How Do I Get a “Prescription” for A Service Dog?

This is a question I get asked a lot. Very few people seem to be sure what they need to do to legally get a service dog. Information is scattered and it’s hard to know where to go to find the answer.

The interesting thing is, people assume that if you’re looking for a service dog, you don’t really need one or qualify for one.

But, you know what? I’ve found that most people who are looking for service dogs aren’t having mild problems and are just wanting a dog for funsies. They are intimidated by the lack of information on the internet and are afraid to move forward without finding out if they really qualify for a dog.

So back off, skeptics. I’m going to talk to the people who are looking for answers.

You have severe symptoms that are really interfering with you living your life. Many of you are unable to hold down jobs or have social or academic lives because your anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or other mental illness is so severe.

Some of you are unable to take medications for depression, anxiety. PTSD or bipolar disorder because of side effects that you cannot cope with, or because of other health problems or medications that interact with medications. Psychologists can only do so much, as well, for some people. Sometimes medication just doesn’t help enough.

I know how that is. Hunting through medications for something that works, but doesn’t give you horrible twitching or life-threatening Stevens-Johnsons Syndrome (that was my fun reaction to Lamictal) or whatever and also getting complete relief of symptoms is nigh on impossible.

Even if you do take medication and it helps you with your mental illness, did you know that also doesn’t keep you from qualifying for a service dog?

You’re probably researching this because you’ve been affected by a pet and recognized that when you’re with a dog, you finally start to feel better. So you’ve been wondering and hoping. Could a service dog be right for me? Will a service dog help me feel better? How do I get one if so?

How Do I Get Qualified for a Service Dog?

Now, before we get started, there are two different animals out there that you may have heard of. One is an ESA or Emotional Support Animal, and one is a PSD or Psychiatric Service Dog. They are two different classifications and they mean two different things.

For an Emotional Support Animal, you just need a note from your doctor or psychiatrist saying that you need an animal to comfort you. They cannot go anywhere special, UNLESS your state has a specific law saying ESAs are allowed in public places.  You’ll need to check with your local and state laws for that information though. They do not need any special training beyond being polite. They are allowed in normally not pet friendly housing.

We’re not talking about ESAs here. They’re for milder cases; for comfort. I’m not a specialist in ESA laws, so I’m not going to go into that further. I don’t really know much about what qualifies you for an ESA.

For a Psychiatric Service Dog, however, you do need to be classified as having a disability.

Now, the disability needs to be provable through your doctor, basically, in case you need to file for discrimination against a business. You also will need to be able to get proof that your dog has been properly trained, either through a trainer/school, or if you owner trained, just a log of what you’ve done.

You do NOT have to qualify through SSDI (which are the monetary and health benefits you get through social security). You do NOT need to have any sort of a piece of paper proving you are disabled that you carry around with you.

What is a disability?

It’s having a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities or major bodily functions currently or episodically.

Major life activities are eating, sleeping, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.

Major bodily functions are functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions. Although not specifically stated in the NPRM, the final regulations state that major bodily functions include the operation of an individual organ within a body system ( e.g., the operation of the kidney, liver, or pancreas).

Quite a few of the major life activities fall under things that are affected by mental disorders.

Here’s a list of the disabilities that the SSA officially recognizes, but any other illness that limits life activities also counts. This is just a list with descriptions (and the symptoms!) of disabilities that is nice to have in case you need something to back you up.

Print out your disability and mark it up in case you want to wave it in your aunt Betsy’s face and say “See, severe anxiety is a disability and that is why I need a service dog!” or in case you just want to make yourself feel better (no need to show it to anyone). The process of getting a service dog can be nerve wracking. It feels like any minute someone could call you a fraud and you wouldn’t be able to say otherwise. But that’s not true. Mental illness can be just as much a disability as a physical illness/handicap.

(Keep in mind you don’t ever actually have to share your disability information with anybody anywhere. At businesses, they can ONLY ask 1) if your dog is a service dog and 2) what tasks is it trained to do.)

How Do I Know if I Need a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Now, a Psychiatric Service Dog is helpful when a dog can be trained to perform one or more Tasks for you that you cannot perform for yourself.

The Tasks need to be related to your disability.

So, if you have panic attacks that really interrupt your life and keep you from being able to do your work, because you melt down, panic and can’t do anything but curl in a ball and hyperventilate for hours, a PSD can warn you in advance of panic attacks, keeping them from escalating or getting you to take your Xanax before you have a problem. They can help keep you in reality by providing grounding or deep pressure therapy – effectively replacing Xanax. Cool, huh?

Your PSD can also keep people away from you while you come out of an episode of whatever sort – random people coming up to you is generally not helpful. Alternately, they can alert people if you need assistance, grab/remind you to take medication or get a phone for you.

If you are unable to enter empty rooms because of PTSD, your PSD can enter the room first, check that it is safe and report back to you.

Dogs can detect mood swings, blood pressure drops, can keep you from self harming, can help you leave stores (if you panic and don’t know how to leave), find your car (some of my meds have a side effect of making me forget random stuff)… the list goes on and on for Tasks that a Psychiatric Service Dog can perform for you if you have a mental disability that keeps you from functioning daily.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that if your dog helps you with debilitating side effects from medications that you take, that counts as a Task too.

Anyway, I could go on all day about the neat things you can train your dog to do, but I’ll just leave it at that. A service dog can do so much to help you if you’re struggling.

So the answer to the question is, you don’t have to really do anything to qualify for a service dog, other than have a doctor verifiable disability and have something related to your disability that you can’t do for yourself that the dog can do for you. Pretty simple.

Hopefully that’s pretty clear. Feel free to send me an email if you have any more questions about this.

Also, if you’re interested, join my newsletter! I’m going to be putting together online courses for training your own psychiatric service dog and you can get updates there.

If you’d like to learn more about choosing the proper dog to be an owner trained service dog, check out this article.

34 Responses

  1. Julia says:

    This is really helpful. I’ve been struggling with anxiety for 2 years with extreme panic attacks – which sometimes have landed me in the hospital. I’ve tried multiple medications that just make me feel worse rather than better. I will be bringing service dogs up to my PCP at my next appointment as an alternative to medicinal therapy.

  2. Kim says:

    I’m highly interested in training my own service dog, i have alot of disabilities and i have documentation but its like 5-6 years s old. i’ve been discriminated against by other asking for their opinion on my fund raiser a while back to bring home my service dog from another state. Im currently trying to obtain a service dog as we speak. Its hard for me since my meds are very sedative to me and i have children. Very difficult.

  3. Carla Schmidt says:

    This would be very helpful to learn. My grand son lives with us . he is 16. He has ptsd. He cuts and hurt himself within a very short time. he get aniexity and depression and then something snaps and he cuts drinks or something just boom within 30 its too late not even his counselors saw the last one. he gave himself 6 tatoos with indian ink and drank a 5th of rum . he was in the hall way of the hospital for 74 hour. no metal health beds. 3 different cities couldnt take him cause they were full and he has type 1 diabetese. it was awful. any help please. he is taking some obiedience classes but thats all we can afford.

  4. Jessica Constable says:

    I would love to learn more about training a dog to help with my anxiety and depression.

  5. Cassidy Cornelius says:

    Hello! I got a concussion October 17, 2015. (8months ago) I am currently 17years old. It turned into Post Concussion syndrome which has given me an array of symptoms such as;
    Panick Attacks, extreme anxiety, light & sound sensitivity, brain/ word fog at times, dizziness 24/7 since the accident, balance issues, not being able to read, headaches and dizziness when I try to learn or do schoolwork, difficulty spelling at times, having trouble learning, paying attention, etc. I have been officially dianogsed with Post Concussion syndrome by a Doctor. Do you think I would benefit from a Therapy dog? I have a 9year old chihuahua/yorkie that’s very smart, do you think she is too old to become a Therapy dog? I am also fostering 8 week old rescue puppys (possibly lab mix?) I’ve had since they were 2 weeks old. They will get pretty big (40lbs or more). Do you think any of them wold be a better fit ? My email is Cornelius_cassidy@yahoo.com
    Please get back to me if possible, I really appreciate it, thank you!

  6. HB says:

    Just curious to know, for those of us disabled (via SS) with anxiety and PTSD and are now low income because of this disability whether there is financial help in obtaining or maintaining a PSD. Anyone know about this? Sorry if it’s a dumb question. The idea to look into this (because I would feel much ,much safer with a dog) just occurred to me today.

  7. Andrea Osborne says:

    Is it necessary for a trainer to require a letter from your phych doc just for training?
    Andrea

  8. Peyton Broge says:

    I have extreme paranoia, and rapid anger reaction. I would LOVE for a therapy dog to help me.

  9. Dashai says:

    I have epilepsy and I am looking to get a service dog I do live by myself me and my 2yr old son I just want to make sure I’m safe and alerted by having a service dog. the only issue that I’m having is presenting that to my landlord. is there a form that I can have a doctor fill out like a letter of medical necessity. Or should I go to the doctor to get a form they can provide? or maybe a template I could print out and fill out and be signed by me and my doctor that shows him that I am in need of the dog but not disclosing any of my disability to him

  10. Hi just wanted to know if i qualify for a service dog i have an appointment tomorrow with my neurology doctor let you all know what the outcome comes out

  11. Cassie says:

    Thank you. This was so helpful. I have a child with Autism, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder and Sensory Issues. We have been trying forever to get her a service dog. We have had several in mind, but would need to train them and most of the places I have found are several thousands of dollars, which we can’t afford. I would rather try to train the animal myself to know what to look for.

  12. Jason says:

    Is a therapist qualified to give me a disability letter

  13. Kimberly says:

    I asked my Dr. how do I get started in getting a service dog for my anxiety problems, and depressive episodes. I think it could help calm me when I have manic episodes as well and can’t sleep for days. She is not sure where to start. I know that she could write a prescription but I am not sure what to ask her to write. She has no experience working with non-pharmaceutical ways of dealing with problems other than group therapy. After some very bad medications I refuse to trust more experimentation with my life and health. She has finally stopped pushing drugs at me and would like to help but doesn’t know where to begin. Do you have any advice? What does the prescription or recommendation need to say? Do I need a Dr signature or will my “conditions” list be enough?

  14. Murrey Boehm says:

    How and where can I get the form to have my dr sign that I need my dog for emotional and psychiatric support?

  15. Bekah says:

    Is there anyway to get a service dog for an incurable form of deadly asthma and allergies that could alert me if there are any triggers present and at a reasonable price that I could afford with a low income

  16. Lucy says:

    I get anxiety attacks and panic attacks and suffer from depression and self harm it’s started to interfere with my schoolwork as I’ll have to step out of the classroom or I won’t be able to think or read clearly do I qualify for a service dog?

    • Haley says:

      I am kinda like you but pretty severe I would say I’m not sure I want to find out though cause I’m having the same problem and other easy tasks I can’t do because of my depression and stress attacks I have

  17. Sara says:

    Hiya I live in Salisbury uk and suffer with anxiety,depression, fibromyalgia and the list goes on!! Where could I go to get/rescue a psd,also financial help to purchase dog as unable to work because of my health so on esa?? Thank in advance

  18. It’s time for my dog get a shot as she is a chihuahua dog she is 5 months old

  19. Steven says:

    I have ADHD and a learning disability and I’m trying to get a dog to confront me and come me down when I’m hoper and this has helped a lot so ty

  20. Linda Beghtel says:

    Hi,
    To those looking for a list of Work or Tasks for Psychological Service Dogs go to http://www.psychdogpartners.org/resources/work-tasks. It’s a very thorough list, plus you need the Basic Obedience skills (Sit, Stay, Come,) that a regular Dog Training Class would give you. Yes you can train them yourself, or hire a trainer for $1000’s of dollars, your choice.
    For those who are needing a ‘Form’ for their Dr. to sign for their PSD dog – go to your Local Animal Shelter (online – ours http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/AServ/SLO_Animal_Services_-_Forms.htm) and look for the “Service Dog License Form” (ours says Assistance Dog – http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/Assets/AS/PDFs/Assistance+Animal+ID+Tag.pdf) you can see it at that link. It should be fairly self explanatory, though they can be very particular about how it is filled out, so ask if you need to. Some can be printed off from their web page after you have filled it in. Take it or send it to your Dr. and have them fill out their part – on the back, that’s where they will write all your Diagnosis & Symptoms & their recommendations. I.E. the Recommendation or Disability Letter. Then have them send it back to you so you can make a copy for your records – then you mail it to your Animal Services Shelter. There should be NO FEE for this, you will need a copy of the Service Dogs recent Rabies Vaccine, and if they have a recent License from the same Animal Services send that. (By the way my shelter can’t charge for Service Dogs ‘License Fees’ once she was approved as a Service Dog – so that’s a plus!). ALSO do NOT let the Animal Services tell you that you’ve filled out the information on the ‘wrong form because they have updated their format’…. ADA doesn’t approve such delays. ADA said: “As long as all the information is the same, and covers the same criteria then the Form is Valid and they are obligataed (Animal Services) to accept it.”
    Keep a copy for yourself, when the accepted copy returns with a License disk for your Service Dog; Send a copy of the Accepted License to your Dr. & to your Vet. with the Disk #. Yes, give a copy to your Therapist too if you have one, and they can write you a very simple disability, PTSD letter or whatever your diagnosis is. Usually they are better at writing them than a General Primary Care Physician.
    My little Sidara, PSD, has been a huge blessing in the last 3 years. She has helped me to get off of about 6 heavy duty pain meds; helped me to go outdoors (severe Agoraphobia since 2011) and helped me to sleep better (not seeing hallucinations as much) plus lots of wonderful loving & cuddling every day!
    It may be a struggle for you, but remember “They don’t usually believe that YOU NEED A SERVICE DOG — YOU HAVE TO CONVINCE THEM”. It is YOUR RIGHT to have a Service Animal that will help you to function in a normal fashion on a daily basis, whatever that is to YOU. Also get plugged into a Chat Line with a group of similar people in your condition with Service Dogs, it will help you to find answers and fight the tough battles and easily handle the small ones.

    I really hope this helps some of you… I had a really hard time with getting started, with family & friends who weren’t supportive of Sidara ‘going along every time’, and with the Animal Services not taking it seriously. Agoraphobia is a horrific diagnosis I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    Good luck to all and an Abundance of Wonderful Adventures with your Service Dogs & Your New Lives!
    Linda Beghtel in CA

  21. Keith Cameron says:

    I have a Service Dog for my PTSD (I am a 100% disable veteran) from my Military service. I paid for the Dog, paid for her training and she really has become my best friend and constant companion. She allows me to live a life that otherwise would be out of my reach (and I’m talking simple things like going to the store, a movie or out for a meal). But, be prepared. You and your Dog will encounter outright hostility, threats and pig ignorant Public servants. There are actually places that I would love to go but avoid because of the vitriol that I’ve encountered (I’ve been threatened with violence, had my Dog threatened, kicked at and threatened with poison). A Service Dog can change your life, but be prepared.

  22. Lori says:

    I’ve been suffering with major depression and anxiety for 30 years and the panic attacks are getting worse. I am afraid to leave my apartment as I’m afraid to go into the public. I have wanted a service dog for many years. I just want some help please.

  23. Jaimee says:

    I’m pretty sure I have really bad social anxiety since my chest gets really tight and i sweat when I’m talked to or have to talk loud//I front of a crowd. I avoid turning things in or getting up when everyone else is sitting down since I feel like everyone’s staring at me. I get super nervous and my chest tightens when I’m called on or when people look at me. I think I need a psychiatric dog since my anxiety really effects my life but idk if I’m too young?? Im only 13 but it gets really bad and my parents are always like “you don’t have anxiety you’re just shy” but there’s a huge difference. One time when I dropped everything I front of like 40 ppl I couldn’t breathe that well and I was super shaky + my chest tightened. I’m too scared //my anxiety prevents me from talking to a doctor about it. Plus, my parents don’t want another dog, and two of my dogs are too hyper. My third dog is really mellow and isn’t ever hard per but she’s either 8,9, or 10. She’s really well behaved but doesn’t know how to sit or whatever since she’s a rescue. What should I do?? Recently my social anxiety has gotten worse, and it might get even more worse as I age. Please help I’m scared to talk to my family or doc. Abt it bc my anxiety and my fam thinks I just say it for attention 🙁

  24. Lillia Otte says:

    What about severe migraines? I get basil migraines and they are so hard to catch, although sometimes I can “detect” I will get a migraine and prevent with tons of advil. My doctor said it would go at the end of puberty. I’m almost 21 and still get them when I am stressed. During these migraines, I’ve been told, I curl in a ball, bawl my eyes out, hyperventilate to passing out multiple times, and sometimes wander outside. I don’t remember ANY of it when I wake up about 12 hours later. My family, who I dont live with anymore, say that they last for about 4-6 hours. My husband is deployed, and I’m scared living by myself. I think a service dog will help me a lot in detecting when I have a migraine coming on, getting me pills when I’m having a migraine, and licking my face or barking at me to get me to take the pills, and keep me from wandering outside the house.

  25. Coquese Shannon says:

    I need a service dog because. I fall I have serve anexity. I can’t sleep I’m depressed because of the situation I’m I’m in . I need a service dog to help me when I fall or to up lift my spirits

  26. Katie says:

    How do I know which would be better for me, an ESA or PSD? I feel like I’d need more help/support than an ESA provides, but my anxiety and depression aren’t as severe as lots of the people I’ve heard of who have PSDs. I’m afraid of trying for a PSD and having it be like “oh you’re not nearly bad enough”. Is there a way for me to diagnose myself ahead of time to know which is more suited to my needs?
    Thanks for this post and your website, it’s so helpful!!

    • Rawr says:

      I suggest going to tour theripst and talking to them about it. Most times they’ll understand and give you a test for one. Hope I helped any 🙂

  27. Rawr says:

    This actually makes me really sad in a way. I feel like I might need a PSD becsuse of my depression, anxiety, and other things like anger issues but my parents don’t care or notice and put off trying to find me a therapist. I’m constantly having panic attacks and the only thing that makes me calm down a lot are… well… dogs! Most medications (no matter what they are) don’t even work on me or make if to where I can’t even think. I’ve brought it up that I might need a service dog to my mother but she just said “You’re not getting a service dog.” Very sturnly even though she doesn’t know all the reasons why I need one. I could go on and in because of why I feel like I need a service dog but no one cares in my family. If you read this thank you for your time. Sorry if I sounded mean or anything in sorry heh… 🙂

    • Paloma Shelton says:

      I am going through the same sort of thing if you ever want to talk you can contact me I feel very alone through this a did not know anyone was going through the same exact thing my email is palomas@gmail.com contact me i’m sure we would have a lot to talk about 🙂

  28. Vanessa says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! I have been looking online for information for weeks (my appointment is tomorrow to discuss this with my doctor) and I’ve printed out several snippets from this and another of your articles to take with me. Seriously, thank you.

  29. Haley says:

    This helps a lot cause I have really bad depression that I’m self harming and mess do not work they make it worse and therapy didn’t not help I would also get so stressed I breakdown or I would have self harming meltdowns and I’ve been suffering with it for a while but I would say that I’m fine and act that I’m fine when I’m really not so thank you cause now I’m thinking of a service to help me with this problem sometimes I gets so bad I wouldn’t eat or sleep talk or see others be alone a lot not do anything I would have a hard time working in school because of it so thank you so much I’m going to request it to my doctor

    • Haley says:

      I would also feel very lonely but wouldn’t want to be with anyone or talk to anyone at the same time I would also panic sometimes if I’m over stressed and I would have suicidal thoughts a lot that I had to go through lots of counseling but it never helped I just act like it does so I don’t have to go through it again cause it never helps in fact this is me right now just a little happier now that I know that there is a type of service dog for people like me cause I always thought you had to have ptsd or major medical disabilities to have a service dog so again thank you so much

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