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Service Dogs for Anxiety: All You Need to Know

April 26, 2022

All human beings deal with anxiety to some degree. It’s how we’re wired. Anxiety, for some people, creates a negative impact on life. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults in the U.S. A growing number of people with anxiety disorders get help from a psychiatric service dog or an emotional support animals. We’ll discuss the definitions of each, how to obtain one, how to make your dog one, the cost, the disabilities that qualify and more.

Service Dogs for Anxiety: Definition

A service dog is a specific task-trained dog to perform a task for their handler that their handler either cannot perform or has difficulty performing due to their disability. In the case of anxiety, they are often referred to as psychiatric service dogs.

Not to be confused with an emotional support animal (ESA), an untrained animal that may help mitigate the symptoms of an emotional/mental disability simply with their presence. Read more about emotional support animals for anxiety.

Service Dog Tasks for Anxiety

Service dogs can be a lifeline for individuals with anxiety, offering both physical and emotional support to help manage their symptoms. Here are some tasks that service dogs may be trained to perform for someone with anxiety:

  1. Recognizing Signs of Anxiety: Service dogs can be trained to detect changes in their handler’s behavior or body language that indicate the onset of anxiety or a panic attack. This can include changes in breathing patterns, restlessness, or increased heart rate.
  2. Interruption and Distraction: When signs of anxiety are detected, the dog can interrupt the behavior by nudging, pawing, or laying on their handler to distract them from their anxious thoughts or to disrupt the onset of a panic attack.
  3. Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT): For some, the physical weight of a dog lying across their lap or chest can have a calming effect. This is known as Deep Pressure Therapy. It can help reduce the physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as elevated heart rate and rapid breathing.
  4. Retrieving Medication or Help: Service dogs can be trained to retrieve medication for their handler during an anxiety attack, or to find another person to provide assistance if needed.
  5. Guiding to a Safe Place: During an anxiety attack, an individual may feel disoriented or overwhelmed. A service dog can be trained to lead their handler to a predetermined safe place where they can recover.
  6. Room Search: For individuals with anxiety related to intruders or fear of being in unsafe spaces, a service dog can be trained to search a room or home to reassure their handler that the environment is safe.
  7. Providing a Social Buffer: In social situations that may trigger anxiety, a service dog can act as a buffer between their handler and other people, providing a sense of safety and reducing social stress.
  8. Encouraging Routine: Service dogs can help individuals maintain a routine, which can be crucial for managing anxiety. This includes waking up at a specific time, going for walks, and engaging in regular activities that can help reduce anxiety levels over time.
  9. Emergency Response: In situations where an individual’s anxiety leads them to become non-responsive or severely disoriented, service dogs can be trained to press an emergency button to call for help or to bark to attract attention from nearby people.

The training a service dog receives depends on the specific needs of their handler. Not all service dogs will perform all these tasks; their training is usually customized to the individual’s requirements. The presence of a service dog can also offer general benefits such as companionship, unconditional love, and a sense of security, which can significantly improve the overall quality of life for someone with anxiety.

Benefits of Service Dogs for Anxiety

Psychiatric service dogs offer a range of benefits for individuals with anxiety, providing both practical support for managing symptoms and broader emotional and psychological benefits. Here are some of the key benefits of having a psychiatric service dog for anxiety:

1. Constant Companionship

  • Reduces Loneliness: The presence of a service dog provides constant companionship, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation that often accompany anxiety disorders.
  • Sense of Security: Having a service dog can make individuals feel more secure, knowing they have a constant ally and protector by their side.

2. Improved Daily Functioning

  • Assistance in Daily Tasks: For those whose anxiety impairs their ability to perform daily tasks, a service dog can help them maintain a routine, encouraging them to engage in daily activities and responsibilities.
  • Increased Independence: By assisting in tasks that might otherwise require human assistance, service dogs enable individuals with anxiety to feel more independent.

3. Enhanced Social Interactions

  • Social Bridge: Service dogs can act as a social bridge, easing conversations with others and reducing the stress associated with social interactions.
  • Reduced Stigma: The presence of a service dog can sometimes help reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions, as it signifies a recognized disability and need.

4. Physical Health Benefits

  • Encourages Physical Activity: Regular walks and care activities associated with a service dog can increase physical activity, which is beneficial for mental health.
  • Improvement in Physical Health: The companionship of a service dog has been linked to various physical health benefits, including lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health.

