So you know you need a psychiatric service dog. But how do you go about asking your doctor about getting a service dog?
As someone who suffers from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, I end up in my own head a lot and get worried about being pushy, annoying or getting rejected. I am afraid of asking my doctor to change my medicine, much less asking my doctor about getting a service dog. It can feel nearly impossible to ask for something so big.
If you’re reading this article, you know that getting a service dog would be very helpful for you. You know that your quality of life would be improved greatly by having a service dog to take with you everywhere. Knowing this and being sure of it is very important to successfully asking your doctor about getting a service dog.
What To Say to Ask the Doctor About Getting a Service Dog
First, come up with as convincing an argument as you can for getting a service dog. I like to write this down. Here’s an example of something I might write down to say:
“Hi doctor, I’m really struggling with my depression and I have been for a while. The medicines I’ve tried haven’t really helped and the side effects have been really bad. I get really sore muscles and I get these weird seizures no matter what one I take. I don’t think I can take them anymore.
So, I have been reading about how getting a service dog can help me. Not an emotional support animal, but a service dog. I find my pet dog to help me at home, but I’d like to get a trained service dog that will help me when I am out in public.
I can get a service dog trained that will help me by doing deep pressure therapy when I start to feel like the environment is overwhelming me and I start to shut down. Also, getting a service dog can help me like when I start to get episodes of derealization, they can bring me back to the real world. Or even when I feel like I want to harm myself, they can stop me or get help. I really think getting a service dog would help me. I wanted to ask if you would write me a doctor’s note for a service dog so I can get one.”
The Formula for Asking Your Doctor About Getting a Service Dog
First, explain the problems you are having and explain why you don’t think medicine is good enough alone. Maybe you have unbearable side effects, maybe you still have symptoms, maybe randomly you get breakthrough symptoms. Maybe you need the dog to help you with the side effects of the medication. (For instance, with Xanax to handle my anxiety/random seizures, I get super drowsy and don’t know what’s happening anymore. I literally can’t remember anything afterward.)
Secondly, talk about how you’ve been learning about service dogs for people with mental illness and how helpful they are.
Third, talk about the specific things that getting a service dog can do to help you with your illnesses. For me, that’s stopping me from harming myself, deep pressure therapy for when I start to get overwhelmed/disoriented/panic attacks, alerting me to oncoming panic attacks so I can prepare for them, etc. Try to help them understand why getting a service dog makes sense for you.
Last, lead straight into asking for a doctor’s note.
Practice Asking the Doctor About Getting a Service Dog Before You Go
Here’s how I do this. I sit on my bed and pretend I am talking to my doctor. I pretend he said “Hi. What can I do for you today?” or maybe he’s just finished listening to my heart, and then I practice what I will say, based on the note I wrote. If I forget some things, that’s ok. When I have to reference my paper, that’s also ok. If I have to read straight off my paper, I’m good with that. My husband actually does this sometimes when he interviews for jobs. He types the things he wants to say, then puts it in a folder or a clipboard and looks at what he wrote in case he forgets something. It’s actually a pretty good idea, I think.
In the case of a doctor, I really think it’s ok if you have to just hand them the thing you wrote on the paper. Remember how important getting a service dog is to you, and be resolved to do whatever you need to. If that means handing over a pre-written statement, that’s what needs to be done.
Visualizing the Outcome You Want
Sometimes it can give you courage to just visualize the answer you want, happening. Sit with your eyes closed for a minute. Picture asking a generic doctor about getting a service dog. Imagine him smiling and saying “Yes, I’d be happy to do that for you.” Imagine how happy you’ll feel knowing that things worked out. Imagine getting a service dog of your very own and how good that will feel.
Even if it’s not the first doctor you ask about getting a service dog, eventually this visualization will happen.
Having Someone Else With You
Sometimes it’s too scary to go by yourself to talk to the doctor about getting a service dog. It can help to have someone who can come along and be moral support or an advocate for you – but only if they are 100% on board. If they’re ready to help you, show them what you wrote down. Then ask them if they can help you share the info to your doctor, because you’re afraid you’ll mess up or forget something.
If your parent, significant other or friend is skeptical of your need to get a service dog, they won’t be much help. In this case, it would be best to get a doctor on your side first, then you can use the doctor to help with your argument. If the skeptical other person insists on coming with you, either say “I want to see the doctor by myself today please.” Or when you’re in the room, ask to talk to the doctor alone, they’ll help shoo the other person away.
What if the Doctor says No to Getting a Service Dog???
This is obviously the biggest worry of anyone who has social anxiety. What if you go through all that work to ask about getting a service dog and he says no? What do you do?
Well, practice this with your pretend doctor so you’re ready for it.
Say “Ok.” and throw in a “That’s very discouraging to hear.” if you want to. And be prepared to go see another doctor. Keep trying.
Now, just know I’m not encouraging you to doctor hop. It’s just that some doctors have reasons they actually can’t say yes (liability insurance) or they think that service dogs are only for physical disabilities. You might have better luck with a psychiatrist, psychologist or just a doctor that understands service dogs a little better.
What if the Doctor Says Yes to Getting a Service Dog?
Then say “Thank you. I have a sample doctor’s note here if you need one to reference.” and hand them the printed doctor’s note sample that I’ll email you. Most doctor’s don’t actually know what’s needed for the note.
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Do You Actually Need a Doctor’s Note for Getting a Service Dog?
If you are pretty sure you need a service dog, you might not need a doctor’s note at all. If you own your own home and aren’t planning on flying, you can still have a service dog without a doctor’s note. Here are the downsides of not having a note:
- Can’t fly with your service dog
- Can’t rent from a non-pet friendly place or take your dog to not-pet friendly hotels
- You have to pay the pet fees for pet-friendly homes and hotels.
- If you need to take a business to court for not accommodating your dog, or you have to go to court for your dog causing injury to someone else, you might not win the case.
You can begin training a service dog without a note as well. Since it takes some time for a service dog to be ready to do Public Access Training anyway, you can begin training foundations as long as the place you live doesn’t require a note.
Don’t Give Up
It can be really discouraging when you’re trying to get help for your illness and you get negatives. Sometimes you have to be sad for a little bit after getting turned down. But try to keep hope – if you need a service dog, you can do this eventually. Keep trying whatever or whenever you can to get the note you need from one of your doctors. You can do this. Your health is worth the temporarily uncomfortable situations.