Service dogs are specially trained to become companions and aides to people with a disability (visual, hearing, or mobility impairment); with a disease (such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis; and with a mental health condition (such as anxiety, autism, depression, or PTSD).
Here are the basics on how to get a service dog for anxiety.
Service Dogs for Anxiety
These dogs are called psychiatric service dogs and are trained to assist people with mental health conditions accomplish certain tasks, as well as to provide protection. Service dogs for anxiety typically perform the following tasks for their owner, in response to learned commands and symptoms:
- Bring anxiety medication in case of an anxiety attack; bring water, too, if the person needs it to wash down the medication.
- Fetch the phone if an anxiety attack requires contacting a therapist or other support system.
- Get somebody’s help if there’s a crisis.
- Help calm down the person during moments of distress by putting gentle pressure against the chest or abdomen.
- Provide tactile stimulation (i.e., lick the face) to help ease an emotional overload.
Psychiatric service dogs are different from emotional support dogs. The latter only provides emotional therapy to their owner with their presence and companionship; they are not trained to perform tasks.
How to Get a Service Dog for Anxiety
Just as service dogs require proper training to qualify, so must people who wish to acquire a psychiatric service dog meet the required criteria to become eligible. These criteria may include:
- A recommendation from a licensed mental health professional or a general practitioner
- Participation in the dog’s training
- Developed ability to independently command the service dog and properly care for it
- Ability to provide a stable home environment
Service dogs are trained at an early age to meet the needs of people who require their help; a dog undergoes additional training together with its prospective owner before it’s placed in the owner’s home. Pet dogs normally can’t qualify for service dog training.
More often than not, only people with a debilitating mental health disorder are eligible to get a psychiatric service dog. If your anxiety is not categorized as a mental disability by your doctor, i.e., you are still able to perform necessary tasks even while experiencing anxiety, what you’ll need most is the comfort of companionship from an emotional support animal. Keep in mind that you will still need your doctor’s prescription letter to get a service dog for anxiety.
Compared to service dogs, emotional support dogs (or other emotional support animals) are usually considered pets and are not under legal protections in public and private spaces.But they qualify for some of the provisions afforded to service dogs, such as flying with their owner without additional fees and being allowed in no-pet housing and certain establishments.
Coping with Anxiety
There are many other ways to cope with anxiety, and you will have to find what works best for you. As much as possible, seek the help of a mental health professional to figure out healthy ways to manage your anxiety. You can also do this on your own if you are determined enough to help yourself.
Avoiding your anxiety triggers is a given. Preparing yourself mentally when you can’t avoid the cause of your anxiety is also a critical practice you’ll need to master. Whether it’s a practice in mental readiness or a need to manage clear and present anxiety, you can try any of the following coping mechanisms:
- Performing breathing exercises
- Practicing mindfulness, which also involves calming breathing techniques
- Going for a leisurely walk
- Exercising regularly, or to relieve an anxious episode
- Getting a good night’s sleep
- Drinking a calming tea
- Avoiding caffeine
- Engaging in a relaxing activity
A holistic approach you may also want to try is taking CBD oil. CBD, or cannabidiol, is known for its calmative properties. Whether you need to remedy mild or severe anxiety, CBD can effectively calm your nerves. Talk to your doctor about taking CBD for your anxiety, especially if you’re taking other medications.
If your anxiety is affecting the quality of your life, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. If you feel that an emotional support dog or a psychiatric service dog will be beneficial to your well-being, talk to your doctor or therapist about it. They will help you figure out the best way for you to manage your anxiety.