5. Emotional and Psychological Support

  • Non-Judgmental Support: Service dogs offer unconditional love and support, providing comfort without judgment, which can be particularly healing for individuals with anxiety.
  • Stress Reduction: Interactions with dogs have been shown to increase levels of oxytocin (a stress-reducing hormone) and decrease production of cortisol (a stress hormone), leading to a calming effect on the nervous system.

6. Symptom Management

  • Interruption of Anxiety Attacks: Service dogs are trained to recognize and interrupt behaviors or physiological symptoms of anxiety attacks, providing immediate relief.
  • Mitigation of Symptoms: Through tasks such as deep pressure therapy, service dogs can help mitigate the physical symptoms of anxiety.

7. Increased Sense of Purpose

  • Responsibility: Taking care of a service dog provides a sense of responsibility and purpose, which can be beneficial for individuals dealing with anxiety.
  • Focus Shift: The need to care for their service dog can help individuals shift their focus away from their anxiety and toward the well-being of their companion.

8. Improved Confidence and Self-Esteem

  • Building Confidence: Successfully navigating the world with the assistance of a service dog can build confidence in individuals with anxiety.
  • Enhanced Self-Esteem: The sense of accomplishment and independence gained from interacting with a service dog can improve self-esteem.

9. Better Coping Strategies

  • Development of Routine: The necessity of a daily routine for the service dog can help individuals develop better coping strategies for managing anxiety.
  • Emotional Regulation: By providing comfort during times of distress, service dogs help individuals learn to regulate their emotions more effectively.

The benefits of a psychiatric service dog can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with anxiety, offering not just a way to manage symptoms but also enhancing overall well-being and enabling a more fulfilling and independent lifestyle.

Best Service Dog Breeds for Anxiety

Choosing the right breed for a service dog, especially for individuals with anxiety, depends on various factors including temperament, intelligence, and the ability to form strong bonds with their handlers. While many breeds can be trained as service dogs, some are more naturally suited to the tasks and emotional support needed for anxiety. Here are ten breeds often considered top choices for this role:

1. Labrador Retriever

  • Known for their gentle nature, intelligence, and eagerness to please, Labradors are highly trainable and make excellent service dogs for a wide range of needs, including support for those with anxiety.

2. Golden Retriever

  • Similar to Labradors, Golden Retrievers are friendly, patient, and reliable. Their gentle demeanor makes them great companions for individuals dealing with anxiety.

3. Standard Poodle

  • Poodles are highly intelligent, trainable, and have a hypoallergenic coat, which is beneficial for those with allergies. Their empathetic nature makes them good candidates for emotional support and service roles.

4. German Shepherd

  • German Shepherds are known for their loyalty, intelligence, and versatility. They can be trained for a variety of service tasks, including providing support for those with anxiety, though their size and strength require careful handling.

5. Border Collie

  • Border Collies are incredibly intelligent and excel in training. They are highly energetic and best suited for individuals who can match their activity level. Their keen awareness makes them excellent at responding to their handler’s emotional needs.

6. King Charles Spaniel

  • These small dogs are affectionate, adaptable, and good at reading their owners’ emotional states, making them excellent companions for those with anxiety. Their size makes them well-suited for environments where larger dogs might not be practical.

7. Boxer

  • Boxers are known for their strong bond with families, protective nature, and intuitive sensitivity to human emotions, qualities that serve well in supporting individuals with anxiety.

8. Labradoodle

  • A cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Standard Poodle, Labradoodles combine the best traits of both: the intelligence and hypoallergenic coat of the Poodle with the friendly nature of the Labrador, making them great service dogs for anxiety.

9. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

  • Similar to the King Charles Spaniel, these dogs are known for their calm demeanor and ability to form strong emotional bonds with their owners, providing comfort and support to those with anxiety.

10. Doberman Pinscher

  • While they might have a reputation as guard dogs, Dobermans are actually very sensitive and responsive to their owners’ needs. With proper training, they can be excellent service dogs for people with anxiety, offering protection and emotional support.

It’s important to remember that the individual dog’s temperament, rather than the breed alone, often determines their suitability as a service dog. Additionally, mixed breeds and rescues can also be excellent service dogs. The key is finding a dog whose personality, size, and energy level match well with the handler’s needs and lifestyle. Training and a strong bond between the dog and their handler are crucial for a successful service dog partnership.

