I often talk to people who think they might be able to use a service dog for anxiety, but aren’t sure what the dog could do to help them. An anxiety service dog can actually be very helpful, depending on how severe your symptoms are.
Sometimes, an ESA is enough to help with anxiety, but sometimes it’s not. And then there is also the in-between dog that does anxiety tasks at home, but maybe isn’t trained to go in public. It depends on if a anxiety service dog would actually help you.
So, for those people who aren’t sure whether an anxiety service dog makes sense for them, I’ve made a list of possible anxiety-related tasks.
Anxiety Service Dog Tasks List
- Service dog alerts to panic attack or rising anxiety.
This is useful if knowing in advance that you are getting anxious or going to have a panic attack helps you to do something about it. For me, this means I can take medication, do some relaxation exercises, ask my dog to do DPT or at least get in my car (or my room) where things are less overwhelming.The caveat is, if knowing in advance that you’re going to have a panic attack won’t help you in any way or be useful, this is not a task.
- Service dog does deep pressure therapy when asked.
Deep pressure therapy can help to calm down anxiety or a panic attack. The pressure on your chest actually helps to give a sense of calmness and relief.If deep pressure therapy helps a panic attack or anxiety be less severe, it is a task.
- Service dog reminds you to take your medication. If you’re supposed to take medications for your anxiety and you have trouble remembering to take your medication, then training a service dog to remind you to take your medication can be a helpful task.As a bonus, you can train your dog to bring you a bottle of water, if you feel like you can’t get up and get your own water.
- Service dog gets help for you. Anyone who has ever had a panic attack knows that it can feel like you’re going to die. For some people, it can be reassuring or helpful to have a dog trained to get help when you’re in the middle of a panic attack.
- Service dog tells you to leave an anxiety-inducing situation. Training your dog to whine and act like they need to go to the bathroom when you’re in a social situation that’s causing anxiety can be a relief.
- Service dog grounds you. During a panic attack or severe anxiety, a disconnect from reality can occur. Training your service dog to ground you means teaching them to lick your face or poke your hand with their nose or do any other behavior that helps you snap back to the real world and begin functioning again.
- Service dog turns on the lights for you.
This might seem like it isn’t related to anxiety, but some people have severe anxiety at night (my daughter does) and sitting in the dark can cause them to start getting very scared and anxious – to the point where they can’t get out of bed. You can train a dog to turn on the lights for you so you can see that everything is safe.
- Service dog blocks for you. This is useful if people getting too close to you causes anxiety, or if people coming near you when you’re panicking causes it to get worse. You can train a service dog to block people from getting too close so that you can calm down, or so you can have the space you need.
- Service dog warns you when someone is coming up behind you. If your anxiety is triggered by people walking up behind you, a service dog can be trained to warn you that someone is coming up behind you, so that you won’t be startled.
- Service dog makes you push through your anxiety.
In therapy, they often teach you that you can lessen the severity of your anxiety by doing the thing you are anxious about. If you have a specific thing that you want to make sure you do (say, approach and talk to a stranger), you can train your service dog to help you do it (in this example, the dog, on a cue, might start to walk up to a nearby stranger.)
Keep in mind, this would probably only count as a task if you need to talk to strangers to function. Say, at the grocery store you need to ask a question to buy something and you are too anxious to do it, then you can have the dog take you to the person you need to talk to. Otherwise, this is probably best trained as a supporting behavior and not relied on as it’s own task.
Note that this isn’t a comprehensive list, I know there are some tasks I’ve missed, so feel free to let me know if there are any others you can think of.
Anxiety Service Dog Task Training
Once you’ve figured out what service dog tasks will help your anxiety, you can write the tasks down. This will help you prioritize and remember what to train your anxiety service dog to do.
It is also good if you still need to ask your doctor for a note for an anxiety service dog. You can use the task list to help explain why a service dog would help you.
If you’re thinking that you want to talk to your doctor about getting a service dog for your anxiety, you might like having a sample doctor’s note to bring along with you (lots of doctors don’t know what to write), so I have a sample note that I can email you here: