causing distress, and alerting owners about potential dangers. Some organizations provide extensive training for handlers and their PSD. Other organizations train only the dog but give guidance to handlers on how best to utilize the dog’s skills.
The effect of these different training requirements on the human owner of the pet depends on the particular situation. For those who already have a well-trained pet, it might not be an issue and they may find that an ESA is enough for their needs. However, for someone with more complex needs such as a psychiatric disorder or disability, having a properly trained PSD could mean greater quality of life and improved safety in certain situations.
Similarities Between an ESA and a PSD
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) and Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSDs) have many similarities despite the differences in their public access privileges.
Both types of animals perform similar tasks of providing comfort, companionship, and general support for their human companions. ESAs provide comfort through soothing behavior such as cuddling and licking while PSDs may additionally be trained to do more complex tasks to assist the individual with certain activities or alert them of certain dangers.
Moreover, both types of animals must go through some level of training before they can be registered or certified. For an ESA this generally involves learning basic commands like “sit” and “stay” as well as being house-trained, whereas a PSD requires extensive training in specific areas depending on the handler’s needs.
Finally, it is important to note that regardless of whether an animal is an ESA or a PSD, they both must always be kept up-to-date on all vaccinations and health checks in order to ensure the safety of both the human companion and those around them.