Get a Service Dog for Anxiety: Three Different Methods

1. Trainer/Training Organization

Trainer or training organizations specialize in breeding, raising, and training service dogs for various purposes, including psychiatric assistance. These organizations employ professional trainers who utilize structured programs to train dogs to perform specific tasks tailored to individual needs. The process typically involves an application and assessment process to match handlers with suitable dogs. Once matched, the dog undergoes intensive training, often lasting several months, to ensure proficiency in psychiatric assistance tasks. While this method may involve a waiting period and financial investment, it offers the assurance of working with experienced professionals who understand the intricacies of training service dogs.

Assistance Dog International (ADI) is a great resource to locate an ADI credentialed trainer in your area that may be able to assist you with having your dog trained to become a psychiatric service dog.

2. Non-profit Organizations

Non-profit organizations dedicated to providing assistance dogs often offer psychiatric service dogs as part of their programs. These organizations rely on donations and fundraising efforts to cover the costs associated with breeding, training, and placing service dogs. Individuals seeking a psychiatric assist service dog through non-profit organizations may be required to meet certain eligibility criteria and undergo an application and interview process. Once accepted into the program, the individual is matched with a suitable dog and provided with training and ongoing support. This method may offer financial assistance or reduced costs compared to private trainers or organizations, making it accessible to a broader range of individuals.

3. Self-training

Self-training involves individuals taking on the responsibility of training their own psychiatric service dog. While this method offers the flexibility of training the dog according to the handler’s specific needs and preferences, it requires a significant commitment of time, resources, and knowledge. Self-training typically involves researching training methodologies, attending obedience classes, and working closely with the dog to teach desired tasks. Positive reinforcement techniques, such as clicker training, are commonly utilized in self-training programs. While self-training can be a rewarding experience, it requires dedication and consistency to ensure the dog develops the necessary skills to assist with psychiatric assistance tasks effectively.

Each method of obtaining a psychiatric service dog has its own advantages and considerations. Individuals should carefully evaluate their options based on factors such as cost, time, and level of support needed. Ultimately, the goal is to find a method that best suits the individual’s needs and circumstances, ensuring a successful partnership between handler and dog.

Register Your Service Dog for Anxiety

Registering your Psychiatric service dog with National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) offers numerous benefits to both you and your canine partner. NSAR provides a simple and free registration process that helps establish your dog’s status as a service animal, which can facilitate smoother accommodations. Here’s why registering with NSAR is advantageous:

  1. Legitimacy: Registration with NSAR adds legitimacy to your Psychiatric service dog’s status. With a registered service dog, you can confidently assert your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when accessing public spaces, transportation, housing, and other areas where service animals are allowed.
  2. Identification: NSAR provides identification tools such as vests, ID cards, and other merchandise that clearly indicate your dog’s role as a service animal. These visual cues not only help others recognize your dog’s purpose but also signal your commitment to responsible ownership.
  3. Ease of Access: Having your Psychiatric service dog registered with NSAR can streamline interactions with businesses, landlords, and transportation providers. Showing your registration documentation and identification products can help mitigate misunderstandings and ensure smoother access to the accommodations and services you need.
  4. Peace of Mind: Registering with NSAR offers peace of mind, knowing that you have official documentation and support to navigate situations where your service dog’s presence may be questioned. It provides a sense of security and empowerment as you go about your daily activities with your trusted companion by your side.

NSAR offers a range of registration options, including free basic registration and premium packages with additional benefits. Take advantage of NSAR’s services to register your Psychiatric service dog today and enjoy the confidence and convenience that come with official recognition and identification.

Service Dog Letter for Anxiety

Exercising your housing rights with a service dog, especially for anxiety, involves understanding the legal protections in place, knowing how to communicate your needs, and sometimes navigating challenges with landlords or housing providers who may not be familiar with the law. In the United States, these rights are primarily protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which ensures that individuals with disabilities can have their service animals in most types of housing, even those with no-pet policies. To exercise these rights, you’ll need a psychiatric service dog letter from a licensed mental health professional.

Frequently Asked Questions About Service Dogs for Anxiety

Do people with anxiety need service dogs?

Anyone suffering from anxiety can benefit tremendously from having a service dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes only dogs as service animals for anxiety and other related disabilities. Service dogs are individually trained to perform tasks related to the disability of their handler. For example, service dogs for anxiety are trained to anticipate an anxiety attack, fetch medication, and provide a sense of calm.

In extreme cases of anxiety, where fine motor skills are impaired rendering you incapable of moving your limbs, your service dog can provide immediate physical assistance and help you cope with balance disorders. Regardless of the degree of your anxiety, having a service dog with you at all times will make your day-to-day life easier and reduce the burden of your condition to a great extent. You will have peace of mind knowing that you have someone to rely on during your time of stress.

Can service dogs for anxiety go anywhere?

Service dogs can go anywhere in public with their handler as long as they are harnessed, leashed, or tethered and maintain safe and non-disruptive behavior. Service dogs for anxiety are allowed in stores, hospitals, schools, libraries, parks, theaters, government buildings, restaurants, airplanes, public transportation, beaches, etc. But churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other places of worship are exempt from the laws of allowing service dogs. A service dog is a part of your anxiety treatment and is not considered a pet. Therefore, all entities covered under the ADA are required to make reasonable modifications to their policies to accommodate people with disabilities and their service dogs.

If you own a service animal for anxiety, we recommend you to register it to make life easier for you and your dog. We provide lifetime registration for service animals based on a therapist-conducted screening. You can use this registration to avoid confrontations and hassles while taking your service dog out in public places.

Is social anxiety a reason to get a service dog?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is one of the major types of anxiety disorder. The term is interchangeably used with ‘Social Phobia’. Typically, SAD is characterized as extreme self-consciousness and nervousness in a social setting. This can be large social gatherings, one-on-one social engagements, or everyday social situations. SAD affects millions of people globally. If you have been diagnosed with SAD or anxiety disorder by a licensed healthcare practitioner, you are qualified to get a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you do not have an official diagnosis, you can request our “no-risk” PSD letter assessment. Once you are diagnosed with anxiety by a licensed therapist, you will become eligible to get a service dog for anxiety for all types of anxiety disorders.

What type of anxiety qualifies for a service dog?

Anyone suffering from mental, physical, psychiatric, sensory, or intellectual disability can get a service dog. Anxiety is a form of mental disability that warrants the usage of service dogs as a legitimate treatment procedure. There are different types of anxiety disorders which include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). If you have been diagnosed with any of these specific types by a licensed practitioner, you are eligible to get a service dog that is specifically trained for the type of disability you have been diagnosed with.

Can dogs detect anxiety?

Dogs are sensitive animals. They have a highly evolved sense of smell which is 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than the human nose. When a human begins to experience an anxiety attack, it causes an increase in adrenaline and cortisol hormones along with elevated heart rate and sweating. Since dogs have super-sensitive noses, they can smell this change in hormones. This is why they see a panic attack coming way before you can. When dogs detect anxiety, they respond by trying to calm and reassure their owners or become anxious themselves. When you are feeling anxious, spending time with your dog will lower your heart rate and make you feel safe. Trainers build on this capability and train service dogs to identify other signals of anxiety in their handlers. You can also train your support dog for anxiety to calm you when you are experiencing anxiety.

Does anxiety warrant a service dog?

Anyone undergoing treatment for anxiety can get a service dog. However, it’s also important to understand that anxiety does not mandate having a service dog. Depending on the severity of your condition and the treatment procedure, your mental health provider may prescribe different ways to cope with anxiety. But if you feel the need for companionship, you can discuss using a service dog as a part of your treatment with your therapist. Having a service dog will make your life easier. Service dogs for anxiety are specially trained to perform tasks like reminding you to take medication, pulling a wheelchair, bringing medicine and water during an anxiety attack, and so on. 
If you already own a dog, you can either train them yourself to assist you correctly in your times of need or you can enroll them in a service training program. If you do not own a dog, a doctor needs to verify your physical and mental limitations through an assessment to confirm whether a service dog will be of help. Once you are qualified, you can get in touch with an agency to help you locate a dog trained for your disability. Even though the wait and the adjustment period combined can be time-consuming, it’s worth it. Your perfect match will change your life for the better. It feels even more fulfilling when you realize that not only did you gain a great degree of independence with your service animal for anxiety by your side but also managed to help a dog find a home and a job.


In conclusion, service dogs for anxiety offer invaluable support and companionship, helping individuals manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being. Whether through trained tasks or simply by their presence, these remarkable animals provide a lifeline for those navigating the challenges of anxiety disorders. By understanding the benefits, methods of obtaining, and legal considerations surrounding service dogs for anxiety, individuals can embark on a journey towards a more fulfilling and independent lifestyle with their trusted canine companions by their side.

Brought to you by National Service Animal Registry. Learn more about us and how to qualify your pet as a service dog, emotional support animal (ESA), or therapy animal, TODAY!

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